12 things I saw on Day 1 of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

One of the biggest days on the U.S. sports calendar needs a review

Texas head coach Rodney Terry celebrates during the second half of a first-round college basketball game against Colorado State in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) (Chris Carlson, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN ANTONIO – It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The first four days of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament are an incredible excuse to ignore phone calls, texts, order regrettable amounts of takeout and watch non-stop basketball for 12 hours at a time. What could be better?

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Twelve. It’s an important number around here, for obvious reasons. It’s also a nice, even number to jot down all the notable comings and goings from Day 1 of the best tournament in American sports.

Thing 1: ‘Self’-less

The city of San Antonio will have to wait one more year for the college basketball world to descend on The Alamodome, but one blue blood now knows it will have to go without one of its stars who calls San Antonio home.

Wagner High School alum and current Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr., who was an All-Big 12 Conference First Team performer this season, suffered a bruised bone in one of his knees back in February.

McCullar tried to play through the pain, but the pain became too much for the senior in the Jayhawks’ final week of the regular season. He went scoreless in 15 first-half minutes on March 9 at Houston, but he didn’t return to the court in the second half or in any game after that.

Kansas coach Bill Self announced Tuesday that his stalwart senior won’t be healthy enough to take the floor. McCullar then took to Twitter himself.

Some Jayhawk fans appeared to cast doubt on McCullar and his intentions to play. The noise online was loud enough for Self to hop on social media, which he admittedly does not do often.

On the court, the Jayhawks held onto a 21-point second-half lead for dear life, but it was just enough to beat Samford 93-89.

Thing 2: Bracket racket

Some higher-ups in college athletics, namely Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, have been outspoken about a perceived need for the NCAA Tournament field of 68 to expand to possibly 80 teams or more.

Sankey said the tournament committee was “giving away highly competitive opportunities for automatic qualifiers” to the detriment of Power Five programs which he believes are good enough to make the field but, in the end, are squeezed out.

The head coach at Sankey’s landmark SEC basketball program, John Calipari of Kentucky, has since thrown his opinion into the mix.

“I hope it stays where it is,” Calipari said Wednesday.

This is the part where I mention Calipari’s third-seeded Wildcats were ambushed by the 14th-seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies 80-76 Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

Kentucky losing doesn’t suddenly make Calipari wrong. Kentucky losing is the price of doing business in a single-elimination tournament.

Making things harder for the Cinderellas with fewer resources is not what March Madness is about, even though Oakland guard Jack Gohlke told CBS reporter Evan Washburn after the game, “We are not a Cinderella.”

It’s fine. Oakland is a Cinderella, and that’s what makes this time of year great.

Thing 3: Ol’ reliable

When college hoops fans say, “This is March,” they’re not being specific enough.

Replace “this” with “Michigan State coach Tom Izzo,” and then, they’d be right.

Izzo’s Spartans teams have qualified for March Madness every year since the 1997-98 season. Which is to say, his teams have made the tournament since Billy Zane played one of the most unhinged cinematic villains ever in Titanic.

Something very basic must be said about experience: It’s better to have it than not have it.

Most eight versus nine-seeded matchups could go either way. This matchup went in one direction.

Michigan State locked down Mississippi State defensively in a way it hadn’t all season long. The Spartans downed the Bulldogs 69-51 and will face top-seeded North Carolina Saturday in Round 2.

Thing 4: His face says it all

Speaking of North Carolina.

Imagine you’re Donald Copeland. You are 40 years old, the head coach at Wagner College and you coached your team to the program’s first-ever NCAA Division I Tournament win Tuesday night over Howard University in Dayton, Ohio.

Congratulations, Donald. You’ve got the North Carolina Tar Heels.

This was the face of a man who knew his team was playing well but knew it didn’t matter. The Tar Heels were simply taller, faster and stronger in their 90-62 win.

Thing 5: Ads, ads, ads

March Madness brings us non-stop basketball, but it also brings up a new crop of 20 or so advertisements that we’ll see on a seemingly endless loop from now until early April.

Some like them at first and then grow to hate them. Some don’t like them at all. This year, I fall into the camp where I can’t get enough of them.

I am enjoying one ad featuring two emerging NBA stars — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie center Chet Holmgren — singing along to a late ‘90s ballad all in the name of AT&T.

Capital One’s ads in recent years — starring some combination of Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee and Charles Barkley — have given the world such corny gems like “In The Annapolis” and “It’s Like Magic” featuring Basketball Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson.

The 2024 ad gives us a “We Are The World” tribute in the form of a March-themed rewrite of a Dionne Warwick classic.

Friends, that’s what March is for.

Thing 6: Dan Monson didn’t do the funniest thing possible, and that’s OK

Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson was relieved of his duties on March 11 after 17 years on the job.

His university’s administration allowed Monson to coach through Long Beach State stay at its conference tournament, but whoops, LBSU wound up winning it and earned an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

Long Beach State athletic director Bobby Smitheran weirdly took credit for the program’s unlikely run.

“My belief and hope is that by doing what I did and the timing of it, they would play inspired, and that’s what they did,” Smitheran told the Associated Press before LBSU’s loss to Arizona on Thursday. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it worked.”


While we didn’t get a Cinderella-type run from “The Beach,” Monson — the architect behind Gonzaga’s original Cinderella run in 1999 — put the last 10 days in perspective.

“I absolutely soaked up every minute today, and I’m going to remember it for a lifetime,” Monson said after the game. “I just hope it’s a long time that I’ve got left to remember it.”

Thing 7: A 40-piece isn’t appetizing to South Carolina

Revenge was not on the mind of Oregon guard Jermaine Cousinard.

His Ducks, an 11-seed, were set to face the sixth-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks, Cousinard’s old team. He transferred to Oregon following the 2021-22 season and appears to have found a happy home in Eugene.

So happy, in fact, that he wore the Gamecocks down with a season-high 40 points and six assists in 37 minutes. Cousinard also had some company in the stands.

“This is my grandma’s first game here this season,” Cousinard told TNT Sports after the game. “I knew I had to make a sacrifice for her. Just one day, that’s all I dreamed of for her to come to one of my games.”

Thing 8: The air up there

Having Nevada play an NCAA Tournament game in the altitude of Salt Lake City may have been an unintended mistake made by the NCAA Selection Committee.

The Wolf Pack is familiar with playing in a higher altitude while its opponent, Dayton, is very much not.

Nevada built a 17-point lead late in the second half, but it went through a scoreless slump that allowed the Flyers to get back into the game.

In the end, it was head coach Steve Alford and Nevada gasping for air. Enoch Cheeks’ layup with 38 seconds left put the Flyers in front to stay.

Dayton and Arizona will meet in the second round on Saturday.

Thing 9: Managing expectations in Austin

Rodney Terry took over a juggernaut in the middle of the 2022-23 season and shepherded the Longhorns to their first Elite Eight appearance in 15 years.

Officially, 2023-24 is Terry’s first full season as Texas head coach.

Despite adding one of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history in guard Max Abmas, it has been an uneven year on the Forty Acres. The arrival of the Houston Cougars pushed the Horns toward the middle of the Big 12 with a 9-9 league record, but none of that matters now.

Texas’ first-round opponent, the Colorado State Rams, already did the hard part. They got their tournament jitters out of the way when they blew out Virginia Tuesday in the First Four.

But the Longhorns were rested and ready to defend, giving the Rams a taste of the medicine they prepared for Virginia by holding Colorado State to 11 first-half points.

Abmas tied a team-high with 12 points as Texas maintained control in its 56-44 win Thursday night.

Thing 10: Seeing red

Yes, there was plenty of red in Thursday’s North Carolina State-Texas Tech first-round game. Naturally, red won. The Wolfpack Red.

Similar to Long Beach State, NC State needed a comically ridiculous run to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in order to give the Wolfpack a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

There are few things more comical than NCSU, the No. 10 seed, defeating the big brother Tar Heels in last weekend’s ACC title game. The Pack became the first double-digit seed to ever win an ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC tournament championship.

As a No. 11 seed this week, NC State scorched its way to 50.9% shooting from the field — for the entire night — to take down Texas Tech in the first round.

The Big 12 and SEC led all conferences with eight teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament each. With Kansas’ win late, the Big 12 is currently 3-2 through Day 1 of March Madness, which isn’t bad. Tennessee’s win brought the SEC’s overall record to a dismal 1-3 on Thursday.

Thing 11: Old guys getting it done

Duquesne basketball is a normal thing to not think about. Can you think of a famous March memory or an NBA player to come out of Duquesne?

I couldn’t, and you couldn’t either, but there is a reason for that.

The Dukes, by way of capturing the Atlantic 10 tournament title on Sunday, qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977. You may have heard of Duquesne’s head coach, however.

Keith Dambrot is a long-time college coach but is perhaps best known for coaching all-time great LeBron James for two of his high school seasons in Akron, Ohio.

As the Dukes ran past BYU in a four-point win, a 39-year-old Los Angeles-area man took to social media with a shoutout to his former coach.

Thing 12: Missing in action

Certain aspects of March Madness are a comfort to the casual or hardcore college hoops fan. One of them did not greet us like he has for decades: sports broadcaster Greg Gumbel.

Gumbel has served as CBS’ top studio host for its tournament broadcasts since 1998. He has had to step away from this year’s Madness coverage due to health issues within his family.

Ernie Johnson, who has helped CBS and Turner Sports cover the tournament since 2011, mentioned Gumbel’s absence on the airwaves Thursday and made sure to note that the plan is for Gumbel to return for next year’s tournament.

About the Author

Nate Kotisso joined KSAT as a digital journalist in 2024. He previously worked as a newspaper reporter in the Rio Grande Valley for more than two years and spent nearly three years as a digital producer at the CBS station in Oklahoma City.

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