Rocky Mountain low as NCAA tourney begins

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Rocky Mountain high? No, Rocky Mountain low. The first day of the NCAA Tournament was awfully tough on the Centennial State. Colorado State, ranked 12th with a No. 20 RPI, was knocked out by Loyola Marymount (NR, 27 RPI). And then Colorado, which didn’t make the field but probably should have after having a winning record in the Pac-12, where it finished fifth, fired coach Liz Krtiza, a move that from the outside looking in is most disturbing. Kritza, one of the most well-liked people in the sport, had done a wonderful job building the program and then making Colorado relevant. The Buffs were 19-13, 11-9 in the Pac-12, with an RPI of 64, the factor that obviously kept them out of the NCAA Tournament. There is always more to these things than meet the eye, but the terse Colorado news release sheds little light on the situation, especially when the athletic directors says, “there are differences that have caused us to make a change in the program at this time.” Meanwhile, Colorado State had another season in which the Rams dominated the Mountain West (they were 18-0), but have little in the NCAA Tournament to show for it. LMU beat them in four. Here’s the CSU recap, and here’s the LMU report, which also has video. The photo above is from LMU. LMU’s victory was the only so-called first-round upset in the 12 matches competed Thursday night, with 20 more first-rounders set for Friday plus six second-round matches that will determine spots in the round of 16. One of those is LMU’s match against Stanford, the pick here to win the national championship. Lest you think it came after the start of the tournament, I said it in our video chat Wednesday with Laura Bush, Jenny Hazelwood and Bill Ferguson. Anyway, back to the first round, where SMU had set point a couple of times in the third before losing 28-26 to Purdue. What could have been, but Purdue made short work of the Mustangs in the fourth (25-27, 25-17, 28-26, 25-16),. SMU was making its first NCAA appearance in the 21-year history of the program. Much like LMU, be careful what you wish for: Purdue gets Texas in Gregory Gym tonight. Purdue is Big Ten-tested, but playing the Longhorns on their home court is a daunting task. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first day was that Cleveland State took a set off USC, which now plays San Diego, which ousted Northern Arizona. The state of Arizona has just three Division I schools and only Arizona, which plays upstart Western Kentucky tonight, is left, because … Florida State made easy work of Arizona State, which simply was never the same after Macey Gardner went down. That was truly one of the sad stories of this season. It had to be hard for Colorado and Kritza to watch that one. Now FSU plays Florida and that will be a big one for all the competitive and geographic reasons. They played at Florida last September 20 and the Gators won in four. Speaking of geographical rivals, both Kansas and Missouri advanced, although Missouri lost the first set to Missouri State. Their matchup today should be something else. And a couple of states over, Southern Illinois makes its first NCAA appearance ever today when it plays upstate at Illinois. I graduated from SIU and am thrilled about what the Salukis have done this year, but that’s a tough assignment. Also Thursday, Wisconsin, which is playing awfully well, took care of visiting Oregon in four, setting up a match with Iowa State, which beat Miami. Most of Friday’s first-round action is on the bottom half of the bracket and some of the more intriguing ones include TCU-Hawaii, Ohio-BYU, Kansas State-Wichita State (talking about in-state battles), the aforementioned Arizona-WKU, Michigan State-Arkansas State (said it before and saying in again, is ASU for real?), and Lipscomb-UCLA. On paper that’s not a contest, but something tells me it could be a battle. By the way, all nine Big Ten teams play today and the Big Ten Network’s BTN2Go is showing all their matches for free. For those of us watching on the big TV, the Apple TV, the phone and iPad, it’s a great day.

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