March was Truly Madness as NCAA Tournament Returns in 2021 4/10/2021
After an unfortunate hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 the NCAA Tournament returned to action in 2021 and it did not disappoint. The entire tournament took place in Indianapolis and the limited number of fans that were in attendance had to enjoy what they saw. From the First Four to the National Championship top seeds in the tournament were on upset alert and big time performances were on full display for some of the best players in college basketball. Let’s take a look back at all of the Madness that took place in Indianapolis over the 19 days of the tournament.
#11 Drake vs. #11 Wichita State – The Shockers led by as many as 12 points with 11:22 left in the second half and held a 92.4% win probability at the time. They were on the verge of advancing into the main bracket before the Bulldogs found their groove and outscored the Shockers 28-15 down the stretch on their way to a one point victory and a matchup with #6 USC. Drake 53, Wichita State 52
#11 UCLA vs. #11 Michigan State – A marquee matchup in the First Four was the highlight of the first day of the tournament and it certainly did not disappoint. The two blueblood programs battled back and forth for 40 minutes before requiring overtime to decide the contest. The Bruins outscored the Spartans 9-3 in overtime and advanced to face #6 BYU in the Round of 64. This certainly won’t be the last time we hear from the Bruins in this tournament. UCLA 86, Michigan State 80 (OT)
Round of 64
The 2021 NCAA Tournament was a microcosm of the most unusual season in the history of college basketball. An upset is defined by the NCAA as a win by a team seeded five or more lines below its defeated opponent. A new record was set during the tournament with 14 upsets throughout the event, breaking the original record of 13 upsets from the 1985 and 2014 tournaments. In addition, at least one 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed won a first-round game for the fourth time ever and a record four teams seeded 13 or lower won first-round games.
#7 Florida vs. #10 Virginia Tech – The first game of the Round of 64 did not disappoint as the Gators and the Hokies battled to overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Florida led by 3 late in the second half until Nahiem Alleyne drained a 3-pointer with only 3 seconds left to force overtime. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech they were unable to capitalize on the momentum from the end of regulation and Florida survived the upset bid from the Hokies. Florida 75, Virginia Tech 70 (OT)
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Oral Roberts – The 15th seeded Golden Eagles finished fourth in the Summit League regular season but were able to clinch the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit League Tournament. Only 8 times in tournament history had a #15 seed pulled off the upset over a #2 seed so many believed the Buckeyes would walk all over the Golden Eagles. Oral Roberts had different plans with their dynamic duo of Max Abmas (D-1 leading scorer) and Kevin Obanor. The two combined for 59 points against the Buckeyes forcing overtime and pulling off the first big upset of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Oral Roberts 75, Ohio State 72 (OT)
#5 Tennessee vs. #12 Oregon State – The 5/12 upset is always one of the most popular upset spots in the NCAA Tournament year after year and this year was no different. Although only one #12 seed was able to pull it off and it was the Beavers. The Beavers were 14-12 before catching fire in the Pac 12 Tournament en route to the Pac 12 Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They took full advantage of the opportunity leading almost wire to wire against the Volunteers as they advanced to the Round of 32. Oregon State 70, Tennessee 56
#8 North Carolina vs. #9 Wisconsin – The Badgers were an inconsistent enigma all season losing 6 of their final 8 games entering the NCAA Tournament but they were on fire in their matchup against North Carolina in the Round of 64. Brad Davison scored a season high 29 points and they shot 50% from the field against the Tar Heels sending North Carolina home in the first round of the tournament for the first time since 1999 and Roy Williams lost in the first round of the tournament for the first time in his career. The loss had bigger ramifications for the Tar Heels as a few days later Roy Williams decided it was time to retire after 33 seasons in the coaching ranks. Wisconsin 85, North Carolina 62
#4 Purdue vs. #13 North Texas – An upset was brewing in the South region as the Mean Green of North Texas were looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. A Trevion Williams tip shot with 24 seconds left forced overtime but an early 11-0 run for the Mean Green in overtime was too much for the Boilermakers to overcome as North Texas came away victorious. North Texas 78, Purdue 69
#6 San Diego State vs. #11 Syracuse – The Orange are no stranger to pulling off an upset as a double digit seed and 2021 was no different. They play a unique style of defense that is difficult to prepare for on short notice and it never hurts when you shoot 55% from 3-point range. Down 18-14 in the first half the Orange responded with a 20-0 run to take a dominating 34-18 lead early in the second half. Syracuse never looked back from there and pulled off the upset over the Aztecs. Syracuse 78, San Diego State 62
#5 Creighton vs. #12 UC Santa Barbara – The Gauchos were a popular 12/5 upset pick in many brackets and they gave the Bluejays everything they could handle. UC Santa Barbara led by 6 points with under 6 minutes left in the game but Creighton closed the game on a 11-4 run to secure the victory. The Gauchos had a chance to take the lead with 2 seconds left but Amadou Sow’s layup attempt rimmed out and the Bluejays advanced to the Round of 32. Creighton 63, UC Santa Barbara 62
#4 Virginia vs. #13 Ohio – With no tournament being held in 2020 the Cavaliers entered the tournament this year as the defending national champions. Their title defense didn’t last long as the Bobcats battled the defending champions down to the wire and held Virginia to 35% shooting in the game. Ben Vander Plas scored 10 of his 17 points down the stretch to bury the Cavaliers late and give the Bobcats the upset victory. There will be no repeat champion this year. Ohio 62, Virginia 58
#6 BYU vs. #11 UCLA – In 8 of the past 9 NCAA Tournaments at least one team that participated in the First Four was able to advance past the Round of 64 and 2021 was no different. The Bruins kept the momentum rolling from their overtime victory over Michigan State in the First Four leading the Cougars wire to wire. They were led by Johnny Juzang’s 27 points as UCLA advanced to the Round of 32. UCLA 73, BYU 62
#3 Texas vs. #14 Abilene Christian – The battle of Texas in the Round of 64 was a low scoring slugfest and not many people gave the Wildcats much of a chance against the vaunted Longhorns. Abilene Christian played a bruising style of game collecting 18 offensive rebounds which led to them taking 27 more shots than the Longhorns. Even though the Wildcats only shot 29% from the field their huge advantage on the offensive glass was enough for them to keep it close all the way to the end. Joe Pleasant was fouled with 2 seconds left and he drained both free throws to give the Wildcats their NCAA Tournament victory in school history. Abilene Christian 53, Texas 52
#7 Oregon vs. #10 VCU – The NCAA chose to hold the entire tournament in Indianapolis to create a quasi bubble to try and contain the spread of the coronavirus during the tournament. Overall they did a great job but one game fell victim to the no contest policy when the Rams discovered multiple players on their team had tested positive for COVID-19. Unfortunately this forced VCU to forfeit their Round of 64 matchup with Oregon and the Ducks advanced to the Round of 32 by default. Oregon defeats VCU via no contest
Round of 32
After a slew of upsets in the Round of 64 many expected the top seeds to dominate the rest of the tournament but the Round of 32 was more of the same with many major upsets across the four regions. Which top seeds will fail to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament?
#1 Illinois vs. #8 Loyola Chicago – Loyola Chicago was the darling of the 2018 NCAA Tournament advancing all the way to the Final Four as a #11 seed. They were a top ten team according to Ken Pom most of the 2021 season but they were still awarded an underwhelming #8 seed and had to face #1 Illinois in the Round of 32. The Fighting Illini were a favorite to cut down the nets at the Final Four but they never got the chance due to the dominating performance by the Ramblers in the Round of 32. Loyola Chicago shot 51% from the field and got 19 points, 12 rebounds from their senior leader, Cameron Krutwig, on their way to an impressive victory. Loyola Chicago 71, Illinois 58
#3 West Virginia vs. #11 Syracuse – As previously mentioned the Orange are no strangers to advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament as a double digit seed and this year was no different. The Mountaineers are known for their frantic defensive schemes to confuse offenses in transition but it seemed like there was nothing West Virginia could do to slow down the Buddy Boeheim Express. Boeheim scored 25 points including 6-13 from 3-point range. The Mountaineers were down by 9 with 1:20 left and they did their best to get back into the game but Boeheim’s free throw with 2 seconds left iced the game for the Orange as they advanced to the Sweet 16. Syracuse 75, West Virginia 72
#3 Arkansas vs. #6 Texas Tech – In a battle of former Southwest Conference rivals the Razorbacks and Red Raiders fought tooth and nail to the last second for a berth in the Sweet 16. Texas Tech had multiple opportunities to take the lead late in the game but missed two key layups that would have given them the lead or forced overtime. The Razorbacks were led by a quartet of double-digit scorers led by Justin Smith who poured in a game high 20 points. The Razorbacks reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996. Arkansas 68, Texas Tech 66
#2 Houston vs. #10 Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights gave the Cougars a real test in the Round of 32. Rutgers was up by 9 points with 6:30 left in the game but Houston used a 16-4 run down the stretch to survive the upset scare. The comeback was capped off by an acrobatic layup by Tramon Mark that tied the game. His ensuing free throw gave Houston the lead for good and they advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Houston 63, Rutgers 60
#7 Florida vs. #15 Oral Roberts – The Cinderella of the tournament had to be the Golden Eagles after their upset victory over Ohio State in the Round of 64. Many expected their run to end at the hands of the Gators but they had a different plan. They were led, once again, by their two-headed monster of Max Abmas (26 points) and Kevin Obanor (28 points). Florida played well but a 3-pointer from DeShang Weaver with 2 minutes left in the game put the Golden Eagles up for good and Oral Roberts became only the second #15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in tournament history. Oral Roberts 81, Florida 78
#4 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Oregon State – The Beavers came into this Round of 32 matchup with a ton of momentum and the Cowboys were unable to stop it. Cade Cunningham, the consensus #1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, did everything he could to push the Cowboys through to the Sweet 16 (24 points, 5 steals) but the Beavers defense was too stingy holding Oklahoma State to 27% shooting from the field. Oregon State was led by Ethan Thompson who scored a game-high 26 points and the Beavers rode their momentum into the Sweet 16. Oregon State 80, Oklahoma State 70
#2 Iowa vs. #7 Oregon – After their win by default in the first round over VCU no one knew what to expect from Oregon in their first game that was actually played. They impressed a lot of fans as they took it right to the Wooden Award winner, Luke Garza, and his Iowa Hawkeyes. Garza could not have done anymore to help his team advance to the Sweet 16 as he scored 36 points and collected 9 rebounds. Unfortunately for him it was not enough and his illustrious college career came to an end in the Round of 32. The Ducks were led by Pac 12 Player of the Year, Chris Duarte, who scored 23 points along with 7 assists. Oregon 95, Iowa 80
#3 Kansas vs. #6 USC – The Jayhawks were the higher seeded team in this matchup but it certainly didn’t look that way on the court. The Trojans brotherly duo of Evan Mobley (10 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Isaiah Mobley (17 points, 8 rebounds) embarrassed the Jayhawks on both sides of the ball. Pair that with the Trojans shooting 57% from the field it was going to be tough for anyone to stop USC on this night. The Trojans advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. USC 85, Kansas 51
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was full of incredible upsets which left one question to be answered…which underdog(s) were going to find a way to ride their momentum all the way to the Final Four?
#8 Loyola Chicago vs. #12 Oregon State – Loyola Chicago had earned a lot of fans all over the country with their recent success in the NCAA Tournament so a lot of fans were pulling for them to make another run to the Final Four. The Beavers welcomed that challenge of playing spoiler as they wanted to earn their first berth in the Elite 8 since 1982. They went back and forth in the first half until the Ramblers were held scoreless for over 7 minutes heading into halftime. The Beavers were led, once again, by their senior leader Ethan Thompson who scored a game-high 22 points and Oregon State moved on to the Elite 8. Oregon State 65, Loyola Chicago 58
#3 Arkansas vs. #15 Oral Roberts – The Golden Eagles faced off against the Razorbacks earlier in the season and led by 10 at half but let the game slip away losing by 11 points in the end. This was their chance at revenge with a chance at history. A #15 seed had never advanced to the Elite 8 in NCAA Tournament history. Oral Roberts got off to a similar hot start leading the Razorbacks by 7 points at halftime but Arkansas clawed their way back and the game was tied with under 30 seconds left. With only 4 seconds left on the clock Davonte Davis found some space in the key and hit the jumper to give Arkansas the edge. Oral Roberts wasn’t done though as Max Abmas found a seam up the sideline on the ensuing inbounds and got an open 3-point attempt but it rattled out. The Golden Eagles dreams are crushed but their run will never be forgotten. Arkansas 72, Oral Roberts 70
#2 Alabama vs. #11 UCLA – Another double digit seed was attempting to keep their dreams alive as the Bruins faced off with the Crimson Tide with a berth in the Elite 8 on the line. UCLA dominated the first half and led by 11 at halftime but the Crimson Tide fought all the way back with a chance to send the game to overtime with 4 seconds left. Alabama inbounded the ball and found Alex Reese at the top of the key who drained the 3-pointer just before the buzzer to force overtime. The Bruins refocused before overtime and never looked back as they scored the first 7 points of overtime and earned their first berth in the Elite 8 since 2008. UCLA played a great team game with 6 different players scoring in double figures against the Crimson Tide. UCLA 88, Alabama 78 (OT)
As the Elite 8 began it was clear what the storylines were with 4 berths in the Final Four on the line. Can Gonzaga remain undefeated? Can Houston stop Beaver Fever? Can Scott Drew get Baylor back to the Final Four for the first time in 71 years? Can UCLA become the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four?
#2 Houston vs. #12 Oregon State – Beaver Fever was at an all-time high heading into their Elite 8 matchup with the Cougars but the Beavers came out flat and ran out of time to earn a berth in the Final Four. Houston went up by 17 at halftime and was able to coast most of the second half until Oregon State tied it up with under 4 minutes to play. Despite the fact that the Cougars shot an abysmal 32% from the field they were able to attempt 15 more shots than Oregon State thanks to 19 offensive rebounds. Houston advanced to their first Final Four since the days of Phi Slama Jama in 1984. Houston 67, Oregon State 61
#1 Baylor vs. #3 Arkansas – Baylor was one of the teams that was hurt the most after the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They had a team that was good enough to end their 70+ year Final Four drought but luckily for Scott Drew and the Bears they were potentially even better in 2021. They got out to an early 15-3 lead on the Razorbacks and never looked back leading wire to wire and never letting Arkansas get within one possession of the lead. The Bears were led by MaCio Teague who poured in a game-high 22 points and Baylor ended their Final Four drought at 71 years. Can they end another drought by winning the National Championship? Only time will tell. Baylor 81, Arkansas 72
#1 Gonzaga vs. #6 USC – Gonzaga had won 29 straight games entering their Elite 8 matchup with the Trojans and many believed that USC had the firepower to give the Bulldogs their first loss of the season. Those people were dead wrong. Gonzaga jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and built the lead up to 19 at halftime as they eyed their second Final Four appearance in school history. Drew Timme torched the Trojans for 23 points (10-19 shooting) and added 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Senior Corey Kispert and freshman Jalen Suggs chipped in with 18 points a piece as the Zags cruised into the Final Four with an unblemished 30-0 record. Gonzaga 85, USC 66
#1 Michigan vs. #11 UCLA – The Wolverines were the top seed in the East Region and for good reason. They had just dismantled the #4 seed Florida State Seminoles and were prepared to take down Gonzaga in the Final Four but UCLA had other ideas. It was an ugly game on the offensive end with both teams shooting under 40% from the field but UCLA had momentum on their side as they were playing their best basketball at the most opportune time. Johnny Juzang carried the Bruins with his 28 points and Michigan faltered down the stretch missing every field goal attempt in the last five minutes of the game. UCLA became the second team in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Final Four after playing in the First Four (2011 VCU). UCLA 51, Michigan 49
As we head into the Final Four, on paper we had one stellar matchup while the other game was a complete mismatch. It turns out that is why we play the games…
#1 Baylor vs. #2 Houston – The battle of Texas in Indianapolis was supposed to be a close matchup that would come down to the wire but Baylor wasn’t having any of that. The Bears went on a 39-12 run to close the first half and take a commanding 25 point halftime lead. Marcus Sasser made all but one bucket for the Cougars in the first half as they struggled mightily in the first half. Baylor was led by a double-double from Davion Mitchell (12 points & 11 assists) along with 32 bench points. Houston was the #1 offensive rebounding team in the country in 2021 and Baylor held their own on the offensive boards only grabbing one less offensive rebound than the Cougars. Ultimately this was the downfall for Houston as they were blown out and Baylor reached the National Championship for the first time since 1948. Baylor 78, Houston 59
#1 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – The undefeated Bulldogs were the largest favorite in record history for a Final Four matchup (-14) and it was expected that they would destroy UCLA in quick fashion. Gonzaga was 30-0 with 29 double digit victories but the Bruins momentum was sky high entering the FInal Four. UCLA held firm throughout the first half even holding a 6 point lead at one point but the Zags were able to take a slim lead into halftime. In the second half the Bulldogs led by as many as 7 points but the Bruins would not go away. Johnny Juzang had another fantastic performance with 29 points and Cody Riley recorded a double-double (14 points & 10 rebounds) to help UCLA keep pace with Gonzaga. The game was the first Final Four contest to go to overtime since 1998 and it may go down as one of the greatest Final Four games in history. Juzang tied the game with 3 seconds left and what happened next is what all fans live for when it comes to the NCAA Tournament…Jalen Suggs took the inbounds pass and got to his spot 35-40 feet from the basket…let the shot go…and banked in a game-winning 3-pointer to keep the dreams of an undefeated season alive. The Bulldogs advance to the National Championship game for the second time in school history and aim to be the first team to go undefeated since Indiana in 1976. Gonzaga 93, UCLA 90 (OT)
This was the National Championship game that everyone wanted to see. The top two seeds in the entire tournament head to head to decide who is really the best team in the country. Gonzaga going for an undefeated season and Baylor trying to spoil those dreams and win their first National Championship in school history.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #1 Baylor – Gonzaga was unsurprisingly favored to win the National Championship and complete the perfect season. Baylor knew they had the talent to defeat the Bulldogs and they came out on fire going up 11-1 in the first half. Gonzaga did their best to get back into the game but Baylor kept them at bay for the entirety of the game. The Bulldogs never got within 9 points of the Bears for the entire game as Baylor dominated the Zags on both ends of the floor. The Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, Jared Butler, led the Bears with 22 points and 7 assists as Baylor won their first National Championship in school history. It was a dominating performance from start to finish for the Bears as Indiana in 1976 remains the last team to complete the perfect season. Baylor 86, Gonzaga 70
The 2021 NCAA Tournament will be remembered for many reasons but in the end the most important thing is that the fans got what they wanted. An interesting tournament from beginning to end with unexpected turns and plenty of upsets. The players had to be excited to get back out on the floor and compete for a National Championship again and let’s hope we never have to go through a tumultuous season like this ever again. March Madness is the best time of year for diehard and casual fans alike as everyone enjoys watching the madness unfold before our very eyes.