Following several huge upsets in the first day of action for the round of 32 (Loyola bouncing No. 1 Illinois, Oral Roberts knocking out Florida), the second day is off to the races. Oregon took down No. 2 seeded Iowa, as the Big Ten continues to struggle.
It’s the madness of March.
Which teams will be Sweet 16-bound and which ones will be leaving Indianapolis? A look at the winners and losers from Monday’s eight games:
College basketball fans. Think this year’s March Madness has been overboard on upsets? It’s not the year off due to last year’s cancellation that’s causing us to ponder. 2021 has been epic compared to previous tournaments. According to the NCAA, Oregon’s win over Iowa marked the 12th upset of the tournament (upsets being defined as a win by a team seeded five spots lower than their opponent). The most upsets through the round of 32 was 10 (done eight times) before 2021. The record for the entire tournament is 13 (1985, 2014).
Alabama. The Crimson Tide (26-6) looked dominant and like a national title contender in a 96-77 win over Maryland. Coach Nate Oats utilizes his whole roster – getting 39 points from his bench vs. the Terrapins – while guards Jaden Shackelford (21 points) and John Petty Jr. (20 points) generated major offense. Oats has transformed this program in his two short years in Tuscaloosa, with a Sweet 16 berth the latest payoff following an SEC championship.
Michigan. As bad a tournament as the Big Ten is having, the Wolverines (22-4) evaded an upset with an 86-78 win over a surging No. 8 seed LSU. Coach Juwan Howard still is helping this team reestablish its identity without veteran Isaiah Livers, ruled out for the tournament. Michigan did enough to fend off a combined 57 points from Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart. The difference-maker in this win for the Wolverines was Eli Brooks, who finished with 21 points and seven assists off 5-for-9 three-point shooting.
Gonzaga. The Bulldogs flexed their offensive prowess in an 87-71 victory over Oklahoma, with big man Drew Timme (30 points, 13 rebounds) leading the way. While the ‘Zags were impressive in several facets, their defense looked sluggish and they couldn’t stay in front of OU’s Austin Reaves (27 points). That was the first power conference team Gonzaga has faced since December, so if anything it’s a good tune-up for the Sweet 16.
Oregon. The Ducks (21-6) are outplaying their seed once again under coach Dana Altman. Oregon benefited from not playing in the first round, with Virginia Commonwealth bowing out due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests. They looked fresh in cruising past No. 2 seed Iowa 95-80. The game was so in the Ducks’ favor it didn’t even look like an upset. Chris Duarte led the charge with 23 points and seven assists. Altman is now into his fifth Sweet 16 with Oregon. The Ducks reached the Sweet 16 last as a No. 12 seed in 2019. They were in the 2017 Final Four and 2016 Elite Eight.
UCLA. The Bruins (20-9) hammered Abilene Christian, the team that upset No. 3 Texas in the first round, 67-47. The Sweet 16 is a significant accomplishment for coach Mick Cronin, who only has one Sweet 16 to his name after several underachieving finishes at Cincinnati. This UCLA team lost its last four games before entering the NCAA Tournament but seems to have found its groove here in Indianapolis. Johnny Juzang is the key catalyst for a guard-heavy Bruins squad and Cronin got a nice lift from his bench in this one.
The Pac-12. The conference is 9-1 in this NCAA Tournament, and after finishing sixth in the NET rankings, it’s a pretty strong statement about the league as a whole. That’s especially true considering two of the four Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 are double-digit seeds in UCLA and Oregon State (Southern Cal is at No. 6 and Oregon is at No. 7).
Kansas. The No. 3 seeded Jayhawks (21-9) were embarrassed 85-51 by Southern California in a game in which they looked far more like the No. 6 seed. Kansas shot 6-for-25 from three-point range (24%) compared to USC’s 11-for-18 (61%). Coach Bill Self had a team that overachieved in a lot of ways this season given the talent on the roster, but nonetheless KU is going home after the first weekend despite garnering a top-three seed.
Colorado. The Buffaloes (23-8) got obliterated by Florida State 71-53 and looked like a completely different team than the one that crushed Georgetown in the first round. Colorado committed 19 turnovers and shot 6-for-25 from three-point range (24%) but couldn’t keep up with FSU’s depth and length on defense. Senior McKinley Wright IV was off, shooting 0-for-4 from beyond the arc and finishing with 10 points and five turnovers.
Iowa. Big man Luka Garza’s emotions said it all – as tears flowed for the All-American’s last game as a Hawkeye. Iowa (22-9) had a team that was poised to get to the Elite Eight (or Final Four if Gonzaga wasn’t on that side of the bracket). Garza was the centerpiece and coach Fran McCaffery had an arsenal of guards that fed off him. But No. 7 seeded Oregon looked superior on the day and the Ducks’ athleticism and grit seemed to take the Hawkeyes out of contention in the second half.
The Big Ten. Following Iowa and Maryland’s losses, the narrative of underachievement continues for the Big Ten Conference, which is now 7-8 in March Madness. The Big Ten was considered by far to be the best league in the country this season, leading the NET conference rankings by a landslide over the SEC and Big 12. The conference sent an NCAA-best nine teams to the Big Dance, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. But now only Michigan is still standing in the Sweet 16.
Ohio. The Bobcats (17-8) were poised to be more than a one-upset Cinderella after ousting reigning national champion Virginia in the first round. But they were mis-matched from the tip against Creighton and got bulldozed 72-58. Ohio didn’t play its best against U.Va. but still won. It didn’t have that luxury against the Bluejays and their potent offense. Jason Preston, the team’s star point guard, shot 1-for-10 from the field and finished with four points.
Oklahoma. The Sooners (16-11) were competitive early on, giving top overall seed Gonzaga their best punch. Only problem is, this team wasn’t ready for counter-punches by the most dynamic offense in the country. That was a theme for coach Lon Kruger’s group down the stretch of the season when OU lost six of eight – they couldn’t close out games or respond to other teams’ surges. The late-season skid was a shame because a No. 7 or No. 6 seed could’ve positioned the Sooners better than facing the top dog in the second round. Austin Reaves’ 27 points closed out an outstanding career.
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