The best time of year on the sports calendar definitely delivered. With 48 NCAA tournament games played over the course of Sunday and Monday between the men’s and women’s divisions, there was no shortage of basketball action to watch. Hopefully, it made the start of your work week more tolerable. The men’s tournament has whittled its way down to 16 remaining teams and will take the rest of the week off. The women keep rolling on Tuesday with the round of 32.
I don’t know that anything could top what we saw over the first two days of the men’s tournament, but the past two days came pretty close. If you missed anything from the weekend or are just looking to catch up on the big storylines, let me catch you up on what we learned.
Best is yet to come in women’s bracket
After an incredibly boring first day of action, the women’s NCAA tournament started to heat up on Monday. Every single favored seed won on Sunday, with lower seeded teams going 16-0. Georgia Tech did pull off a stunning 17-point second-half comeback to beat upset-minded Stephen F. Austin in overtime. That was about the only real excitement we got on Day 1. Things changed in a big way on Day 2. 11-seed BYU knocked off No. 6 Rutgers for the first upset of the 2021 tournament. Belmont then stunned Gonzaga in a 5-12 seed upset. Wright State took it up a notch, beating 3-seed Arkansas to really shake up the bracket. The best game of the day though was probably the upset that didn’t happen. Troy came agonizingly close to being the first 15-seed to beat a 2-seed. Texas A&M got a little bit of help from the refs to secure its spot in the round of 32, ending what would have been an awesome Cinderella story. You can tell me what you think, but this looks like a backcourt violation to me.
We will get better matchups going forward. Michigan draws Tennessee on Tuesday. Iowa vs. Kentucky should also be thrilling. Could Syracuse possibly topple UConn without coach Geno Auriemma and starting guard Nika Muhl in doubt due to injury? It’s unlikely, but there should hopefully be a bit more intrigue as we move further along. Don’t just write off the division because we had a lackluster start to the proceedings. You never know when you might get an Arike Ogunbowale moment. That’s what makes it March Madness.
Chaos reigns in the men’s bracket
Speaking of 15 seeds, Oral Roberts continues its unlikely run, becoming just the second 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. Max Abmus and company took down an SEC power this time in Florida and set up a date with another SEC school in Arkansas. While that is all wild and fun, it probably isn’t even the most shocking region in the field. Illinois fell to Loyola Chicago, Oregon State knocked off Oklahoma State and Syracuse toppled West Virginia. Rutgers also came very close to upsetting Houston, ultimately blowing an eight-point lead with four minutes to play. Still, the region is guaranteed to have either an 8-seed or a 12-seed in the Elite Eight. Plus, don’t rule out the Orange taking out the Cougars given how well Buddy Boeheim and company are shooting the rock. In total, there are four double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
We could still end up with a very chalky Final Four, but that’s looking less and less likely with every round. It seems like there are a few more upsets on the horizon and we could end up with a very high seed participating in the final weekend of the tournament.
Pac-12 does it again
In both divisions, the self-proclaimed Conference of Champions continues to excel. On the women’s side, that was expected. Pac-12 women’s teams went 6-1, with Washington State the only team to not make it out of the first round. The Cougars were also the only underdog, at least from a seeding perspective. It speaks to the dominance of the conference as a whole.
Meanwhile, the men’s Pac-12 teams are pulling off upsets left and right. I already mentioned Oregon State knocking out Oklahoma State. USC stormed past Kansas, handing the Jayhawks their worst loss in NCAA tournament history. Oregon dropped 95 points on Iowa to end the Hawkeyes’ title hopes. UCLA also cruised into the Sweet 16, taking care of Abilene Christian. Only Colorado came up short, getting blown out by Florida State. Ironically, Colorado was the highest men’s team from the conference this year. In a year where nothing makes sense, at least that still applies to basketball.
What’s wrong with the men from the Big Ten?
All season long, we heard about how great the Big Ten was. The conference was incredibly deep, evidenced by the eight teams from the conference to make the field, including two No. 1 seeds. After two rounds, only Michigan remains, and the Wolverines were definitely tested by LSU. Illinois suffered a shocking upset. Iowa got blitzed in transition by Oregon, despite Luka Garza scoring 36 points. Ohio State didn’t even reach the second round. After I panned the ACC for only having two teams left after the first round, it has more teams in the Sweet 16 than the Big Ten does. Maybe it was just fatigue after a long season of beating up on each other, but this has to go down as a disappointment for the conference after all of its regular-season success.
Why wasn’t Baylor a No. 1 seed again?
The defending champions in the women’s division narrowly missed being on the top line, instead settling for a No. 2 seed. After watching the Lady Bears drop 101 points on Jackson State while NC State struggled early against North Carolina A&T, it is fair to question if the committee got it right. Now, the Wolfpack did lose Kayla Jones to injury, but after one round, it certainly looks like the committee messed up. It happens all the time. On the men’s side, it is clear Loyola Chicago deserved better than a No. 8 seed. If it sounds like I am splitting hairs, consider this: Baylor has to go through UConn to reach the Final Four (assuming both teams make it that far.) NC State would draw Texas A&M, who nearly lost to Troy, if seeding holds the rest of the way. I don’t care how good you are, you would rather be playing Texas A&M with a trip to the Final Four on the line than UConn.
CBS gets creative with its graphics
March Madness has undoubtedly delivered on the hype, particularly after skipping a year, but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this gem. Greg Gumbel’s face will no doubt be a meme for years to come. This clip has already made its rounds on social media, and I don’t think it will stop any time soon. What makes it even better, is that CBS doubled down and used these weird Mii adjacent dancers, this time supported by their television producers as backup dancers.
The Madness is clearly spreading. I apologize if you cannot unsee this.
Just stop checking your bracket
If you are like me, your bracket is likely toast by now. I picked Illinois to win it all in the men’s division and I picked all the wrong early-round upsets on the women’s side. Only two perfect brackets remain in ESPN’s Women’s Tournament Challenge. I honestly don’t know if anyone successfully predicted the 16 teams left in the men’s bracket. This seems like a good time to mention that ESPN has a Second Chance Bracket. No, it’s not nearly as fun, but I will never get tired of filling these things out.