NCAA Tournament Takeaways: What we learned from women’s round of 64 and men’s round of 32

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.

NCAA Tournament Takeaways: What we learned from men’s first round

The greatest time of year on the sports calendar is finally here. We have all waited a very long time to enjoy March Madness. At long last, our full days of meaningful basketball games have returned! The men’s NCAA tournament is off to a thrilling start and there is still plenty to come with the second round of action on Sunday and the women’s tournament getting underway. With the first 36 games in the books on the men’s side, let’s take a look at what we learned.

We really missed March Madness

Whether it was Oral Roberts stunning Ohio State, Ohio knocking out the defending champs, or complaining about our brackets being busted, it was so good to have the NCAA tournament back. Friday really spoiled us with tons of upsets and three overtime games. Saturday was a bit more tame early on, but we still had plenty to talk about with Virginia losing its first NCAA tournament game since the biggest upset ever against UMBC in 2018, VCU bowing out due to COVID-19 positive tests and Abilene Christian shocking Texas. To put it in perspective, my friend Akshat offers a very sobering comparison.

Needless to say, we all needed March Madness back in our lives. The second round of the men’s tournament starts Sunday, as does the first round of the women’s tournament. There are going to be an absurd number of basketball games on. Savor these moments. As we learned last year, we can’t take it for granted and before we know it, the season will be over and we will be without college basketball once again.

The NCAA still has a long way to go on gender equity

This should come as no surprise, but the women competing in San Antonio were not given the same treatment as their male counterparts in Indianapolis. While the men had a full weight room, the women had one weight rack with a few dumbbells. Thankfully, Oregon’s Sedona Prince was unwilling to stand for this.

The NCAA botched the whole situation. They issued all kinds of excuses and apologies, but that does not erase the very apparent issue. The NCAA does not have the best interests of women’s college sports at heart. I get that the men’s game makes more revenue, but for the governing body of college sports to not only allow, but play a hand in increasing the gap between men’s and women’s sports is disgusting. All signs point to Mark Emmert being unqualified to hold his position. Thankfully, athletes from the NBA, WNBA and men’s college hoops spoke up on social media and Prince’s tweet went viral. It made national news broadcasts across the country and reignited the conversation surrounding a lack of funding and respect for female college athletes. I won’t pretend that this fixes everything, but it is good to put the spotlight on the issue. And, as a result, the NCAA fixed the situation.

It is nice to see that these athletes can use their platform to advocate for themselves, but it is way past time for these things to stop happening. Hopefully, the NCAA actually learns something from this incident and addresses how they prioritize their athletes. I won’t be holding my breath though.

Cinderella is alive and well

Four teams seeded 13 or higher reached the Round of 32 for the first time in tournament history. No. 13 North Texas, No. 13 Ohio, No. 14 Abilene Christian and No. 15 Oral Roberts all booked spots in the second round in stunning fashion. In total, nine double-digit seeds made it through the first round. With Abilene Christian set to face No. 11 UCLA, we are guaranteed to have a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. In a year unlike any other, there was bound to be upsets. I expected that. This level of chaos was not something I saw coming.

Could one of these teams truly be Cinderella and reach the Final Four? Recent history suggests that it is likely. From 2013 to 2018, a team seeded 7th or higher made it to the Final Four. No. 11 Loyola Chicago did in 2018. No. 7 South Carolina made it to the final weekend in 2017. No. 10 Syracuse stunned everyone with a semifinal appearance in 2016. No. 7 Michigan State reached the Final Four in 2015. No. 7 UConn beat No. 8 Kentucky in the National Championship game in 2014. What a wild year that was. No. 9 Wichita State made a semifinal run in 2013. It is far from a guarantee, but all signs point to another unforeseen team making a deep run.

If I had to pick one team from this year’s group, I am looking at UCLA. Michigan is not at full strength without Isaiah Livers. Alabama looked plenty mortal against Iona. Florida State and Colorado have high ceilings, but low floors. Mick Cronin’s group is my pick to play Cinderella this year after watching the first round.

Pac-12 came to play

Only one conference in men’s college hoops emerges from the first round undefeated. The Pac-12 went 5-0 as Colorado, USC, Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State all advanced to the round of 32. Now, that record has an asterisk because Oregon advanced without actually playing, but this is still incredibly impressive. Georgetown was a very trendy upset pick over Colorado, but the Buffaloes blew out the Hoyas by 23. In fact, all four teams that actually played won by double digits, which is just unheard of. None of these teams were seeded a five seed.

Now, the task gets much harder going forward. Florida State, Kansas, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma State await, but after what we have seen so far, it would be a mistake to count this conference out. Remember this next year when you are making your bracket. It’s important to eliminate that East Coast bias.

ACC was as bad as we thought

Speaking of teams on the East Coast, the ACC was downright terrible. And this should not come as a shock. Despite having seven teams in the tournament field, this was a down year for the conference. Virginia and Florida State were the highest-seeded teams, landing on the four-seed line. Much has been made of Duke’s struggles, but they were far from the only blue blood to miss a step this year. UNC was incredibly inconsistent. Georgia Tech was too. Virginia Tech and Clemson faded down the stretch. Louisville, who arguably should’ve been in the field, had some ugly losses. The bottom of the conference was really bad as well. Miami, Notre Dame, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest all finished with losing records. A 2-5 showing in the first round feels like a fair reflection. Syracuse and Florida State advance, but their opponents, West Virginia and Colorado respectively, could very well keep the ACC out of the Sweet 16 all together.

What home state advantage?

Purdue was the only school from the state of Indiana to go dancing his year. The Boilermakers earned a top-four seed and seemed poised for a potential Sweet 16 run playing in front of a largely pro-Purdue crowd. North Texas had other ideas. Until arenas are back to full capacity, it might be hard to count on location making much of a difference in the outcome of games. These limited capacity crowds are really fun. Grand Canyon students gave us some memorable moments, but it is clear crowd noise and energy is still not too much of a factor.

All or nothing for Virginia

This time around, it is a bit more understandable why the Cavaliers were upset. The team was not able to practice all week due to COVID-19 protocols and the rust was clear on offense. UVa scored its fewest points of the season as they shot 35 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from behind the arc. 

It is easy to forget, but Virginia was actually the defending champion, having won the tournament in 2019. That means UVa’s last loss in the NCAA tournament came in 2018, which just so happens to be the infamous UMBC game. Looking at how this all played out over the past three tournaments, I think the Cavaliers would do it all again if given the chance. Those first-round upsets sting, but those national championship banners hang in the rafters forever. (Well most of the time. Sorry, Louisville.)

Buddy Buckets is for real

For those wondering, Buddy Boeheim is more than just the coach’s son. In the month of March, Boeheim is averaging 26.7 points per game. He went off for 30 in Syracuse’s first-round win against San Diego State, including a torrid stretch where he scored 16 straight points. He is joined by Kevin Obanor of Oral Roberts and Miles McBride from West Virginia as the only players to reach the 30-point mark in the Round of 64 this year. Boeheim and McBride will face off on Sunday as well, so prepare for some major fireworks. As a Syracuse alum, I don’t think I could have written this column without mentioning Jim Boeheim’s youngest son.

Making a perfect bracket is impossible

We didn’t even get through the first round before everyone’s brackets were busted. ESPN and Bleacher Report both announced that no users on their site had a perfect bracket after Ohio upset Virginia and Maryland knocked off UConn. I didn’t even come close to making it that far. I had UNC facing Ohio State in the Elite Eight with the Buckeyes advancing to the Final Four. That didn’t quite pan out, with both teams suffering first-round losses. Texas was also in my Final Four. Trying to predict the outcome of 63 games is inherently difficult as it is. Add in the wild range of possible outcomes from college athletes and you have what makes the tournament so entertaining. The single-elimination format makes it truly unpredictable. So while your bracket may not be perfect, you can take solace in knowing that no one else managed to predict all these results either. And maybe now there is still hope you could win your bracket pool.

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Round of 32 projections

One round down and now we are on to the next. This has been one of the craziest round of 64 we have ever seen in the NCAA tournament. We had 5 games decided by one point on Thursday only to be followed up by every top seed winning except for one on Friday. Now the competition stiffens as we get some really interesting matchups in the round of 32. Here are the teams that will keeping on dancing in March Madness a little longer. All of these victories will be very sweet indeed.

Midwest:

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati: The Wildcats entered the tournament undefeated. I don’t know if they will finish the same way but they will finish the weekend unblemished.

#4 Maryland vs. #5 West Virginia: Both of these teams avoided being upset in the round of 64. The Terps will advance for a Sweet 16 date with Kentucky.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #6 Butler: The Irish looked a little shaky against Northeastern. I expect them to look a lot more polished in a win over the Bulldogs.

#2 Kansas vs. #7 Wichita State: This is a matchup the Jayhawks were hoping to avoid. Wichita is a matchup nightmare and will down their instate rivals.

West

#1 Wisconsin vs. #8 Oregon: The Ducks made it all the way to the PAC 12 final. Their run in this tournament ends here though with a loss to the Badgers.

#4 North Carolina vs. #5 Arkansas: Neither one of these teams looked too pretty winning last round. UNC’s athleticism and speed will be too much Arkansas though.

#6 Xavier vs. #14 Georgia State: Georgia State shocked Baylor in a game I thought they had no chance in. They might just do it again but I am picking the favored Musketeers.

#2 Arizona vs. #10 Ohio State: The Buckeyes looking convincing against VCU. But D’Angelo Russell is only a one man army and Arizona has a superb starting five.

East

#1 Villanova vs. #8 North Carolina State: Villanova took care of business last round. I think they will do it again against the upset-minded Wolfpack.

#4 Louisville vs. #5 Northern Iowa: Northern Iowa looked convincing in their win over Wyoming. Louisville barely hung to beat UC Irvine. UNI is playing better and will get to keep playing.

#3 Oklahoma vs. #11 Dayton: After two wins in a row, the Flyers are picking up some momentum. Oklahoma is overseeded and Dayton will show us why.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State: The Cavaliers looked poised for a Final Four appearance last season but fell to the Spartans. Tom Izzo’s team ruins their dreams a second year running.

South

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State: Duke dominated every aspect of their first game and showed why they are a number one seed.

#4 Georgetown vs. #5 Utah: This is a tough one to call but the Utes have the potential to catch fire on offense. Their shooting could be too much for the Hoyas.

#11 California Los Angeles vs. #14 Alabama Birmingham: Two of the biggest upsets from Thursday meet in the round of 32. UCLA will continue their Cinderella dream.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #7 Iowa: Gonzaga scares me a little bit due to their losses this year. However, I think the Zags make it through to the Sweet 16.

By Sunday night, the round of 32 will be in the books and we will be gearing up for a crazy Sweet 16. Look for more predictions next week when more tournament games are set to be played. I might have had a rough round of 64 projecting winners, but I have a good feeling about this one (said every fan ever).