The second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday was strange and wild from start to finish. Loyola Chicago started against first-seeded Illinois and defeated No. 11-seeded Syracuse, No. 15-seeded Oral Roberts and No. 12-seeded Oregon State, meaning the Sweet 16 will have some clear losers this week. Another double-digit number is guaranteed Monday – an 11-on-14 matchup between UCLA and Abilene Christian – and No. 1. 13 Ohio and no. 10 Maryland also have a chance to advance to the second weekend.
Will the 2021 NCAA Tournament, already delightfully unpredictable in its first four days, continue its trend toward a fifth? Will the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines have an easier time, at least in the second round? Now that Illinois is out of the picture, who will beat the Midwest region’s networks next week? ESPN.com’s college basketball team of Myron Medcalfe, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi evaluates Sunday’s top games and the ones they will be following Monday in the NCAA Tournament. Follow this link for Monday’s NCAA Tournament opening times, and go to this page to view your March Madness bracket.
Syracuse, Oral Roberts and Oregon State are in double figures on the right side of the Sweet 16. On the left, do you feel better about Ohio’s or Maryland’s chances of getting there on Monday? Is there any chance that Abilene Christian will continue to wear the glass slipper?
Gasaway: The analytical oath requires me to first declare that Maryland has the best chance on paper. But I saw what Jason Preston of Ohio State did to Virginia. With all due respect to Marcus Zegarowski of Creighton: Preston will be the best player on the field when the Bobcats face the Bluejays. Greg McDermott’s defense has been very good this season, but look at what Preston did against the Cavaliers: 11 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. This brings back serious memories of Dwyane Wade at Marquette in the 2003 tournament. (I’m not equating Preston with D-Wade; I’m just paying tribute to the universal side of each player). Sure, Creighton is the favorite, but I can see Preston doing something special to get his team to the Sweet 16.
As for Abilene Christian, this is going to sound weird, but I thought the Wildcats’ chances were better against the #3 seed than against this #11 seed. Joe Golding’s group could make Texas give up 36% of its assets, but I don’t see that happening against UCLA.
Medcalf: I think Jason Preston and Ohio State have the best chance, as the Bobcats face a Creighton team that was crushed in the first round by UC Santa Barbara and has continued to improve in recent weeks. Preston is a top guard who has weathered the complexities of Tony Bennett’s defense. Ohio doesn’t give up much size either. Preston is 3, James Madison transfer Dwight Wilson is 6’4, Ben Vander Plas is 6’4 and Ben Roderick is 6’4. While the overall numbers suggest that Creighton is an excellent offensive team (20th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom), the Bluejays have not consistently held that mark in recent weeks. In three games, Greg McDermott’s team has not scored more than one point per possession. Meanwhile, Ohio shot 52 percent inside the arc against a Virginia team that ranks second in the ACC in defensive efficiency. Creighton swung to the corner. Monday could be the death knell for this team.
Ohio leads Virginia 42-40 in the second half, and Jason Preston finds Ben Vander Plas for a quick 3-pointer.
Borzello: As one of the frontrunners in Jason Preston’s group, I’m putting my money on Ohio to beat Creighton. Ben Vander Plas deserves some love too! But since Myron and John are taking this one too, I’m going to continue with Abilene Christian. I’m surprised the Wildcats aren’t getting any attention here, considering they’re playing against 11th-ranked UCLA, a team playing its third game in five days…. Against a team that guards aggressively for 40 minutes.
Abilene Christian created a crisis in Texas, a team with three experienced guards. UCLA has a primary ball handler in Tiger Campbell, and although he dished out nine assists and committed just two turnovers in the NCAA Tournament, Abilene Christian’s pressure defense will be different than anything it has seen this season. The Wildcats lead the league in defensive rebounds and love to pressure. If they can slow down Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez, who both have a big advantage on the wing, I think they can make it to the Sweet 16.
Lunardi: I rate Maryland’s chances the least. After they get Jonas and the Rick Pitino drama behind them, Alabama should move on – perhaps as early as April. Similarly, I think Creighton was lucky to get past a solid UC Santa Barbara team, and the Bluejays have too much firepower for Ohio U. in the second round. Abilene Christian plays its third game in five days against a UCLA team with few reserves. The Wildcats have taunted Texas to the point of exhaustion, and if they get another round of condescending whistles, they can do the same to the Bruins.
The rankings will tell you that Houston is now the favorite in the Midwest since Illinois lost to Loyola Chicago. But the Cougars looked shaky in a narrow win over Rutgers by 10 seconds. So, who do you currently have in this area:. Houston or the field?
Borzello: Give me the land. Houston will be the favorite, but Loyola Chicago was absolutely incredible in their win over Illinois and could easily reach the Final Four, and don’t count out Syracuse and the 2-3 zone in the Big Dance. Houston will have days to prepare for the zone, but the Cougars should be much better Sunday than they were against Rutgers. They haven’t been consistent in their shot from the arc the last few weeks, but someone like DeJon Jarreau finding holes in the middle of the zone can be effective. Opponents are shooting just about 29% from 3-point range against the Cougars, which bodes well for Buddy Boeheim’s slowing mission.
Medcalf: I’ll take the field. I don’t think anyone watched the Rutgers-Houston game on Sunday and thought the Cougars were clearly better than the Scarlet Knights. The loss of Illinois opens the door. Loyola Chicago is doing what the 2018 team did to reach the Final Four. These Ramblers are actually better than this version of the team in some areas. Every time Syracuse advances, I assume Hakeem Warrick scores 13 points or more. Oregon State, a team that cracked the cheat code last week and continues to hit 3-point shots, is still a threat.
The Cougars have been on a roll the last few weeks. But Dejon Jarreau isn’t 100% yet, so nothing about his status is certain. Calvin Sampson’s team will make things difficult for any opponent in this region. It feels like a life and death battle to get into the Final Four, with no real favorite. Each team can represent the region at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Loyola Chicago wins over #1 Illinois and celebrates on the floor with Sister Jean.
Gasaway: Field, field, field! Don’t get me wrong, I love the Cougars and their mix of glove defense and tenacious offensive rebounding. But look at everything this region can throw at UH in the next 80 minutes. Syracuse gets up first, and if Rutgers can make Houston look immobile at times (which it did), there’s a good chance Jim Boeheim’s zone can do the same. In addition, Buddy Boeheim has played at the Wooden Award winner’s level in the last four games: He scored 113 points on 24-of-43 shots from beyond the arc. If the Cougars survive the zone defense and the new Stephen Curry, they will be rewarded by Loyola Chicago or Oregon State. Yeah, on paper, it’s an open seedless group. But the truth is, there’s still plenty of power in the Midwest, even if Illinois has been shown the door.
Lunardi: Someone is going to win two more games in the Midwest, and I could make a compelling case for all four Sweet 16 contenders. Of course, going after the Boeheim family is a bad idea, let alone Tinkle’s unexpected move to Oregon State. And all that remains of the candidate is the recent history of the Final Four, Cameron Krutwig, Sister Jean and the man upstairs. That said, give me Houston. The Panthers easily escaped the notoriously poor play that many champions have in this tournament. I’m not saying Houston will win the national championship, but the Midwest Cup is a good bet at this point.
What time do you think Gonzaga will play against Oklahoma on Monday? Is there anything in this game that makes you think?
Lunardi: Remember the 2018 Final Four, when Oklahoma became the first of the new national champions? Lost 44 soon. With Buddy Hield. It probably won’t be that bad, but it won’t be good for Oklahoma. Entering the game with a 10-12 halftime lead, Gonzaga inevitably ran away in the second half, taking a turn for the worse.
Medcalf: Lon Kruger has coached great teams and played against great teams in the NCAA tournament. I don’t think Gonzaga will see that moment again until we get into the second half. Let’s say the 17th minute after halftime, only because I think Kruger can coach Oklahoma in a tight first half against Gonzaga. Nothing about this game worries me, but I wonder what’s going on with this Gonzaga team that just saw Illinois lose to the underdog looking for perfection.
We are approaching the point where all questions for the postseason will focus on whether Gonzaga can win his first national title and have a perfect season, something that hasn’t happened since the NCAA went to 64 teams in 1985. Of course, this has been a possibility all season. But now, with the destruction of first place, it seems more tangible. But we’ve had some good teams that haven’t been able to do that. Gonzaga certainly has what it takes to get there. The other teams in their position certainly felt the weight of that possibility as they moved forward.
Joel Ayayi passes from behind to Jalen Suggs, who makes an alley-oop jam at Gonzaga against Norfolk.
Borzello: I think it will be a little more than half. Oklahoma’s 16-10 record is not boring, but this is the team that beat Alabama, Kansas, Texas and West Virginia – and the Mountaineers twice. The Sooners will be without Davion Harmon because of a positive KOVID-19 test, but they are 6-2 this season when they are without players because of coronavirus issues. I think their pace, experience and ball control will keep them in the game until the second half. I’m not too worried about any particular matchup, although I think Elijah Harkless could cause Corey Kispert problems and potentially put him in foul trouble. Harkless has played his best basketball of the season the past few games and is a physical and aggressive point guard. It’s a little worrisome. Gonzaga should still have a two-digit lead.
Gasaway: I’ve seen Gonzaga fail and even struggle in consecutive games against Pepperdine and Pacific this season. It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs are struggling as much as Oklahoma has for a while. But no, there’s nothing about this game that seems very intimidating from Zag’s perspective. The Sooners got this far with minimal turnovers and good defensive work in the paint. Lon Kruger always finds a way, but what bothers me most about OU is that he’s not very accurate. If Gonzaga is not slowed down and the Bulldogs are not forced to get the ball out of the net early in their possession, things could get out of hand.
frequently asked questions
How many second-place teams won the NCAA Tournament?
Nine of the 15 seeds have defeated the second seed in the NCAA Tournament, meaning the 15 seeds have an overall record of 8-132 against the second seed, or 5.71% of wins.
Have all seven seeds ever won the NCAA tournament?
#7 – The UConn Huskies won the 2014 NCAA Tournament against #8 seed Kentucky – the only time a #7 seed has appeared in the championship game.
When were the 4 seeds of number 1 last sown?
The highest seeded has reached the Final Four every year except 2006. Only four times in those 20 years have three or more seeds reached the Final Four: 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2008.