The 2021 men’s Sweet 16 is complete after four days of hectic tournament action in Indianapolis. Here are five things we have learned:
1. Average days for Gonzaga and Baylor have been good enough so far, and things could continue like this. The top two ranked teams made the Sweet 16, despite performances that were slightly below standard against Oklahoma and Wisconsin, respectively. The minor fights actually speak to the quality of each group: Expectations for the Bulldogs and Bears were justifiably high entering the tournament, and their ability to get through games comfortably and win bodes well for things to come. They probably won’t have to play the perfect 40 minutes to advance in this tournament. Your opposition could.
Hopes for a heavyweight showdown between the two sides, which was actually on the calendar for December before complications from COVID-19 ruled it out, must be bolstered by the way support is shaping up. Gonzaga got a favorable region to start with, and will have to go through victorious Creighton and the winner of No. 6 USC seed and No. 7 seed Oregon. Baylor will draw Villanova without Collin Gillespie and Arkansas-Oral Roberts winner. In the rest of the group, Illinois is finished and Michigan is without Isaiah Livers. There is a very visible path to the Final Four for both sides, and the potential for a Gonzaga-Baylor final has been shaping up as best as possible thus far.
2. According to KenPom data, there were four teams that entered the tournament pairing the top 10 offenses with a defense that ranked outside of the top 50. Villanova is the only one left. Iowa, Ohio State and LSU are heading home. Those parameters are arbitrary, and they certainly don’t prove anything on a large scale, but we did see those three teams ultimately burned out by their inability to make saves. Villanova will try to counter the trend against Baylor, which could be a difficult task.
The ability to control the speed of games and win on the defensive side as needed can be a huge separator this time of year. Loyola Chicago, USC, Florida State, and Arkansas still exist. The Ramblers actually entered the tournament with the No. 1 defensive efficiency mark in the nation, which could have been a popular surprise pick if Illinois hadn’t ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. (It’s very hard to avoid how disappointing the Illini were, we’ll leave it at that.) There have been too many surprises and unexpected results to say anything overwhelming. But it may be wise to rely on defensive-minded teams as we rethink these matchups in the future.
3. Speaking of Villanova, we should probably stop doubting Jay Wright’s ability to make adjustments. Gillespie’s absence made the Wildcats a popular target against No. 12 seed Winthrop. That turned out to be a bit of a problem, as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl became a more pronounced offensive focal point and strong team defense led to a bad day for Winthrop star Chandler Vaudrin. The Wildcats aren’t going to have it easy against Baylor, but the fact that they’re still here is pretty impressive, even if they didn’t have to play Purdue to get there.
4. Abilene Christian’s frenzied and unlikely one-point loss to Texas in the first round turned out to be true twilight zone-type action. And for transitive ownership, the Longhorns have a case as the most disappointing seeded team that falters on the opening weekend. ACU essentially spooked Texas in a close game with physicality (it’s hard to win shooting 29% from the field, but arguably even harder to lose when your opponent misses 71% of their shots). The upstart Wildcats were later beaten easily by UCLA after their offense petered out. Illinois should not have lost, but was ousted by a legitimately strong opponent. Texas wasn’t, even though Abilene Christian gave us one of the highlights of the tournament.
5. For the record, the distribution of the seeds remaining in the field is as follows: three No. 1, two No. 2, one No. 3, one No. 4, two No. 5, one six, one seven, one eight, two 11, one 12, and of course one No. 15. Burn the brackets.
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The last few years have focused on a buzzword for women’s college basketball: parity. On Monday, we were able to see it in full screen. (By Emma Baccellieri)
Personal Growth Mondays have been a staple for Gonzaga since 2018 and are an important part of the Bulldogs’ recent success. (By Greg Bishop)
In less than a decade, Abilene Christian’s trainer Joe Golding turned a D-II into a March Cinderella too. (By Kevin Sweeney)
After taking LSU’s best hit and fast break, Michigan is the last Big Ten team standing in the NCAA men’s tournament. (By Ross Dellenger)
EJ Liddell opened up about the social media threats he received after the loss of Ohio State. (By Jason Jordan)
The best we saw
After the first day of the NCAA women’s tournament turned perfect, Day 2 saw a No. 11, 12 and No. 13 seed in all of the spring upsets. No. 13 seed Wright State’s win over No. 4 Arkansas was the biggest first-round upset in the women’s tournament since 2012, and it represented the program’s first Big Dance win. –Molly geary
Pick ‘Em: Women’s Second Round
SI’s Kevin Sweeney makes his picks for Tuesday’s eight second-round women’s games:
No. 1 NC State vs No. 8 South Florida: NC State is too balanced and talented to rebound this early, even against the Bulls’ stingy defense.
No. 5 Iowa over No. 4 Kentucky: Caitlin Clark vs. Rhyne Howard is a must see TV show. If Iowa can make enough stops, it can make you furious.
No. 3 Tennessee over No. 6 Michigan: Both teams love to hit the glass, but Tennessee gets a better guard game and wins this one.
No. 4 West Virginia over No. 5 Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech somehow survived an annoying SFA scare in the first round, but its streak will come to an end against Kysre Gondrezick and the Mountaineers.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 8 Oregon State: Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke are too much for these pesky beavers. Fighting cocks roll.
No. 2 Baylor over No. 7 Virginia Tech: The Bears will overwhelm the Hokies on the glass and dominate the paint.
No. 1 UConn over No. 8 Syracuse: The Paige Bueckers show continues for UConn, and the Huskies do it even without Geno Auriemma patrolling the sidelines.
Stanford No. 1 over Oklahoma State No. 8: Natasha Mack will make things tough for the Cardinal at the rim, but it will be tough sledding for OSU against this Stanford defense.
Florida State vs. Michigan will be the most entertaining matchup of the men’s Sweet 16s. The Seminoles are finally starting to defend at the level Leonard Hamilton expects, and FSU has a lot of big bodies to send Hunter Dickinson out. But Michigan is prepared and has found ways to win games of all styles this season. I’m already looking forward to this one. –Kevin Sweeney
On the buzzer
The Big Ten and Big 12, the two most acclaimed men’s conferences of the 2020-21 season that combined for 16 tournament teams, have only one team each in the men’s Sweet 16 (Big Ten: Michigan; Big 12: Baylor) . That’s as much as each of Summit (Oral Roberts), Missouri Valley (Loyola Chicago), and WCC (Gonzaga). Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has a quarter of the remaining equipment after receiving just five offers, and is guaranteed to send at least one to the Elite Eight. Go figure. –MG
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.