Recapping the Wild First Two Rounds of the NCAA Tournament
Where do we even begin with this? I’m still riding on a high from the four-day basketball bonanza we just had and am finding it hard to re-focus myself because I think there’s another game that should be starting soon. The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament is always a whirlwind, and while this year was different for a lot of reasons (I’m meh on Monday games), it didn’t disappoint. Let’s go over some of the things that happened this weekend and look ahead to the rest of the fun.
With all the shenanigans we had this past weekend, this is like asking me to pick my favorite snack. Way too many options (It’s Doritos classic Nacho Cheese, by the way).
We had nine teams with double-digit seeds that made it out of Round 1. Nine! Including five that were 12-seeds or higher. It’s a tough choice, but I have to go with the darling Oral Roberts.
What they’ve managed to do in just a span of a few days is nothing short of poetic. A classic 15-seed given almost no chance to advance out of Round 1, they showed up and genuinely outplayed a strong Ohio State team. They became the 9th 15-seed to knock off a 2-seed in NCAA Tournament history.
We’ve seen plenty of 15-seeds come close to pulling this off, but more often than not it goes the same way. Feisty Mid-Major 15-seed comes out guns blazing in the first half and gives the Power-Five school a scare, and then get beaten down in the second half. NOT THIS TIME!
Oral Roberts led after the first half and continued to rise to the occasion in the second half and overtime by not backing down and playing their game. They chucked up 35 three-pointers on their way to the big upset, where I saw the spread as high as 15 points.
What makes this the craziest upset to me is that they aren’t a fluke. They messed around and knocked off Florida on Sunday in another tight game. This team isn’t an easy out, and we’ll see how Arkansas fares as their next opponent.
Most Dramatic Ending
Weirdly enough, for a weekend that featured so many great games and close finishes, we didn’t see a true buzzer-beater to win in this opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. We saw some incredibly clutch performances, and while we didn’t get a true buzzer-beater to sink our teeth into, we got some great endings.
The award for Most Dramatic Ending of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament goes to Texas and Abilene Christian. The last game of Round 1 didn’t disappoint on Saturday night, giving us our fair share of clutch and drama.
This low-scoring game was within reach for ACU all night but finally became a real possibility in the middle of the second half. As a 14-seeded, 8.5-point underdog, it was fun to see them even put up a fight. And they did much more than that.
The last few minutes of this game were truly exciting, with Andrew Jones of Texas hitting a go-ahead three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to put the Longhorns up by one. ACU had one last possession to take the lead and put it away. And they drove to the hoop only to get blocked. Joe Pleasant, a junior on ACU, grabbed onto the ball and got fouled in the process. He calmly stepped to the line and drained two free throws to give them the win and upset Shaka Smart and Texas.
The end of this game had a little bit of everything and gets my vote for Most Dramatic Ending.
Again, with all of the upsets we had this weekend, it’s hard to just pick one, but here goes. I won’t pick on Ohio State twice in one post since I’m a nice guy. But I think losing in the first round as a 2-seed automatically gives you these honors.
Alternatively, I’d give this award to Illinois. They took care of business easily in their first-round matchup against Drexel but ran into a buzzsaw in Round 2 against Loyola Chicago.
The Illini, who had their best season in years and were a ton of people’s pick to win this whole thing, left millions of brackets busted by lunchtime on Sunday. Sure, that is disappointing enough, but the most disappointing part to me is that this one was never really close.
Illinois just got outplayed in this game. Loyola Chicago had a very smart game plan that they stuck to and played this one at their own pace and style. Illinois wasn’t ready for it and joined the LONG list of Big Ten teams that didn’t show up this weekend (I am prepared to take a ton of crap for this given my Big Ten bias).
They aren’t the first one-seed to get knocked off in the second round, and they won’t be the last. But I think given all of the excitement around this team, they have to be the biggest disappointment coming out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Underdog with a Shot
Let’s switch gears a bit and look towards the future. Yes, it is incredibly weird to not have another game on for this long. Yes, I am struggling a lot. But Saturday will come eventually, and when it does, we’ll be ready.
With all of these underdogs still floating around, there has to be at least one or two that will make it through to the Elite Eight. But which? I personally am picking Syracuse.
I hate myself too, don’t worry. But how could you not be tempted to take them here? To backtrack, let’s all stamp one thing on our foreheads for next March and beyond – I WILL AUTOMATICALLY PENCIL SYRACUSE INTO THE SWEET SIXTEEN REGARDLESS OF THEIR SEED.
They are just always around. I even referenced this in my Midwest Region Preview, and I hope you listened. As 6-point underdogs against Houston, I think they have serious value. It’s the famous Zone vs. one of the stronger defensive teams in the nation. It will be a punch-for-punch battle and should be one of the best games of the weekend, I think.
Syracuse is just clicking right now and has a stud in Buddy Boeheim, who can score with the best of ‘em. Houston is also riding high after a comeback win over Rutgers. So I don’t think it’s an easy win, but I like Syracuse’s chances here, especially at +210 ML. Oh, and if they win this one, see you in the Final Four.
Who Can Actually Win This?
We’ve weeded out a ton of teams already and are left with sixteen remaining. Out of those sixteen, how many can actually win this thing? I have to be honest, it’s really hard to picture anyone but Gonzaga or Baylor right now.
BUT, in the spirit of fun and anything can happen, there are a few other teams that are flying under the radar that I think are worth taking a flyer on.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide are no longer just a football school and have proven that this week. They cruised through their first two opponents and now have a date with a UCLA team that I think they can beat. That would leave them with the winner of the Michigan and Florida State matchup. Not an easy task, but Alabama is clicking at the right time and is scary offensively. If they can shoot the three like they did against Maryland, watch out. Worth a sprinkle at +1000.
I know this contradicts everything I just said in my write-up of Syracuse, but call it a hedge. Defense can take you a long way in college hoops, and Houston is fierce defensively. Like I said, I don’t think their game against Syracuse is an easy one. But if they can advance, they have a date with an 8 or a 12-seed. If you can get to the Final Four, anything can happen. Solid value at +900.
I’ll be back later this week with a more in-depth preview of the Sweet Sixteen. Until then, good luck going back to doing actual work.