March Madness Recap: A year full of upsets


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Ryan Caldwell '21, Photographer

It was one of the most anticipated tournaments in the history of March Madness. Blue Bloods were missing out on the big dance, undefeated teams trying to stay perfect, and upset teams trying to make a statement. With all the post-covid year anticipation, the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament lived up to the hype. I want to cover everything that happened in this year’s madness, but I’m going to feature three teams that overperformed, and three that underperformed in a recap of the Big Dance.

It started on the first day of games, when the ‘first four’ games were played which featured four play in games to get into the tournament. The most important of them being UCLA vs Michigan State, a game that UCLA toughed out in overtime defeating Tom Izzo’s Spartans. This game seemed insignificant at the time, but it sparked a tournament run by the Bruins that no one would soon forget. Led by the player of the East region Johnny Juzang, and Jaime Jaquez, UCLA would knock off BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama (in OT), and Michigan. In the Final Four they would lose to then undefeated Gonzaga in the game of the year, where Bulldogs PG Jalen Suggs hit a miracle game winner that capped off an astounding game. UCLA was one of three ‘over performer’ teams I have chosen to feature, the 11 seeded Bruins shocked the world and did it playing excellent basketball beating many great teams.

On the first day of the first round we saw our first major upset, and it was a giant. The 15 seed Oral Roberts busted brackets by beating a loaded 2 seed Ohio State team that many people had going far. The Golden Eagles were led by the Nations lesser known leading scorer Max Absoms who averaged almost 29 points per game. Absoms and forward Kevin Obanor led a magical run of beating OSU, 7 seed Florida in the next round, but losing at the buzzer to 3 seed Arkansas in the sweet sixteen. It’s easy to say Oral Roberts was a Cinderella story team that exceeded everyone’s expectations.

My last overperformer team was Oregon State. The 12 seed Beavers finished last in the Pac-12 conference and only got into the tournament because of their run to win the Pac-12 tournament. That said, led by Veteran guard Ethan Thompson they went on to beat star studded Tennessee, Oklahoma State led by consensus first overall pick in the NBA draft Cade Cunningham, and well coached Loyola-Chicago. They would lose in the Elite 8 to the 2 seeded Houston Cougars, but they went on a historic run ending the season beating many talented teams, over performing star players each round.

Now that the overperformers are out of the way, let’s get to some underwhelming teams. Starting with Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the tournament hot losing in overtime to 1 seed Illinois in the ultra-competitive Big Ten tourney, and their expected road to the final four wasn’t extremely difficult. That said they looked absolutely exhausted against 15 seed Oral Roberts, they had played multiple overtime games with a meere seven man rotation. Their best players Duane Washington and EJ Liddell missed many shots and turned the ball over too often against the Golden Eagles to win. They had National Championship Potential and they choked.

Next is Texas, the Longhorns were bounced first round by 14 seed Abilene Christian. While OSU were upset by a good Oral Roberts team who would go far in the tournament, Texas were upset by a team that was not very talented, and would get destroyed in the second round. Texas shot the ball well, above 40% in the game, but they had an abysmal 20+ turnovers which was a season high for them. Abilene Christian while not very talented had heart, they willed themselves to victory over a team filled with NBA prospects in a low scoring affair.

Last is Illinois, they won the Big Ten, were on a long winning streak heading into the tourney, and they were a 1 seed. They threw all of what I just said out of the window in the second round against Loyola Chicago. They were out coached, out shot, out defended, in fact it didn’t seem like an upset because the Ramblers won so easily 71-58. Led by Ayo Dosunmu and big man Kofi Cockburn, they shrunk at the challenge and threw away their title chances.

Lastly, a national championship recap. Baylor vs Gonzaga was a highly expected game early in the year as they were easily the two best teams in the regular season. But when the tip-off occurred you could tell this was Baylors’ game. Guards Davion Mitchell, Macio Teague and Jared Butler were red hot shooting the ball and were so tough on defense that Gonzaga didn’t know how to react. The Bears took a lead very early that they would never lose as Gonzaga struggled to shoot the three and rebound over Baylor. An 86-70 championship for coach Scott Drew was well deserved and it capped off a crazy and amazing NCAA tournament.