The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last weekend gave us a little bit of everything. There were plenty of upsets and even more down to the wire games.
Sunday was the first day of the second round and it gave us three double-digit seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 following close affairs. Another double-digit seed advanced the next day when UCLA moved forward.
There are a few Cinderella Stories out there. Loyola Chicago won the battle within the state of Illinois when it upset a No. 1 seed in the Fighting Illini. A few hours later, mid-major Oral Roberts continued its storybook run with a second round win over Florida to become just the second-ever No. 15 seed to get to the second weekend of March Madness. Oral Roberts took down a No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round.
I really cannot peg Loyola Chicago as a Cinderella-type team. The No. 8 seeded Ramblers reached the Final Four in 2018 and this team may be even better. They have the nation’s best defense as they hold opponents to 55.7 points a game. Beating Illinois proved Loyola Chicago is good enough to win it all.
Speaking of Illinois, the Big Ten Conference suffered mightily last week. The conference was considered, deservedly so, was ranked as the best conference in the nation. They sent an NCAA-best nine teams to the tourney, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. But of those nine teams, only one, Michigan, survived to reach the Sweet 16. The Big Ten was on the wrong side of the two biggest upsets of the first round (Oral Roberts over Ohio State and North Texas over Purdue).
UCLA was not the only bubble team remaining. Syracuse became the first double-digit seed to advance after escaping West Virginia. In both that second-round win and it’s first round victory over No. 6 seed San Diego State, Syracuse passed the eye test by looking like the higher seed. We have a father/coach story going with the Orange as coach Jim Boeheim’s son, Buddy, has emerged as a shooter. He has scored 55 points including 13 three-pointers in two games. Boeheim and son were on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble at the start of March. Then they won three ACC games in a row, earned an at-large bid and have outplayed two tough opponents.
My “team to look out for” team, Arkansas, is still alive. The Razorbacks took care of a strong Cinderella candidate in Colgate in the first round before edging a Final Four capable Texas Tech team in second round action. Coach Eric Musselman has this team rolling, having won 11 of 12.
The projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Cade Cunningham, is out of March Madness. We will not see the 6-8 guard until next fall in the NBA. His Oklahoma State team fell to yet another double-digit seed, No. 12 Oregon State. Many thought that Cunningham could lead the Cowboys to a national title. The clutch trait he showed all season was absent over the weekend. I thought that Cunningham was going to give us a Carmello Anthony type story when Anthony led Syracuse to a national title as a freshman in 2003.
The top seed, Gonzaga, survived the weekend. I still see the Zags as the team to beat. I think Baylor and Arkansas could give them a battle.