The first two rounds of the 2021 NCAA Tournament featured everything a college basketball fan could have hoped for as the event returned following last year’s pandemic-related hiatus. There were stunning upsets, dramatic finishes and breakout stars with a handful of players standing out above the rest for their heroic efforts on the big stage.
This weekend’s Sweet 16 will offer a chance for many of those stars to build their legacies, but with the field winnowing rapidly, it’s time to take a moment and appreciate what’s been accomplished so far. Basketball is the ultimate team sport, but there is no question that individual greatness is often a key ingredient to success this time of year.
Take Oral Roberts, for example. The No. 15 seed Eagles’ one-two punch of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor have carried the program to an unlikely appearance in the Sweet 16, and they may not be done yet. But they are just two of the individuals who emerged as heroes during the opening weekend of action.
The Pac-12 has been maligned as a basketball league in recent years, and the conference was robbed of the opportunity to show its improvement on a national stage in 2020, when the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Monday produced a rather stunning reality: there will be four Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 and just one team from the Big Ten.
That was solidified during the conclusion to second round action, as No. 7 seed Oregon knocked off No. 2 seed Iowa. Then, No. 11 seed UCLA defeated Abilene Christian to become the Pac-12’s third squad bound for this weekend’s regional semifinals. USC pushed the total to four by knocking off Kansas 85-51, the third worst in KU history, in the final game of the second round.
No. 1 Baylor (-6.5) vs. No. 5 Villanova
No. 3 Arkansas (-11) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Oregon State
No. 2 Houston (-6) vs. No. 11 Syracuse
No. 1 Michigan (-3) vs. No. 4 Florida State
No. 2 Alabama (-5.5) vs. No. 11 UCLA
No. 1 Gonzaga (-13.5) vs. No. 5 Creighton
No. 6 USC (-1) vs. No. 7 Oregon