NCAA men's tournament 2021: Sublime serenade of the Sweet 16


The Pac-12 Conference is leading the way in the 2021 NCAA men's tournament, marching into the second weekend with nearly an unblemished record.

Let's get this out of the way up front: my bracket is busted.

Oh, sure, there are three no. 1 seeds left in the tourney – condolences to the Illinois Fighting Illini – to help keep part of the bracket intact. And I did indeed have the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Baylor Bears, and Michigan Wolverines making it to where we currently stand with the Sweet 16.

Turns out, a reliance on the supposed strength of the Big 10 did me in. Illinois reaching the Final? Nope. The Ohio State Buckeyes reaching the Final Four? A slowly delivered ha, ha. 

These losses likely contributed to many a bracket being busted worldwide. That, and a large contingency of the remaining 13 teams filling out the Sweet 16, outside those three no. 1's, are ranked as a fifth-seed or lower in their respective region.

If you're scoring at home, here's how that looks:

  • 1 seed: 3 teams
  • 2 seed: 2 teams
  • 3 seed: 1 team
  • 4 seed: 1 team
  • 5 seed: 2 teams
  • 6 seed: 1 team
  • 7seed: 1 team
  • 8 seed: 1 team
  • 11 seed: 2 team
  • 12 seed: 1 team
  • 15 seed: 1 team
Almost every seed is represented in the Sweet 16. This is a far cry from the 2019 tournament, which saw the top three seeds in all four regions advance to this round, with the lowest being a 12-seed in the Oregon Ducks.

Here in 2021, the Ducks are back at it again, making their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in the last five tournaments. Oregon is part of a purely dominant Pac-12, which has gone 9-1 in this year's tournament, the lone blemish coming with the Colorado Buffaloes loss to Florida State in the round of 32. 

The conference will be guaranteed a representative in the Elite 8 thanks to a matchup between the seventh-seed Ducks and sixth-seed USC Trojans, who walloped the Kansas Jayhawks 85-51 in the round of 32.

That game basically put an exclamation point on the first two rounds of games for the Pac-12, announcing they were indeed a conference not to be slept on. 

And how about all the accolades poured on the Big 10 throughout the last couple months of the season and heading into the tournament? That can mostly be forgotten now as eight teams from the conference have bowed out and the one deemed the most susceptible to an early-round upset, the Michigan Wolverines, is still standing.

Action gets started on Saturday March 27 and the Final Four will be set by the end of Tuesday March 30. Here is a brief overview of those matchups.

Midwest Region

Games in the Midwest region will be played on Saturday March 27 and Monday March 29.

(12) Oregon State Beavers vs (8) Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Returning to the Sweet 16, the Ramblers (26-4) are making a habit of taking down conference tournament champions. In defeating Georgia Tech (ACC) and Illinois (Big 10), Loyola Chicago has proven to be slayer of champions and will look to add Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon State to that list.

The Beavers (19-12), winners in 9 of their last 11 games and part of the "year of the underdog", will look to keep their Cinderella season going.

Oregon State has defeated opponents from the SEC and Big 12 so far in the tourney to reach this point. The Beavers have an average margin victory of 12 points and hold a +27 rebounding advantage in the NCAA tournament.

Guard Ethan Thompson has been the standout so far, averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Ramon Silva can be a problem for opposing teams in the paint on both ends of the floor. Silva had 16 points in the victory over Tennessee and pulled down 12 rebounds against Oklahoma State. He also has seven blocked shots in two tournament games, with Oregon State collecting 11 against the Cowboys.

The Ramblers also have a center and guard shouldering the load in this year's Sweet 16 run. And center Cameron Krutwig knows intimately the feeling of being in the Big Dance.

Krutwig was a freshman on the 2018 team that made the deep tournament run. He put his knowledge and experience to use to propel the Ramblers to a victory in the round of 32 over Illinois. Krutwig has posted 29 points in this year's tourney to go along with 17 rebounds, five steals, and five assists.

Guard Lucas Williamson has scored 35 points on 13-21 shooting to lead Loyola Chicago.

The Ramblers rely on a stingy defense, making it difficult for teams to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. They allow only 55.8 points per game and their defense is a major reason they've only lost one game since mid-January (a 51-50 loss to the Drake Bulldogs.

(11) Syracuse vs (2) Houston

Deadly from three-point range and a suffocating zone defense sum up what the Syracuse Orange (18-9) do on the regular. And they've been doing it with utmost efficiency in this year's men's tournament.

Syracuse has picked up victories over San Diego State and West Virginia to get this far. They did so thanks to a 29-58 effort from three-point range while also holding opponents to 36.5 percent (50-137) from the field. 

Buddy Boeheim has been phenomenal for the Orange, averaging 27.5 points in two tournament games and connecting on 13 three-pointers. Joseph Girard III is also a threat from deep (seven 3's) and Marek Dolezaj does a bit of everything.

Dolezaj has scored 23 points on 7-10 of shooting in the tourney, adding 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Houston Cougars (26-3) have pieced together nine straight wins, winning in both a rout and in come-from-behind style in this year's NCAA tournament. 

Houston has a balanced, guard-heavy lineup that wasn't really tested too often in conference play, though they were 2-2 in games decided by five points or less. Going against the Syracuse zone might be problematic if Houston has to rely on the three-pointer. They are a combined 15-48 from deep in this year's tournament.

Quentin Grimes averages 18.1 ppg this season to lead Houston and is two tournament games this year has 40 points and 13 rebounds. Dejon Jarreau is similar to Dolezaj in doing a bit of everything but he will likely be hampered by a hip injury he suffered against Cleveland State. Jarreau took a couple of hard bumps on the hip against Rutgers, but still managed to put up 17 points.

South Region

Games in the South region will be played on Saturday March 27 and Monday March 29.

(5) Villanova vs (1) Baylor

Without their best player in Collin Gillespie and having lost three of four entering the NCAA tournament, not many were giving the Wildcats (18-6) much hope of moving past the first round. How did Villanova respond? Simply winning their first two games by an average of 16.5 points.

They did so despite  being outrebounded in both games. A 15-30 shooting performance from three-point range against North Texas helped in the round of 32 and in both games, four of five starters reached double figures in points. 

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has picked up the slack, scoring 40 points, pulling down 17 rebounds, and dishing out 12 assists in the two games.

The Baylor Bears (24-2) continue to be led by a trio of experienced guards, which helped Baylor win their first two tournament games by an average of 18. Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague have been in sync all season. The three combined to score 88 points, grab 21 rebounds, and dish out 24 assists in victories over Hartford and Wisconsin.

Baylor's bench also had nice contributions from Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer, with Mayer scoring 17 points against Wisconsin.

The Bears had only 14 turnovers in the two games and had 21 steals.

(15) Oral Roberts vs (3) Arkansas

Will the clock strike midnight for the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (18-10)? They've been hanging on by the skin of their teeth in the first two rounds. The Golden Eagles led most of the game against Ohio State before allowing a comeback and then ultimately winning in overtime.

Against the Florida Gators, Oral Roberts trailed throughout and used a late push to secure the victory. Their two games were won by a combined six points.

It has been the Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas show for the Golden Eagles in two tournament games. Obanor is averaging 29 points and 11 rebounds per game while Abmas, the nation's leading scorer, is averaging 27.5. Abmas also was a perfect 12-12 from the line in the victory over the Gators. 

Outside of Obanor, rebounding has been a major problem for Oral Roberts. The team was minus 17 against Ohio State and minus 13 against Florida. 

Obanor and the Golden Eagles face a difficult matchup against Justin Smith and the Arkansas Razorbacks (24-6). Smith has totaled 49 points and 19 rebounds in Razorback victories over Colgate and Texas Tech.

Moses Moody is the top-scorer for Arkansas at 17.1 ppg but is slightly below that number in two tournament games, averaging 13.5.

Arkansas is struggling with the three-point shot the last two games (9-33) and let opponents gain the rebounding advantage in both games as well.  

West Region

Games in the West region will be played Sunday March 28 and Tuesday March 30.

(5) Creighton vs (1) Gonzaga

Playing .500 ball in six games prior to the NCAA tournament, the Creighton Blue Jays (22-8) were targeted as a possible victim of a first-round upset. Two late free throws by Christian Bishop against UC Santa Barbara spared Creighton that indignity. Creighton followed that game up with a 14-point victory over the Ohio Bobcats.

Bishop has been a force on both ends of the floor. On the tournament, he has 27 points and 26 rebounds. Marcus Zegarowski has 37 points and 10 assists as all five Creighton starters contribute (all were in double figures in the victory over Creighton).

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-0) continued to put on a show in their first two games, averaging 92.5 points per game. They allowed an average of 63 and continued to only have one game in the 2020-21 season decided by single digits.

Drew Timme had a stellar performance in the first two rounds, totaling 40 points, 19 rebounds and 9 assists. Corey Kispert posted 39 points and Jalen Suggs added 22.

Joel Ayayi joined the fun as well, posting 27 points and 17 rebounds in the two games.

(7) Oregon vs (6) USC

A battle between two familiar Pac-12 foes will take place between the Oregon Ducks (21-6) and the USC Trojans (24-7) on Sunday. The teams met once during the regular season, with the Trojans winning 72-58.

Oregon enters this contest having only played one game in this year's NCAA tournament, a 95-80 victory of Iowa. The Ducks first-round game was a no contest when VCU was forced to bow out because of COVID-19.

Most of the productivity for Oregon will likely come from their five starters. An experienced core group sees most of the time on the court and all five scored in double figures against Iowa. 

Chris Duarte keeps the Duck engine running. He scored 23 points and had 7 assists against Iowa. LJ Figueroa had 21 points and 7 rebounds.

The two combined for 25 points on 10-19 shooting in the earlier loss to USC.

For the Trojans, it is the Mobley brothers who are putting opponents on notice. Evan Mobley, the seven-footer, has 27 points, 24 rebounds, and 7 assists in the tournament, plus six blocked shots to boot.

Isaiah Mobley, a mere six-foot-ten, has totaled 32 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Isaiah can also stretch the floor, shooting 5-7 from beyond the arc.

Isaiah also missed the first matchup between the teams while Evan scored 11. Tahj Eddy led the Trojans on that day with 24 and has 21 points and 13 assists in the last two games.

USC is averaging 78.5 points per game in the tournament and allowing 53.5.

East Region

Games in the East region ended up pretty much chalk, with three of the top four seeds advancing, and will be played Sunday March 28 and Tuesday March 30.

(4) Florida State vs (1) Michigan

Florida State (18-6) has seemingly threatened to make a run to the title game for years now. Virginia finally had their moment in the sun in 2019 so Florida State is hoping their time is now.

A rotation that goes ten-deep powers Florida State. Like Creighton, they were playing .500 ball in six games prior to the start of tournament play. They've again found consistency, scoring 67.5 points per game while holding opponents to 53.5.

Florida State is not a big fan of the three-pointer. In two games, they've only shot 23, making six. They run a much more patient offense, though they committed 15 turnovers in each of their first two games.

Anthony Polite has scored 34 points, dropping 22 on 8-12 shooting against Colorado. Polite also had 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals in that game. Raiquan Gray is another player to keep an eye on. Gray has 26 points and 13 rebounds in the tournament.

Michigan likes to get out and run a little bit more than Florida State does, as well as shoot more threes (19-51). The three-point percentage is a little on the low side, but Michigan is shooting just over 50 percent from the floor the last two games. 

The Wolverines (22-4) also put a lot of pride in their defense, though they are allowing 72 points per game in the tourney.

Eli Brooks has totaled 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists in two games. Chaundee Brown scored 21 points off the bench in the victory over LSU, but did not score in the Michigan's opening game against Texas Southern.

(11) UCLA vs (2) Alabama

Rounding out the Pac-12 representation, the UCLA Bruins (20-9) will be playing their fourth game of the tournament. 

The Bruins have won all three of their games by double digits, thanks in large part to the play of Johnny Juzang. Part of a four-guard starting lineup, Juzang is averaging just over 22 ppg. Jaime Jacquez Jr. is also going to work for UCLA, averaging nearly 17 points per contest.

UCLA has been impressive at limiting turnovers, committing only 20 through three tournament games.

Alabama (26-6) enters this game coming off a red-hot victory over Maryland. The Crimson Tide scored 96 points and drained 16 three-pointers (this, after a game in which they were 5-16 from deep). 

Rebounding is also not a problem for Alabama, who held a plus 16 advantage over Iona and followed that up with a plus 23 advantage over Maryland. Five players for the Crimson Tide had five rebounds or more in that game.

Guards Jaden Shackelford and James Petty Jr. have combined for 61 points in the tournament. They went 2-10 from three-point range against Iona but bounced back with a combined 9-17 performance against Maryland.

Be sure to follow along here and on Twitter via @LookinSporty1 and @jasonrh_78 for all the men's tournament results, thoughts, and more. 

photo credit: Flickr