NCAA Tournament 2021: Biggest Bracket-Busters Through the 1st Round

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: Biggest Bracket-Busters Through the 1st Round

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    One of the most exciting parts of March Madness—or the most agonizing, depending on your rooting interests—is the potential for top teams to be upset.

    If you're just looking to the tournament for entertainment, an out-of-nowhere win from a low seed is awesome. But if you have serious money on your bracket, it can cost you.

    The first round of the 2021 men's tournament did not disappoint when it came to surprising wins and losses. It's doubtful anything will ever top No. 16 UMBC's 2018 win over top-seeded Virginia, but the last two nights have seen a No. 15 seed unseat a No. 2 seed, two wins by No. 13 seeds over No. 4 seeds and several other big upsets.

7. UCLA

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Two No. 11 seeds defeated their No. 6 seed opponents, and the second of those upsets saw UCLA send BYU home early with a 73-62 victory.

    Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang led all scorers with 27 points, and two other Bruins starters scored in double figures: Jules Bernard with 16 and Jaime Jaquez Jr. with 13. As a team, UCLA shot 42.1 percent from three-point range and held BYU to 3-of-17 from beyond the arc.

    The Bruins advance to the round of 32 and will face one of the first round's other Cinderellas, No. 14 Abilene Christian (more on them in a bit) on Monday.

6. Syracuse

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    All season, San Diego State has been one of the most reliable teams shooting from beyond the arc. But Jim Boeheim's zone held the team to 11-of-40 from three while his son, Buddy, scored 30 points to help the 11th-seeded Orange defeat the No. 6 Aztecs.

    In three of its last four tournaments, Syracuse has been a 10 seed or lower—the only times the Orange have been seeded that low in tournament history. They were a No. 10 seed in 2016 and made it to the Final Four after knocking off No. 1 Virginia in the Elite Eight.

    Two years later, in 2018, they were seeded 11th and scored a win over No. 3 Michigan in the second round before losing to Duke in the Sweet 16.

    So this kind of run is nothing new for this era of Syracuse basketball. Can the Orange do it again? Their next game is against No. 3 West Virginia on Sunday.

5. Oregon State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Beavers entered the tournament having just won their first Pac-12 conference championship in school history. They followed that up by winning their first tournament game in almost 40 years, since their 1982 Elite Eight run, sending home No. 5 Tennessee as a No. 12 seed.

    Oregon State center Roman Silva led all scorers with 16 points, shooting a perfect 8-of-8 from the field to go along with four rebounds and three blocks. Three other Beavers starters also scored in double figures: Jarod Lucas had 14 points, while Ethan Thompson had 13 and Zach Reichle added 10. As a team, they shot 10-of-21 from three-point range.

    Tennessee was without senior forward Josh Fulkerson and was sorely lacking in the shooting department. The Volunteers rallied late to cut the Beavers' lead to 10, but it was too late.

    Oregon State will face No. 4 Oklahoma State in the second round Sunday.

4. Ohio

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    The second day of the tournament wasn't as upset-heavy as the first, but No. 13 Ohio proved to be the latest bracket-buster when they outlasted No. 4 Virginia 62-58. The last time the tournament happened, back in 2019, Virginia emerged as national champions. Now, the Cavaliers are going home after the first weekend.

    Ohio kept alive their streak of winning the first round the last three times they've been in the tournament. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen the last time they were in, in 2012, and advanced to the round of 32 in 2010. On Saturday, Ben Vander Plas led all scorers with 17 points, and Ben Roderick added 15 for the Bobcats.

    As bad as this loss was for Virginia, it isn't even their worst first-round loss in recent tournament history. That would be their history-making 2018 loss to No. 16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County. This one can't feel good, though.

    Ohio continues its tournament run with a matchup against No. 5 Creighton on Monday.

3. North Texas

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    At No. 13, not only was North Texas the third-lowest seed to pick up a win in the opening round of the tournamentits win over No. 4 Purdue was also the first tournament victory in school history.

    Senior guard Javion Hamlet dominated, scoring 24 points and adding 12 rebounds and five assists. Thomas Bell and Mardrez McBride had 16 points each, and James Reese added 13. The game was close throughout and went to overtime, but the Mean Green played some lockdown defense in the extra period and outscored the Boilermakers 17-8 to finish out the upset.

    North Texas will face No. 5 Villanova on Sunday in the round of 32.

2. Abilene Christian

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The second night of the first round ended with one of its biggest upsets when the 14th-seeded Albilene Christian Wildcats sent the No. 3 Texas Longhorns home in a nail-biter.

    This game came down to the wire, but junior forward Joe Pleasant drained two free throws with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to give the Wildcats a 53-52 lead. He then got a steal to seal it, giving ACU their first tournament win since making the leap to Division I in 2013. (Their first-ever tournament appearance came in 2019, when they lost in the first round.)

    On Monday, the Wildcats will face the No. 11-seeded UCLA Bruins, who pulled off their own upset against BYU, meaning one of these bracket-busters is guaranteed a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.

1. Oral Roberts

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    The first major upset of the tournament was also the biggest, with the 15th-seeded Oral Roberts knocking out No. 2 Ohio State in overtime to pick up the school's first tournament win since 1974.

    The Golden Eagles jumped out to an early lead before the Buckeyes mounted a comeback and extended the lead in the first half, but Oral Roberts battled back and took a three-point lead into halftime. The game stayed close from there, with the Golden Eagles powered by a 30-point performance from Kevin Obanor and an additional 29 points from Max Abmas.

    The game stayed tight until the end—Ohio State just missed a chance to tie it and force a second overtime, but Duane Washington Jr.'s last-second three-pointer missed, sending the Buckeyes home much earlier than anyone anticipated.

    Oral Roberts will face No. 7 Florida on Sunday in the round of 32.