NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Saturday's First-Round Winners and Losers

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2021

NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Saturday's First-Round Winners and Losers

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    A wild first full day of the 2021 NCAA tournament on Friday saw 14 different seed lines come away with a victory, including No. 15 Oral Roberts upsetting No. 2 Ohio State.

    The bar was set high for Saturday, and it has been another exciting slate of games.

    A three-point barrage from Colorado held off a popular upset pick in Georgetown, No. 1 seed Michigan took care of business, and brothers Tanner Groves and Jacob Groves from Eastern Washington captured the nation's attention in an upset bid that fell short.

    And that was just the first wave of games.

    Let's run through some winners and losers of Saturday's games before second-round action gets underway on Sunday.

Loser: Basketball Fans Not Getting More of the Groves Brothers

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    Tanner Groves
    Tanner GrovesAJ Mast/Associated Press

    Every March Madness, a handful of mid-major standouts finally get the attention they deserve at the national level with a standout NCAA tournament performance.

    The Groves brothers from Eastern Washington will undoubtedly be one of the enduring storylines of this year's opening round. It's just a shame we only got one game from them.

    Tanner Groves was the Eagles' best player during the regular season, averaging 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds to win Big Sky Conference Player of the Year.

    The 6'9" junior poured in 35 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 5-of-11 from distance to help put a scare into the Kansas Jayhawks.

    His younger brother, sophomore Jacob Groves, chipped in a career-high 23 points with four three-pointers and a team-high nine rebounds.

    With eligibility remaining for both players, Eastern Washington will be a team to watch during the 2021-22 season.

    It's just a bummer we didn't get to watch more of them this year.

Winner: Colorado's Suddenly Potent Perimeter Game

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    Jabari Walker
    Jabari WalkerMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Colorado Buffaloes would not have made anyone's list of the most dangerous three-point shooting teams in the 2021 NCAA tournament field.

    Despite shooting a respectable 36.7 percent from deep during the regular season, they ranked outside the top 100 in made threes per game (7.5, 148th) and three-point attempts per game (20.4, 229th).

    It simply wasn't a foundational part of their game—at least until Saturday.

    On the strength of a blistering 16-of-25 showing from three, the Buffaloes cruised to a 96-73 blowout victory over the Georgetown Hoyas.

    Those 16 threes are a record for a Pac-12 team in the NCAA tournament.

    Freshman Jabari Walker (24 points, 5/5 3PT) and senior D'Shawn Schwartz (18 points, 5/7 3PT) did the heavy lifting, but seven different players connected from deep.

    Colorado advances to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2014.

Loser: UC Santa Barbara's Missed Opportunity

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    Creighton's Christian Bishop
    Creighton's Christian BishopAssociated Press

    The upset was right there, and UC Santa Barbara failed to secure it.

    The Gauchos took a 62-61 lead on a pair of free throws from Amadou Sow with 37 seconds remaining, but they were unable to corral a missed shot from Creighton's Damien Jefferson on the other end of the floor, and Christian Bishop sank a pair of free throws after he was fouled following his offensive rebound.

    With 16 seconds to play and a one-point deficit, the Gauchos opted against calling their final timeout, instead putting the ball and the game in the hands of JaQuori McLaughlin.

    A former top-100 recruit who played his first two collegiate seasons at Oregon State, McLaughlin won Big West Player of the Year by averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game.

    McLaughlin drove the length of the floor, drew a double-team in the corner, and found Sow inside with a frantic pass as time ticked away.

    The 6'9" big man went up with an awkward shot attempt against a smaller defender and failed to draw the foul, missing the shot and ending the upset threat when the Bluejays' Shereef Mitchell pulled down the defensive rebound.

    So close.

Winner: Florida State's Ability to Win Without the Three-Point Shot

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    Balsa Koprivica
    Balsa KoprivicaDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    While the Colorado Buffaloes caught fire from the three-point line in their blowout win earlier in the day, it was quite the opposite for Florida State.

    Despite shooting 0-of-9 from beyond the arc, the Seminoles managed to escape with a win over UNC Greensboro, becoming the first team since Kentucky in 2018 to win an NCAA tournament game without connecting from long range.

    "We're the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the ACC, and we were able to win a game going 0-for-9 from three," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton told reporters. "I thought we bounced back and were able to overcome a little bit of adversity."

    The Seminoles shot 39.0 percent from distance during the regular season, which was good for the eighth-highest rate in the nation. They also averaged 8.2 made threes per game.

    With the outside shot not falling, 6'8" forward RaiQuan Gray (17 points, seven rebounds) and 7'1" center Balsa Koprivica (13 points, nine rebounds) went to work inside in the paint, and the Seminoles still shot 52.1 percent from the floor overall.

    The end result was a 64-54 victory and a trip to the second round for the No. 4 seed in the East Region.

Loser: The Ever-Present COVID-19 Cloud Hanging over the Tournament

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    VCU's Nah'Shon Hyland (right)
    VCU's Nah'Shon Hyland (right)Associated Press

    Amid all the usual fun and excitement of the first two days of the NCAA tournament came a harsh reminder of the global pandemic still going on around us.

    The matchup between No. 7 Oregon and No. 10 VCU that was supposed to be the final game to tip off on Saturday was ruled a no-contest by the NCAA committee due to COVID-19 protocols.

    Oregon will advance to the second round.

    It's a disappointing turn of events for the entire VCU Rams program but an especially gutting development for sophomore Nah'Shon Hyland.

    The 6'3" guard is a legitimate NBA prospect who might have solidified his standing as a first-round pick with a strong showing on college basketball's biggest stage. He averaged 19.5 points per game during the regular season while connecting on 69 threes at a 37.1 percent clip.

    Here's hoping this is the first and last time COVID rears its ugly head during March Madness.

Winner: The Evan Mobley Hype (For Now)

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    Evan Mobley
    Evan MobleyPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    In Friday's winners and losers article, Oklahoma State star Cade Cunninghamor, more specifically, the hype surrounding him as the presumptive No. 1 overall pickwas included among the losers after he struggled in his NCAA tournament debut.

    Another talented freshman with a bright NBA future was on display on Saturday when 7'0" forward Evan Mobley took the floor for the USC Trojans.

    How would the potential No. 2 overall pick fare in his first March Madness outing?

    After averaging 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks to win Pac-12 Player of the Year during the regular season, Mobley tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 38 minutes of action against Drake. That more than delivered on the hype against a good Bulldogs team that played its way into the field with a First Four win over Wichita State.

    The Trojans walked away with comfortable 72-56 victory, and Mobley continued to tantalize NBA scouts with his long-term potential.

Loser: No Kemba Walker 2.0 for UConn

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    James Bouknight
    James BouknightRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    The Connecticut Huskies were a different team with James Bouknight in the lineup this year.

    The standout sophomore averaged 19.0 points per game, pouring in 40 in one early-season contest against a good Creighton team, but he missed six weeks at midseason with an elbow injury. The Huskies were 11-3 in games he played and just 4-4 without him.

    With the rust shaken off and UConn posting a 7-2 record in their last nine games entering the tournament, it looked like they might be able to shake things up as the No. 7 seed in the East Region.

    UConn legend Kemba Walker put the Huskies on his back during their run to an NCAA tournament title in 2011. Could Bouknighta potential lottery pick in the 2021 NBA draftdo the same?

    The answer is a resounding "no," as the Huskies fell 63-54 to the Maryland Terrapins in the first round on Saturday night.

    Bouknight finished with a team-high 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, and the Huskies trailed for most of the entire second half in a game that was more one-sided than the final score indicates.

Winner: The Upset (Almost) Everyone Saw Coming

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    Jason Preston
    Jason PrestonTony Dejak/Associated Press

    There was not a more obvious upset pick in this year's first round than No. 13 Ohio over No. 4 Virginia.

    The biggest reason for the lack of confidence in Virginia had nothing to do with how the two teams matched up on the court and everything to do with COVID-19.

    The Cavaliers were exiled from the ACC tournament last Friday following a positive test, and their subsequent one-week quarantine made them the last team to arrive in the NCAA tournament bubble in Indianapolis.

    The emotional drain of wondering whether they would even be allowed to play, coupled with all the travel so close to tipoff, left Virginia looking susceptible to an upset.

    However, it wasn't all off-the-court question marks that made this a popular upset choice.

    Anyone who saw the Ohio Bobcats give No. 1 seed Illinois everything it could handle in a 77-75 loss back on Nov. 27 knew this team could hang with anyone.

    Point guard Jason Preston averaged 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game during the regular season, and he filled up the stat sheet once again on Saturday with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

    Ben Vander Plas scored 10 of his team-high 17 points during a crucial 12-2 run by the Bobcats late in the game, and they were able to hold on in crunch time for a 62-58 victory.

Loser: Turnovers, Turnovers and More Turnovers for Texas

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Abilene Christian defense is no joke.

    "Steals, steals and more steals. Abilene Christian forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in the country," wrote B/R's Kerry Miller prior to the tournament, hinting at a Sweet 16 ceiling if they can effectively pester opposing point guards.

    The Wildcats took care of business in that department on Saturday, forcing the Texas Longhorns into a season-high 22 turnovers and paving the way for another shocking first-round upset in the final game of the opening round.

    It looked like the upset bid was going to come up short when Andrew Jones hit a three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to give Texas a 52-51 lead, but the Wildcats answered in dramatic fashion.

    Reggie Miller drove the lane and threw up a wild layup attempt with time ticking down. The shot was off target, but Joe Pleasant was fouled with one second remaining battling for the offensive rebound. A 58.8 percent free-throw shooter on the year, he calmly stepped to the line and buried both shots to seal the victory.

    UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell will have his hands full against the Wildcats defense on Monday.

Winner: A Perfect Start for the Pac-12

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Somewhere, Bill Walton is smiling.

    In a season where the Big Ten and Big 12 were viewed as the nation's superior conferences, the Pac-12 made some serious noise during the opening round of the 2021 NCAA tournament.

    Thanks to an unlikely conference tournament run from Oregon State, the Pac-12 sent five teams into the tournament field, and all five have advanced on to the round of 32 in a variety of ways.

    No. 5 seed Colorado demolished No. 12 Georgetown with a brilliant shooting day from beyond the arc.

    No. 6 seed USC moved past upstart Drake behind another strong game from freshman star Evan Mobley.

    No. 7 seed Oregon moved through without even taking the floor after VCU was given a no-contest as a result of COVID-19 protocols.

    No. 11 seed UCLA beat Michigan State in overtime in one of the First Four games, then used that momentum to knock off No. 6 BYU on Saturday night.

    No. 12 seed Oregon State kept the upset train rolling by upending No. 5 Tennessee.

    The Conference of Champions still faces an uphill battle to send a team to the Final Four given their seeding, but the numbers are starting to skew in their favor.


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