NCAA Tournament 2021: Sunday's Round 2 Winners and Losers

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 22, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: Sunday's Round 2 Winners and Losers

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    Oral Roberts pulled off another stunner
    Oral Roberts pulled off another stunnerAJ Mast/Associated Press

    ORU not entertained?

    If the first round of the 2021 men's NCAA tournament was an 8.5 out of 10 on the Madness Meter, the first day of the second round was at least an 11.

    It started with No. 8 seed Loyola-Chicago toppling No. 1 seed Illinois, and it only got more ridiculous from there.

    No. 11 seed Syracuse knocked off West Virginia, reaching the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed for the third time in five tournaments. No. 12 Oregon State upset Oklahoma State to reach its first Sweet 16 in four decades. No. 15 seed Oral Roberts became the second No. 15 or No. 16 to ever reach the Sweet 16.

    And even several of the favorites that advanced (Houston and Arkansas) had to either make a frantic comeback or withstand one.

    If Monday is anything like Sunday, hold onto your butts.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago's Cameron Krutwig, AKA Rodney Farva from 'Super Troopers'

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    Loyola-Chicago's Cameron Krutwig
    Loyola-Chicago's Cameron KrutwigPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    For the second time in three NCAA tournaments, Loyola-Chicago is driving the biggest bandwagon of them all.

    The Ramblers have been a top-20 team on since the beginning of February and entered the NCAA tournament in the top 10 in those tempo-free metrics. However, the selection committee didn't care. The Missouri Valley Conference champions were unfairly given a No. 8 seed. (More on that shortly.)

    But it was the No. 1 seed who got the raw end of this deal.

    Instead of getting to face LSU (no defense), Wisconsin (no top-tier wins) or Oklahoma (struggled for the past month) in the second round, Illinois had to draw the best defense and one of the best all-around teams in the country. And it had no answer for Cameron Krutwig in the 71-58 upset.

    Loyola-Chicago ran everything through its lovable and mustachioed big man. Even though he missed a surprising number of point-blank shots in the first half, he finished the afternoon with 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals, leading the Ramblers in all four categories.

    Whether he was dropping left-handed dimes from the top of the key or tipping in buckets from alley-oop passes, the entire day belonged to Krutwig.

    While he was dominating the Illini, there were all sorts of shenanigans on social media as a bunch of people suddenly realized his doppelganger is Kevin Heffernan as Rodney Farva in Super Troopers. The majority of Farva's quotes from that cult classic are severely NSFW, but if you want to start calling this team the Loyola-Chicago RamRods, I wouldn't punch-a-size your face.

Loser: The Selection Committee's Assessment of the Missouri Valley, Again

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    Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu and Loyola-Chicago's Lucas Williamson
    Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu and Loyola-Chicago's Lucas WilliamsonMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The NCAA tournament always brings out a bunch of false-equivalence arguments.

    If a team barely (and controversially) sneaks into the tournament and makes a nice run, people will say it proves the selection committee got it right. Conversely, if a No. 1 seed runs rampant through the NIT while one of the last at-large teams selected lays an egg in the First Four, there are complaints that the committee picked the wrong team.

    Neither of those is true. Nor is it true that we spent the past three months underrating the Pac-12 or overrating the Big Ten because of how those leagues have fared thus far in the dance.

    But the selection committee screwed up with Loyola-Chicago, and we knew it long before the Ramblers knocked off Illinois.

    Heck, we knew it before Selection Sunday even arrived because the selection committee always has a blind spot with the Missouri Valley Conference.

    In 2012, Wichita State was No. 10 on KenPom at the end of the regular season and ended up with a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The following year, Creighton finished at No. 15 on KenPom and got a No. 7 seed. In 2015, Northern Iowa was No. 9 on KenPom and Wichita State was No. 11; they ended up with Nos. 5 and 7 seeds, respectively. In 2016, Wichita State was No. 12 on KenPom and got a No. 11 seed.

    And, most egregious of all, Wichita State was No. 5 on KenPom in 2017 when it was given a No. 10 seed.

    That's a distinct lack of respect for the Valley, and it continued this year with Loyola-Chicago getting a No. 8 seed despite ranking top-10 in both NET and KenPom. It's almost like the committee wants this conference to be a popular pick to pull off a big second-round upset every year.

Winner: Baylor, Despite Not Having Its Usual Strengths

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    Baylor's Jared Butler
    Baylor's Jared ButlerMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    If you've read anything I've written about Baylor in the past few months, you're probably sick of hearing about this team's three-point percentage, offensive rebounding and steals. But the Bears rank among the five best teams in the nation in all three categories, which is a highly unusual combination of dominance.

    Heading into Sunday, Baylor was averaging 10.4 made threes, 12.9 offensive rebounds and 9.2 steals per game.

    Against the Badgers, the Bears only managed eight, seven and six, respectively.

    Yet they won by 13, and that's terrifying news for every team left standing in this tournament.

    Wisconsin was one of the few teams legitimately equipped to stifle Baylor's three-pronged assault. The Badgers rank in the top 75 in defensive rebounding percentage and defensive three-point-attempt rate, as well as the top 25 in offensive turnover percentage. They are the only team in the country that meets all three criteria, and they're actually top-five in the turnover department, committing merely 8.9 per game.

    Even though Wisconsin did better than most teams have against Baylor in those regards, it wasn't enough. The Badgers still trailed by at least three possessions for the entirety of the final 28 minutes of this game.

    This Baylor team is just too good and too deep. Matthew Mayer came off the bench and led the team with 17 points. Fellow reserve Adam Flagler only made one bucket all game, but it was a dagger three-pointer right before the halftime buzzer. And while Baylor didn't create its usual supply of fast-break opportunities, the defense was on point against a Wisconsin team that just dropped 85 points on North Carolina two days ago.

    The defense was the big question mark for Baylor heading into this tournament. The Bears had not held an opponent (not even Iowa State or Kansas State) below one point per possession since before their lengthy COVID-19 pause. But they completely shut down Hartford and held an efficient Wisconsin team in check.

    If that continues next weekend, they'll be representing the South Region in the Final Four.

Loser: West Virginia's Insistence on Penetrating the Syracuse 2-3 Zone

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    West Virginia's Derek Culver
    West Virginia's Derek CulverTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    To the surprise of nobody, this battle between former Big East rivals was a back-and-forth three-point-shooting contest.

    The Orange have been red-hot from distance for the past few weeks, and that Syracuse zone always encourages opponents to fall in love with the deep ball. Led by Buddy Boeheim (6-of-13), Syracuse shot 45.2 percent and drained 14 triples. But Sean McNeil (7-of-13) and West Virginia kept pace rather well with 11 made threes at a 42.3 percent clip.

    Also unsurprising was West Virginia's complete dominance on the offensive glass. Syracuse always struggles with defensive rebounds, and the Mountaineers rank among the best in the nation at offensive rebounds. With that combination, the 'Eers got back 19 of their misses while the Orange only corralled four of their own.

    Had you told me those numbers before the game, I would have assumed a West Virginia win by double digits.

    However, the two-point shooting is where things got ugly as the Mountaineers kept trying to force something that wasn't meant to be.

    The Mountaineers were one of the worst two-point offenses to make the NCAA tournament, converting on just 46.3 percent of their shots from inside the arc during the regular season. And that reared its ugly head to the tune of a 15-of-44 (34.1 percent) night on two-point tries. It was actually 12-of-40 (30.0 percent) until the final 45 seconds when Syracuse was content with West Virginia driving to the rim as opposed to making more threes.

    (Meanwhile, Syracuse had one of its most efficient two-point games of the year, making 13 of 21 attempts.)

    In a trend that was all too common for the Mountaineers this season, they trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half before clawing all the way back to take the lead midway through the second half. But then they missed six consecutive two-point attempts and fell right back behind by 11. The final comeback attempt fell short, and Syracuse advances to the Sweet 16 by a score of 75-72.

    Just like that, the tournament is now devoid of teams that have come within single digits of beating Gonzaga.

Winner: Syracuse as a Sleeper Yet Again

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    Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim
    Syracuse head coach Jim BoeheimGerry Broome/Associated Press

    The first time Syracuse made a deep run as a double-digit seed, it was unbelievable.

    In 2016, the Orange were not only a somewhat controversial at-large selection, but they were comfortably in the field as a No. 10 seed. We yelled for weeks that the selection committee made a mistake, but the Orange won four straight, including a frantic second-half comeback over No. 1 seed Virginia for one of the most unlikely Final Four appearances ever.

    The second time it happened, it was a coincidence.

    Two years later, the Orange were again at the heart of the bubble debate and again made it into the tournament. In 2018, though, they were the very last at-large team into the field and had to play in a First Four game. That didn't stop Syracuse from reaching the Sweet 16, though, and it darn near upset Duke to reach the Elite Eight.

    Now, it's officially a trend.

    Syracuse was, once again, a bit of a surprise as an at-large selection. At the very least, it's a surprise the Orange weren't required to partake in a play-in game to reach the round of 64.

    Nevertheless, all they've done is shoot 29-of-58 from three-point range while pulling off back-to-back upsets.

    If you're making an All-Tournament team after the first two rounds, Buddy Boeheim might need to be the MVP. Syracuse's primary sniper scored 30 against San Diego State and 25 (with several clutch free throws) against West Virginia. He went 13-of-23 from deep in those games.

    This isn't just some two-game hot streak for Boeheim, either. Dating back to March 1, he is 32-of-66 from three-point range, averaging 26.0 points per game. As long as he stays hot and the 2-3 zone keeps flummoxing opponents, Syracuse remains a threat for more.

Loser: Offensive Execution Late in Arkansas vs. Texas Tech

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    Arkansas' JD Notae and Texas Tech's Kyler Edwards
    Arkansas' JD Notae and Texas Tech's Kyler EdwardsMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    For a little over 37 minutes, Arkansas vs. Texas Tech was one of the most entertaining games of the tournament to date.

    It was a hard-fought game between teams with mutually strong defenses, but there was good flow and impressive offensive execution. Moses Moody had a few plays for his draft-night highlight reel. Justin Smith was unstoppable when he got the ball in the paint. Texas Tech was stroking it from the perimeter, matching its best performance of the past three months by shooting 10-of-20 from downtown.

    Arkansas opened up a 13-point lead midway through the second half, but when Texas Tech stormed back, it seemed we were destined for an awesome final few minutes.

    Instead, the game came grinding to a halt and got ugly on both ends of the floor.

    Smith's dunk with 2:51 remaining was the final successful field goal of the game. The teams shot a combined 0-of-5 from the field the rest of the way, three of which were point-blank attempts at the rim. One of the other misses was an ill-advised deep three with plenty of time left on the shot clock.

    They also left all sorts of points at the free-throw line. Mac McClung (an 80.5 percent shooter) missed the front end of a one-and-one while down one. JD Notae (a 76.3 percent shooter) missed a free throw that could have put Arkansas up by three in the closing seconds.

    Kyler Edwards' would-be game-tying layup with three seconds remaining didn't even hit the rim as he built up too much steam (and arguably got bumped from behind).

    Long story short, it wasn't a pretty finish. But go ahead and ask Arkansas fans if they care in the slightest.

    The 68-66 victory ends a quarter-century-long drought for the Razorbacks, pushing them into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.

Winner: DeJon Jarreau, Houston

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    Houston's DeJon Jarreau
    Houston's DeJon JarreauAssociated Press

    Not even a full minute into Houston's opening win over Cleveland State, starting point guard DeJon Jarreauhe of the 15-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in last week's AAC tournament victory over Tulanesuffered a hip injury that knocked him out of the rest of the game and left him questionable for Sunday's game against Rutgers.

    Houston's athletic trainers worked basically around the clock for 48 hours to get him in good enough shape to play, and then midway through the second half, he reaggravated the hip injury while trying to get around a Myles Johnson screen.

    He was clearly in agony. But after all he went throughtransferring from Massachusetts, sitting out the 2017-18 season, not getting a chance to play in the COVID-19-canceled 2020 tournament and then playing through a pandemic this yearJarreau wasn't about to let a little excruciating pain keep him on the sideline.

    And at the biggest turning point of this game, he delivered the dagger.

    Rutgers led 58-50 with a little over four minutes remaining when Johnson went up for an alley-oop dunk that would have just about sealed the deal. However, it clanged off the back rim and fell into Marcus Sasser's hands, who got it up the floor to Jarreau for a huge three-pointer.

    It was Jarreau's only made field goal in the final 19 minutes, but it completely changed the momentum. Starting with that bucket, the Cougars closed the game on a 13-2 run, winning 63-60.

    During that strong finish, Jarreau also had a key missed shot. He floated in the lane for what felt like two full seconds before short-arming a two-point attempt, but it ended up being worth three when Tramon Mark came flying in for a put-back and-1 that gave Houston its first lead of the final 16 minutes.

    From "doubtful" to hero, Jarreau finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Loser: Florida's Undefeated Record Against No. 15 Seeds

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    Oral Roberts' Kevin Obanor
    Oral Roberts' Kevin ObanorAJ Mast/Associated Press

    Florida has only been a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament twice, but the Gators entered Sunday's game against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts with a perfect 4-0 record against that seed line.

    In 2003, they beat Sam Houston State by 30. In 2011, they crushed UC Santa Barbara by 28. Those were the No. 2 vs. No. 15 pairings. But the Gators were also the No. 7 seed that blew out Norfolk State in the second round of the 2012 tournament, as well as the No. 3 seed that eliminated Florida Gulf Coast in the 2013 Sweet 16.

    All told, that's four wins by an average margin of 26 points.

    None of that mattered to Max Abmas, Kevin Obanor and the Golden Eagles, who won 81-78 to become just the second No. 15 seed ever to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

    Turnovers plagued the Gators all season long, and Oral Roberts capitalized on that weakness with 12 steals.

    That was something of a magic number for ORU in this one. In addition to the steals, it committed just 12 turnovers and had 12 assists, Abmas made all 12 of his free-throw attempts, and it kept Florida's No. 12 (Colin Castleton) from taking over the game. It also battled back from an 11-point second-half deficit, never letting the Gators pull ahead by a dozen.

    After combining for 59 points against Ohio State, Oral Roberts' dynamic duo of Abmas and Obanor went for 54 in this one.

    Will that two-man attack be enough to beat a well-rounded Arkansas lineup next weekend? We've got a few days to figure that one out. For now, let's just celebrate one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time. (And let's come up with a nickname good enough to rival "Dunk City.")

Winner: Jay Wright, Villanova

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    Villanova head coach Jay Wright
    Villanova head coach Jay WrightMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    We all wrote off Villanova when Collin Gillespie suffered his torn MCL in early March and this team proceeded to suffer back-to-back losses to Providence and Georgetown.

    Turns out, two-time national champion Jay Wright just needed those two losses to figure out a winning formula.

    After trying to let backup point guard Chris Arcidiacono run the offense against those two Big East foes, Wright decided he would be better off just letting his top players handle the ball.

    In the first round against Winthrop, he started running the offense through forwards Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels. The big men combined for 33 points, 18 rebounds and eight of the team's 11 assists. And it was a nearly identical story in Sunday's 84-61 win over North Texas. Robinson-Earl and Samuels went for 33 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

    Even more importantly for Villanova's future, the shots finally started falling again.

    Over their previous five games, the Wildcats were a horribly uncharacteristic 32-of-126 (25.4 percent) from three-point range. Against North Texas, though, eight different Wildcats hit triples on a 15-of-30 night from the perimeter.

    Despite losing its senior leader a few weeks ago, the offense continued to do a fantastic job avoiding turnovers. Villanova has coughed up the ball just 24 times over its last four games.

    If that continues and the threes keep dropping at a respectable clip, this team could absolutely stun Baylor in the Sweet 16.

Loser: The Big Ten

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    Rutgers was devastated after a heart-wrenching loss to Houston
    Rutgers was devastated after a heart-wrenching loss to HoustonMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    We've previously discussed the false-equivalence thing. An entire conference having a bad tournament doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad or overrated conference.

    But, goodness gracious, for what was arguably the greatest regular-season conference in at least two decades, the Big Ten has had a dumpster fire of a first weekend in the big dance.

    Michigan State lost in the First Four. Ohio State and Purdue both suffered major upsets on Friday. All three games went to overtime, but the Big Ten kept coming up just short.

    Things went better on Saturday with Michigan, Iowa and Maryland all winning, but Sunday got all sorts of ugly again with Illinois, Wisconsin and Rutgers each biting the dust.

    Wisconsin's loss wasn't unexpected, but we did think the Badgersfresh off spanking North Carolinawould at least give Baylor a run for its money. That game was never all that close.

    Rutgers' loss also wasn't unexpected, but it evolved into a huge disappointment when the Scarlet Knights blew a nine-point lead in the final five minutes.

    And while Illinois losing to Loyola-Chicago wasn't a huge surpriseKenPom only had the Illini projected for a 69-65 winit was certainly a surprise that Illinois never led for a moment and barely even had a pulse at any point in the second half.

    The Big Ten is now 6-6 overall and has just three tickets left in this lottery. The entire conference could be gone by the end of Monday night.

    But let's not forget that the Big East was in a similar boat one decade ago.

    In 2011, that historically deep league sent 11 teams to the NCAA tournament. No. 1 seed Pitt, No. 2 seed Notre Dame and No. 3 seed Syracuse were all eliminated in the second round. No. 4 seed Louisville was immediately bounced by Morehead State. Only two of the 11 made it to the Sweet 16, and one of them (Marquette) was annihilated by North Carolina in the regional semifinals.

    Because Connecticut won it all, though, that "Big East Failure" narrative dissipated in a hurry. If Michigan, Iowa or even Maryland happens to win the Big Ten's first national championship since 2000, history will quickly forget about the conference's disappointing opening weekend.

Winner: Oregon State's Frontcourt

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    Oregon State's Warith Alatishe and Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham
    Oregon State's Warith Alatishe and Oklahoma State's Cade CunninghamPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Heading into Sunday night, Oregon State had a year-to-date rebounding margin of plus-15.

    That's not plus-15 per game, just to be clear. We're talking 1,018 total rebounds for the Beavers and 1,003 for their opponents. And that includes a plus-26 margin against non-D1 Northwest University. Remove that game from the equation and they drop to minus-11 overall.

    But against a pretty good rebounding Oklahoma State team, Oregon State absolutely dominated the glass.

    The Beavers didn't shoot that well from the field, and they committed 20 turnovers, but they grabbed 55 rebounds to Oklahoma State's 33 in knocking Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys out of the tournament. Warith Alatishe and Roman Silva both grabbed a dozen boards in propelling the No. 12 seed into the Sweet 16 by a score of 80-70.

    We would be remiss if we didn't also point out the free-throw shooting.

    Both teams made a ton of trips to the charity stripe in what was a physical game, to say the least. But while Oklahoma State shot a mediocre 26-of-38, Oregon State was money on the freebies, going 32-of-35. Ethan Thompson led the way by sinking 15 of his 16 one-point attempts.

    That, plus the huge divide in rebounding, was just too much for the Cowboys to overcome.

    And now the Midwest Region is pure chaos.

    We'll have No. 8 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 12 Oregon State and No. 2 Houston vs. No. 11 Syracuse next weekend, and it really feels like any of those four teams could reach the Final Four.