NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Sunday's Sweet 16 Winners and LosersMarch 29, 2021
NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Sunday's Sweet 16 Winners and Losers
Four teams punched their tickets to the Elite Eight on Saturday as Oregon State, Baylor, Arkansas and Houston all advanced in the 2021 NCAA men's tournament.
Which four joined them Sunday?
The Gonzaga Bulldogs continued their dominance with another lopsided victory, knocking off Creighton to become the fifth team to move on. In the second game, the Florida State defense buckled against No. 1 seed Michigan, and the Wolverines advanced with an 18-point blowout victory.
The Pac-12 continued its run of tournament success when No. 11 seed UCLA snuck past No. 2 seed Alabama in overtime in the third game. The No. 6 seed USC Trojans joined them in the Elite Eight with a dominant win over No. 7 seed Oregon in a head-to-head Pac-12 battle to close out the night and the Sweet 16.
Let's take a quick run through the biggest winners and losers of the day.
Loser: A Poor Shooting Game at the Worst Possible Time for Creighton
If the Creighton Bluejays were going to have any chance of hanging around with an offensive juggernaut, it was going to take a stellar performance shooting the three-ball.
The Bluejays entered the game averaging 9.6 made threes per game and shooting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. Both marks ranked among the top 60 nationally.
However, the deep ball just wouldn't fall against Gonzaga.
They connected on a mere five of 23 attempts from outside the arc, losing the three-point battle with a Bulldogs team that knocked down nine threes on 24 attempts. Leading scorer Marcus Zegarowski had a solid game with 19 points and a 3-of-7 showing from the perimeter, but his teammates were unable to shoulder their part of the load.
Without an elite shooting night, Creighton never stood a chance.
Winner: Lopsided Dominance Continues for Gonzaga
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are now three wins away from an undefeated season, and it's a wrap if the next three are anything like the first three.
With a lopsided 83-65 victory over No. 5 seed Creighton on Sunday, the Bulldogs have now won their three NCAA tournament games by a combined 77 points.
Blowouts are nothing new for a team that has won by double digits in all but one game this season, and the lone exception came in an 87-82 victory over West Virginia all the way back on Dec. 2.
The Bulldogs have poured in 91.8 points per game during their 29-0 start, scoring at least 80 points in all but three contests. Slowing down their multifaceted offense will be a tall order for whoever else has the misfortune of standing in their way.
Big man Drew Timme had a career-high 30 points against Oklahoma in the second round, and he followed that up with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting against Creighton. Even if his inside game is taken away, sharpshooter Corey Kispert, future lottery pick Jalen Suggs and complementary guards Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard are all capable of shouldering the load.
Slowing this team down looks next to impossible.
Loser: An Ineffective Defensive Performance by Florida State
The magic number for the Florida State defense has been 75 this year.
The Seminoles went 17-0 when limiting the opposition to 75 or fewer points, and they looked locked-in on the defensive end in wins over UNC Greensboro (54 points) and Colorado (53) to reach the Sweet 16.
However, during games in which they allowed more than 75 points, they had a 1-6 record entering play on Sunday.
Make that 1-7.
The Michigan Wolverines tallied 76 points while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor, and the end result was an 18-point blowout win to send the Seminoles packing.
Leading scorer M.J. Walker is a senior, and freshman sixth man Scottie Barnes is a projected lottery pick, but a ton of talent should return to Tallahassee next year. The Seminoles will continue to be a factor in the ACC for the foreseeable future.
Winner: A Passing Clinic from Michigan
For all its length and athleticism, Florida State simply had no answer for Michigan's ability to move the basketball.
The Wolverines assisted on 19 of their 29 made baskets, and seven different players had at least one dime as they consistently made the extra pass and found the open man for easy baskets.
Sharing the basketball is nothing new for a team that came in averaging 15.8 assists per game, and Michigan has continued to spread around the scoring load with senior forward Isaiah Livers watching from the sidelines.
Between its unselfish play on the offensive end and the disciplined defensive approach that resulted in just 10 fouls against Florida State and 14.9 fouls per game on the year, this is a tough team to rattle.
The Wolverines will need to get past Gonzaga to reach the national championship game. At least on Sunday, they looked every bit as dominant as the Bulldogs did in their own lopsided win.
Loser: A Squandered Hero Moment by Alabama
Alex Reese hit arguably the most clutch shot of the 2021 NCAA tournament and it will almost certainly be lost to history.
A senior reserve who was averaging 15.2 minutes and 5.5 points per game coming into Sunday's contest, Reese was just a 27.9 percent three-point shooter on 122 attempts.
Yet with under three seconds left and the Crimson Tide facing a three-point deficit, Reese found himself with the ball in his hands.
He calmly pulled up and drilled a deep three-pointer from the fringe of the half-court logo, holding the following through on a shot that touched nothing but the bottom of the net.
With that, Alabama had new life.
Unfortunately, the team's cold shooting night continued in the extra period, and UCLA scored the first seven points of overtime to put the game out of reach en route to a 10-point win.
An Alabama team that was making 10.7 threes per game and shooting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc entering Sunday connected on just 7-of-28 from deep, and a hero moment from one of its senior role players was squandered in the process.
Winner: Total Team Effort After Johnny Juzang Fouled out for UCLA
Johnny Juzang has been one of the breakout stars of the 2021 NCAA tournament.
The UCLA Bruins' leading scorer has taken things up a notch in March, averaging 22.3 points on 51.0 percent shooting in three tournament games entering play on Sunday.
The Kentucky transfer had a decent night offensively, tallying 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting, but he fouled out with 2:27 remaining in regulation while fighting for an offensive rebound. With the score tied at 60, the Bruins were left without their go-to option for the stretch run.
Luckily, they are far from a one-man team.
Starters Jaime Jaquez Jr. (17 points), Jules Bernard (17 points), Tyger Campbell (13 points) and Cody Riley (10 points) all finished in double figures, but it was reserve guard David Singleton who made perhaps the biggest impact.
Averaging just 4.6 points per game on the year, he hit two huge free throws down the stretch to give UCLA a three-point lead, a cushion they wound up needing every bit of when Alabama's Alex Reese hit the game-tying three-pointer as time expired on the other end. Singleton then drilled a three-pointer to begin overtime for good measure.
This UCLA team will need all hands on deck in the Elite Eight against a Michigan team that was firing on all cylinders Sunday.
Loser: Failure to Capitalize on Second Chances by Oregon
The Oregon Ducks pulled down a season-high 18 offensive rebounds on Sunday.
Prior to Sunday's slate of games, teams had a 105-56 record on the year when tallying at least 18 offensive boards, and 21 of those losses were by five or fewer points.
Alas, that dominance on the offensive glass had little impact on the scoreboard for the Ducks as they suffered an 82-68 defeat at the hands of the USC Trojans.
Oregon shot just 37.7 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from three-point distance in the game, and they allowed a blistering 57.4 percent shooting and 10 three-pointers on the other end of the floor.
If the shots aren't falling, it doesn't matter how many opportunities you get.
Tip of the cap to seniors Eugene Omoruyi (28 points) and Chris Duarte (21 points) for going out with strong individual performances, but their road stops at the Sweet 16.
Winner: Strong Guard Play Paves the Way for USC
On paper, size inside looked like a clear advantage for USC against Oregon.
However, it was the Trojans' guard play that proved to be the difference-maker in their first meeting on Feb. 22 when USC ran away with a 72-58 victory. And it was the perimeter game once again that paved their way to a spot in the Elite Eight.
Freshman center Evan Mobley had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting the first time they faced off, and he was similarly quiet on Sunday with 10 points on just six shot attempts.
Older brother Isaiah Mobley didn't play the first time around. He made his mark this time with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, but he was by no means a focal point of the offense.
No, the Sweet 16 stars were guards Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy.
Eaddy was the leading scorer in their first meeting with 24 points, and he was equally effective on Sunday with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Meanwhile, after scoring just seven points in that first game, White poured in a team-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting this time around.
The Trojans shot 10-of-17 from beyond the arc. It was just the fifth time all year they've made 10 or more threes, and two of those games have come against the Ducks.
Evan Mobley gets the headlines thanks to his future NBA prospects, and he'll need to bring it inside against Gonzaga star Drew Timme. But strong guard play is the reason USC is still standing.