Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 6, 2021

Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

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    Baylor's Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital
    Baylor's Davion Mitchell and Mark VitalDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    After we waited four long months for preseason No. 1 Gonzaga vs. preseason No. 2 Baylor, the Bears made mincemeat of the Zags, winning their first-ever men's college basketball national championship by a final score of 86-70.

    As was their modus operandi all season long, the Bears dominated from start to finish with three-pointers (10-of-23), offensive rebounds (16) and forced turnovers (14). Aside from the first couple of games after their COVID-19 pause, that uncommon combination had been lethal since the 2020-21 season began.

    But Baylor wasn't the only winner of this NCAA tournament, nor was Gonzaga (or the other 66 teams that didn't win it) the only loser.

    Relive the past three weeks of March Madness with a full recap of the tourney's biggest winners and losers.

Winner: The NCAA Tournament

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    The bracket on the JW Marriott in Indianapolis
    The bracket on the JW Marriott in IndianapolisDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Before we dive into our results-oriented winners and losers, let's be sure to note that the tournament itself was a huge success.

    When this season began, the mere idea of March Madness felt like a pipe dream. National COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing. The Ivy League had canceled its entire season. Dozens of other programs were on pause. Games were getting wiped off the schedule left and right.

    Even in the days leading up to Selection Sunday, it was unclear how well the whole "68 teams in one central location" plan would work out.

    Duke, Virginia and Kansas each had to pull out of their conference tournaments because of COVID-19 protocol. That knocked the Blue Devils out of the running for a bid and left both the Cavaliers and the Jayhawks questionable to be able to play their first game, but it also begged the question of how many outbreaks there might be in Indianapolis.

    Aside from VCU needing to withdraw from its first-round matchup with Oregon, though, this tournament incredibly went off without a hitch.

    The NCAA very publicly dropped the ball with the "weight room" at the women's tournament and deserves plenty of ridicule for that debacle, but it also deserves praise for getting the testing and protocol established to ensure two safe and successful tournaments. (All 63 games of the women's tournament were played, making a combined success rate of 99.2 percent.)

    And thank goodness, because our appetite for March Madness was more ravenous than ever. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and missing out on last year's tournament made this year's dance taste that much sweeter.

Loser: The Big Ten

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    Purdue's Trevion Williams and Ohio State's E.J. Liddell
    Purdue's Trevion Williams and Ohio State's E.J. LiddellMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    I generally despise conference-based narratives stemming from NCAA tournament results. The Big Dance is all about matchups and getting hot at the right time and is not the best, most accurate means of judging the strength (or weakness) of a league.

    That said, there's no question that the Big Ten was the biggest loser of this year's NCAA men's tournament.

    As far as KenPom ratings are concerned, this was the best season the Big Ten has had in at least two decades, finishing with a cumulative rating of plus-18.61. Don't ask me how exactly that number is calculated, but it is the third-best rating in the site's history, trailing only the 2004 ACC (plus-20.32) and the 2017 Big 12 (plus-19.81).

    Some good it did the Big Ten in March, though.

    Michigan State lost in the First Four. No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 4 seed Purdue both lost in the first round. No. 1 seed Illinois and No. 2 seed Iowa were upset in the second round. No. 10 seed Rutgers almost pulled off the upset of Houston, but the Scarlet Knights collapsed in the final few minutes. Neither No. 9 seed Wisconsin nor No. 10 seed Maryland came anywhere close to knocking off Baylor or Alabama in the second round.

    Of the nine Big Ten teams to reach the tournament, only Michigan made it into the Sweet 16. And the No. 1 seed Wolverines were ousted in the Elite Eight by UCLA on what was an uncharacteristically atrocious shooting night for the favorites.

    Despite producing four of the top seven overall seeds, the Big Ten posted a combined record of 8-9, extending its national championship drought to 21 years.

Winner: Pac-12

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    While the Big Ten was a colossal loser, the Pac-12 had an unbelievable few weeks of success in Indiana.

    Five teams from the westernmost power conference made it into this year's NCAA tournament: No. 5 seed Colorado, No. 6 seed USC, No. 7 seed Oregon, No. 11 seed UCLA and No. 12 seed Oregon State. Had those seeds gone according to design, the Pac-12 would have won 3.5 games (the half being UCLA's play-in game against Michigan State) and the league would have been eliminated before the Sweet 16.

    Instead, they combined for 12 wins, or 13 if you count Oregon's "no contest" victory over VCU. Either way, it was multiple more victories than any other conference earned in the Big Dance.

    Curiously enough, the top-seeded team (No. 5 Colorado) was the only one that didn't reach the Sweet 16, though the Buffaloes delivered one of the swiftest beatdowns of the entire tournament in their 96-73 first-round win over Georgetown. They shot 16-of-25 from three-point range against the helpless Hoyas and led by 32 late in the second half before taking their foot off the gas.

    No. 6 USC and No. 7 Oregon squared off in the Sweet 16 after making mincemeat of Kansas and Iowa, respectively, in the second round. The Trojans won that regional semifinal before running into a Gonzaga-sized brick wall in the next round, but USC was so dominant in its first three wins that it surged all the way up to No. 6 in the final KenPom rankings.

    Oregon State had not won an NCAA tournament game since 1982, but the Beavers upset Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola-Chicago in their stunning run to the Elite Eight. Once there, they battled back from a 17-point deficit to nearly upset Houston, as well.

    And then UCLA's run to the Final Four will be one that we talk about for the next decade. The Bruins' best wins away from home prior to the tournament were road games against Arizona and Utah. Even their best home wins (Colorado, Arizona and Oregon State) were nothing special. Yet, they won five straight neutral-site games, surprisingly knocking off both Alabama and Michigan.

Loser: The Mountain West Conference, Per Usual

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    Utah State's Neemias Queta
    Utah State's Neemias QuetaDoug McSchooler/Associated Press

    All right, one more conference narrative and then we'll shift gears to more interesting topics.

    One of these years, the Mountain West Conference is going to break through and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

    Or at least that's the lie I keep trying to convince myself of every March.

    Since its inception in 1999, the MWC has now sent 51 teams to the NCAA tournament. Those teams have a combined record of 22-51 and have never made it to an Elite Eight.

    In fairness, the only team in that bunch that was "supposed" to make it to a regional final was No. 2 seed San Diego State in 2011. That Kawhi Leonard-led bunch made it to the Sweet 16 before falling victim to one of Kemba Walker's masterful performances for the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies. No. 7 seed Nevada almost crashed the Elite Eight in 2018, but it was unable to stop Loyola-Chicago's magical run.

    Those two minor success stories pale in comparison to all of the letdowns. This conference is just 14-14 overall in the first round when earning a No. 8 seed or better—the most egregious of the losses was No. 3 seed New Mexico losing to No. 14 seed Harvard in 2013.

    That trend continued this year with No. 6 seed San Diego State getting blasted in its opener against Syracuse. The Aztecs only committed five turnovers, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and made 11 three-pointers, and yet they still lost by 16 because they were helpless to slow down Buddy Boeheim and Syracuse's three-point assault. SDSU was leading 18-14 midway through the first half, and then in what felt like the blink of an eye, Syracuse was up 56-30.

    Similar story in Utah State's first-round game against No. 6 seed Texas Tech. The Aggies seemed to be in control early and held a lead into the second half before the wheels fell off. Despite a fantastic game out of USU's Neemias Queta (11 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists), the Red Raiders blew the game wide-open with a 24-4 run that took less than seven minutes.

    Just like that, both MWC teams were gone in another disappointing March for the league. Maybe next year, right?

Winner: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

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    Oral Roberts' Max Abmas
    Oral Roberts' Max AbmasRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    Max Abmas had a fantastic 2020-21 season.

    On Dec. 2, he had 28 points, eight assists and six rebounds in nearly leading Oral Roberts to a road win over Wichita State. Less than a week later, he went toe-to-toe with Cade Cunningham and frankly won that head-to-head battle, finishing with 36 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a close loss at Oklahoma State. During one four-game stretch in February, Abmas averaged 37.3 points, shooting 24-of-40 from three-point range. He entered the NCAA tournament leading the nation in scoring at 24.4 points per game.

    And yet, it wasn't until late in that first-round upset of Ohio State that most college basketball fans even learned how to pronounce his last name. (It's ACE-miss, by the way.)

    By the end of the first weekend, though, Abmas was finally getting the attention he deserved all season long.

    He lit up the Buckeyes for 29 points in that overtime victory, went for 26 points in the subsequent win over Florida and had another 25 in the near-upset of Arkansas. Had his game-winning three-point attempt found its mark in that game, it would have instantly become the second-most replayed tournament moment for the next decade (behind only Christian Laettner's iconic shot.)

    Abmas' running mate, Kevin Obanor, was also phenomenal, recording a double-double in each of Oral Roberts' three games. He racked up 58 points, 22 rebounds and five steals in the first two rounds.

    But it was the 6'1" sophomore guard who played every single minute of each ORU game since the start of the Summit League tournament who stole the hearts of America.

    By no means am I suggesting Abmas is the second coming of Stephen Curry, but that's the last time a small-school star blew up in March quite like this.

Loser: Double-Digit Leads Against Arkansas

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    Arkansas' Moses Moody
    Arkansas' Moses MoodyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    As great as Max Abmas is, even he was unable to keep Oral Roberts from falling victim to the comeback kings of Arkansas.

    In the Razorbacks' opener against Colgate, they trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half. They rallied with a 19-0 run, but that game was still a nail-biter deep into the second half before the Raiders ran out of gas and Arkansas ran away with a 17-point victory. Big man Justin Smith (29 points, 13 rebounds, five steals) was especially great during that first come-from-behind victory.

    Two days later, Arkansas found itself in a familiar position, trailing Texas Tech by 10 points midway through the first half before gradually clawing back and taking a 13-point lead. In this game, though, it was Arkansas that seemed to run out of steam down the stretch. The Red Raiders battled back and had plenty of opportunities to win it in the final two minutes. However, they missed several late point-blank shots, allowing Arkansas to reach the Sweet 16.

    It worked so well the first two times, the Razorbacks did it again against Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles jumped out to an early 15-7 lead and remained in control for most of the night. At one point early in the second half, Arkansas was down by a dozen. It was only a matter of time before the Hogs made their run, though. They never led by more than four points, but they led by two at the final buzzer when Abmas' game-winning attempt missed the mark.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. In the Elite Eight against Baylor, it took less than four minutes for Arkansas to fall behind by double digits. Just nine minutes into the game, it was an 18-point blowout. But the Razorbacks kept hanging around and eventually got back to within four points. Against an opponent as good as Baylor, though, that deep of a hole was too much to overcome.

    Still, three completed comebacks and a fourth near-comeback. Imagine how good Arkansas would have been this season if it could have figured out how to play with that much fire in the first 10 minutes, too.

Winner: Johnny Juzang and Mick Cronin, UCLA

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    UCLA's Johnny Juzang
    UCLA's Johnny JuzangDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    For a team that just barely made it into the NCAA tournament, UCLA sure had one heck of a run through March.

    In particular, Johnny Juzang was spectacular.

    The transfer from Kentucky put up 23 points in the First Four opener against Michigan State, and he never slowed down from there. Through six games, he averaged 22.8 points, including 28 in the Elite Eight win over Michigan and 29 in the Final Four classic against Gonzaga.

    All told, he finished with 137 points, the fourth-highest single-tournament total of the past 18 years. Only Kemba Walker in 2011 (141 points), Chris Douglas-Roberts in 2008 (140 points) and Carsen Edwards in 2019 (139 points in four games) scored more than Juzang.

    But each of those guys did much more damage from the free-throw line than Juzang did. His 54 made field goalsmany of which were difficult mid-range jumperswas the highest mark since Connecticut's Richard Hamilton made 56 buckets during the 1999 NCAA tournament.

    Because of Juzang's Herculean performances, Mick Cronin will never again wear the label of a coach who can't win in March.

    One month ago, Cronin had a career NCAA tournament record of 6-11 with just one Sweet 16 appearances. Only one of those six wins came against a team seeded No. 8 or better, and that lone regional semifinal came back in 2012. He was just 3-7 in his last seven trips to the tourney.

    That's all in the past now, though. Five consecutive victories over Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan and a near-upset of Gonzaga will forever eliminate that narrative.

    This might just be the beginning, too.

    The only senior on UCLA's roster is Chris Smith, and he last played in December because of a torn ACL. And everyone is getting a free year of eligibility anyway, so they theoretically could run it back with this same tournament roster in both 2021-22 and 2022-23. Cronin's Bruins could be special for years to come if Juzang and Co. all come back.

Loser: Top Three Player of the Year Candidates in the Second Round

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    Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu
    Illinois' Ayo DosunmuPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    To the surprise of no one, Iowa's Luka Garza was named the 2020-21 men's college basketball AP Player of the Year, receiving 50 out of 63 possible first-place votes. The nation's second-leading scorer (24.1 PPG) entered the year as the heavy favorite for that honor and proceeded to dominate for the better part of four months. He easily could have won the award unanimously.

    Of the other 13 first-place votes, six went to Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu and three went to Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham. (Gonzaga's Corey Kispert and Baylor's Jared Butler also received two each.)

    But if you wanted to watch the top three players in the country, here's hoping you did it early. That full trio was gone before the first weekend of the tournament.

    Garza did everything in his power to carry the Hawkeyes against Oregon. The big man went for 36 points and nine rebounds and was named the game MVP...of a contest that Iowa lost by 15 points. Three of Iowa's starters were held scoreless, while Oregon's versatile quintet did just about whatever it wanted on offense in a 95-80 upset.

    Cunningham also had a rather impressive performance in Oklahoma State's second-round loss to Oregon State. The likely No. 1 pick in the draft got out to a bit of a slow start, but he had five steals in the second half and finished with 24 points while desperately trying to lead the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory. Unfortunately for that OSU, the OSU Beavers shot 32-of-35 from the free-throw line and kept the Cowboys from ever getting all the way back in it.

    While Garza and Cunningham aren't to blame for their teams' early exits, Dosunmu picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season. He had scored at least 10 points in 42 consecutive games dating back to early January 2020, but Loyola-Chicago held him to nine points with six turnovers and just two assists. On an afternoon where Trent Frazier also shot just 1-of-10 from the field, those backcourt struggles proved fatal for the Fighting Illini.

Winner: Eastern Washington's Groves Brothers

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    Eastern Washington's Tanner Groves (35) and Jacob Groves (33)
    Eastern Washington's Tanner Groves (35) and Jacob Groves (33)AJ Mast/Associated Press

    When a player sets a career high in scoring in an NCAA tournament game, it's cool.

    When two teammates set career highs in scoring in an NCAA tournament game, it's officially an intriguing story.

    But when those two players are brothers having the day of their lives against a blue blood like Kansas, it almost mandates its own documentary.

    Those brothers were Eastern Washington's Tanner and Jacob Groves, and they had a mutual field day in the first round against the Jayhawks.

    The elder Groves (Tanner) led the way with 35 points, five rebounds and three blocks. The Jayhawks were forced to play without their usual starting power forward, Jalen Wilson, because of COVID-19 protocol, and Eastern Washington's mountain man went to work. He shot 6-of-7 from inside, but it was his three-point range (five triples) that really threw Kansas for a loop.

    The younger Groves also had a huge day from downtown, shooting 4-of-5 en route to 23 points and nine rebounds.

    All told, they went for 58 points on 29 field-goal attempts, pacing the Eagles to 84 points against what had been a highly rated Kansas defense. It wasn't enough to get the victory, as Kansas rallied in the second half for 93 points of its own. But the Groves brothers won over the hearts of America while making a spirited run at what would have been a massive upset.

    Of all the things we missed last year without an NCAA tournament, instantly falling in love with mid-major players whose names we didn't even know before the game began might be at the top of the list.

Loser: Tennessee Volunteers

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    Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes
    Tennessee head coach Rick BarnesPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    There were two teams this season with multiple players likely to be taken within the first 20 or so picks of the 2021 NBA draft.

    One of those teams is Gonzaga, which had a nice little season.

    The other is Tennessee, which was arguably the most inconsistent team in this entire college basketball season.

    Good Tennessee was good enough to beat anyone. In fact, the Vols had five wins by double digits against KenPom Top 50 opponents, as well as impressive home victories over Colorado and Arkansas. The 80-61 win over Kansas during the SEC/B12 Challenge was quite the statement about this team's potential ceiling.

    Bad Tennessee was a different story altogether. When that team showed up, it was one brick after another.

    Good Tennessee won by double digits at Kentucky and had two convincing wins over Florida. Bad Tennessee lost by 15 at home to Kentucky and lost at Florida by 26.

    Such is life when two freshmen (Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer) are your top players.

    Unfortunately for fans in Knoxville, Bad Tennessee showed up in the first round against Oregon State.

    Playing without big man John Fulkerson (facial fracture suffered in SEC tournament), the Volunteers quickly fell behind 18-7 and never even managed to make things interesting again. They shot just 5-of-26 from three-point range while the Beavers (10-of-21) seemingly could not miss from distance.

    As a result, Tennessee was the only No. 5 seed unable to advance to the second round.

    Tennessee is now 3-3 overall in the NCAA tournament under Rick Barnes, and only one of those wins came against a team seeded better than No. 14.

Winner: Double-Digit Seeds

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    Oregon State's Maurice Calloo (1) and Ethan Thompson (5)
    Oregon State's Maurice Calloo (1) and Ethan Thompson (5)Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    If it felt like this year's tournament was even more chaotic than usual, that's because it was.

    There were no No. 16 over No. 1 upsets this time around. In fact, none of those four games was even remotely close. But every other seed won at least one game in a dance loaded with Cinderellas.

    The summation of seeds in the second round (210) tied for the second-highest in NCAA tournament history, trailing only the 215 mark set in 2016. The seed total of teams in the Sweet 16 (94) was the highest of all time, breaking the previous record of 89 set in 1986.

    Excluding the First Four, double-digit seeds won a combined total of 15 games, which set a new tournament record.

    UCLA reaching the Final Four as a No. 11 seed was, of course, the most noteworthy of the bunch. That First Four to Final Four journey will forever change how we view that initial round of the tournament. VCU made that run a decade ago, but now that the feat has been repeated, it feels more likely to be repeated again.

    We also saw a bid thief make its way all the way to the Elite Eight, as No. 12 seed Oregon Statewhich needed to win the Pac-12 tournament just to make it into the NCAA tournamentpulled off three consecutive upsets. The Beavers also rallied from an early 17-point deficit before coming up just short against Houston in that regional final. If they had been able to win that one and reach the Final Four, it would've been an all-time great Cinderella story.

    On the Sweet 16 front, No. 15 seed Oral Roberts shocked the world in beating both Ohio State and Florida. The Golden Eagles joined Florida Gulf Coast as just the second No. 15 seed to make it that far, and they were a last-second three-point attempt away from reaching the Elite Eight.

    Syracuse also made it into the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed for the third time in six years, this time as a No. 11 seed. Led by Buddy Boeheim, the Orange shot 29-of-58 from three-point range in those first two victories.

    Somehow, we still ended up with a pair of No. 1 seeds in the national championship game, but it was one heck of an unpredictable ride to what was a predictable final destination.

Loser: Roy Williams' First-Round Streak

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    North Carolina head coach Roy Williams
    North Carolina head coach Roy WilliamsGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Much has been written in the past week about Roy Williams, as the legendary coach called it a career with 903 wins, nine Final Fours and three national championships. He's easily one of the 10 greatest coaches in the history of men's college basketball, and you could put him on your Mount Rushmore without any objection here.

    Unfortunately, though, he's riding off into the sunset fresh off the first first-round loss of his coaching career.

    There were several close calls along the way. Back when he was with Kansas, the No. 2 seeded Jayhawks were pushed to the brink by Utah State in a 64-61 clash in the first round in 2003. In both 2014 and 2015, North Carolina got all it could handle in two-point wins over Providence and Harvard, respectively. Florida Gulf Coast battled the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels well for a while in 2016, too.

    They were all wins, though. Williams entered this season with a perfect 29-0 record in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

    But in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the South Region, Wisconsin annihilated the Tar Heels.

    Williams' coaching prowess didn't much matter on a night where neither Brad Davison nor D'Mitrik Trice seemed capable of missing a shot. The Badgers shot 13-of-27 as a team from three-point range while North Carolina only made 38.5 percent of its two-point attempts.

    It was a rough final game for Williams, but it will be a quickly forgotten footnote on a career with 79 NCAA tournament victories.

Winner: All of the Overtimes

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    North Texas' Javion Hamlet
    North Texas' Javion HamletDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    This year's NCAA tournament did not set the record for most overtime games2014 had five in the first round alonebut there sure were a lot of them.

    That party began in the First Four with Michigan State and UCLA needing five extra minutes to determine who got the No. 11 seed in the East Region. (Turned out to be a pretty important game!) UCLA was a slight underdog and trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half before battling back, forcing overtime and getting the W.

    The first round didn't go any better for the Big Ten, either.

    No. 2 seed Ohio State trailed Oral Roberts for most of the afternoon, but the Buckeyes held a late 64-60 lead before going scoreless over the final 2.5 minutes of regulation. Kevin Obanor tied the game up with four free throws down the stretch and then scored the first five points of overtime. His personal 9-0 run put Oral Roberts ahead for good, though Ohio State did have several (failed) opportunities at forcing the game into a second overtime.

    No. 4 seed Purdue faced a similar problem against North Texas. The Boilermakers were behind for most of the night, but they had a late surge to storm back and force overtime. (They likely would have won in regulation if they hadn't missed three consecutive critical free throws in the final four minutes.) That extra period turned into the Javion Hamlet show, though. UNT's star guard had eight points, five rebounds and one assist in overtime while leading the Mean Green to an upset victory.

    There were no overtime games in the second round, but there was one more major upset in the Sweet 16 when No. 11 seed UCLA knocked off No. 2 seed Alabama. The Crimson Tide's Alex Reese hit a massive, high-arcing three-pointer just before the buzzer to send the game to overtime, but the Bruins somehow withstood that gut punch to play some of their best basketball of the entire season in overtime. UCLA scored 23 points and only had two empty possessions in those final five minutes, winning by 10.

    The underdogs didn't win all the overtimes, though. There was a first-round game between No. 7 seed Florida and No. 10 seed Virginia Tech in which the Gators prevailed in overtime. And in the most memorable overtime game since 1992, No. 1 Gonzaga beat No. 11 UCLA on a buzzer-beater in the Final Four.

    Still, four overtime victories in six chances by double-digit seeds in a single tournament is a little absurd, even for March Madness.

Loser: Elite Eight Ratings

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    Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs and USC's Tahj Eaddy
    Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs and USC's Tahj EaddyAssociated Press

    For COVID-19 purposes, the NCAA tournament schedule was a bit wonky this year.

    The First Four was pushed back to a single-day event on Thursday instead of the normal two games on Tuesday and two games on Wednesday approach. That full day of stand-alone games was generally heralded as a success, and it would be great to see it continue in the future as an exclusively Wednesday tradition if it is logistically possible.

    The first two rounds were also pushed back by one day to accommodate that shift, and the second weekend was moved from its usual Thursday-Sunday format to a Saturday-Tuesday window.

    Up until the Elite Eight, things were going well from an advertising and revenue perspective. The Sweet 16, in particular, got great ratings on Saturday and Sunday, despite the lack of blue bloods and the unusually large number of double-digit seeds.

    But having those Elite Eight games on a Monday and Tuesday night was brutal.

    Per Sports Media Watch, this year's Elite Eight had four of the six least-watched men's Elite Eight games since 2008.

    Curiously, though, the 10 p.m. ET tipoffs fared better than their 7:15 counterparts. Gonzaga-USC drew nearly 1.5 million fewer eyes than the later Michigan-UCLA matchup. The gap wasn't quite as wide for Houston-Oregon State compared to Baylor-Arkansas, but that Cougars-Beavers game was the least-watched Elite Eight game in more than a decadeuntil Gonzaga-USC fared even worse the following night.

    Considering we're comparing 2021 weeknight ratings to 2008-20 weekend ratings, it's no surprise that ratings were worse than in previous years. However, I doubt anyone expected it to be this bad. The national appeal of the teams involved clearly played a factor, but it seems safe to assume the NCAA won't be making this a permanent change for future years.

Winner: 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers

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    Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs
    Gonzaga's Jalen SuggsMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Every time the last remaining undefeated team of the NFL season suffers its first loss, the 1972 Miami Dolphins celebrate with a bottle of champagne.

    I don't know if the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers have a similar tradition, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs delayed that celebration for as long as any other team has in more than four decades.

    In 1991, 34-0 UNLV lost in the Final Four in Indianapolis.

    In 2015, 38-0 Kentucky did the same.

    This year, Gonzaga carried a 31-0 record into the national championship before running into a brick wall.

    The Bulldogs were unstoppable on offense all season long, but they just could not get into any sort of rhythm against Baylor's otherworldly defensive effort. The Zags did shoot close to their record-breaking season average on two-point attempts (62.5 percent against Baylor; 63.9 percent on the year), but just getting the ball into the paint was a seemingly impossible task.

    The usually sure-handed and unguardable Drew Timme finished with five turnovers and only five made buckets. The baskets Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi were able to get at the rim were always heavily contested as Baylor racked up eight steals and five blocks on the night.

    Every time Gonzaga did put together even the slightest spark on offense, Baylor always seemed to respond with a back-breaking three-pointer. It was a 10-point game barely two minutes into the contest, and Gonzaga never seriously threatened to get back in it.

    That said, it was an unceremonious finish to a phenomenal season. Gonzaga had won 27 consecutive games by double digits prior to the Final Four, but then it ran into back-to-back opponents who didn't seem capable of missing a shot. Such is life in March Madness (and when you constantly switch ball screens against teams with multiple guards capable of either driving to the rim or draining mid-range/long-range jumpers).

    But three cheers to Indiana. The Hoosiers didn't even make the tournament this year and fired their coach for it, but their reign as the most recent undefeated national champion will now extend to at least a 46th season.

Loser: Schools from North Carolina and South Carolina

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    UNC-Greensboro's Isaiah Miller
    UNC-Greensboro's Isaiah MillerDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina five years ago partially in order to be close to a college basketball hotbed. Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest, Clemson and South Carolina are all within about a two-hour drive, not to mention more than a dozen mid-majors.

    Normally, it's a fun place to be, and at least one (often more than one) of those fan bases has something to root for deep into the NCAA men's tournament.

    That certainly wasn't the case this year.

    For the first time since 1995, Duke didn't even get into the NCAA tournament, and yet the Blue Devils won the same number of March Madness games as the rest of the teams from North Carolina and South Carolina combined.

    The disappointment began in the First Four with Appalachian State losing to Norfolk State. The Mountaineers trailed by as many as 19 points (34-15) in the first half before going on a ridiculous 26-4 run in the second half to take a six-point lead. However, they missed each of their final 10 field-goal attempts, allowing the Spartans to claw back for a 54-53 victory.

    Friday night was three times as rough for the Carolinas.

    We've previously mentioned North Carolina's 23-point loss to Wisconsin. That game was never even close.

    As that blowout was ending, Clemson-Rutgers was just tipping off. That was a much better game. Save for an eight-minute stretch of the second half when Rutgers went on a 16-2 run and Clemson immediately responded with a 10-0 burst, it was a nail-biter throughout. But Clemson wilted down the stretch, scoring just one point in the final four minutes of a 60-56 loss.

    The nightcap was Winthrop vs. Villanova, otherwise known as one of the most popular upset picks of the entire tournament. To their credit, the Eagles battled well against the 2016 and 2018 national champions, but they just had no answer for Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Villanova's big man racked up 22 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in the 73-63 victory.

    All hope in the Carolinas boiled down to UNC-Greensboro's game against Florida State on Saturday afternoon. And after initially falling behind 23-7, the Spartans put forth one heck of an effort, tying the game shortly after halftime and trailing by just one in the final five minutes. However, Florida State's size was just too much down the stretch in a 64-54 win.

    Less than 48 hours after the tournament began, the Carolina schools were 0-5 and out of the dance.

    The only time in the past four decades that no team from the Carolinas reached the Sweet 16 was in 2014, but at least North Carolina and NC State each won a game that year. The last time no team from the state won so much as a single game was in 1976.

Winner: Scott Drew, Baylor

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    Baylor head coach Scott Drew
    Baylor head coach Scott DrewDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    What a tournament it was for coaches who were once labeled as guys who can't coach or win when it matters most.

    We've already mentioned on several occasions Mick Cronin's redemption run with UCLA, but there was also Gonzaga's Mark Few and Baylor's Scott Drew going a combined 10-0 to set up a head-to-head battle in the national championship.

    Only one of those coaches could win the big one, though, and that, unfortunately, means at least one more year of people saying Gonzaga's conference affiliation is the reason Few will never win a national championship in Spokane.

    But it also means Drew is taking a national championship back to Waco, which never seemed possible when he took that job 18 years ago.

    Baylor was at the lowest of lows in 2003, fresh off an unthinkable scandal and with only one NCAA tournament appearance in the previous half-century. But within five years, Drew had the Bears in the AP Top 25, where they have been at least one week in 13 of the last 14 seasons.

    In spite of that, there were fans who didn't think he could coach.

    You've got to wonder what they're thinking now.

    When last year's tournament was canceled, it felt like Drew and Baylor were robbed of their best chance to win a title. This team likely would have been a No. 1 seed last March. But Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell decided to return for one more year, and Baylor became a freight train.

    That train temporarily came off the tracks following the COVID-19 pause in February. They struggled a bit on defense when they returned to action, but that certainly wasn't a problem by the time the NCAA tournament began. The Bears held their six opponents to 61.7 points per game, including shutting down Gonzaga like no other team had even come close to doing during the regular season.

    Mitchell, Butler and Co. were fantastic, but that 86-70 beatdown is a credit to Drew. He had his guys ready to win from the outset, jumping out to an early 11-1 lead and never looking back. That Baylor team we saw Monday night was the juggernaut that felt like a serious threat to go undefeated prior to the pause.


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