Boy oh boy, what a weekend of basketball.
For all the times I have been able to follow this tournament and keep tabs on the teams involved, I would have to say I have never been so enticed by how things are playing out.
For starters, my apologies to those who may have considered my opinion on the sweet sixteen matchups, as most of my ‘locks’ and ‘bold calls really didn’t play out the way I was expecting it to as if it ever really does this time of the year.
I went 50% from the field on my picks, winning on Gonzaga, Arkansas, Baylor and USC. Where I was very wrong was on my choice of Syracuse and Loyola, where I clearly did not give enough credit where it was due.
The teams moving on to the elite 8 in this year’s tournament are a mix of the top dogs from the entire season to this point, and others who are running on fumes, living shot-by-shot and hoping to be the final team standing in the end.
And then there were 8… 🍿
(2) Houston vs (12) Oregon State
(1) Baylor vs (3) Arkansas
(1) Michigan vs (11) UCLA
(1) Gonzaga vs (6) USC
Elite 8 starts tomorrow. Let the madness continue 😈 pic.twitter.com/tzEde3QWPj
— Overtime (@overtime) March 29, 2021
Everyone loves an underdog story, and this group of eight remaining in the Indianapolis bubble will fit right into the narrative of that.
The weekend began in upset fashion, with Oregon State controlling the Loyola Ramblers in ways that not many saw coming. After Loyola-Chicago’s massive performance in the win over Illinois, I definitely expected more.
One thing is for certain: this Oregon State Beavers team will not go out quietly. They are dogs on the court, players like Ethan Thompson and Warith Alatishe set the tone for a squad that plays with no fear and most importantly hits their free throws.
The second surprise of the weekend for me was to see how easily the Houston Cougars were able to penetrate Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense that had stymied teams in the previous two rounds.
As I expected to be the case in my writeup prior, Houston was dominant on the glass and it is the reason they had so much success. They outrebounded the Orange by 10 and had a 14 point advantage in the paint, that is the recipe for wins in this tourney…
Also, FREE THROWS.
Herbert Jones missed both free throws to potentially take the lead.
Tough break for Bama. pic.twitter.com/j5IvKzobzq
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 29, 2021
Surprise number three, and it was a big one. The #11 ranked UCLA Bruins are continuing to prove all bracket makers wrong and took down one of the best shooting teams in the tournament by doing so.
There was drama and plenty of it. UCLA was up three points in the dying seconds of the second half when Alabama’s Alex Reese heaved up a deep three-pointer, sinking it at the buzzer to tie the game.
ALEX REESE KEEPS BAMA ALIVE AND SENDS IT TO OT ‼️
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2021
In overtime, it was all UCLA who managed to bounce back and seal the upset win. Massive performances from Jamie Jaquez and Jules Bernard along with others helped carry the lost load of their MVP Johnny Juzang who fouled out.
The shock of the sweet sixteen came from a team who was playing in the first four just to earn a birth in the NCAA tournament…
Looking ahead to the Elite 8 on Monday and Tuesday, I’m so glad it won’t be another week-long wait, we get this action in less than 24 hours!
MONDAY GAMES –
Spots in the final four are on the line now, things are getting tighter and tighter and many of the teams remaining have just as much momentum as their opposition, so no longer can we use this to determine what’s going to play out.
#12 Oregon State Beavers vs. #2 Houston Cougars:
A game where Houston will enter as the deserving favorite, rightfully so. Oregon State did to Loyola what not many other teams could, played to their pace but completely neutralized everything they tried to do in Loyola’s half-court scheme.
I expect this to be a defensive slugfest, with whichever team making the biggest plays in the late stages coming out on top. Oregon State was not touted for their rebounding coming into the NCAA tournament, but ever since winning the PAC-12 and punching their ticket to the dance, there hasn’t been an era they have lacked in.
I do not expect Houston to blow through Oregon State on Monday night, in fact, I believe Oregon State could very well win this game, but I’m leaning to the side of the Cougars.
Oregon State's Ethan Thompson sums up the Beavers run with a saying that could have been stolen from a Corvallis Yoga Studio: "Positive energy leads to positive outcomes."
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) March 27, 2021
I believe when the stipulations are the largest and lights are the brightest, big-name players mean more than they do in the earlier rounds. I want to see Quentin Grimes of Houston and Ethan Thompson of Oregon State go toe to toe for the final four.
Houston 66 – Oregon State 62
#1 Baylor Bears vs. #3 Arkansas Razorbacks
It’s easy to look at Arkansas game vs Oral Roberts and say they will get destroyed by a very long and complete Baylor team, but this is the elite 8 now and things really do get pumped up a notch.
Baylor was trailing by 7 to Villanova at halftime on Saturday just to turn around and make it an eleven-point victory. Once they settle in and their shots start to fall, it is almost impossible to cool them down.
For the first time since 2012, Baylor's men's and women's teams are headed to the Elite Eight!
— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 27, 2021
Both of these squads get a majority of their points in the paint and shouldn’t have much trouble getting to the line, it is up to them once they have the opportunities at the stripe to make them count.
I think this one comes down to the ability to make the three-point shot, and that is where I give the Bears an advantage. With only one day separating the games and lack of time to prepare for a new opponent, I’m taking Baylor to pull away late and get to the final four.
Baylor 79 – Arkansas 67
#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #6 Univerity of Southern California Trojans:
What I think will be the game of the round. Both squads feature a plethora of NBA-ready talent, with lottery picks like Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme and Corey Kispert on Gonzaga, along with the Mobley brothers and a pair of savvy guards in Isaiah White and Tahj Eaddy on USC.
The length of USC will cause the Zags big problems, especially if they get into foul trouble like they did today against Creighton. If USC manages to get a lead, don’t be surprised if they’re able to fend off the Bulldogs just based on their ability to shoot and defend inside.
EVAN MOBLEY WITH THE EXCLAMATION POINT FOR USC 🔨🔨🔨
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2021
I love the way this USC team is playing and I love their personnel to pull off this upset, but I can’t do it officially. Something about this Gonzaga Bulldogs team and the brotherhood they visibly run their team through is enough for me to not only have them in my final four but as my undisputed champion across all brackets.
Gonzaga 75 – USC 68
#1 Michigan vs. #11 UCLA:
Two teams that proved me wrong this weekend will now go face to face for a spot in the final four.
Michigan handled Florida State without a sweat, and I did not see it coming. They proved something to me that I hadn’t really seen at first, and that is the amount of heart they play with.
Without the offensive prowess of injured star Isaiah Livers, this team passes the ball like they have been playing together since diapers. Not only on the offensive end but defensively they will make any team settle for outside shots.
One thing the UCLA Bruins don’t struggle with is outside shots, for that reason I expect this to be a lot closer than the odds will tell you.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 29, 2021
UCLA wins this game if they find another key contributor to step up, whether it is Jaquez again or Juzang getting redemption for his rough Sunday night vs Bama, someone will need to make a play.
I believe Michigan’s defense won’t suffer from the lack of prep time as much as UCLA’s will, no matter how hard it is to bet against Mick Cronin and these Bruins after their performance in the sweet sixteen.
Michigan 81 – 69 UCLA
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9