The men's 2021 Sweet 16 is complete after four opening days of hectic tournament action in Indianapolis. Here are five things we've learned:
1. Average days for Gonzaga and Baylor have been good enough so far, and things could stay that way. The two top-ranked teams rolled to the Sweet 16, despite performances that were slightly sub-standard against Oklahoma and Wisconsin, respectively. The minor struggles actually speak to the quality of each group—expectations for the Bulldogs and Bears were justifiably high coming into the tournament, and their ability to comfortably slug through games and win comfortably bodes well for what’s to come. They likely don’t have to play a perfect 40 minutes to advance in this tournament. Their opposition might.
Hopes for an heavyweight matchup between the two sides, which was actually on the schedule for December before COVID-19 complications scrapped it, have to be bolstered by the way the bracket is shaping up. Gonzaga was handed a favorable region to begin with, and will have to go through beatable Creighton and the winner of No. 6 seed USC and No. 7 seed Oregon. Baylor will draw Collin Gillespie-less Villanova, and the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts. Elsewhere in the bracket, Illinois is done and Michigan remains without Isaiah Livers. There’s a very visible path to the Final Four for both sides, and the potential for a Gonzaga-Baylor final has shaped up about as well as possible thus far.
2. According to KenPom data, there were four teams that entered the tournament pairing top-10 offenses with a defense that rated outside the top 50. Villanova is the only one left. Iowa, Ohio State and LSU are all headed home. Those parameters are arbitrary, and it certainly doesn’t prove anything on a grand scale, but we did see those three teams, ultimately, burned by their inability to get stops. Villanova will try to buck the trend against Baylor, which could be a tall task.
The ability to control the speed of games and win on the defensive end as necessary can be a huge separator this time of year. Loyola Chicago, USC, Florida State and Arkansas are all still around. The Ramblers actually came into the tournament with the No. 1 defensive efficiency mark in the nation, which might have made for a popular upset pick had Illinois not rated top 10 on both ends of the ball. (It’s really hard to avoid how disappointing the Illini were, we’ll leave it at that). There have been way too many upsets and surprise results to say anything sweeping. But it may be prudent to trust the defensive-minded teams as we rethink these matchups moving forward.
3. Speaking of Villanova, we should probably stop doubting Jay Wright’s ability to make adjustments. The absence of Gillespie made the Wildcats a popular upset target against No. 12 seed Winthrop. That turned out to be little issue, with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl becoming a more pronounced offensive focal point, and strong team defense leading to a bad day for Winthrop star Chandler Vaudrin. The Wildcats are not going to have an easy time against Baylor, but the fact that they’re still here is pretty impressive, even if they didn’t have to play Purdue to get there.
4. Abilene Christian’s frantic, improbable one-point upset of Texas in the first round turned out to be some real twilight-zone type action. And by the transitive property, the Longhorns have a case as the most disappointing high-seeded team to falter on the first weekend. ACU essentially frightened Texas into a close game with physicality (it’s hard to win shooting 29% from the field, but it’s arguably even harder to lose when your opponent misses 71% of its shots). The upstart Wildcats were then beaten handily by UCLA after their offense ran dry. Illinois should not have lost, but it was ousted by a legitimately strong opponent. Texas was not, despite Abilene Christian giving us one of the best moments of the tourney.
5. For the record, the distribution of seeds left in the field is as follows: three No. 1’s, two No. 2’s, one No. 3, one No. 4, two No. 5s, a six, a seven, an eight, two 11s, a 12, and of course, a No. 15. Burn the brackets.
Luka Garza was college basketball’s great unyielding constant. But his NBA future? That's a lot more complicated. (By Jeremy Woo)
The last few years have centered on one buzzword for women’s college basketball: parity. On Monday, we got to see it on full display. (By Emma Baccellieri)
Personal Growth Mondays have been a staple for Gonzaga since 2018, and are no small part of the Bulldogs' recent success. (By Greg Bishop)
In less than a decade, Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding turned a D-II also-ran into a March Cinderella. (By Kevin Sweeney)
After taking LSU's best punch and countering, Michigan is the last Big Ten team standing in the men's NCAA tournament. (By Ross Dellenger)
E.J. Liddell opened up about the social media threats he received after Ohio State's loss. (By Jason Jordan)
Best Thing We Saw
After the first day of the women's NCAA tournament went all chalk, Day 2 saw a No. 11, 12 and No. 13 seed all spring upsets. No. 13 seed Wright State's win over No. 4 Arkansas was the biggest first-round seeding upset in the women's tourney since 2012, and it represented the program's first-ever win in the Big Dance. —Molly Geary
Pick 'Em: Women's Second Round
SI's Kevin Sweeney makes his picks for Tuesday's eight women's second-round games:
No. 1 NC State vs No. 8 South Florida: NC State is too balanced and too talented to get bounced this early, even against the stingy Bulls defense.
No. 5 Iowa over No. 4 Kentucky: Caitlin Clark vs. Rhyne Howard is must-see TV. If Iowa can get enough stops, it can pull the upset.
No. 3 Tennessee over No. 6 Michigan: Both of these teams love to pound the glass, but Tennessee gets better guard play and wins this one.
No. 4 West Virginia over No. 5 Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech somehow survived an upset scare from SFA in round one, but its run will come to an end against Kysre Gondrezick and the Mountaineers.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 8 Oregon State: Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke are too much for these pesky Beavers. Gamecocks roll.
No. 2 Baylor over No. 7 Virginia Tech: The Bears will overwhelm the Hokies on the glass and dominate the paint.
No. 1 UConn over No. 8 Syracuse: The Paige Bueckers show rolls on for UConn, and Huskies roll even without Geno Auriemma patrolling the sidelines.
No. 1 Stanford over No. 8 Oklahoma State: Natasha Mack will make things difficult for the Cardinal at the rim, but it will be tough sledding for OSU to score against this Stanford defense.
Florida State vs. Michigan will be the men’s Sweet 16’s most entertaining clash. The Seminoles are finally starting to defend at the level Leonard Hamilton expects, and FSU has plenty of big bodies to send at Hunter Dickinson. But Michigan is poised and has found ways to win games of all styles this season. I’m already looking forward to this one. —Kevin Sweeney
At the Buzzer
The Big Ten and Big 12, the two most vaunted men's conferences of the 2020–21 season who combined for 16 tournament teams, have just one team apiece in the men's Sweet 16 (Big Ten: Michigan; Big 12: Baylor). That's as many as each of the Summit (Oral Roberts), Missouri Valley (Loyola Chicago) and WCC (Gonzaga). Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has one-quarter of the remaining teams after getting only five bids, and is guaranteed to send at least one to the Elite Eight. Go figure. —M.G.