Ranking the Most Memorable Moments From the 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament

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Editor's Note: This is the last day of Morning Madness, SI's daily newsletter during the NCAA tournament. Thanks for taking the ride with us this year!

As of Monday night, everyone (except Baylor fans, probably) has stopped dancing. After a long wait, we got all the March we needed, rolled into a whirlwind, upset-filled men’s tournament. It was fitting, then, that the whole thing ended with a surprise—albeit, a minor, non-dramatic one—as Baylor rolled top overall seed Gonzaga in a 86–70 win that left zero doubt as to who the best team was.

This isn’t all about that, though there’s plenty more to read about the Bears, the Zags, and that game. Here, we close the book on an exhilarating few weeks of basketball, with a look back at the games and moments from the men's tourney we’ll remember most.

10. Buddy Boeheim goes off against San Diego State

Nobody was ready for Jim Boeheim’s son to take the tournament by storm, but it was that kind of month. Buddy Boeheim shot a blistering 11 for 15 from the field in a first-round upset of a good San Diego State team. He scored 16 consecutive points early in the game to set the tone. Boeheim went on to score 25 against West Virginia in the following game, and sent the Orange to the Sweet 16. He was a forgotten hero of the tourney, but, however briefly, a hero all the same.

9. Rutgers wins first tourney game since 1983

The No. 10 seed Scarlet Knights broke a 38-year program drought in a narrow, thrilling first-round upset of Clemson, forcing a travel in the final minute and icing the game, 60–56, on a late layup by Geo Baker. Steve Pikiell has returned the program to relevance. The raucous celebration was an early highlight.

8. Alex Reese sends UCLA-Alabama to OT

Reese’s clutch shot ended up as a footnote after free throw struggles sank the Crimson Tide’s Elite Eight hopes, but it remains one of the best shots of the tourney. With 4.2 seconds left, down three, Alabama got it up the court and Jahvon Quinerly found Reese at the logo, the big man draining an NBA-range three to force extra time. Reese was just a 28% three-point shooter on the year. This one almost saved his team’s season.

7. Loyola wins the battle of Illinois

The most disappointing team in the field was probably Illinois, which won the Big Ten tourney and came in hot, but was toppled by Loyola Chicago, Porter Moser and Sister Jean, a juggernaut March trio. The Ramblers won this one handily. This was more about the in-state symbolism than anything else. And with Moser off to coach Oklahoma, it takes on a little extra significance in the context of the program’s success.

6. Oregon State goes back to the Elite Eight

There’s not one exact moment, but rather a collection of increasingly impressive victories that led the Beavers to the cusp of the Final Four. They beat Tennessee, then they beat Oklahoma State and Cade Cunningham, they took down Loyola Chicago, and they came close to edging Houston and sneaking into the final weekend. The Beavers peaked at the right time, winning the Pac-12 tourney as their only pathway to a bid. As it turned out, there was nothing fluky about it.

5. Joe Pleasant ices Abilene Christian’s upset of Texas

Abilene Christian didn’t have enough juice to make the second weekend, but it pulled off one of March’s loudest statement wins with an unpredictable first-round humbling of No. 3 seed Texas. It was Pleasant, a 58% free throw shooter who found himself at the foul line with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. He made both to take a one-point lead, then stole a last-ditch inbounds hurl as time expired. Objectively, Abilene Christian had no business winning that game, and its exit was swift in the next round. But it won this one, and that was all that mattered.

Abilene upsets Texas in the 2021 NCAA men's tournament

4. Johnny Juzang drops 28 on Michigan

Before pushing Gonzaga to the brink with a massive showing in the national semifinals, Juzang lit up another No. 1 seed, Michigan, with a tough-minded shooting display that made him one of the biggest stars of the tournament. Playing on a bad ankle and briefly leaving the game, Juzang scored more than half of his team’s points in a gritty 51–49 win that sent UCLA to the Final Four. It doesn’t get much better than that.

3. Oral Roberts stuns Ohio State

The first major upset of the tourney happened early on the first day, as a talented Oral Roberts team took down No. 2 seed Ohio State in a stunner. The Golden Eagles fought back to force overtime and weathered two last-second misses from the Buckeyes that could have forced a second one. The Max Abmas–Kevin Obanor duo proved one of the tourney’s best, and we got more familiar after ORU toppled Florida and played Arkansas close.

2. Jalen Suggs beats UCLA at the buzzer

Well, this would have been No. 1 if Gonzaga had sealed the whole deal. It remains an incredible moment in an all-time classic college basketball game. Suggs’s banked-in 30-footer as overtime expired was instantly etched into the memory of anyone who watched, capping a nail-biting epic that truly could have gone both ways. It was the best game of this specific tournament, and holds up in the pantheon of great ones.

Honorable mention goes to Suggs’s incredible block/pass sequence at the end of the second half, which kept Gonzaga in the game.

1. Baylor takes down Gonzaga. Emphatically

This was the title fight everyone wanted, but far from the outcome anyone expected. And in the end, Baylor proved the dominant team, delivering a physical, focused early-game knockout punch and never relinquishing the lead. The Bears are the best team in the country, proving it over the course of a tourney run that was quiet, until it suddenly wasn’t. They blitzed undefeated Gonzaga with a total team effort, taking away passing lanes, winning second chance opportunities, forcing turnovers, and ramping up the pressure.

The game felt close to over after roughly 10 minutes. Essentially, it was. But the velocity and intent with which Baylor struck would stand as the defining moment of the season, the two best teams finally squaring off, and the rightful champion walking away.


ICYMI

Just six of the Stanford women's 33 games this season were played on their home court. A season spent on the road tested their resolve and defined a championship resiliency. (By Emma Baccellieri)

The making of an almost perfect season: On the year that was at Gonzaga, the players that shaped it and its abrupt and heartbreaking end. (By Greg Bishop and Pat Forde)

There truly was one great men’s team in 2020–21, but it wasn’t the one that came into the title game undefeated. (By Pat Forde)

Baylor came out swinging vs. Gonzaga and never let up as it raced to its first men's national title. (By Jeremy Woo)

With a hodgepodge roster and a coach who took them to new heights, the Baylor men are first-time champions. (By Ross Dellenger)

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Crystal Ball

Why make one prediction when we can point you to a whole list of predictions? While there are many roster decisions left to be made, SI's Kevin Sweeney took his best stab at next season's Way-Too-Early men's top 25.

At the Buzzer

Another March Madness is in the books. Until next time, we'll leave you with a photo of a triumphant Scott Drew.

Scott Drew holds up the net after Baylor's win