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March Madness 2021: The Best and Worst of Day 2

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One of the better NCAA tournament first rounds ever wrapped up on Saturday. We’ve got everything you need to know about it.

Abilene Christian v Texas Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

A slow start, a thrilling finish, and ultimately another day with multiple teen seeds finding ways to win.

This was day two of March Madness ...

The 3 Best Day 2 Games

1. (13) Ohio 62, (4) Virginia 58 (West)

It took us 12 months longer than usual to find out the answer, but now we know: There will be no repeat national champion in college basketball.

The first of Saturday’s two major upsets took place inside Indian’s Assembly Hall, where 13-seed Ohio stunned reining national champion Virginia, 62-58.

Maybe it was the Bobcat defense, maybe it was the fact that Virginia was the only team in the field that wasn’t able to get to Indianapolis until Friday, maybe it was a little of both, but the Cavaliers just could never find their stride offensively against OU. Virginia was held to a woeful 8-for-31 (25.8 percent) from beyond the arc, and shot just 35.0 percent from the field overall as a team.

Despite the poor shooting, Virginia held a slim advantage for most of the evening. The tide changed deep in the second half when Ohio went on an 18-4 run spearheaded by the inspired play of stars Jason Preston and Ben Vander Plus. That stretch turned a 38-31 deficit into a 49-42 lead. The Bobcats never trailed again, although UVA — as they always do — made things extremely interesting right up until the final horn.

Ohio has now won at least one game in each of its last three NCAA tournament appearances, despite being a 13 or 14-seed each time. The Bobcats whipped No. 3 seed Georgetown in 2010, crashed the Sweet 16 as a 13-seed in 2012 (it took an overtime loss to North Carolina to keep them out of the Elight), and then knocked off the reigning national champs Saturday night.

As for Virginia, seven of their last eight tournament appearances have now ended with either an upset loss to a worse-seeded team or a 26-point loss to a slightly better-seeded Florida team. In the other appearance, they won the national title.

2. (5) Creighton 63, (12) UC Santa Barbara 62 (West)

A lot of people would probably argue that this or No. 3 on the list should have occupied the top spot. My rebuttal would be that while both games had more exciting finishes than Ohio-Virginia, the overall quality of play was higher in the Bobcats’ upset win. But I wouldn’t push back too hard. This game was great.

Santa Barbara appeared poised to make good on being the tournament’s trendy 12/5 upset pick, as they held a 58-52 advantage with just 4:54 to play. Creighton then reeled off the game’s next nine points, setting the stage for a back-and-forth final minute.

UCSB’s Amadou Sow was whistled for a questionable loose ball foul with 16 seconds to play, sending 57.0 percent free-throw shooter Christian Bishop to the line with a chance to give Creighton the lead. He calmly sunk both.

Sow had a chance to get those two points back on the other end, but his potential game-winner right at the rim somehow managed to avoid falling through the net.

The win was Creighton’s first in the NCAA tournament since the Doug McDermott days of 2014. It also deprived the Gauchos of their first taste of success in the Big Dance in 32 years.

The Bluejays ended one potential Cinderella bid on Saturday. They’ll try to squash a live one on Monday when they face No. 13 seed Ohio.

3. (14) Abilene Christian 53, (3) Texas 52 (East)

Texas is a team that entered (and ended) Saturday with more team turnovers than team assists for the season. It was facing an Abilene Christian team that thrives on chaos and leads the nation in turnover percentage, taking the ball away on 27.0 percent of their opponents’ possessions.

The recipe for extreme madness was right in front of our eyes.

While there was always a ton of action and the score was always close, this was far from a basketball masterpiece. Texas gave the ball away a whopping 23 times, while Abilene Christian shot just 29.9 percent from the field as a team and went 3-for-18 from three.

In most cases, 14-seed has to be damn near perfect — especially down the stretch — in order to have any chance at pulling off an upset like this. Abilene Christian was far from perfect, especially down the stretch.

The game wound up coming down the final seconds, when Texas’ Matt Coleman fouled ACU’s Joe Pleasant with 1.4 ticks to play.

Pleasant, a 58.8 percent free-throw shooter for the season, sunk both despite a lengthy delay before his first attempt. The junior forward then stole the Longhorn inbounds pass to lock up a March Madness win for Abilene Christian in just its second NCAA tournament appearance.

The 3 Teams That Won It The Best

1. Colorado

In the first game to tip-off on Saturday, Colorado quickly put to bet any notion that Georgetown might follow in Oregon State’s footsteps as a power conference bid thief that went on to win at least one game in the NCAA tournament.

The Buffaloes made a season-high 16 three-pointers (16-for-25 from deep on the afternoon), scored a season-high 96 points, and had assists on 27 of their 34 made field goals. That’s the most assists a CU team has had in a game since 2009.

Jabari Walker came off the bench to go 5-for-5 from three and score a game-high 24 points, while senior star McKinley Wright IV had 12 points and 13 assists in his long-awaited NCAA tournament debut.

Wright became just the third player in NCAA tournament history to finish a game with at least 12 points, at least 12 assists, and no turnovers. The other two? Isiah Thomas in 1981, and Earl Watson in 2000.

The Buffs get Florida State on Monday.

2. Gonzaga

The Zags have been shaky in the opening round as a 1 or a 2-seed a few times in the past, but that was not the case on Saturday. The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed had zero trouble with Norfolk State, rolling to a 43-point victory where it was able to avoid having to play anyone more than 28 minutes.

Gonzaga shot 55.7 percent from the field, went 14-of-27 from three, and assisted on 27 of its 34 made field goals. A tournament high 33-point spread proved to be nowhere near enough in this one.

The detractors are always ready to pounce on Gonzaga the moment Mark Few and company open the door, but they made sure it wasn’t even the least bit cracked after round one.

3. UCLA

Johnny Juzang carried over his hot shooting from Thursday night’s First Four win over Michigan State, scoring a game-high 27 points as UCLA led from start to finish in a 73-62 upset of sixth-seeded BYU.

The Bruins were superior from start to finish, and never allowed one of the nation’s most explosive offenses to find its groove. BYU, which came into the tournament shooting better than 37.0 percent from three as a team, went just 3-for-17 from beyond the arc.

The win continued the trend of teams from the First Four winning at least one game in the main draw, something which has now happened in nine of the ten tournaments since the First Four was created. Four of those teams went on to crash the Sweet 16, and one (VCU in 2011) advanced all the way to the Final Four.

UCLA fans are hoping this winds up being a repeat of 2015, when the Bruins were also a No. 11 seed and wound up advancing all the way to a regional final. They’ll now quickly shift from potential spoiler to potential dream crusher when they face 14-seed Abilene Christian on Monday.

The 3 Biggest Disappointments

1. Texas

It’s one thing to lose as a 3-seed facing a 14. It gets taken to another level when you lose despite said 14-seed shooting 29.9 percent from the field and not making a shot over the game’s final four minutes.

Abilene Christian gets to play football in the Big 12 nest season now. Those are the rules.

Shaka Smart’s grand total of NCAA tournament victories since making the move from VCU to Austin in 2015 remains stuck at zero. At least he’s coaching for a notoriously patient fan base and high-profile boosters.

2. St. Bonaventure

This was an 8/9 game that felt more like a 5/12 matchup. LSU and Cam Thomas were just so clearly superior right from the jump, and there was so much else happening in the other games being played at the same time that there really wasn’t a whole lot of reason to check in on this one.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-St. Bonaventure at Louisiana State Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

That’s on the Bonnies.

3. Connecticut

We’re giving Virginia a pass given its wild lead-up to Saturday and instead going with the Huskies, who were a very trendy pick to play their way deep into this tournament. That’s not going to a happen thanks to an afternoon where UConn couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, and allowed a Maryland team that had been struggling to score heading into the tournament shoot 51.2 percent from the field.

James Bouknight, we never really got to know you. That makes me sad.

5 Day 2 Cheers

1. Teen seeds

For the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament, four teams seeded 13th or worse are moving on to the second round.

That’s one hell of a welcome back after a two-year absence.

2. Locker room celebration videos

My God I’ve missed this.

Your stage, Joe Golding:

Take it away, Bobcats:

Oklahoma’s turn:

And finally, a little Maryland:

2. Sub-60% free-throw shooters with the game on the line

Two sub-60 percent free-throw shooters went to the charity stripe with seconds to play and their teams trailing by a single point on Saturday. One was looking to pull off a monumental upset, while the other was looking to avoid one. Both succeeded.

There were no signs of nerves for either Christian Bishop (Creighton) or Joe Pleasant (Abilene Christian), who barely grazed any iron while sinking both their free-throws.

Even with the unusual circumstances and without full arenas, March pressure can absolutely break you. It was nice to see both of these players shine under the brightest of spotlights.

3. Jason Preston

By now, you’ve probably heard something about the atypical story of Ohio star Jason Preston. If you haven’t, or if you just need a quick refresher, take a minute here:

As a frustrated athlete whose playing career appeared to be going nowhere, Preston did what anyone in that situation does: He started blogging. He published a handful of stories about his favorite team, the Detroit Pistons, on their FanSided site before actually playing basketball recaptured the bulk of his focus.

Now, that kid who was averaging 2.2 ppg as a senior in high school five years ago damn near put up a triple-double in an upset win over the reigning national champions. Preston was magnificent against Virginia, controlling every aspect of the game and finishing with 13 rebounds, 11 points, and eight assists.

These are the stories that make this sport and this month so special.

4. Eastern Washington being fun as hell

Pretty much the only thing that made the first part of this day tolerable (more on that coming) was Eastern Washington lighting up Kansas for a half and being fun as hell in the process.

The beards? Fantastic. The Groves brothers? Awesome. This coordinated flapping eagle wing thing? I don’t really get it, but I couldn’t be more on board.

Come back soon, EWU. You were lovely.

5. Paul Hiepler

Abilene Christian senior guard Paul Hiepler did not see the floor for one second of the Wildcats’ stunning upset of Texas. He still somehow managed to dominate the evening.

Top tier intensity:

Top tier celebration:

Hiepler’s coming for Mick Cronin and UCLA next.

BONUS CHEER PART 1: The Pac-12

All of this season’s conference superiority talk thus far has centered around the Big Ten and the Big 12.

The Pac-12 has now entered the chat.

Bill Walton’s conference of champions brought five teams to Indianapolis, and all five are still around as we get ready for round two. UCLA won on both Thursday and Saturday, Colorado walloped Georgetown, USC looked terrific in its win over Drake, Oregon State upset Tennessee in dominant fashion, and Oregon ... well, Oregon is also on to the second round.

The West Coast/Big Ten title drought competition has always felt like the class of the Big Ten versus Gonzaga, but maybe we should be expanding that conversation. On Saturday, three Pac-12 teams all won convincingly and all appeared fully capable of winning again in a couple of days.

BONUS CHEER PART 2: The Havocs

By now, you should be at least somewhat familiar with the insane crowd that is present at every Grand Canyon home basketball game. If you’re not, check this out.

The Havocs are rowdy, the Havocs have coordinated dances, and the Havocs were absolutely going to show out for GCU’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The ‘Lopes fell to Iowa, 86-74.

5 Day 2 Jeers

1. An “uncontested game”

The thing everyone who loves this sport and this tournament was hoping to avoid happened on Saturday night.

Just before 7 p.m., the NCAA announced that the evening’s game between 7-seed Oregon and 10-seed VCU had been “declared a no contest because of COVID protocols.” The Ducks would move onto the round of 32 without even having to put on their uniforms.

VCU, which hadn’t had anyone from its program test positive for Covid since the summer, suddenly had three players test positive in the 48 hours leading up to what was supposed to be Saturday’s game. That unexpected development led many to immediately wonder whether or not the Atlantic 10’s hotel situation for its conference tournament was to blame.

Internally, VCU is wondering whether the site of the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game is responsible for the program finding itself out of the NCAA Tournament. Sources told CBS Sports that VCU, St. Bonaventure and the entire officiating crew for the event all stayed at the Dayton Marriott — directly across the street from UD Arena, site of the title game in Dayton, Ohio.

“I’m shocked St. Bonaventure doesn’t have any positive cases,” one source said.

...College basketball official Roger Ayers worked the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game between St. Bonaventure and VCU. He subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament. Ayers is currently battling the coronavirus and told CBS Sports he has struggled all week.

“The hotel was packed,” a source told CBS Sports. “They had some sort of other tournament there. People not adhering to protocols, walking through the hotel and lobby without masks. There were people there that weren’t from the A-10. The NCAA can control who’s there, who’s in the buildings, in the hotels, in the convention center. You have to have a credentials that have your picture on it that you wear around your neck everywhere you go. Everyone has to wear masks, four people to an elevators, no congregating in the lobbies. The NCAA has complete control of what’s going on.”

This was not entirely the case at the Dayton Marriott.

Regardless of how it happened, the sudden development was a sobering reminder that this is still not “normal.” The upsets are happening, the late-game drama is there, these recaps are back, but we’re still at least 12 months away from an NCAA tournament that doesn’t feel like it’s sitting on a house of cards.

I am ready for the day when an image like this doesn’t immediately make sense:

I feel awful for everyone associated with VCU basketball, and I hope this is the last time we have to deal with something like this before we crown a new national champion.

2. First half celebration crying

We all enjoyed the show Eastern Washington put on during the first half against Kansas. Most of us didn’t let said first half performance bring us to tears.

Most of us.

I’m not going to say “act like you’ve been there before,” because this was just Eastern Washington’s third NCAA tournament appearance and its first since 2015.

3. The opening window

Look, I know Friday set the bar pretty high in terms of excitement, but the full NCAA tournament first round SATURDAY in history could not have gotten off to a more blah start.

Colorado torched Georgetown from the jump, Florida State always seemed in control against UNC Greensboro, Kansas woke up in the second half to spoil the Eastern Washington fun, and LSU ran away from Saint Bonaventure immediately after the opening tip.

Four games. No upsets. No wild finishes. No final margins smaller than nine.

To make matters worse, better-seeded teams wound up going a perfect 8-0 for the entire afternoon session.

Again, we didn’t need to be flooded with madness right from the get-go, but a small taste would have gone a long way.

4. No perfect brackets

Most years, we make it to the second weekend with the fun news story of one or two perfect brackets still floating around out there somewhere in the March Madness ether.

This year, we didn’t even make it to the last session of first round games

Everyone sucks at this. Chin up.

5. 16-seeds

Abilene Christian’s upset of Texas in the final game of the first round meant that at least one team on every seed line 1-15 won a game in the opening round. The only quartet of teams that did not produce a victory was the four 16-seeds.

While everyone’s fully aware of how rare the the 16/1 upset is, I think we all have reasonable expectations for at least one of the those four games to remain somewhat interesting into the second half. That was not the case in 2021. The No. 1 seeds won their four games by an average of 28.0 points, and the narrowest margin of victory was Michigan’s 82-66 win over Texas Southern.

This was our best shot at getting every seed line at least one win, and the 16s simply did not come close to holding up their end of the bargain.

BONUS JEER: The creepy prediction trend

Yesterday in this section we talked about the guy who called Oral Roberts’ upset of Ohio State a full five days before the bracket was even unveiled.

Five days is impressive. Fourteen months is next level.

There is some seriously eerie shit happening both on and off the court this March.

I don’t care for it.

All Day-2 Team

Johnny Juzang, UCLA

After lighting up Michigan State for 23 points in a First Four win on Thursday, Juzang stayed hot by dropping 27 in an impressive win over BYU on Saturday.

Tanner Groves, Eastern Washington

The Eagles weren’t able to spring the upset of Kansas, but Groves still made his mark on the tournament. The Big Sky Player of the Year scored a (for the moment) tournament-high 35 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field while also grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots.

His performance certainly earned the respect of Bill Self.

Cameron Thomas, LSU

St. Bonaventure had no answer for the freshman guard, who went 11-for-13 from the free-throw line on his way to a game-high 27 points.

Jason Preston, Ohio

Already one of the tournament’s first weekend stars, Preston flirted with pulling a Ja Morant and going off for a triple-double in round one, but he ended up just two assists shy of the feat.

Jabari Walker, Colorado

Walker, the son of former NBA player Samaki Walker, came off the bench for the Buffs and went 5-for-5 from three and 9-for-10 from the field as he scored a game-high 24 points.

5 Best Day 2 Dunks

1. Alondes Williams, Oklahoma

The crop of dunks from day two wasn’t quite as strong as day one, but this from Oklahoma’s Alondes Williams was nice.

2. Christian Bishop, Creighton

Go-ahead reverse? Go-ahead reverse.

3. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

This is more about the Joel Ayayi pass than the Suggs dunk, but sometimes the lead singer gets the credit the bassist deserves.

4. Donta Scott, Maryland

Rack attack.

5. Jaime Jaquez, UCLA

This guy has been a surprising treat to watch in both of UCLA’s tournament wins so far.

5 Best Day 2 Images

1. Not intimidated

The last first round game to wrap up was worth staying up past midnight for.

Getty Images

2. Two wins, three days

UCLA became the first team in the 2021 tournament to win multiple games. Their Pac-12 brethren, Oregon, became the first team to advance without playing a single game.

Getty Images

3. Shadows and dust

Missouri prepares for a tightly contested battle with Oklahoma. They would fall by four.

Getty Images

4. Good show, Eagles

We’ll always remember the beards. And that flapping thing.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Godfather returns

Four years and one day after his final NCAA tournament game as Louisville’s head coach, Rick Pitino was back in the dance, His 15th-seeded Iona team kept it interesting, but ultimately fell to Alabama by 13.

Iona v Alabama Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

5 Notable Quotes From Day 2:

1. “It was devastating. It was heartbreaking. No dry eyes. This is what you dream of as a player and a college coach.”—VCU head coach Mike Rhoades on having to tell his team that they were out of the tournament

2. “When your career is done, this doesn’t define you, whether you win it all or you lose or anything. It’s what you do. You do it with love and joy and passion and then you don’t let it define you beyond what it should.” —Virginia head coach Tony Bennett after his team’s loss to Ohio

3. “The quote is like men don’t cry, but I believe real men cry. Real men show emotion, and that’s the true showing of a man, one who wears their heart on his sleeve. He does that every time he goes on the court and every time he’s in the locker room with us.” —St. Bonaventure guard Jaren Holmes discussing teammate Kyle Lofton, who was visibly upset after the game

4. “I thought surely after the first few, they’d get a hand up. But I kept finding myself open.” —Colorado’s Jabari Walker, who went 5-for-5 from three

5. “My guys depend on me. If I’m going to ask them to work hard and challenge themselves, I’m going to have to do the same thing to some degree. To be very honest with you, I didn’t even know I had the boot on once the game started. It’s a nuisance. It’s a challenge, but there are more important things than worrying about me having a little pain.” —Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who wore a boot on the sidelines after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon before the start of the tournament

Full Sunday Schedule

Back at it.

Sunday, March 21

Ready to go again.