Look, they can’t all be classics.
After three days of historic upsets, thrilling finishes, and remarkably competitive contests, Monday ... well it just kind of sucked. Eight games were played, one of them was decided by fewer than 14 points, and none of them by fewer than eight.
On the flip side, we got to watch NCAA tournament basketball in the middle of the day on a Monday. There should never be any complaining about that.
Also, given the fact that we had to wait 24 months for this tournament, I’m fine with the first weekend being a bit front-loaded. If the action had been this blah on Friday, it would have felt far more cruel.
The worst NCAA tournament day is still better than the best day of pretty much anything else, so let’s dive into the last one we’re going to get for a few days.
3 BEST GAMES
1. (1) Michigan 86, (8) LSU 78 (East)
After a quartet of duds to start the day, Michigan and LSU finally gave us a show to kick off the evening session. Unless you took special pleasure in Kansas or Maryland or Colorado being destroyed, it was the only show we ended up getting on Monday.
The two supremely athletic squads exchanged haymakers for the game’s first 30 minutes, with LSU landing a few more blows than their favored counterparts. Down five with 10:33 to play, Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown carried Michigan on a 14-1 run that wound up being the game’s decisive stretch.
Brooks and Brown both finished with 21 points for Michigan, which is headed to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season. That marks the longest streak of consecutive trips to the tournament’s second weekend in program history.
2. (7) Oregon 95, (2) Iowa 80 (West)
If the first afternoon stand alone game is going to be a lopsided affair, the least the two involved can do is score a ton of points. Oregon and Iowa certainly did that.
The pair played one of the more entertaining first halves of the tournament, with Oregon going on a late run to take a 56-46 advantage into the locker room. It was all Ducks after the break, with Iowa never really threatening to make what would have been a remarkable comeback.
Love how Fran took his mask down just to yell fuck pic.twitter.com/3NV977hgLw— Cheating Croatian (@CheatingCroet) March 22, 2021
Oregon now rolls on to its fourth Sweet 16 over the last five tournaments, and is two wins away from its second Final Four trip over the last four years. A Pac-12 showdown with USC is up next.
3. (1) Gonzaga 87, (8) Oklahoma 71 (West)
Oklahoma kept things interesting early, and Gonzaga did a lot of cool and fun things after that. That’s about the only justification I can muster up here.
Look, one of these games had to go in this spot.
3 Teams That Won It The Best
The Trojans entered Monday night owning the strange distinction of not only being a 6-seed favored to beat a 3-seed, but a 6-seed favored to beat 3-seed Kansas.
The 1.5-point spread was not large enough. Not nearly large enough.
USC handed Kansas its worst tournament loss in program history by rolling to an absurd 85-51 win that also marked the Trojans’ most lopsided victory in the tournament.
The 34-point win by @USC_Hoops over Kansas was tied for the second largest against a higher-seeded team all-time, behind only UCLA's 35-point win over Maryland in 2000.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) March 23, 2021
It was also the largest tourney victory in USC history and the largest tourney defeat in Kansas history.
USC shot 57.1 percent from the field, 61.1 percent from three, and had five players score in double figures. The Trojans’ 96 points also set a new scoring bar for the 2021 tournament, surpassing Oregon’s total of 95 from hours earlier.
Just an absolutely historic ass kicking.
The common misconception about this Alabama team is that they only have one way to beat you. People see the Tide as a freewheeling, run-and-gun team that’s a whole lot of fun to watch, but which is also going to be in a whole hell of a lot of trouble when those outside shots aren’t falling.
The Tide will head into the Sweet 16 as the No. 3 team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. That explains how Alabama is riding an 8-game winning streak where it has shot worse than 30 percent from three in half of those games.
Of course when ‘Bama is rolling from the outside, it’s a sight to behold. Such was the case on Monday when Nate Oats’ team went 16-for-33 from beyond the arc on their way to a 96-77 rout of a very good defensive Maryland team.
This is no one trick pony, and that’s why they’re one of 16 teams still playing.
It was a little hard to know what to expect from a second round team that we didn’t see play in the first round considering, you know, that’s something that had previously never happened before in the expanded tournament era.
As it turns out, we should have expected a lot.
Oregon roasted second-seeded Iowa, 95-80, setting a new 2021 tournament scoring high in the process. The Ducks shot 55.9 percent from the field, buried 11 three-pointers, and had four of their five starters score 17 points or more.
Dana Altman is a March wizard.
Oregon has been to seven of the last eight NCAA tournaments. The Ducks have won at least one game in all seven of those NCAA tournaments -- now heading to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time during that stretch.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 22, 2021
Dana Altman is one of the most underrated coaches in the sport.
Fran McCaffery is not.
3 Biggest Disappointments
Shouldn’t need to do a whole lot of explaining here.
We already mentioned that Kansas’ 34-point loss to USC was the most lopsided NCAA tournament defeat in program history, but it was also the third most lopsided loss of any sort in program history. This was just the eighth time over 123 seasons of basketball that the Jayhawks have been beaten by 30 points or more.
If that wasn’t painful enough, there’s also a very real chance (if the IARP is ever actually going to get around to doing anything) that KU is banned from the 2022 NCAA tournament. Not the lasting memory you want to leave the fan base with.
When you’re the highest-seeded team to lose on a full day of second round action, you’re simply not going to escape this list.
This was Iowa’s 15th NCAA tournament appearance since 1989. Over that span, the Hawkeyes have made the Sweet 16 just once (1999), and have bowed out in the second round 11 times. They’ve been a single-digit seed for all but one of those losses.
The positive? At least this year went better than the last time Iowa was a top three seed.
Colorado became the first and only Pac-12 casualty of the tournament’s opening weekend thanks to a 71-53 loss at the hands of Florida State. After absolutely torching the nets in their first round win over Georgetown, the Buffs were never able to get into any sort of flow on Monday. They attempted the same number of threes against FSU as they did against the Hoyas (25), but made 10 fewer (6).
5 Day 4 Cheers
1. The Pac-12
This is more of a first four days cheer than a day four cheer.
Bill Walton’s conference of champions went a sparkling 9-1 over the tournament’s opening week, and is sending four teams to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001.
One of the main storylines this season has been championship drought race between the West Coast (no champions since Arizona in 1997) and the Big Ten (no champions since Michigan State in 2000). Understandably, that race had been labeled mostly as Gonzaga versus the top half of the Big Ten.
Now, five of the 16 teams left standing are from the West Coast, while just one team from the Big Ten is still playing. Even if Gonzaga — which is in the same region as both Oregon and USC — goes down, there’s still an active shot that the lengthier streak of futility could come to an end in a couple of weeks.
2. Luke Garza
One of the better individual college careers in recent memory came to an end on Monday afternoon when Luka Garza walked off the court as an Iowa Hawkeye for the final time.
Garza, who scored a game-high 36 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in his farewell performance, ends his career as Iowa’s all-time leading scorer. He was also a two-time unanimous First Team All-American, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, and the likely recipient of every major 2021 National Player of the Year award.
Thanks for the memories, man.
3. Jeff Boals’ postgame speech
Ohio couldn’t extend its NCAA tournament run into the second weekend, but that wasn’t going to keep Bobcat head coach Jeff Boals from being emotional for all the happiest of reasons after the game.
"The ride you guys gave Bobcat Nation, alumni, former players, the student body, is special."— Ohio Men’s Basketball (@OhioMBasketball) March 23, 2021
"I love this team. I love everything about you." pic.twitter.com/PLZivlvFCd
All of the time spent recruiting, all of the offseason workouts, all of the player developing throughout the course of the season, all of the winter grind of the regular season; it’s all done with the hope of reaching the place where Ohio found itself this week.
It’s always cool seeing a head coach who is fully aware of the significance of the moment.
4. Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 streak
The next time you’re around a casual college basketball fan who tossed some form of “Gonzaga always chokes” or “Gonzaga is always one of the first teams out,” kindly smack them in the face. It’ll be worth any of the repercussions. I promise.
I don’t actually promise. I want to make sure I get out there for legal purposes.
The fact of the matter is that the Zags, who have now won 25 games in a row by 10 points or more, are now just the 4th program in college basketball history to reach six consecutive Sweet 16s. UCLA, Duke and North Carolina are the only other schools to pull that off. That’s not bad company.
Gonzaga is also one of only two teams (Kansas being the other) that has won at least one NCAA tournament game in each of the last 11 years, and their current Sweet 16 streak is the longest of any team since Duke made the second weekend every year from 1998-2006.
Even if the Zags fall short of winning their first national championship this year, the laziest of narratives about their program needs to be fired into the sun forever.
5. Andrew Catalon’s call of Franz Wagner’s dunk
I’ve waited 10 years to work a Sprockets reference into one of these recaps.
The moment has arrived.
Thank you, Andrew. Well done.
BONUS CHEER: Chaos
This is more of a first week cheer since Monday was actually the chalkiest of the first four days of the tournament, but we have to pay our proper respect for the historic level of madness we were just privy to.
The combined seed total of 16 teams still standing is 94). That is easily the highest of all-time, eclipsing the mark of 89, which was set in 1986.
This was, quite literally, the maddest opening week in March Madness history.
Worth the wait.
5 Day 4 Jeers
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Monday’s eight games didn’t do a whole lot for us in terms of competitive entertainment. If we hadn’t waited two years for this tournament, or if the three days before Monday hadn’t been so tremendous, we probably would have been a lot more pissed off about the slate of games we had to sit through.
None of Monday’s eight games were decided by fewer than eight points. Seven of the eight games were decided by 14 or more points. The average margin of victory from Monday’s eight games was 18 points. The only double-digit seed to advance was 11th-seeded UCLA ... which beat 14-seed Abilene Christian.
This was an all-time opening week, but Monday was far from all-time day.
2. Iowa’s defense
All season long, the knock on Iowa as a legitimate national title contender has been its inability — and sometimes its apparent reluctance — to defend. Typically, when a team has a fatal flaw that becomes almost universally known, the fatal flaw in question winds up being at the core of the way said team’s season comes to an end.
This was certainly the case for Iowa, which could only look on as Oregon did pretty much whatever it wanted offensively for two hours on Monday afternoon.
If you’re trying to figure out how Iowa allowed the Ducks to shoot better than 55 percent from the field and score 95 points, simply watch this video of UO players finishing approximately nine thousand uncontested dunks:
That’s ... that’s not a whole lot of resistance from the guys wearing gold.
It was definitely fun, but even when Iowa shored up its defense just a bit in the closing weeks of the regular season, it always felt like the Hawkeyes’ season was headed for this conclusion.
3. The Monday Cinderellas
Maybe we were spoiled by the play of Oral Roberts on Sunday, but it seemed reasonable to believe that both Abilene Christian and Ohio — each facing a team seeded lower than the one they beat two days earlier — had at least a puncher’s chance in their respective second round matchups. Apparently it was not that reasonable.
Both upset-minded teams hung in there fairly well at the start of their games, but it was a late first half run by the two Goliaths (at least in this situation) that ended the dream of at least one more teen seed in the Sweet 16. Ohio ultimately fell by 14 points, Abilene Christian by 20.
We’ll always have the first round memories, fellas. Thanks for that.
4. The Big Ten
For the last couple of months, the talk surrounding the Big Ten hasn’t been over whether or not the league was the strongest in the country this season, but over whether or not the league was one of the strongest of all-time.
The tournament shouldn’t be the only arbiter for debates like this, but when the postseason results are so overwhelmingly skewed in one direction, it becomes pretty hard to shore up a counter-argument.
Nine teams began play in the NCAA tournament, five of them as top four seeds. Only Michigan remains.
Naturally, this made fans of teams from every other league (and probably even some from the cellar of the Big Ten) exceptionally pleased.
Everybody was getting in on the action on Monday.
With no competitive games to watch, ripping on the Big Ten was all there was to do.
The Big Ten trying to win in March pic.twitter.com/2LRI8rD4Ez— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) March 22, 2021
BREAKING: Big Ten team wins basketball game— Detroit Free Press (@freep) March 23, 2021
The Big Ten entered March Madness with NINE teams.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 23, 2021
Now, Michigan is all alone. pic.twitter.com/pqxmdLW12m
My only word of caution here: The last two times a conference followed up a historically successful regular season with a historically substandard first week of the tournament, a team from that conference wound up winning the national title.
In 2011, the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the Big Dance, only to see all but two bounced in the first two rounds, and all but one before the Elite Eight. Connecticut wound up winning the national title. In 2017, eight of the ACC’s nine teams lost during the tournament’s first four days, including a trio of teams seeded second or third. North Carolina ended up cutting down the nets.
This is all trending positively for Michigan.
5. College basketball programs on the East Coast
Is this a West of the Mississippi sport now?
This is the Graph of how many Sweet 16 Teams have been from the Eastern Time Zone by year pic.twitter.com/b3J3NNkrtv— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 23, 2021
BONUS JEER 1: No buzzer-beaters
The only thing missing from the tournament’s opening week? A true buzzer-beater.
There was no shot just before the final horn that either won a game or sent a game into overtime. It’s hard to nit-pick the last four days of basketball, but if you really wanted to, this is where you’d go.
BONUS JEER 2: Teams not mimicking UCLA’s positive energy
No team won more games or appeared to be having more fun during the tournament’s first week than UCLA.
Doesn’t matter if you’re the program with more national championships than any other, advancing in the Big Dance should always be celebrated like this.
Was that a cheer masked as a jeer? Absolutely.
All-Day 4 Team
Luka Garza, Iowa
In his final collegiate game, Iowa’s all-time leading scorer and the likely national Player of the Year did everything he could. Garza scored 36 points — the most of any player in a single game so far this tournament — on 14-of-20 shooting, and also grabbed nine rebounds.
Drew Timme, Gonzaga
Oklahoma had zero answer inside for Timme, who went off to the tune of 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Evan Mobley, USC
Both Mobley brothers were fantastic in the win over Kansas, but we’ll give the slight nod to Evan here. He finished with 10 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.
Evan Mobley says "I got you, bro" pic.twitter.com/iSskhdmykP— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 23, 2021
Eli Brooks, Michigan
With no Isaiah Livers and a couple of his higher profile teammates a bit out of sorts, Brooks stepped up in a major way to help Michigan avoid an upset loss to LSU. He knocked down 7-of-11 shots from the field, 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, scored a season-high 21 points and also had seven assists against one turnover.
Cameron Thomas, LSU
The freshman continued his red-hot play as of late, scoring 30 points in a losing effort for the Tigers.
3 Best Day 4 Dunks
1. Aaron Wiggins, Maryland
Another just so-so day of crams, but this from Wiggins — who was terrific against Alabama — was nice.
2. Christian Bishop, Gonzaga
That is, in fact, a man’s jam.
3. Sardaar Calhoun, Florida State
The junior reserve scored a career-high 16 points in this game. These two were the most impressive.
5 Best Day 4 Images
1. Cinderella says farewell
We’ll always have the wee hours of Sunday morning, ACU.
2. Too much Duck
All Luka could do was look on.
3. Jalen Suggs at Hinkle
4. Chaundee Brown (and Juwan Howard) feeling it
This came moments after Brown knocked down a three that may have been the most important shot of the game.
5. Pac-12 rising
Kansas ... kinda disinterested.
3 Notable Quotes From Day 4:
1. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s so surreal. It kind of just hit me all at once that this is the last time I’ll put on this jersey. That hurts a lot. I feel bad that I wasn’t able to lead this team to where it needs to go. We did a lot of really good things this year, and it just hurts that we weren’t able to do it when it mattered most. That’s something that’s gonna haunt me forever.” —Iowa star Luka Garza
2. “That’s about as poor as we could play. I’m sure Andy (Enfield) would say that’s certainly one of their better moments, better games. It was a bad combination all the way around for us.” —Kansas head coach Bill Self
3. “We’ve been celebrating every one of these wins. We celebrated the other night. We celebrated this one. If we’re lucky enough to get another one, we’re going to celebrate like crazy for that one. This tournament needs to be celebrated, man.” —Gonzaga head coach Mark Few
Full Sweet 16 Schedule
It’ll be Saturday before you know it.