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March Madness 2021: The best and worst from Sweet 16 Saturday

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We almost had it all, Max.

Oral Roberts v Arkansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’ve got another full day of regional semifinals kicking off Sunday afternoon (all with their own windows!), so let’s roll through this before turning the page.

Best Game

(3) Arkansas 72, (15) Oral Roberts 70 (South)

If you’re reading this, then by now I’m sure you’ve seen the shot nearly a dozen times by this point. One more isn’t going to kill you.

This is how close Oral Roberts came to becoming the first team seeded worse than 12 to advance to the Elite Eight.

With 3.1 seconds and the length of the floor to go, you just can’t ask for any better than that.

Oral Roberts got the ball in the hands of the guy they wanted — Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer. Abmas got a very clean look at a potential game-winning three. The angle on television made it look like the ball carrying the weight of a forever March moment was headed directly towards its intended destination.

And then ... iron.

The Abmas miss capped a frenetic 40 minute contest that was easily the best that we saw on Saturday.

Oral Roberts led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but Arkansas — which trailed by 14 and 10 points in its first two NCAA tournament wins — was able to engineer yet another Eric Musselman March comeback. The two teams that traded haymakers in the final minutes, with the Razorbacks’ dominance on the offensive glass seeming to give them as second (or third or fourth) chance bucket every time they desperately needed one.

The game’s final points came from Davonte Davis, who hit a well-contested short jumper with 3.1 seconds to set the contest’s final score.

The Razorbacks are now into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995. That year also represents their most recent trip to a Final Four.

Team That Won It Best

Baylor

Baylor trailed Villanova by seven points to open the second half and spent most of the afternoon seeming completely incapable of knocking down an outside shot.

The Bears won by 11.

Down by six and nearing the second TV timeout of the second half, Baylor took its vaunted defensive pressure to a different level. Villanova, still adjusting to life without pint guard Collin Gillespie, simply had no answer. The Wildcats turned the ball over on five straight possessions at one point, and finished the game with 16. They had 12 turnovers in their first two NCAA tournament wins combined. ‘Nova also scored just 10 points over the game’s final 11 minutes.

With the outside shot not falling, Baylor also changed up its offensive approach in the second half. The Bears made just one three-pointer after halftime, but still shot 53 percent from the field in the second frame.

This was a masterful coaching effort from Scott Drew and a masterful performance from his team on what was far from its best offensive effort of the year. Being able to beat a team with the pedigree of Villanova when you’re 3-of-19 from beyond the arc says all you need to know about this Baylor team’s ability to reach the program’s first Final Four since 1950.

Biggest Disappointment

Loyola Chicago

Just as the world had started to fully believe that Loyola was good enough not just to reach its second Final Four in four years, but that it was fully capable of actually winning the national title, the Ramblers ... did that.

The same Loyola team that played with so much poise and efficiency in its upset of top-seeded Illinois just could not find any sort of offensive rhythm against Oregon State. The Ramblers finished 5-of-23 from three and shot just 33.3 percent from the field overall.

The only group of viewers more frustrated than the American public hoping for a competitive Saturday starter had to have been everyone associated with Illinois basketball. If Loyola plays like that a week ago, the Illini are certainly still dancing.

All-Sweet 16 Saturday Team

Jalen Tate, Arkansas

Tate used his superior size to score a team-high 22 points, a large chunk of those coming when the rest of his Arkansas team was really struggling offensively.

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

Abmas’ magical March run came to an end with a 25-point performance, the most of any player on Saturday. Unfortunately, he needed that number to be 28 for Oral Roberts to dance into a regional final.

Ethan Thompson, Oregon State

Scored a team-high 22 points and hit two free-throws in the game’s final minute that essentially put things out of reach for Syracuse.

Justin Gorham, Houston

Gorham was at the center of Houston’s stifling defensive effort and finished the evening with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Davion Mitchell, Baylor

Mitchell scored 14 points, but his biggest contributions came on the defensive end where he was an absolute menace for the Villanova backcourt.

Three Cheers

1. Oregon State

With its upset win over Loyola, Oregon State guaranteed that a 12-seed will play in a regional final for just the second time in the history of the NCAA tournament. Missouri in 2002 is the only other 12-seed to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Beavers are playing in just their second NCAA tournament since 1990, and before last week, their most recent win in the Big Dance had come in 1982. That’s not even getting into the fact that OSU had to win the Pac-12 tournament to even get into the field of 68, and trailed UCLA by 16 in their first game of said tournament.

It’s been an absolutely remarkable run for a team that lost a regular season game to Portland back in December. That Portland team would go on to win just two more games the rest of the season and go 0-11 in West Coast Conference play.

2. DeJon Jarreau

Everything about this guy is awesome, and I’m not just talking about his game.

Jarreau’s road to maturity was a long one, something he readily admits. Now he’s the driving force of a Houston team that is one win away from the program’s first trip to the Final Four since 1984.

3. The individual game windows

Ok, so it wasn’t ideal for a Saturday where there was really only one great game, but still, every Sweet 16 game getting its own window is pretty awesome. It won’t, but I’d love to see the setup for the second weekend stay like this moving forward. Monday and Tuesday evening are superior slots for the regional finals as well.

Three Jeers

1. The three-point shooting

My god, the three-point shooting.

Oregon State went 5-of-13 from beyond the arc in its win over Loyola, good for a modest 38.5 percent. That wound up being easily the best three-point percentage of any of the eight teams playing on Saturday. The next best mark was Syracuse at 26.9 percent.

In all, the eight teams playing Saturday combined to go a woeful 37-for-161 from three, good for just under 23.0 percent.

Here’s hoping for a more productive afternoon and evening from the outside on Sunday.

2. Pac-12 preseason voters

We’ve heard it a hundred times at this point: This Oregon State team that is one win away from the Final Four was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 before the start of the season.

How much of a motivational tool has that been for the Beavers? Wayne Tinkle was still wearing a short with a nod to the fact on Saturday.

Preseason polls are hard. Usually not this hard.

3. The near total lack of drama

If you haven’t noticed — and really you should have, we’re pretty deep into the recap — Saturday was not a particularly stellar day of hoops. Oral Roberts and Arkansas gave us a fantastic second half and a thrilling finish, but outside of that, if you wanted to watch golf or something else I wouldn’t have blamed you.

Sunday’s matchups are superior, so here’s hoping that leads to a more compelling day of madness.

Best Dunk

Brandon Slater, Villanova

3 Best Images

1. Hogs marching on

Eric Musselman celebrates with game hero Davonte Davis after Arkansas’ win over Oral Roberts.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Arkansas Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. A Cougar celebration

Fabian White and Justin Gorham celebrate after a suffocating defensive performance against Syracuse.

Syracuse v Houston Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

3. Farewell, Cameron Krutwig

You’ll forever be the Emperor of the Midwest in our eyes.

Oregon State v Loyola Chicago Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Best Quote

1. “The job wasn’t just to get to the Sweet 16. The job was to get to the national championship and win it. We came up short, but all the stuff we accomplished this season is something we’ll celebrate and remember the rest of our lives.” —Oral Roberts star Max Abmas

2. “This season is unlike any other I’ve been a part of. There was plenty of ups and downs, but the greatest thing of all is that no one felt sorry for themselves. No one dwelled on anything, everybody just kept a forward mindset and kept their attitude.” —Villanova F Jermaine Samuels

3. “We gave him a pass option, we gave him a dribble option. He’s super bright and picks up things really quickly and understood and had great court awareness and had great selection on the shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t go in.” —Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills on Max Abmas’ final shot

Sunday’s Sweet 16 Schedule

2:10 p.m.: West (5) Creighton vs. (1) Gonzaga, at Hinkle Fieldhouse, CBS

5 p.m.: East (4) Florida State vs. (1) Michigan, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, CBS

7:15 p.m.: East (11) UCLA vs. (2) Alabama, at Hinkle Fieldhouse, TBS

9:45 p.m.: West (7) Oregon vs. (6) USC, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, TBS