Last Monday night, the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament concluded as the Baylor Bears bested the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70.
Baylor is the first team to be crowned the national champions in two full years after last year’s March Madness was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The championship game was dominated by the Bears from the opening tip as the Baylor defense held Gonzaga to just 5-17 from beyond the arch. Despite Gonzaga shooting 6.2% better than Baylor from the field, Baylor’s suffocating defense and dominant presence on the glass resulted in the Bears taking 18 more shots and grabbing 16 more rebounds than Gonzaga. Despite the lack of excitement and nail-biting final seconds of this particular game, the entire March Madness tournament proved to be one of the most entertaining and competitive in recent memory.
The Oregon State Beavers were projected to finish last in the PAC-12 in the preseason rankings, leaving many to expect the Beavers to only make the tournament through winning the PAC-12 Conference Championship, which did indeed end up being the case. Still, despite the skepticism and struggles throughout the regular season, the Beavers won the PAC-12 tournament, earning an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. The beavers were awarded the 12 seed and continued their momentum by beating the five seed, Tennessee Volunteers, four seed Oklahoma State Sooners, and eight seed Loyola Chicago. Oregon State ultimately fell to Houston in the Elite Eight, but not before pulling off upset after upset on college basketball’s biggest stage.
The PAC-12 proved that they were underrated heading into the tournament as they had three teams reach the elite eight: UCLA, USC, and Oregon State. UCLA put together one of the more memorable runs in NCAA history as they entered the tournament as a member of the play in teams. UCLA faced Michigan State in the first four play-in games for the 11th seed in the East bracket. The Bruins emerged from the regular season and PAC-12 tournament on a four-game losing streak and found themselves down by as much as 14 against a favored Spartans team. UCLA clawed their way back into the game, where they outlasted the Spartans in overtime by a score of 86-80. UCLA found their groove as they then defeated 6th seed BYU and 14th seed ACU to reach the sweet sixteen. Once again, the Bruins found themselves in an overtime grudge match, this time as a result of a buzzer-beater three by two seeded Alabama’s Alex Reese to tie the game at the end of regulation. Alabama looked to have all of the momentum heading into the extra five-minute period; however, the Bruins dominated the overtime period and earned the right to play the one seed Michigan Wolverines in the Elite Eight. Michigan possessed a significant size advantage over UCLA, but that proved to be insignificant as the Bruins won a defensive battle by a score of 51-49 after a series of Michigan missed three-pointers in the last minute of regulation. In the Final Four, the Bruins forced powerhouse Gonzaga to overtime with outstanding play by Jamie Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang. With less than five seconds left in the first overtime period, a put-back basket by Juzang tied the game at 90. It seemed as if it were destined for the underdog Bruins to force a second overtime where they would defeat the Goliath that is Gonzaga; however, The Bruins historic run came to an end at the hands of Jalen Suggs who banked in an improbable three from just inside the half-court line as time expired. Gonzaga entered the game as 14.5-point favorites but won the overtime game 93-90.
There was yet another unbelievable Cinderella run by a high seeded team, but this time it was not a common household name such as UCLA. Oral Roberts earned the rank of the 15 seed in their region of the tournament and were set to take on the two seed Ohio State Buckeyes. Oral Roberts entered the game as 15-point underdogs but forced overtime behind inspiring pay by Gaurd Max Abmas. They eventually defeated Ohio State by a score of 75-72. The Golden Eagles then made history by being only the 2nd ever 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen as they narrowly beat the Florida Gators. Oral Roberts looked to continue their storybook run against three seeded Arkansas but fell just short as the Razorbacks prevailed 72-70.
The 2021 NCAA March madness tournament showcased several unlikely Cinderella runs, shocking upsets, and buzzer-beating heroics; All of which makes the tournament the ultimate spectacle that causes millions across the nation to fill out their own bracket predictions. Hopefully, in 2022, some of these millions of fans will be able to pack the stands to cheer on their favorite team competing for the National Championship.