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“Knowing that there’ll be an upset, but not knowing where it’ll come is one of the many charms of this competition.”
- The Cloudbet Blog, pre-March Madness 2021
Well, I’ll be charmed
However you try to approach this, the remaining field after the first two rounds of the 2021 NCAA tournament is not what anyone expected. Literally.
The first round was crazy enough that after just one day - 16 matches across the South and Midwest regions - only 108 of the 14.7 million brackets entered in ESPN's Tournament Challenge remained intact. And none of those came close to surviving the second day.
Let’s put it another way.
Adding up the seedings of the teams in this year's Sweet 16, the total of 94 is the highest in NCAA tournament history - and by a reasonable margin over the previous record of 89 set in 1989.
So will the Cinderella stories continue for Oral Roberts, Loyola and Syracuse? - or will some of the bigger names reasserting their dominance?
If the tournament has taught us anything this year… it’s don't count on it.
As usual, all odds cited are correct at the time of writing, but please check the live site for the latest odds.
No.8 Loyola Chicago vs No.12 Oregon State
Loyola come into this match 6.5-point favourites, no doubt due to their stunning 71-58 win over No.1 Illinois in the second round, after their first round win over No.9 Georgia Tech.
Can Sister Jean inspire outstanding big man Cameron Krutwig and the rest of her Ramblers to further glory?
Some may be interested to note that in the market to reach the Final Four, the Ramblers are fourth-favourite at just 2.36.
The No.5/12 picks
If you read any pre-tournament strategy at all, you’ll know that going for a No.5/12 upset is a tactical March Madness bracket must. This year, that upset came in the form of Oregon State over Tennessee. At 70-56, the game wasn’t even that close.
Maybe coach Wayne Tinkle said it best: “... we’ve just been balling and it’s been really fun to watch and be a part of.”
Maybe that’s the secret, as they then went on to claim No.4 Oklahoma State.
This will be only the second time in NCAA tournament history that a No. 8 seed plays a No. 12 seed. The last time? March 21, 2002. The result? No.12 Missouri beat No.8 UCLA 82-73.
The three other No.5 seeds all made it through round one, before Colorado (East) lost to Florida State, while Villanova (South) and Creighton (West) have also made the Sweet 16.
No.2 Houston vs No.11 Syracuse
The Houston Cougars come into the Sweet 16 with everything so far having gone to plan, despatching No.10 Rutgers - at their first dance in 30 years, surprise winners over No.7 Clemson - in the second round.
Syracuse are having their own Cinderella run, having beaten No.6 San Diego State in the first round and, more impressively, No.3 West Virginia in the second - squeezing by in a tight 75-72 game. The Orangemen hit early from deep, with threes dropping like bombs to rack up an early lead that the Mountaineers couldn’t claw back.
The Cougars will undoubtedly have an eye on Buddy Boeheim, whose second-half-heavy 25-point performance helped take his coach and father, Jim, to his 20th Sweet 16. But this Cougar team isn’t to be underestimated, some reckoning it’s the programme’s best since the Phi Slama Jama days of 80s yore.
In the market to reach the Final Four, the Cougars are third-favourite at 1.85.
In the market to win the Midwest, current odds are Houston 2.10, Loyola 2.44, Syracuse 6.56 and Oregon State 8.07.
No.1 Baylor vs No.5 Villanova
Baylor is second-favourite to take the championship title, at odds of 5.17 behind Gonzaga. Pre-tournament, that spot was held by Michigan, who are now fourth-favourite, according to Cloudbet odds.
Unlike the Midwest, the No.8/9 game in the South didn’t go to seed, with the North Carolina Tar Heels going down heavy to Wisconsin, the 85-62 scoreline second only to Baylor’s 24-point win over Hartford that day. In round two, the Bears comfortably saw off the Badgers 76-63 to proceed.
Villanova have had a fairly straight forward run after beating No.12 Winthrop in the first round and No.13 North Texas in the second - big, early upset winners over No.4 Purdue, sending home the only home-state school in this year’s competition.
In the market to reach the Final Four, Baylor sits second at odds of 1.51.
No.3 Arkansas vs No.15 Oral Roberts
The second match up in the South brings together two teams each with something to prove.
Let’s start with Oral Roberts - the true Cinderella at this year’s dance - who will be looking to stay out way past midnight and keep this amazing run going.
Responsible for the biggest shock of the tournament on day one - as the No.15 team put out No.2 Ohio State 75-72 in overtime - the Golden Eagles followed that up with another in round two and an equally tight, equally improbably 81-78 win over No.7 Florida.
This was only the ninth time in NCAA history that a No.15 seed has taken out a No.2, and was ORU’s first NCAA tournament win since 1974.
If they want to stay up late, they need to overcome Arkansas.
While we, it turned out foolishly, joined some of the pre-tournament commentary that suggested Colgate could be in with a chance of a first round upset, the Razorbacks shut down the doubters, dispatching No.14 Colgate decisively 85-68. Their second round match against No.6 Texas Tech - themselves surprise winners over No.11 Utah State - was a tighter affair, with only 2 points in it at 68-66.
The two teams met in late December and the Razorbacks came through 87-76. While there’s no denying that ORU go into this game as 11-point underdogs...
... Don't you remember what’s so charming about March Madness?
In the market to win the South, Baylor are clear favourites at 1.73, Arkansas at 2.98, Villanova 5.17 and ORU long shots at 20.8.
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No.1 Gonzaga vs No.5 Creighton
There doesn't seem to be an awful lot to say about this match up really, Gonzaga now being 28-0 for the year and looking formidable. Three Gonzaga players remain in the top-four spots for the tournament MVP award, which is still lead by Corey Kispert.
Creighton, after surviving the first round by the narrowest of margins (63-62) against UC Santa Barbara then faced No.13 Ohio, the cause of yet another shock when they beat No.4 Virginia - the 2019 NCAA champion - rounding out a horrible first round for ACC teams.
In Virginia’s defense, their preparation had been far from ideal as they had to withdraw from their ACC conference tournament semifinal after a player tested positive for Covid-19. Back home, the squad was quarantined and isolated - and they were only given the all-clear to travel to Indianapolis late in the day.
The Bluejays played with intent and beat the Bobcats convincingly, 72-58, but they go into this match up against the best team in the country as 13-point underdogs, the largest spread on offer in this Sweet 16 round.
No.6 USC vs No.7 Oregon
The Pac 12 face-off and tightest of the Sweet 16 match-ups by seeding, this may be the hardest of the games to call.
What’s more, both teams should be suitably pumped having seen off much higher seeds and bigger names in the previous round.
USC dealt with No.11 Drake comfortably in round one, 72-56, before handing No.3 Kansas the third-worst loss in Jayhawks’ history - a 34-point thrashing. "That's about as poor as we could play," Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game. But, credit to the Trojans, and they come into this game as slight favourites. They’ll be looking for the Mobley brothers to continue to perform.
Maybe that’s because Oregon might be feeling it a bit after their 15-point dismissal of No.2 Iowa. The Ducks - who were rested but not rusty after sitting out the first round - flowed from the start. As Oregon guard Chris Duarte put it, “We just said keep our foot on the gas… We did and it was a lot of fun.” He scored 23 points on the night. There was only so much Hawkeye legend Luka Graza could do, scoring 36 with nine rebounds, but on the night they were outgunned. It was unexpected for sure, but give Oregon their due.
In the market to win the West, Gonzaga sit top at 1.26. However, reflecting how close this second game might be, USC are at 5.97 and Oregon 6.96. That really doesn’t suggest there’s much in it.
No.1 Michigan vs No.4 Florida State
Michigan, who started the tournament with the second-best winners odds, find themselves now at 8.79 - the widest odds on the remaining No.1 regional seeds. However, they’ve been playing well without their power forward Isaiah Livers and so far haven’t been really tested, getting past LSU in the second round 86-78. Hunter Dickinson has cemented a name for himself, although the odds on him winning MVP have lengthened since the tournament began (to 20.8 now).
This hasn't been a great tourney for the Big 10, but as the spread line suggests, they are slight favourites to take what many expect to be a tight game. The 2.5-point spread is the lowest for the round (alongside the USC vs Oregon game).
The Seminoles moved past UNC-Greensboro in the first round by 10 points, and in the second nearly doubled that against Colorado (71-53). Their defense looks strong, and they’ve been scoring well too - in the last 20 minutes against Colorado they scored 47 points.
No.11 UCLA vs No.2 Alabama
UCLA have been on a dream run too, forced to qualify for the last 64 by playing in the First Four, before seeing off No.6 seed BYU in the first round.
In the second round, they met No.14 Abilene Christian University, who - let’s take a minute to recognise what makes March Madness so great - eeked out an incredible 53-52 win over No.3 Texas in one of the biggest upsets of the competition, that came down to the final minute - and withthe winning point scored form the free-throw line.
This was ACU’s first NCAA tournament win in school history.
On the other side, the Crimson Tide march on as Bama fans would be entitled to expect - No.15 Iona and No.10 Maryland both failing to really challenge the team that finished the season first in the Southeastern Conference and who won the SEC conference tournament over LSU.
In the market to win the East, Michigan are at 2.36, followed by Alabama at 2.56 - suggesting it’s a close thing - with Florida State at 4.44 and UCLA at 7.89.
Interestingly, in the market to make the Final Four, Michigan and Alabama are both available at 2.45.
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So get off the sidelines and into the action today as we look forward to the Sweet 16 and beyond in what has already become a memorable March Madness.