Expect more madness at NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16
Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, March 24, 2021
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Your bracket is shot. We know it. Ours is, too.
A year after the NCAA Tournament was canceled, the madness returned with an opening weekend full of upsets.
No. 1 seed Illinois, gone. So is Ohio State. High seeds Texas and Virginia also are out, replaced by upstarts and mid-major noisemakers.
And we have Sister Jean, the 101-year-old nun who serves as team chaplain for Chicago Loyola. So good to have her back.
It was a wild opening ride to be sure and the tournament is all but guaranteed to have a few more unexpected twists and turns.
Here’s what to look for:
Gonzaga — The Zags are the only team to reach the Sweet 16 in six consecutive seasons. They’re also four wins from completing perfection, trying to become the first undefeated champion since Indiana 45 years ago.
Baylor — The big, bad ball-hawking Bears appear to have found the form they had before a second COVID-19 pause, so watch out.
Michigan — The Wolverines have looked like a No. 1 seed, even without Isaiah Livers.
Alabama — The Tide’s mauling of Maryland in the second round shows just how potent this team can be.
Houston — The Cougars sport some of that same swagger as the Phi Slama Jama teams back in the ‘80s.
Chicago Loyola — Sister Jean and the lovable Ramblers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since that 2018 Final Four run. Seeing her on the sideline warms the heart. The Ramblers have some heart of their own.
Oral Roberts — The Golden Eagles aren’t Dunk City, but they are the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since Florida Gulf Coast became the first eight years ago.
Oregon State — The Beavers were picked to finish 12th in a conference with 12 teams. After two wins as a No. 12 seed, you’d be wise not to pick against these underdogs.
UCLA — Hard to call the all-time leader in national championships an upstart, but the Bruins barely got into the bracket. With three wins and a trip to the Sweet 16, they quickly proved they belong.
Arkansas — The Muss Bus has the Razorbacks chugging into their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1996. Quite a job by coach Eric Musselman in two short years.
Corey Kispert, Gonzaga — All-American playing like one to put the Zags four games from the first perfect season since 1976.
Evan Mobley, USC — The freshman has the length of a big man, the skills of a guard and the ability to dominate both ends of the floor.
Jared Butler, Baylor — The junior All-American stands out, even on a team oozing with talent.
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama — There’s almost nothing he can’t do and nothing opponents can do when he gets it going.
Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton — Forgot some of the shooting woes he had at times during the regular season. This is the junior sharpshooter’s time to shine, and he’s leaning into it.
Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse. There’s a reason they call him Buddy Buckets. He’s been filling it up in Indy, too.
Max Abmas, Oral Roberts — High-volume scoring from this biomedical chemistry major has the Golden Eagles soaring into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974.
Cameron Krutwig, Chicago Loyola — Remember that beefy, agile-footed, deft-passing big man during the 2018 Final Four run? Well, he’s back and he’s rockin’ a wispy mustache. The Krustache plays the harmonica, too.
Quentin Grimes, Houston — Leaving Kansas worked out out well for the high-scoring guard. It wasn’t a bad deal for coach Kelvin Sampson and his Cougars, either.
Chris Duarte, Oregon — Playing on the West Coast has limited his national visibility, but believe us, he was one of college basketball’s best guards long before this Ducks’ run.
Ethan Thompson, Oregon State — He scores, dishes and rebounds. He’s a big reason the underdog Beavers have gotten this far.
Michigan vs. Florida State, East Region, Sunday — Has the makings of being the best game in the entire bracket. Definitely in must-watch territory.
Gonzaga vs. Creighton, West Region, Sunday — The Zags’ bid for perfection goes through the Bluejays and sweet-shooting Zegarowski.
Alabama vs. UCLA, East Region, Sunday — Alabama likes to play fast. UCLA likes to slow things down. Something’s got to give.
Oregon State vs. Loyola Chicago, Midwest Region, Saturday — The underdog branch of the bracket features two scrappy teams and one lovable 101-year-old nun.
Villanova vs. Baylor, South Region, Saturday — Two powerhouse programs expected to put on a show.