Broken Brackets and Entertaining Basketball
The Big 10 entered this year’s tournament regarded as one of the best and most competitive conferences ever in college basketball, while the Big 12 also achieved a high level of quality and competition during the regular season.
Big 10 and Big 12’s Underperformance
The Big 10 entered this year’s tournament regarded as one of the best and most competitive conferences ever in college basketball, while the Big 12 also achieved a high level of quality and competition during the regular season. The two conferences combined comprised three of the four 1-seeds, two 2-seeds, and three 3-seeds. Both conferences had one team that greatly outperformed their conference rivals in the tournament, 1-seed Michigan for the Big 10, and 1-seed Baylor for the Big 12, but the rest of the conferences did not meet expectations. The Big 12 did not pull off a single upset, and although three Big 10 teams, 9-seed Wisconsin, 10-seed Maryland, and 10-seed Rutgers, beat a higher-seeded opponent, all three lost in the second round. More importantly, these two conferences found themselves on the wrong end of many upsets in this year’s tournament. In the first round, 2-seed Ohio State, 3-seed Big 12 tournament champions Texas, and 4-seed Purdue all suffered defeats. In the second round, 1-seed Big 10 tournament champions Illinois, 2-seed Iowa, 3-seed Kansas, 3-seed West Virginia, and 4-seed Oklahoma State were all upset. These upsets surely disappointed fans who expected their teams to go far, especially when many bracket-makers assumed Illinois would be a lock for the Final Four. Although the two conferences collectively sent 12 teams to the Round of 32, only 2 of those 12 advanced to the Sweet 16, Michigan and Baylor. With the huge number of high seeds in these two conferences, expectations were certainly higher than only one team from each advancing to the Sweet 16.
UCLA! Oregon State!
The Pac-12 brought five teams to this year’s tournament, lower than some of its Power Five conference rivals, but those squads have greatly exceeded expectations. In the Round of 32, both USC and Oregon pulled off impressive upsets, with 6-seed USC convincingly defeating 3-seed Kansas and 7-seed Oregon routing 2-seed Iowa by 15 points. The pair met in the Sweet 16, with USC advancing to the Elite Eight, where their tournament run ended at the hands of an undefeated machine, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Oregon State Beavers came in dead last in the preseason Pac-12 rankings, but they miraculously captured the Pac-12 tournament title, reserving them a 12-seed spot in March Madness, where they made the most out of the opportunity. After beating 5-seed Tennessee, Oregon State defeated 4-seed Oklahoma State, led by the projected number one overall pick in the NBA draft, Cade Cunningham. In the Sweet 16, Oregon State held off Loyola-Chicago, who themselves were coming off a shocking upset against 1-seed Illinois. These three wins made Oregon State only the second 12-seed to ever appear in the Elite Eight. The Beavers’ run ended at the hands of 2-seed Houston, but nonetheless, Oregon State put together an incredible season of overachievement, crowned by three upset victories in March Madness.
The most impressive performance in the Pac-12 this year, though, has come from the UCLA Bruins. As a team that battled injuries, a dearth of senior leadership, and their top recruit joining the G-League, few expected the Bruins to make the Final Four. They had to beat Michigan State in overtime to even enter the tournament as an 11-seed, but the Bruins now find themselves contending for it all. Relying on their stout defense, UCLA first swept aside 6-seed BYU and 14-seed Abilene Christian, who defeated 3-seed Texas in the previous round, then toppled 2-seed Alabama, the SEC tournament champions, in overtime—one of the most exciting games of the tournament thus far. In the Elite Eight, UCLA edged past Michigan to advance to the Final Four, where the Bruins will face Gonzaga. Guard Johnny Juzang led the team against the Wolverines, with a monumental 28 points in the 51-49 win. Gonzaga is currently 30-0, looking to finish a phenomenal undefeated season, but UCLA has proved they cannot be overlooked. Just as they did against Alabama and Michigan, the Bruins will need to match Gonzaga’s blazing offense if they come out on top.
Oral Roberts Reaches Sweet 16
Coming off a close matchup with Illinois in the Big 10 tournament championship game, Ohio State earned a deserved spot as the 2-seed in their region. Their first matchup was against 15-seed Oral Roberts, the Summit League champions, a sharp 3-point shooting team. Oral Roberts is not widely known, but earned its time in the spotlight against Ohio State. Led by Max Abmas, the leading scorer in Division I men’s basketball, Oral Roberts defeated Ohio State 75-72 in overtime, breaking 95.2% of all brackets submitted. From there, they defeated 7-seed Florida 81-78 and became only the second 15-seed to ever make the Sweet 16. There, the Golden Eagles faced 3-seed Arkansas, losing 72-70 on a missed last-second Abmas shot. They would have become the first 15-seed to be in the Elite Eight had they defeated Arkansas, but Oral Roberts regardless will certainly go down as the Cinderella story of this year’s tournament.
Can Houston Win the Title?
The 2-seed Houston Cougars have made history by becoming the first team to reach the Final Four while only facing double-digit seeded teams en route to the semifinals. The only 2-seed from outside the Power Five, Houston held opponents to 58 points per game in the regular season, the second fewest in college basketball. The Cougars started off their tournament run with an easy victory over 15-seed Cleveland State. From there, they faced 10-seed Rutgers in the Round of 32. Rutgers led in the second half, but Houston finished the game resolutely with a three point victory. In the Sweet 16, Houston faced 11-seed Syracuse, whose hot shooting propelled them past 6-seed San Diego State and 3-seed West Virginia to advance to the Sweet 16. After defeating Syracuse, the Cougars outed 12-seed Oregon State and advanced to the Final Four. Houston earned their 2-seed for their physical defense, which they have continued to display well in their first four games. As Houston celebrates being in the Final Four for the first time since 1984, they will need to rely on their great defense against better competition if they want a chance at winning the national title, something that has never occurred in the school’s history.