The Round of 32: The Ramblers aren't a Cinderella anymore. They're just good.
While significantly chalkier than the two days preceding it, the Round of 32 still treated us astoundingly well. While we really only saw a single major upset in Oral Roberts, Rutgers was a late-game meltdown away from 8-seeded Loyola being the highest seed in the Sweet 16, and USC handed Kansas their second embarrassing Round of 32 loss in as many years.
I hate to Ramble, but Loyola was terribly under-seeded
If I had to compare the Ramblers to one team, it would be the 2013-14 Kentucky squad that eventually fell in the NCAA Championship to UConn. Both teams were terribly under-seeded at #8 (we'll get to that more later with Loyola), and defeated a top-seeded national title favorite(#1 undefeated Wichita State, #1 Illinois to reach the Sweet 16. Yeah, it was an upset, but it was never really close either- the Ramblers just quite simply outplayed the Illini in every facet, including holding star guard Ayo Dosunmu to just nine points on 4/10 shooting.
Remember that 2018 Final Four squad that lost to eventual national-runner up Michigan by just 12? Sure, they look a bit different, seeing as they don't have South Region All-Tournament Team members Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer, or Region MOP Ben Richardson. They do have Cameron Krutwig, though, and the senior who started on that Final Four squad is now an absolute unit of an AP Third Team All-American, who after outstanding performances against Georgia Tech and Illinois has pretty much solidified his place on the Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team, and depending on how things shake out could very well be named Most Outstanding Player. He's joined by Lucas Williamson, Braden Norris, and Marquise Kennedy in what is currently the top-ranked defense in Division I.
Let's talk about their seeding, too. Going into the tournament, they held a #17 ranking in the AP Poll, which should be good for the first #5 seed. Instead, they were given an overall seed of 30. I understand the strength of schedule and stuff like that, but still-??
The Juice is Loose
Did OJ do it? We'll never know, but what we do know is that Syracuse is doing it right now(this one is for you, Dad), and does it pretty much every time they have a double-digit seed. Now, they've made their third Sweet 16 in six years with an 8-2 record in that time span as a double-digit seed. Should the Orange be ranked #10 every year? Maybe.
You gotta give credit to the players too. The three-headed monster that is Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard III, and Marek Dolezaj has been downright dangerous lately, and Boeheim has been making more shots lately than someone playing Call of Duty with Aim Assist turned on, scoring 27, 31, 30, and 25 points each in his last four games.
Cinderella Stories: Oral Roberts Stays Golden, Beaver Fever Continues
The story of the tournament so far has been the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts, who in their 81-78 defeat of Florida on Sunday night became just the second 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16 behind the 2013 "Dunk City" squad from Florida Gulf Coast. Led by Kevin Abanor (28 pts) and Max Abmas (26 pts), they've shown that when you let Jesus take the wheel, you can accomplish just about anything. The Golden Eagles' Cinderella run may end on Saturday night when the Arkansas Razorbacks find themselves to be an unlikely villain, but the dirty jokes likely never will.
We can't ignore Oregon State, either. Projected in preseason to finish at the back of the PAC(12), the Beavers instead won three straight to take the automatic bid for the conference, and then proceeded to demolish Tennessee by 14 and the Cade Cunningham-led Oklahoma State by 10 behind 26 points from guard Ethan Thompson.
We also can't ignore the Arkansas Razorbacks, who clinched their first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 25 years with a 68-66 victory over #6 Texas Tech. It's the first appearance in the round since the Hooping Hogs were a national power in the early-to-mid 1990s, with Sweet 16 appearances in every year since 1992, four Elite Eights, back-to-back Final Fours, and the 1995 national title over Duke. A 20 point outing for Justin Smith, along with 15 points each by Davonte Davis and projected lottery pick Moses Moody had the Razorbacks narrowly escaping a great effort by the Red Raiders.
West Coast=Best Coast
Unlike the Big Ten, which many had taking up most of the spots in the Elite 8, and three of the four Final Four spots and now has just Michigan left following the first weekend, the Pac-12 has been a surprising success story. The conference has four of the 16 teams still left, including Oregon and USC playing Sunday for the spot in the Elite Eight. Elsewhere, #11 UCLA plays #2 Alabama, and #12 Oregon State takes on the aforementioned Loyola-Chicago. Bill Walton's prediction of a 5-team Final Four may be impossible being that Colorado is out, and USC and Oregon play each other on Sunday, but it's still more than alive.
This first weekend was, above all else, incredibly entertaining. We saw, for the first time, every single seed win a game in the opening round. We saw everything from nail-biting endings to Cinderella runs, although we still have yet to see a buzzer-beater happen. If the first weekend was this good, I'm super excited to see what happens in the next.