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This Year’s NCAA Tournament Got Knocked Sideways By Covid, But It’s Unquestionably Been Great

What a fun three days of basketball so far

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oregon State at Oklahoma State
 Mar 21, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Jarod Lucas (2) moves the ball while Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Keylan Boone (20) defends during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

That thud you heard across America Saturday night was the reputation the Big Ten built all season as sort of an uber conference crashing down. The first impact was in the state of Indiana, then the Midwest, then, via Twitter, across the entire basketball world.

So far, here are the teams from the mighty Big Ten that have departed: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Rutgers. Left standing, for now at least: Michigan, Iowa and Maryland. All three play on Monday and right now, we’re only feeling good about Michigan. Iowa will have a tough game against Oregon and we expect Alabama to beat Maryland.

Back to Sunday. The first shocker was Loyola beating Illinois. Well, it wasn’t to us - we said we thought they'd win. But we didn’t except them to have such an easy time.

Loyola is superbly well coached and they systematically dismantled Illinois, which just seemed outclassed throughout. And can we rave for a minute about the brilliant game Cameron Krutwig played?

Here’s a guy who is, to be kind, modestly talented. But what a player! He did so many smart things in this game it’s hard to even begin. He’s one of those guys who turns limited talent into an advantage because he had to learn to play in a completely different way. If you saw the game you’ll know what we refer to when we swoon over that pass or that quick alley-oop or how fast he gets his jump hook off. It’s really hard to block because of how quickly he releases it.

This guy might not clear a phone book, but his mind and his hands are world-class. Loyola fans have been blessed to watch him for four years and given his limited professional options, might get him back for one more. He’s something else.

We saw someone - didn’t make a note of where - saying that it wasn’t fair to Illinois because Loyola was seeded too low. Well, boo frickin’ hoo. Here’s the deal, as we learned again this weekend: if you’re not good enough to win any particular game, no matter who it’s against or the circumstances, you’re not winning a championship.

Illinois, as it turns out, wasn’t good enough.

However, we should say we really did enjoy watching Andre Curbelo. That guy is going to be good, at least partly because he plays with relentless energy. We really like him a lot.

Closer to home, Syracuse is one of two ACC teams left. A-ha! the Big Ten people say, you guys aren’t killing it either!

True, but no one expected the ACC to roll after a particularly bad year, and both Georgia Tech and Virginia were crippled by Corona.

Syracuse tried hard to throw this one away, but West Virginia just wasn’t up to accepting a gift-wrapped invitation to the Sweet Sixteen, so the Orange is still alive.

And despite nearly blowing it several times in the closing minutes, between turnovers and missed free throws, Syracuse prevailed and until the end looked great. We might be able to think of someone else with a bit more thought, and maybe you already have, but from here, Buddy Boeheim now looks like the best shooter in the ACC since JJ Redick. That guy could take Syracuse a lot farther than anyone expected.

Baylor seemed to fade a bit at the end too, not that it mattered because the Bears had Wisconsin under control so fading was relative. Baylor held Wisconsin’s senior guards Brad Davidson and D’mitrik Trice to 8-28 and they coughed up seven turnovers between them.

We thought Baylor might still have a bit of recovery question mark after a Covid pause and they might not be 100 percent, but now they get another week to get ready for Villanova.

Texas Tech fell behind against Arkansas and, as you’d expect from a Chris Beard team, they fought back and had a couple of chances to tie it. We thought they were a legitimate threat to get to the championship game, largely because Beard is a brilliant coach and has his teams ready to play. He has emerged as the equal of anyone in the game.

But Arkansas played with a stunning ferocity for a good bit of the game. That team is physical and intimidating. We greatly underestimated them. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against a team with a different style but there’s no question Arkansas is really, really dangerous.

At this point in the tournament you have to make choices what to watch and we thought it looked like Florida was going to make Oral Roberts a one-trick pony and send them home happy with their rather startling upset of Ohio State.

Might’ve been a mistake. Florida was up for most of the second half before ORU began to chop the lead down and with 4:02 left, the Gators were up 74-73. Oral Roberts came through though, sending Florida back home 81-78 losers. Florida had multiple shots near the end but missed several and had a pair of turnovers too.

Incidentally, Omar Payne, who took out Tennessee’s with not one but two vicious elbows, was held out in round one but took the court in round two.

As it turned out, Villanova had a fairly easy time with North Texas, smashing the glass slipper in an 84-63 rout to claim a Sweet Sixteen spot. We have immense respect for Jay Wright, but at some point, losing your starting point guard will probably catch up to them.

However, what coaching at some level is about is overcoming weaknesses. So when you yell at the TV when Team A makes an inexplicable play, there’s a pretty good chance the coach has done the math and knows that the play you think is stupid was actually his best move. So given Wright’s oft-demonstrated brilliance, we won’t be surprised by anything Villanova does.

In the nightcap, Oregon State continued its superb late-season charge, knocking off Oklahoma State and soon-to-be-drafted, and possibly the #1 pick in the NBA Draft Cade “the Fade” Cunningham.

That’s a little bit too easy but Cunningham wasn’t exactly dominant down the stretch, making some big mistakes and tossing up a dreadful three point attempt near the end that flew like a wounded bird.

However, he’s just a freshman and this game will fade from most people’s memories fairly soon, which is good news for the star Cowboy. Cunningham finished with 24 points but shot 6-20 to get there and just 4-11 from behind the line.

#4 Oklahoma State was down 18 to a #12 team. The Cowboys fought back and it looked briefly like it might be a normal NCAA game where the superior team won out in the end, but that didn’t happen (which has happened a lot this year actually). Oklahoma State cut the lead down to 70-67 but the Beavers just pushed it back out again. At the end, there wasn’t really any question about which team was superior, at least in this game. Oregon State was by far the better team.

While we have to wait for Monday to see the full Sweet Sixteen, right now, here are the matchups so far:


  • Baylor vs. Villanova
  • Arkansas vs. Oral Roberts


  • Loyola vs. Oregon State
  • Syracuse vs. Houston