The 2021 tournament has continued to be all about upstarts. No team that has won a national championship in the 21st century remains standing. UCLA is the only one of the Final Four teams to have ever won the championship. Baylor advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 71 years (1950). Houston last made the semi-finals in 1984.
The 2021 tournament set a record for the highest aggregate seed total ever to make the Sweet Sixteen. (The sum of the seed numbers of all sixteen teams.) The 2021 aggregate seed total is 91, topping the 89 aggregate set in 1986.
Seven of the eight teams in the Elite Eight reside west of the Mississippi River. For the first time ever, all of the Final Four teams hail from west of the Mississippi. The last Final Four with three teams from the west was 1995.
UCLA became the second team to reach the Final Four after entering the tournament from the First Four, joining Virginia Commonwealth of 2011. With UCLA’s regional final victory over Michigan, number 11 seeds are now 4-4 against #1 seeds.
The semi-final matchup between Baylor and Houston will be the fifth Final Four game between teams from the same state, joining: Kentucky-Louisville 2012, Ohio State-Cincinnati 1961 & 1962, and Penn State-La Salle 1954.
This is only the fourth tournament that an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team has not reached the Elite Eight since 1980. The only other years without an ACC team were 2003, 2006, and 2014. ACC teams finish the tournament with a 4-7 record. This is their fewest wins since 1979.
Oral Roberts became only the 2nd #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Their duo of Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas have scored 113 of Oral Roberts’s 156 total tournament points (72.4%). Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 was the previous #15 to advance to the second week.
Two teams collected their first-ever victories in the tournament: Abilene Christian and North Texas.
Lots of upsets should have been expected this year because many teams made their out-of-conference schedule load much lighter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the performance disparity of certain top conferences remains shocking.
The Big Ten conference led the field by receiving nine tournament berths, but their first week was disastrous, going 7-8 with only one survivor (#1 seed Michigan). Big Ten top seeds that have been eliminated include a #1, two #2s, and a #4. The Big Ten did not perform uniformly well in the 2019 tournament, going 13-8 – led by a Michigan State Final Four run, and Purdue reaching the Elite Eight.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 is 10-1 with four teams remaining (Southern California, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State). The conference was very poorly seeded in 2019 and went 4-3 with only Oregon reaching the round of sixteen.
This season’s highly touted Big 12 is 7-6 with only one survivor (Baylor).
In recent years the ACC has been a powerhouse, but with this tournament they are just 4-5 with two teams standing (Florida State, Syracuse).
The 82nd NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament field has been announced!
The Big Ten conference leads the field with 9 berths, including 5 teams seeded #1 through #4. The Big 12 also has 5 teams seeded #1-4 among their 7 total berths.
Two teams make their tournament debuts this season: the Grand Canyon University Antelopes and the University of Hartford Hawks. Grand Canyon (14-6) out of Phoenix, AZ won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and regular season title. Hartford (15-8) from West Hartford, CT won the America East Conference Tournament.
This season marks UCLA’s 50th NCAA Tournament berth (3rd most) and Villanova’s 40th. Villanova passes Indiana for the 8th most tournament appearances. Kansas extends its streak of consecutive tournament appearances to 31 years. Duke’s consecutive streak ends at 24 seasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic still hovers over these proceedings. Three teams (Duke, Kansas, and Virginia) withdrew from their conference tournament due to positive cases within their programs. The possibility exists that these teams or others may be declared ineligible due to virus issues. The NCAA has documented rules for declaring teams ineligible due to positive tests within seven days of the tournament start. Ineligible teams will be replaced in the field prior to the tournament start, but once underway, a disqualified team will cause their opponent to automatically advance.
I believe the situations of Duke, Kansas, and Virginia demonstrate that conference tournaments should not have been held so close to the start of the national tournament. There are no guarantees about how the virus might spread, but sending eight-plus team entourages to a single site within days of the national tournament shows that “hope” was the containment strategy for the NCAA and its conferences.
The effected teams and tournament organizers can now only hope that their programs remain eligible and that the virus was not spread to their opponents and the other teams sharing the arena and its locker rooms. The fairness and integrity of the national tournament is at stake. The need to cancel a game and advance a team puts the fairness of the tournament at question. Was the ACC Conference Tournament fair? Georgia Tech and Florida State both advanced while playing fewer grueling games because their earlier opponents bowed out. We can only hope that the NCAAs are not tainted by similar forfeits.