Tournament games are back on your televisions and mobile devices this weekend as the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament tips off from Indianapolis. After whittling the field down from 68 a week ago, the final 16 teams remaining are battling for that coveted national championship a year after COVID-19 prevented the event from happening. There are plenty of surprises and Cinderellas worth following, as well as some blue-bloods making deep runs.
Syracuse barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament but have now made the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed for the second time in the past four seasons and will take on No. 2 seed Houston for the right to go even further. But the true underdog Saturday will be No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, which takes on No. 3 seed Arkansas.
Even if Syracuse and Oral Roberts both lose, one unlikely contender is guaranteed to advance out of Saturday's action. That's because a pair of long shots are playing each other with No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago and No. 12 seed Oregon State squaring off in the day's first game.
Both have made memorable runs to reach this point and have no visions on stopping now. Finally, a game between No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 5 seed Villanova represents a relatively predictable matchup between teams that were expected to make deep postseason runs when the season began.
But the Wildcats have an underdog story of their own. After losing star guard Collin Gillespie for the season due to a knee injury late this season, they have managed to pull together just in time for a showdown with the mighty Bears.
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So settle in, grab your remote and get ready for more March Madness with three storylines for Saturday. All times Eastern
History at stake
All that separates Oral Roberts and Arkansas is a 115-mile stretch U.S. Highway 412 that runs between the ORU campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Razorbacks' campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. But from the standpoint of hoops history, the two are lightyears apart.
Arkansas is in the Sweet 16 for the 12th time, has appeared in six Final Fours and has a national championship banner.
Meanwhile, Oral Roberts just won in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1974 -- notching a couple of upset victories -- to reach the precipice of history. A No. 15 seed has never reached the Elite Eight before, and the Eagles can be the first if they can finish what they started on Dec. 20.
That was the day Oral Roberts led Arkansas 40-30 at halftime before the Razorbacks stormed back with 57 second half points to win 87-76. But that game was played in Bud Walton Arena at Arkansas underneath the banners that commemorate the Razorbacks' history.
This time around, it will be on a neutral court in Indianapolis, and Oral Roberts will be playing for history.
A personal connection
Basketball has always been a family affair for Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle. He met his wife, Lisa, when both were star players at Montana, and the couple's three children have all played college basketball. In fact, Wayne coached his son Tres at Oregon State from 2015 to 2020.
But the family connection will run a little deeper into the Tinkle family tree when the No. 12 seed Beavers take on No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago. Wayne Tinkle's father, Wayne Tinkle Sr., was Loyola Chicago's dean of students during his son's childhood, and a young Wayne spent time shooting hoops in the Ramblers' gym.
"This is really going to mean something extra special for me and my family," Tinkle said.
Speaking of familial connections, the game between No. 2 seed Houston and No. 11 seed Syracuse will feature a couple of father-son duos in action. The Orange are led by junior shooting guard Buddy Boeheim, the son of legendary coach Jim Boeheim. Buddy describes his father as his "best friend."
However, Buddy and the Orange will have their work cut out for them against Houston coach Kelvin Sampson and son Kellen, an assistant for the Cougars. The UH staff has programmed the Cougars' roster to embrace defense, and that formula has carried the program to the cusp of its first Elite Eight since 1984.
Entering this weekend's action, opponents are making just 28.3% of their 3-point attempts against Houston this season. That makes the Cougars No. 5 nationally in defending the 3-point range, and it means something will have to give on Saturday. Buddy has been the top 3-point shooter in the NCAA Tournament thus far, and only one father-son duo can keep dancing.
2021 March Madness live stream
Date: Saturday, March 27 | Round: Sweet 16 | Regions: South, Midwest
Live stream: March Madness Live