Baylor dominated Gonzaga wire-to-wire in an 86-70 win on Monday night as the Bears program captured its first national championship. The win capped one of the biggest reclamation projects in college basketball history. Scott Drew took the Baylor job in August 2003 after the program had basically been burned to the ground. Baylor basketball had been decimated by scandal, resulting NCAA sanctions and the transfer of most of the team's better players.
It took four seasons to get the program back to respectability, and the Bears have now been to nine NCAA tournaments since 2008. Prior to that, they had only made one appearance since 1950. Baylor's highest seed before this season was a 3, which has happened four times. The Bears, keep in mind, would have been a 1 seed in the 2020 tournament if it had been played.
The win also marks the second NCAA championship for the Big 12. The other came in 2008, when Kansas beat Memphis in overtime in San Antonio. The conference has only been in existence since 1996.
The Big Ten's streak without a championship has now been extended to 20 tournaments, but the Pac-12 has gone three years longer. Arizona is the last Pac-12 team to win the title. That came in 1997, when the league was still the Pac-10. These two conferences had wildly different regular seasons, and tournament performances that failed to reflect their respective regular-season resumes.
The Pac 12 was fantastic. UCLA made the Final Four after beginning the tournament in the First Four, becoming the second team to do so. The league put three teams in the Elite Eight and one more in the Sweet 16, and those teams finished with 11 more wins than the seeds would have projected.
Baylor blows out Gonzaga in shocking, dominant fashion. A championship edition of Eye on College Basketball recaps the national championship game.
The Big Ten, on the other hand, had one of the all-time faceplants by a conference. Rarely has a league been so well-positioned to have a big tournament, yet it still fell flat. Of the five teams seeded to make the Sweet 16, only one advanced to that round. Good performances by the lower-seeded teams in the Big Ten helped to save a little face. Still, Big Ten teams won eight fewer games than expected.
The Big Ten is now the first league to put more than seven teams in the tournament and finish below .500.
This does not mean that the Big Ten was overrated while the Pac-12 was underrated. Teams earn selection and seeding based on what they do over a four-month regular season. The tournament, however, is a different animal. One bad day and you're done. The Big Ten teams that were selected earned it and were rewarded with seeds that they had earned as well. They just went out and wasted them.
Everything I just said about the Big Ten applies to the Pac-12 as well, except with opposite results. Oregon State, for example, had to win the conference tournament just to get into the NCAA tournament. The Beavers made the most of that opportunity, but it does not mean that they should have been seeded higher.
It was not a great year for the ACC, either, which got two wins each from Florida State and Syracuse but saw the other five teams lose in the first round. The league's 4-7 mark ties the Pac-12 in 2016 for the worst record for a conference with at least seven teams in the tournament. Despite that poor performance, the ACC kept alive its streak of putting at least one team in the Sweet 16 every year since 1980. The second-longest such streak belongs to the Big 12, which goes back to 1999.
One final piece of trivia: the Pac-12 and Missouri Valley conferences were the two multi-bid leagues where each team in the bracket won at least once.
Records by conference in 2021 NCAA Tournament
Expected record is as if each team went as far as its seed would indicate.
|Conference (teams in field)||Record||Expected Record|
Big 12 (7)
Big East (4)
Conference USA (1)
Big Ten (9)
Mountain West (2)