The insanity of the NCAA Tournament returned with a splash on Friday, as first-round action featured overtimes, upsets and many shining moments. Teams like Oregon State and Oral Roberts notched their first NCAA Tournament victories in decades, but the day also helped us get acquainted with some familiar characters.
Baylor and Illinois have been in the spotlight all season and both handled the pressure associated with being a No. 1 seed with relative ease on Friday. Both squads dispatched their first-round opponents handily. The day was not as kind to one of the No. 2 seeds, though.
Ohio State looked great in the Big Ten Tournament as it rattled off three straight wins and then narrowly lost to Illinois in the final. But the Buckeyes got sent packing Friday in a 75-72 overtime loss to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. That game could go down as the first-round contest that everyone remembers from this NCAA Tournament. But Friday offered plenty more to unpack as well.
Here is a rundown of the winners and losers as we take a spin through the first-round action.
Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander recap all of Friday's first-round action on the latest episode of Eye on College Basketball. Listen now:
Winner: Sister Jean is back
The star of the 2018 NCAA Tournament is back. No, not Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser or star big man Cameron Krutwig, who was a freshman when the Ramblers made the Final Four. We're talking about Sister Jean. Now 101 years young, the spiritual hallmark of Loyola Chicago's program watched in a game in-person for the first time this season on Friday, and she saw her No. 8 seed Ramblers take care of business in a 71-60 win over Georgia Tech. Next up is a game with No. 1 seed Illinois, and if Loyola Chicago is going to win that one, it may indeed take some star intervention.
Loser: Georgia Tech's storybook season
The Yellow Jackets were one of the top feel-good stories of conference tournament week as they captured their first ACC Tournament crown since 1993 and secured their first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years. But the magical ride met a frustrating end Friday with the loss to Loyola Chicago. It's not so much the loss itself that is disappointing for Georgia Tech, but the wondering about what could have been if Moses Wright would have played. The senior forward was the ACC Player of the Year, but he was inactive on Friday. Without him, Georgia Tech was only a shell of the team that won eight straight games entering the NCAA Tournament.
Winner: Oral Roberts is Cinderella
Pop quiz: Can you name the geographic location and religious affiliation of Oral Roberts University? Didn't think so. But the private evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma is officially on the college basketball map now. The Golden Eagles etched their school's name in the NCAA Tournament history books with a 75-72 overtime win over No. 2 seed Ohio State, becoming just the ninth No. 15 seed to ever win a first-round game in the Big Dance. Don't sleep on Oral Roberts moving forward, either. With the nation's leading scorer Max Abmas and a potent sidekick in Kevin Obanor leading a high-flying offense, this squad is capable of taking down No. 7 seed Florida on Sunday.
Winner: Colin Castleton's shining moments
With fellow big man Omar Payne serving a suspension and Florida's other post players in some early foul trouble, the Gators needed a lot from Colin Castleton on Friday, and he delivered. The 6-foot-11 center helped carry Florida to a 75-70 overtime victory over No. 10 seed Virginia Tech with 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a whopping 43 minutes. Castleton was a little-used reserve during his first two college seasons at Michigan, but he's turned into a star for the Gators. With Castleton playing so well and the Gators now set for a game against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in Sunday's second round, perhaps Florida has a surprise run in the tank.
Loser: Tennessee's roller-coaster ride
Tennessee started 10-1 and spent five weeks in the top-10 of the AP Top 25 poll earlier this season as it was lavished with praise for its depth and stifling team defense. But after losing 70-56 to No. 12 seed Oregon State, the Volunteers finished the season just 8-8. Friday's double-digit defeat solidified that this will go down as a disappointing season for a program that appeared to be trending upward after landing five-star wings Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. The duo mostly lived up to the hype, but Tennessee failed to get enough from its other players and fell well short of its potential.
Winner: Oregon State gets first win since 1982
That's not a typo. The Beavers had not won a game in the Big Dance in nearly 40 years until their impressive shellacking of Tennessee. If you aren't a believer in this team yet, perhaps it's time for that to change. After knocking off three NCAA Tournament teams in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Beavers are still running hot. There was a time when it seemed like senior guard Ethan Thompson may have to shoulder an unhealthy offensive load for this team. But OSU had four scorers in double figures on Friday, led by a 16-point performance on 8-of-8 shooting from Roman Silva.
Winner: Justin Smith doing big things for Arkansas
It sure seems like Arkansas forward Justin Smith made the right choice in leaving Indiana for Arkansas ahead of the 2020-21 season. Not only is Smith playing a larger role with the Razorbacks than he did for the Hoosiers, but he's playing for a better team as well. Arkansas is now just one victory away from its first Sweet 16 since 1996 after knocking off No. 14 seed Colgate. The Razorbacks will have to get past No. 6 seed Texas Tech in order to get there, but if Smith plays like he did on Friday, there's a good chance it will happen. Smith was averaging 16.8 points on 64.7% shooting in his last eight games entering the NCAA Tournament. That average is headed up again after he put up 29 against the Patriot League champions. The fact that the NCAA Tournament is being staged entirely in Indiana is certainly a nice touch for Smith.
Winner: Davonte Davis goes between the legs
The other winner for Arkansas was Davonte Davis because of this ridiculous pass that helped key Arkansas' second-half comeback against Colgate. If basketball doesn't work out, Davis might have a long-snapping career ahead of him on the gridiron.
Loser: Bettors with the Baylor spread
Baylor held a 29-point lead with less than three minutes left and sure looked to be on its way to covering the 25.5 point spread in its win over No. 16 seed Hartford on Friday. But Hartford's benchwarmers had other ideas. Freshman guard Briggs McClain had played just 25 minutes all season, but he entered with 2:20 remaining on Friday and doubled his season point total with a pair of buckets. The second of his two makes came with 22 seconds left and reduced Baylor's lead from 26 to 24. That seemingly meaningless lay-up had a big impact on the wagering world, though, as it meant that Hartford covered the spread. If you can stomach some foul language, search McClain's name on Twitter and you'll see just who felt the impact of those baskets.
Winner: Illinois handles business
After winning the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2005 and earning a No. 1 seed for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013, it could have been easy for Illinois to look past its first game on Friday. But the Illini handled business like champs in a 78-49 win over Drexel. They covered the 22.5-point spread and were able to give their starters a fairly light workload ahead of a showdown with No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago on Sunday.
Winner: Texas Tech's defense
No one is mistaking this iteration of the Red Raiders for the defensively stout squad that reached the 2019 national title game as a No. 3 seed. But the 2021 version of Texas Tech put forth an excellent defensive effort in a 65-53 win over No. 11 seed Utah State on Friday. Utah State made just 4-of-19 3-pointers in the game. Containing the Razorbacks will be a steep challenge, but Friday's defensive effort was an encouraging sign for the Red Raiders.
Loser: The old guard struggles
We're just halfway through the first round and the following coaches are no longer part of the NCAA Tournament: Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Rick Barnes, John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski. Granted, Calipari and Krzyzewski didn't make it in the first place. But the point stands: it's been a rough go of it for the familiar faces in the coaching world this season, and the vets are having no luck early on in this Big Dance. It might be up to Syracuse's Jim Boeheim to rep the group moving forward as his Orange advanced to the Round of 32.
Winner: State of Texas
The Lone Star state is 5-0 so far in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor, Houston and Texas Tech were all favored. But Texas Southern and North Texas weren't necessarily expected to win their first games. Texas Southern got it done in Thursday's First Four with a win over fellow No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary's, and North Texas logged one of Friday's biggest upsets by knocking off No. 4 seed Purdue. Unfortunately, the state's undefeated streak is guaranteed to end on Saturday. That's because No. 3 seed Texas is taking on an in-state foe when it plays No. 14 seed Abilene Christian in the evening wave of games.
Loser: Big Ten and ACC struggling
It seemed like a banner year for the Big Ten, and the NCAA Tournament seedings secured by the league's elite squads reflected that. Illinois and Michigan are both No. 1 seeds, and Ohio State and Iowa both secured No. 2 seeds. But the Buckeyes have already been bounced from the field, and the rest of the league has seen mixed results. Purdue was upset by No. 13 seed North Texas on Friday, and Michigan State gave up a double-digit lead in a loss to UCLA during Thursday's First Four. Wisconsin looked surprisingly good, and No. 10 seed Rutgers salvaged the night by knocking off No. 7 Clemson. But if the Big Ten is going to snap a 21-year national title drought, its top squads are going to have to prove the league was truly rigorous after all.
The ACC might've had a worse day, though. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina all lost. The only team from the league that won on Friday was Syracuse. Perhaps Florida State and Virginia can come to the ACC's rescue on Saturday, but things aren't off to a great start.