Friday was a frenzied first-round in the 2021 NCAA Tournament with six better-seeded teams falling, three games hitting overtime and a No. 15 seed topping a No. 2 seed. But Saturday, the madness machine that is March gave us a much more chalky slate of outcomes.
That was especially good news in the Pac-12, which improved to 5-0 in first-round games with UCLA, USC, Colorado and Oregon winning Saturday. The Big 12 nearly had a banner day itself with Kansas and Oklahoma winning to move the league to 6-0, but No. 3 seed Texas fell 53-52 to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian in the final game of the night.
Texas' tumble wasn't the only unexpected bracket development, either. Reigning national champion Virginia took a stunning loss to Ohio, Maryland thumped 7th-seeded UConn and VCU-Oregon was called off before the game tipped, giving us our first no-contest due to COVID-19.
VCU is sent home and history was made in the first round. The latest episode of Eye on College Basketball covers it all. Listen now and subscribe.
Here is a rundown of the winners and losers as we put a final bow on first-round action.
Loser: Reigning champion Virginia goes one-and-done
In 2018, Virginia as the No. 1 overall seed lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 16 seed UMBC. In 2019, it won the national championship. In 2020, well, pandemic, but 2021? Virginia went one-and-done again. Talk about a whiplash-inducing program.
The Cavaliers had a rough go of it over the last week between bowing out of the ACC Tournament because of a positive COVID test, arriving in Indianapolis on Friday for their Saturday game and then drawing a game in Bloomington. But their 62-58 loss to No. 13 seed Ohio -- while somewhat unsurprising given extenuating circumstances -- is nonetheless a disappointing finish for a team that was on a quest to defend its crown.
"Our guys were hopeful we'd get this opportunity. The NCAA allowed us to come in in a unique way. Thankful for it," said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett. "It just stings right now to not advance in this tournament. Thought we had some good looks, just had a pretty poor shooting day -- very poor shooting day from 3 with some quality shots."
Winner: Ohio gets a tourney win again as No. 13 seed
Ohio's stunning win over Virginia gave the Bobcats their first NCAA Tournament win since 2012. The similarity between that run and this one? Both teams were No. 13 seeds. That was the year Ohio advanced to its third-ever Sweet 16 in program history. If history is to repeat itself, it will require a win over No. 5 seed Creighton which would result in a likely matchup with No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.
Loser: VCU unable to play
The good news is that between the First Four and the first round, 35 of 36 games were played during the NCAA Tournament's first three days. The bad news is that VCU's opportunity to compete in the Big Dance was robbed by COVID-19, even though it appears the Rams did everything right in terms of following protocols. But as our Matt Norlander reported, a problematic hotel stay during the Atlantic 10 Tournament is suspected to have contributed to the COVID-19 issues in the program.
That's terribly unfortunate for the Rams, and it was yet another reminder of just how fickle things remain with the virus still lingering.
Winner: Gonzaga rolls (and rests)
The Bulldogs have been steamrolling inferior competition for the past two and a half months in the West Coast Conference, so it was no surprise to see Gonzaga crush No. 16 seed Norfolk State 98-55. Perhaps the best part, though, was that no one played more than 28 minutes for the Zags. Staying fresh is key this time of year, and Gonzaga will need a solid effort to handle Oklahoma on Monday. Can the Zags immediately channel the elite play that carried them to nonconference victories over the likes of Iowa, West Virginia, Kansas and Virginia? Oklahoma may not be a national title contender, but the Sooners will pose one of the toughest challenges this team has faced in a long time.
Winner: State of Oklahoma improves to 3-0 on the week
The sun is shining in Oklahoma, the weather is heating up, and college hoops teams in the state are putting on a show on the biggest stage of the game. With Oklahoma's 72-68 win over former Big 12 rival Missouri, teams from the state improved to 3-0 in first-round NCAA Tournament games this week. The Sooners advanced along with No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and No. 15 seed Oral Roberts.
Loser: UConn flat in Dan Hurley's Huskies tournament debut
UConn looked like a shell of itself against Maryland in a 63-54 first-round loss, bowing out of the Big Dance without a win in Dan Hurley's NCAA Tournament debut as the Huskies head coach. For Hurley and a typically-fiery UConn team, it was a surprisingly listless performance highlighted by UConn's 18 (!) first-half offensive rebounds and 22 total points.
"When you get 18 offensive rebounds in the first half and you just miss that amount of layups at the rim, I think it had a demoralizing effect on us," said Hurley. "Proud of those guys for the steps they took this year, but obviously disappointed we won't be playing on Monday."
Winner: Luka Garza, Iowa make quick work of Grand Canyon
After what Oral Roberts did to Ohio State on Friday in a 15-over-2 upset, No. 15 seed Grand Canyon and its gigantic frontline looked like a potential sleeper to give No. 2 seed Iowa a rough day in the office. But Hawkeyes big man Luka Garza saw that frontline and just demolished it. He finished with 24 points on 16 shots -- including 4-of-5 from 3-point range -- as Iowa cruised to an 86-74 win. He also added six rebounds, a pair of steals and a block.
"You can't take away everything away with Iowa's offense, but I thought our guys did a good job of making them earn what they got," Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew said. "[Garza] is a Player of the Year candidate for a reason. He's the best scoring big in the country."
Winner: Colorado's 3-point shooting
Colorado nearly tied a season-high for 3-pointers made against Georgetown ... in the first half. The Buffaloes, who crushed the Hoyas 96-73, went 11-of-17 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes of action, the third most by a team in any half during the tournament in the last decade. They trail only Villanova in the 2018 Final Four and Auburn in the 2019 Sweet 16. The Buffaloes finished with a season-high 16 3-pointers made on 25 attempts, which is the second-most they've made in a game in at least the last 10 years, according to College Basketball Reference.
Loser: Georgetown crashes out
Georgetown won the Big East Tournament and stormed into the NCAAs as a trendy No. 12 seed capable of pulling an upset. But just as the Hoyas were hitting their best stride yet under coach Patrick Ewing, a red-hot Colorado team that couldn't miss wound up molly-whopping them. The 23-point defeat is the Hoyas largest NCAA Tournament loss since falling by 24 points to UMass in the East Regional Final in 1996.
"We just didn't get it done both offensively and defensively," Ewing said. "We struggled to score, we struggled to get stops when we needed to. We tried to trap to get the blood flowing a little bit, and that worked a little bit in the second half but the lead was just that big that we couldn't overcome it."
Winner: Leonard Hamilton, FSU's toughness
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton battled through a ruptured Achilles tendon on Saturday as he led the Seminoles, in a walking boot, to a 64-54 first round win over UNC Greensboro. For a septuagenarian, it's a total boss move. But it was also emblematic of FSU's toughness as they held the Spartans to just one made field goal over the final five minutes and advanced despite shooting 0-of-9 from 3-point range in the game. They are the first team to win a tournament game without making a triple since Kentucky in 2018.
Winner: No. 1 seed Michigan cruises to second round
There was -- and still is -- real concern about how high Michigan's postseason ceiling is so long as star 3-and-D specialist Isaiah Livers is out with a foot injury. But that was quelled at least for the moment on Saturday when the Wolverines blasted No. 16 seed Texas Southern 82-66 in its tournament opener.
Michigan was expected to cruise, so let's not order the Final Four shirts just yet. Still, it got a balanced effort from Mike Smith, Hunter Dickinson, Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks to build some confidence entering Round 2.
Loser: Longhorns take Texas-sized tumble
In the biggest upset of the day, No. 14 seed Abilene Christian took down Texas -- a team that spent time in the top five of the AP Poll not long ago and won the Big 12 tournament -- to secure its first-ever NCAA Tournament win at the Division I level. The Wildcats' defense applied a ton of pressure on Texas, and the Longhorns were surprisingly ill-equipped to handle it, committing a whopping 23 turnovers (with Abilene Christian converting 23 points on said turnovers).
The game, fittingly, ended with Texas turning the ball over on an attempted inbounds play after ACU's Joe Pleasant nailed two clutch free throws with 1.2 seconds left on the clock to give the Wildcats the final 53-52 edge.
Winner: LSU looks strong in opener
Defense has been an issue for LSU this season, but the No. 8 seed Tigers put the clamps on St. Bonaventure in a 76-61 victory. LSU held the Bonnies to just 33.3% shooting. The Tigers get No. 1 seed Michigan on Monday in the second round. If this team is ready to start taking defense seriously, watch out, because the offense is no problem for LSU. Cam Thomas might be the nation's most underrated freshman, and he proved his game translates to the big stage Saturday by leading all scorers with 27 points. He accounted for 20 of LSU's 45 in the second half. But defense is what set the tone for LSU as St. Bonaventure scored just 22 points in the first half.
Loser: Gauchos miss out on history
UC Santa Barbara came within a rimmed out lay-up of potentially knocking off No. 5 seed Creighton. The Gauchos were seeking their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1990 and will probably feel like they should have gotten it done against the Bluejays. UCSB looked like the better team for much of the second half before Creighton gritted out some clutch buckets after falling behind 58-52. Still, Amadou Sow had the best look you could ask for with the game on the line, and when the ball rolled off the rim, the Gauchos' hopes of making a run fell with it.
Winner: Eastern Washington's Groves brothers
Look out, Klay and Steph, the splash bros of college hoops are coming -- and they are actually brothers.
The Eastern Washington duo of Tanner Groves and Jacob Groves lit up No. 3 seed Kansas on Saturday, as Tanner went for 35 points and Jacob for 23. While the Eagles fell 93-84, they put a good scare into the shorthanded Jayhawks by leading for more than 20 minutes of game action. Eastern Washington took a double-digit lead in the second half before Kansas mounted its comeback.
Nonetheless, the Groves' one-and-done tourney showing won't soon be forgotten. Their 58 combined points is the second most by brothers in an NCAA Tournament game since 1953, when John and Ed O'Brien from Seattle teamed up to score 63 points.
Winner: Alabama proves again it can win ugly
The Nate Oats-coached Crimson Tide play fast on offense, launch 3s at an incredible rate and get into your grill on defense -- the three-piece recipe to their SEC regular-season and tournament championships. But this Alabama team is uniquely equipped in that it can live by the 3, but not necessarily die by it. The Tide went 5-of-16 from beyond the arc against Iona in a 68-55 win. But they overcame the relative poor shooting by holding the Gaels to just 23 second-half points and playing suffocating defense to help mask some inefficiencies on offense.
Alabama's best days are as good as any team in college hoops because of how well -- and frequently -- it shoots the 3. So to scoot to a comfortable win while struggling to shoot from distance is a positive sign for its tourney prospects.
Drake and its dream season met an end Saturday in the first round when it fell to No. 6 seed USC, 72-56. The Bulldogs end the season 26-5 overall, tying for the second-most wins in program history. After dealing with injuries over the last month, their Final Four hopes looked to be on thin ice, so no shame in falling to a more talented USC team. But it's a bummer this mid-major monster couldn't cobble together a second weekend run like it was capable of. Nonetheless, a tip of the cap to Darian DeVries and the Drake Bulldogs for a brilliant season that'll go down as one of its best of the modern era.
Winner: UCLA represents 'First Four' club well
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to include a "First Four" in 2011, a team from that group has advanced to the 64-team bracket and won at least one game all but one season -- 2019. UCLA joined that winners list on Saturday when it dispatched of sixth-seeded BYU 73-62 just two days after defeating Michigan State 86-80 in overtime.
The Bruins went wire-to-wire for the win, too, in one of their most impressive outings in over a month. Regardless of how far UCLA can advance from here, this two-game tourney run is as impressive as it is surprising after UCLA lost four straight games entering the Big Dance.