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A Look Back at the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Scott Morris | April 6, 2021
Baylor wins tournament- crowned champions

The 2021 NCAA tournament made up for the cancellation of the 2020 March Madness. It gave us everything we desired – upsets galore, a Cinderella to follow, and a first-time national champion.
With March Madness in the books, it’s time to take a look back at the 2021 NCAA tournament.

The Big Little Ten

The Big Ten led the entire nation in winning percentage and ultimately placed nine teams in the NCAA tournament. The final regular season AP poll included an unheard of four Big Ten teams in the top 10 – Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State.

By the second weekend of the tourney, only one of those nine teams was left standing – Michigan. The Wolverines were then ousted by a No. 11 seed – UCLA.


The average number of upsets in a given NCAA tournament is roughly 12. An upset is one in which the winner is at least two seeds lower than the team it has beaten. No. 11 UCLA’s first-round win over BYU is considered an upset. No. 9 Wisconsin’s win over No. 8 North Carolina is not.

In the first round of this year’s tournament, there were nine upsets. The biggest was Oral Roberts win over Ohio State. It was just the ninth time in tournament history that a No. 15 seed beat a No. 2.
In fact, every single seed except the No. 16 seeds, won a first round game in this year’s NCAA tournament. That is truly March Madness.

In Round 2, the upsets kept coming. Oral Roberts won again defeating No. 7 Florida. Keeping up its tradition of being a Cinderella, Loyola advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three tournaments by eliminating No. 1 seed Illinois. In total, the second round gave us six more upsets.

When it was all said and done, the 2021 tournament gave viewers, fans, and bettors a total of 18 upsets. That almost hit the record of 19 which was set in 2014.

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Blue Blood Cinderella

UCLA was one of the last teams to make the tournament and was matched up with Michigan State in one of the four play-in games that made up this year’s First Four. The Bruins trailed the Spartans late and then recovered for one of the most thrilling runs in NCAA tournament history.

With an NCAA record 11 national championships, the Bruins program has not been one of the nation’s elites for quite a while. That may change in the near future.

Johnny Juzang led the Bruins to an upset over BYU. Then, UCLA beat another Cinderella in Abilene Christian before knocking off, in succession, the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in the East Region.

Before they were done, Juzang and the Bruins put the biggest scare of the season into No. 1 Gonzaga in their national semifinal. UCLA tied the game at 90-90 in the final seconds only to lose on a last-second three-pointer. It was exactly the kind of run fans craved in 2021 after missing the 2020 tournament.

The Race for Perfection

There hasn’t been an unbeaten national champion in NCAA basketball since 1976. Gonzaga came awfully close and became the third team to lose in the championship game after going unbeaten to that point.
The Bulldogs played a brutal non-conference schedule but proved themselves by beating the likes of Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia, Auburn, and Virginia and doing so by an average margin of over 14 points.

Gonzaga entered the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed and blew through their first four games. They were the favorites to win at online sportsbooks, including America’s Bookie. Then, they ran into UCLA in the semifinals. Suggs’ last-second shot propelled them to the national title game for the second time in school history, but head coach Mark Few’s team was denied again.

First-Time Champion

Head coach Scott Drew had taken Baylor to eight previous NCAA tournaments. The Bears made the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 and made two other Sweet Sixteens (2014, 2017). Never had the Bears come this close though.
Baylor sat at No. 2 behind Gonzaga for most of the 2020-21 season. They had their own COVID scare missing five games between Feb. 3 and Feb. 22.

When it mattered most, Baylor got it done. They breezed through the NCAA tournament with six victories all by nine points or more. They absolutely destroyed Gonzaga in the final, winning 86-70 behind 22 points from the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Jared Butler.

It was the school’s first NCAA championship in school history.

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