How Oral Roberts became the second ever No. 15 seed to reach Sweet 16
SportsPulse: The glass slipper fits. Oral Roberts becomes the second ever No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Scott Gleeson details how they did it and if their magical run can continue.
The first day of the men’s NCAA Tournament second round was as good as it gets, with three double-digit seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 following down-to-the-wire games. And there’s still one more day of eight games on tap Monday in which Ohio, UCLA, Abilene Christian and Maryland could all add to that count.
The bracket-busting upsets undoubtedly highlighted the day. No. 1 seed Illinois fell to former Cinderella-turned-contender Loyola Chicago. Then mid-major Oral Roberts continued its storybook run with a second-round win over No. 7 Florida – to become just the second-ever No. 15 seed to get to the second weekend of March Madness.
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Taking stock of Sunday’s second-round mayhem
A look at the six biggest takeaways from Sunday’s eight games:
Oral Roberts is more than a one-upset wonder
The Golden Eagles, the clear-cut Cinderella of this tournament, erased a No. 11-point deficit to send No. 7 seed Florida home. Oral Roberts took down the Gators by following the same blueprint it used to shock the No. 2 seeded Buckeyes – with the 1-2 punch of Kevin Obanor (28 points, 11 rebounds, four steals) and Max Abmas (26 points, seven assists). Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said its his team’s chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that’s been the key ingredient to all the bracket busting: “We’re not going to let somebody put a number in front of our name and tell us that that’s our worth, or that’s our value.”
WHAT AND WHO IS ORAL ROBERTS? Meet the NCAA Tournament’s Cinderella team and school
Loyola Chicago can win it all
It doesn’t make sense to call Loyola Chicago a Cinderella anymore. The No. 8-seeded Ramblers played giant killer again on Sunday in taking down No. 1 seed Illinois to advance to the Sweet 16. But it’s the way they pulled off the upset – slowing the tempo and looking like the better team all game – that serve as evidence to how far this group can go. Coach Porter Moser has a dynamic half-court offense centered around Cameron Krutwig (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) and the nation’s best defense – limiting opponents to 55.7 points a game and ranking first in KenPom. Think the 2018 Final Four team was good? This team has a much different identity, but as we learned Sunday, it might be better. Loyola Chicago isn’t just Final Four good. This team is capable of cutting down the nets in April.
The Big Ten has tanked
The league was considered to be the best conference in the country this season, leading the NET conference rankings by a landslide over the SEC and Big 12. The conference sent an NCAA-best nine teams to the Big Dance, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. But of those nine teams, only three of them are still dancing. On Sunday, Illinois lost to Loyola Chicago, Rutgers blew a lead to fall vs. Houston and Wisconsin came up short against Baylor. That’s coming on the heels of the Big Ten being on the wrong side of the two biggest upsets of the first round (Oral Roberts over Ohio State and North Texas over Purdue).
There’s a very realistic chance that only one or two Big Ten teams make it to the Sweet 16 following Monday’s action, which is just a staggering notion considering the hype the league received on Selection Sunday. Maryland, a No. 10 seed, is an underdog against No. 2 Alabama. No. 2 Iowa will have a test vs. No. 7 Oregon, and No. 1 seed Michigan is vulnerable to lose to No. 8 LSU with one of its top players (Isaiah Livers) out to injury.
MARCH MADNESS: NCAA Tournament schedule and results
What happened? March Madness happened. How tough a league is all year matters little when the matchups are drawn out in a single-elimination tourney. The Pac-12 was undefeated after the first round, but much of that was based on matchups. It’s a statement how well a conference does, sure, but it’s all semantics when debating the best league in the country, especially when using the NCAA Tournament as a barometer.
Villanova, Arkansas are proving doubters wrong
The Wildcats were a trendy pick to lose to No. 12 seed Winthrop in the first round because their best player, Collin Gillespie, suffered a season-ending injury. Well, the Wildcats dispatched both Winthrop and No. 13 seed North Texas to advance to the Sweet 16 and silence all upset pickers and skeptics. Their 84-61 win over North Texas wasn’t even close. Then consider how well Arkansas is playing right now. The Razorbacks ousted a strong Cinderella candidate in Colgate in the first round. Then on Sunday they fended off a Final Four-capable Texas Tech team in a narrow victory. Coach Eric Musselman has this team rolling, having won 11 of 12. Anyone who picked against Arkansas (ahem, this writer) is eating their words.
Syracuse went from the bubble to the Sweet 16
The Orange became the first double-digit seed to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend after escaping West Virginia. In both that second-round win and a first-round victory over No. 6 seed San Diego State, ‘Cuse looked like the higher seed. Much of that comes as a result of Buddy Boeheim’s hot shooting from deep (he’s scored 55 points and made 13 three-pointers in two games). Pretty crazy to think that Syracuse was on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble at the start of March. Then they won three ACC games in a row, earned an at-large bid and have outplayed two tough opponents.
Cade Cunningham is no more
The projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and first-team All-American freshman is out of March Madness. The 6-8 guard effectively ended his college basketball career on Sunday in an upset loss to yet another double-digit seed, No. 12 Oregon State. Cunningham played decent in the loss, finishing with 24 points and five steals. But he didn’t take over in the NCAAs in a way that would’ve helped his team play to its potential as a No. 4 seed and Final Four dark-horse. He was unspectacular vs. Liberty and then against the Beavers it wasn’t until late in the second half that he started to show a sense of urgency. The clutch gene he showed all season was absent. We saw Carmelo Anthony lead Syracuse to a national title as a freshman in 2003. Cunningham had similar aspirations.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.