Entering Saturday night’s game between No. 3 seed Texas and No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, the Big 12 was 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament and poised for a perfect first round. But when the Longhorns collapsed against their in-state foe from the Southland Conference, it started a tough stretch for the vaunted conference.
Though No. 1 seed Baylor survived against No. 9 seed Wisconsin on Sunday, No. 6 seed Texas Tech, No. 3 seed West Virginia and No. 4 seed Oklahoma State each lost, meaning the Big 12 is now just 1-4 over its last five games and is 7-4 in the Big Dance. With No. 8 seed Oklahoma facing the challenge of a lifetime on Monday against No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, it may soon be on the league’s traditional powers to carry the league’s banner.
Baylor is onto the Sweet 16, and No. 3 seed Kansas has a chance to get there Monday against No. 6 seed USC. But with the Red Raiders, Mountaineers, Cowboys and Longhorns all bowing out in a span of 24 hours, the Big 12 needs its remaining contenders to go far if the conference is going to emerge from the NCAA Tournament as the nation’s best.
We are headed for a historic first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The latest episode of Eye on College Basketball explains everything you need to know before Monday’s games tip.
It’s been another wild day of NCAA Tournament, so let’s get into the winners and losers.
Winner: Oregon State
The Beavers are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1982. Picked to finish last in the Pac-12 in the preseason, Oregon State is a perfect example of what getting hot at the right time can do for your team. Coach Wayne Tinkle and his squad were nowhere near contention for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid all season, but they ran through the Pac-12 tournament to secure the league’s automatic bid and have knocked off the No. 5 and No. 4 seeds in the Midwest Regional to secure their first Sweet 16 appearance in nearly 40 years. — Boone
Loser: Seeing Cade Cunningham’s run end
We’re all really the losers here, because it would have been compelling to see a player with Cade Cunningham’s star power advance deep into the tournament. Ultimately, we should be happy that we got to see him at all in college basketball. When Oklahoma State was hit with a postseason ban over the summer, Cunningham could have easily decided that playing college ball wasn’t worth the risk. Instead, he honored his commitment to the Cowboys. In doing so, he elevated the status of the program and cemented his status as the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. And, in the end, Oklahoma State was able to play in the postseason after all. With the advent of the G League Ignite program for elite high school prospects we may be seeing fewer and fewer one-and-done stars like Cunningham in the sport, so it was great to watch a player of his caliber have what seemed to be a positive experience at a non-traditional power. — Cobb
Winner: Oral Roberts joins exclusive list of 15-seed company
Oral Roberts on Sunday stunned No. 7-seeded Florida 81-78 despite trailing for more than 30 minutes of game action, becoming just the second No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to move on to the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles got 28 and 26 points from Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas, respectively, as the dynamic duo once again showed up in the clutch. It’s the program’s second-ever Sweet 16 appearance and first since 1974, when there were just 25 teams in the tournament and there was no seeding. — Boone
Winner: Houston guts out ugly win vs. Rutgers
With 8:45 remaining in the second half of Sunday’s second round game between Houston and Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights took their biggest lead of the game, 52-42. But over the final eight minutes, the Cougars chipped away methodically to eliminate the deficit in an unlikely 63-60 win. They closed on a 7-0 run and held Rutgers to 0-of-3 shooting during that closing stretch. — Boone
Winner: Arkansas is back
The Razorbacks made six Sweet 16 appearances — and won a national title — in a seven-year span in the 1990s under coach Nolan Richardson. But they had not been back since 1996, at least not until Sunday. Arkansas finally made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling 68-66 win over No. 6 seed Texas Tech. It constitutes a remarkable turnaround for the program in coach Eric Musselman’s second season, and the Razorbacks may not be done yet. They will play No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16 and enter with the advantage of having beaten the Golden Eagles 87-76 back in December. — Cobb
Winner: Loyola Chicago does it again
CBS analyst Bill Raftery said it best late in the second half of No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago’s 71-58 upset of No. 1 seed Illinois on Sunday. “This is not only divine intervention,” Raftery said. “This is great basketball.”
It was a perfect summation of Sunday’s action. Though the nation loves the Ramblers for their heartwarming persona as a mid-major darling that is championed by a spiritual force in the form of 101-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean, there is nothing flukish about the way this team plays. In fact, this team is held in higher regard by metrics maven Ken Pomeroy than the 2018 Final Four squad was. Still, though, the Ramblers’ ruthless efficiency was somewhat surprising. Their only other game against a Big Ten team this season was a 14-point loss against Wisconsin. But the combination of divine intervention and great basketball was lethal Sunday, and Loyola is rambling on to the Sweet 16. — Cobb
Loser: Illinois falls short of its potential
The Illini had won 15 of their last 16 games entering Sunday’s contest, and their impressive run through the Big Ten Tournament suggested a deep run in the NCAA Tournament was something of a foregone conclusion. Perhaps the gripe about Loyola Chicago deserving a better seed is legitimate, and maybe the Illini got a raw deal by having to play the Ramblers so early, but are we really supposed to feel sympathy for Illinois because of that? Illinois did not play like a No. 1 seed on Sunday. In fact, it never led. A few more days before playing an unfamiliar Missouri Valley Conference foe would have been beneficial, but the beauty of this tournament is the unpredictability produced by single-elimination format. You can’t turn in a dud performance and expect to advance, and the Illini learned that the hard way Sunday as their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013 ended in bitter fashion. — Cobb
Winner: Baylor puts on sharpshooting show
The No. 1 3-point shooting team (41.4% beyond the arc) in the country, Baylor rolled out an efficient offensive outing — as it is wont to do — to escape without a scratch vs. Wisconsin. The Bears won 76-63 behind an 8-of-17 performance from distance and four turnovers. Five different players knocked down shots from beyond the arc as the Bears advanced to the Sweet 16 for just the fifth time in program history. — Boone
Loser: Big Ten is fading in NCAA Tournament
No conference’s reputation took a bigger hit than the Big Ten during the first round of the NCAA Tournament as No. 2 seed Ohio State, No. 4 seed Purdue, No. 11 seed Michigan State all bowed out early. Ditto for the first day of Round 2.
The league was headlined all season by multiple Final Four contenders, but No. 1 seed Illinois joined No. 2 seed Ohio State on Sunday in falling before the Sweet 16 with a 71-58 loss to No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago. Meanwhile, No. 9 seed Wisconsin also exited stage left, falling 76-63 to No. 1 seed Baylor. No. 10 seed Rutgers joined the exodus Sunday as well.
There is still hope yet for the conference to redeem itself, but it’ll be tough. No. 1 seed Michigan is without star Isaiah Livers indefinitely because of a foot injury, and No. 2 seed Iowa is in the same region as No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga. If it can’t capitalize on this year, it’ll be difficult to digest as the Big Ten has gone more than two decades without producing a national champion. — Boone
Winner: Syracuse’s zone defense has Orange advancing
The Orange flummoxed West Virginia in the first half as the Mountaineers dug a 14-point hole with 11 turnovers and just 29 points in the opening frame. Eventually, West Virginia found its stroke and took a brief lead. But Syracuse muscled up and closed out a 75-72 victory to reach its seventh Sweet 16 in the past 12 NCAA Tournaments. There is just something about this program’s patented zone that is tough for opponents to deal with on short notice. With Buddy Boeheim chucking up 3-pointers and his father, Jim, doling out the sage wisdom gained through a life in the sport, this squad is exceeding expectations after just barely sneaking into the Big Dance. — Cobb