The first two rounds of March Madness is in the books and these are the 10 biggest takeaways from the NCAA Tournament.
March Madness is back and brackets were busting across America over the past four days. 47 of the 48 scheduled games were played, meaning there was a lot of basketball for college hoops fans to digest.
There were plenty of upsets and a surprising lack of buzzer-beaters, but the games have been thrilling. Watching all of this NCAA Tournament action can lead to some information overload so let’s cut through the noise and break down the 10 most important takeaways from the opening weekend of March Madness.
Top 10 takeaways from the opening 2 rounds of March Madness
10. The NCAA isn’t out of the woods with COVID yet
While most of the action took place on the court, the NCAA Tournament story that made headlines nationally was the fact that VCU had to withdraw from the tournament due to some positive tests within their program. The Rams had three positive tests pop up in a 48-hour span, leading the NCAA and the local health department to pull the plug on VCU’s scheduled matchup with Oregon, leading to a no-contest victory for the Ducks.
People within the VCU program believe that the COVID results came from an unfortunate hotel stay during the A-10 final, but the NCAA has to be on high alert to ensure their bubble holds for the remainder of the tournament. Reducing the number of teams from 68 to 16 should be a big help but expect a renewed emphasis on following COVID protocols to ensure the remaining 15 games can be played.
9. Shaka Smart and Mike White put themselves on the hot seat
Two of the many upset victims in March Madness were Texas and Florida, who each went out to very low seeds. The Longhorns fell to 14-seed Abilene Christian in the first round while the Gators were the second victim of 15-seed Oral Roberts in the Round of 32, raising the heat on their vulnerable head coaches.
Shaka Smart was on the hot seat entering the year at Texas before a Big 12 title bought him some goodwill that quickly evaporated after the Longhorns were bounced without a tournament win for the third time in his six-year career, increasing the pressure on him to win at least one game in March next season.
Mike White does have an Elite Eight run with Florida on his resume but that run was largely built off recruits from Billy Donovan’s final team before he bolted for the NBA. The Gators have three straight Round of 32 defeats since then and a loss to a 15-seed is very damaging to White’s long-term job security.
8. This was the best First Four we’ve ever seen
There were several changes made to the NCAA Tournament to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic, one of which saw all four games in the First Four being played on one night. The move gave much more of an early-round tournament vibe to the games, which also happened to produce the most drama the First Four has ever seen.
The two matchups between the 16-seeds were tight contests that saw HBCU’s Texas Southern and Norfolk State earn victories, a good moment for a sport that is trying to do more to help those institutions. The matchups between the last four teams in the field produced even more theater as Drake topped Wichita State by a point and Michigan State blew an 11-point halftime lead to fall to UCLA in overtime.
7. The Cade Cunningham experience was a flop
One of the most anticipated players in March Madness was Cade Cunningham, the front-runner to be the top pick in the NBA Draft this summer. Cunningham put on a show for Oklahoma State down the stretch, helping the Cowboys knock off West Virginia and Baylor to reach the final of the Big 12 Tournament, raising expectations that he could lead Oklahoma State deep into the NCAA Tournament.
That didn’t happen as Cunningham largely underwhelmed for his two games in the dance, playing poorly in the first half before making more of an impact in the second. This did mirror Cunningham’s regular-season performance but did little to help the Cowboys, who were bounced in the second round by 12-seed Oregon State, or boost his draft stock.
6. Loyola-Chicago’s Porter Moser became the most interesting coaching candidate in this hiring cycle
One of the big issues with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee was their complete disregard of Loyola-Chicago’s metrics, handing a 23-4 team ranked inside the Top 10 of both the NET and KenPom efficiency ratings an 8-seed based on the fact they played in the Missouri Valley Conference. That decision not only was a slap in the face to the Ramblers, one of the nation’s best teams, but hurt the Illinois team that drew them in the second round since the Fighting Illini shouldn’t have had to face an opponent that difficult in the Round of 32.
Loyola-Chicago pulled off the upset to send the Illini home but this team may be better than the one that Porter Moser took to the Final Four as an 11-seed back in 2018. Moser has now become the biggest rising star in the mid-major coaching ranks, taking a program that hadn’t done much of anything since 1985 and turning it into a legitimate powerhouse out of the MVC.
High-major programs should come calling for Moser, who turned down the St. John’s job two years ago and has improved his stock significantly over the past two years in Chicago. Expect Indiana to make a big run at Moser, who has enough leverage now that he can pick where he wants to go if he decides to make a jump to a power-conference program.