March Madness has been whittled down from 68 to the Elite Eight and, now that we’ve seen three rounds, we’re reranking the eight teams still dancing.
Calamity ruled the first weekend of March Madness in the 2021 NCAA Tournament with one upset after another popping off. But the Sweet 16 is when much of that often normalizes — and, to some degree, that was the case. Now that the Elite Eight field is set, we have three No. 1 seeds (sorry, Illinois) along with a No. 2 and 3 seed making it to this point.
Yet, we couldn’t fully escape the chaos. Oregon State’s red-hot run continued as they knocked off an apparent team of destiny, Loyola-Chicago. UCLA outlasted a game-tying buzzer-beater to knock off the sweet-shooting Alabama Crimson Tide, a No. 2 seed, after barely making it into the field as a First Four team. And even Oral Roberts took Arkansas to the brink.
This is the first Elite Eight in the history of March Madness in which there have been two double-digit seeds, so the craziness that this tournament has embodied remains alive and well. But will it last until the Final Four? There are four games that will determine that on Monday and Tuesday.
Before that action tips off, though, we’re going to break down the Elite Eight by re-ranking the teams that have survived and advanced to this point.
Reranking the Elite Eight teams in March Madness 2021
8. Oregon State Beavers (No. 12 seed)
This shouldn’t be taken as disrespect by the Corvallis faithful — we’re down to eight teams and someone has to be last. For as well as the Beavers have been playing and how real of a chance Oregon State has of beating Houston in a slugfest to get to the Final Four, this team still has the propensity to get cold on offense. Wayne Tinkle’s team relentlessly plays their style but that style is susceptible at this point of the tournament.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 3 seed)
At this point, you would think that Eric Musselman prefers for his teams to play from behind in the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks have trailed by double-digits in every game thus far yet they’ve survived. Now in the Elite Eight, though, the two things Arkansas needs are for Moses Moody to be the bonafide star he’s talented enough to be and for the rest of the team to not lose control as they push a frenetic pace.
6. UCLA Bruins (No. 11 seed)
Michigan State had UCLA on the ropes in the First Four and now the Bruins are one game away from the Final Four. Mick Cronin has done a phenomenal job with the versatile scoring of this team and the multi-faceted attack they can throw, even without star Chris Smith healthy. UCLA also proved their moxie after seeing Alabama drill a buzzer-beater 3-pointer only for the Bruins to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and dominate overtime.
5. Houston Cougars (No. 2 seed)
Make no mistake, Houston doesn’t play the prettiest brand of basketball. However, Quentin Grimes has clearly established himself as a star under the watch of Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars have it working right now in a big way. They’ll need to make sure their shooting doesn’t go cold against the defensively talented Beavers but Houston is in a prime position to summon the spirit of Phi Slamma Jamma and make it to the Final Four.
4. Michigan Wolverines (No. 1 seed)
Without Isaiah Livers in the lineup, I’ve admittedly underestimated Michigan to this point. But the Wolverines have proven that they can beat good teams convincingly with a stifling defensive effort and an offense that has no star but has many ways it can find success. I worry in the Elite Eight that the lack of a true go-to player could cost them in a crucial stretch but, then again, we should be beyond doubting Juwan Howard’s team now.
3. USC Trojans (No. 6 seed)
The whole point of re-ranking the Elite Eight is to essentially remove the seed-line these teams came into March Madness on and react to what we’ve seen. USC is the prime example for that. The Trojans have been dominant behind Evan Mobley’s versatile and two-way playmaking, especially as brother Isaiah Mobley, Isaiah White and Tajh Eaddy are all hitting peak form at the exact right time. Their matchup with Gonzaga on Tuesday should deliver fireworks.
2. Baylor Bears (No. 1 seed)
Anyone that was hoping Baylor’s late regular-season woes would carry into the tournament has been sorely let down to this point. The win over Villanova in the Sweet 16 was evidence of how dangerous the Bears are. Despite shooting 3-of-19 from 3-point range as one of the better shooting teams in the country, they still won by double-digits on the heels of A-plus defense and some clutch playmaking. Baylor looks like they’re on a crash course to play our No. 1 team in the National Championship.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 1 seed)
If you were looking for the “same old Gonzaga” that dominates the regular season but trips in March, they’re no longer here. Mark Few’s Bulldogs have the look of a legitimate juggernaut as their undefeated campaign continues with nothing close to a blemish on their résume. With Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and high-caliber role players spaced around, this team can’t be stopped in any one manner and, frankly, you’re going to have to score 90 to beat this offense — but good luck with that as their defense has been quietly elite as well.
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