The 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was one for the ages. Cinderella stories and juggernauts like Gonzaga and Baylor facing off on the biggest stage in college hoops. After a year without a tournament, the anticipation for this year’s tournament was palpable. The tournament certainly didn’t disappoint with moments like Jalen Suggs game-winning three pointer for Gonzaga versus UCLA, and Sister Jean willing Loyola Chicago to another improbable Sweet Sixteen appearance.
The first round produced some of the most unpredictable games in recent tournament history including nine victories from double-digit seeds. Ranking the teams was quite task for the committee given the discrepancy in the number of games played in the shortened season. Duke and Kentucky were both noticeably absent from the tournament leaving the spotlight for other schools to shine. Oral Roberts was able to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen after beating Ohio State and Florida giving the school the national attention they haven’t often received. Syracuse raised their level of play behind Buddy Boeheim, son of legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. The Orange fell to the Houston Cougars with Houston eventually advancing to the Final Four.
Despite the number of double-digit seeds in the Round of 32, the cream of the crop showed up in the later rounds. The unquestioned favorite heading into the tournament was Gonzaga based on their undefeated record and star players Drew Timme and Suggs. They rolled over their opponents on their way to the Final Four where they met the UCLA Bruins coached by Mick Cronin and led by Johnny Juzang.
The Bruins run was as improbable as any in the tournament. After being down by 14 points in the play-in game against Michigan State, the Bruins ripped off four straight wins to reach the Final Four. The Zags realized early on in the game against UCLA that things weren’t going to be as easy as they had been so far. UCLA jumped out to an early lead and kept the game close heading into the final seconds. Juzang was called for a charge at the end of regulation sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Zags were up 90-88 before Juzang got a layup to fall tying the game at 90. Before anyone could blink, Suggs, the Zags star point guard, dribbled the ball just beyond half court and launched a jump shot. The ball came down on a perfect arc banking off the backboard and in to give Gonzaga the win and keep their perfect season alive. The Zags survived to face the second best team in the tournament, Baylor University.
Baylor faced Houston in their Final Four matchup in a battle between two Texas teams. The Bears were dominant in that game winning 78-59 with five players scoring in the double digits. Both teams were on a collision course for the National Championship with Baylor hoping to spoil Gonzaga’s perfect season.
The Bears came out of the gate hot against Gonzaga with an unquenchable thirst for victory. They scrapped on the offensive boards showing why they were ranked No. 6 in that category all season. The Zags were unable to muster up any comeback against Baylor and consistently left points on the board with careless turnovers. The Bears played a flawless 40 minutes on their way to winning their first men’s basketball championship 86-70. Baylor’s Jared Butler was named most valuable player in the Final Four after scoring a total of 91 points in the tournament.
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