Friday gave the world the peak March Madness experience it had been missing for the past two years, with Oral Roberts’ overtime takedown of Ohio State in a 15 vs. 2 upset and North Texas’ OT shocker over Purdue among the top highlights. If history is any guide, Saturday will bring us many similar thrills. With that in mind, ESPN.com’s college basketball team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi not only broke down the highlights of Friday’s wall-to-wall action in the Hoosier State, but also peeked ahead and made some March Madness upset predictions for Saturday’s slate of games. Which No. 1 seeds could be in trouble? Is there an Oral Roberts or a North Texas that could wreak havoc on the left side of the bracket? And glimpsing ahead to Sunday, do Max Abmas and ORU have the goods to throw a scare into their second-round foe, the Florida Gators? Our team weighed in on all of the above. Follow this link for Saturday’s NCAA tournament tip times, and visit here to check your March Madness bracket.
Oral Roberts was the story of the first round. What most impressed you about the Golden Eagles and can they win another game?
Medcalf: After the game, Paul Mills pointed to the metrics that foretold a critical element of the game: Oral Roberts finished 15th in the country in turnover rate and Ohio State finished 13th in the 14-team Big Ten in defensive turnover rate. Mills said he knew his team could play efficient basketball because it wouldn’t face a lot of pressure from the Buckeyes.
Oral Roberts’ ability to play with poise (six turnovers) actually put the pressure on an Ohio State team (15 turnovers) that unraveled on key possessions. The Buckeyes’ athletic advantages didn’t rattle Oral Roberts. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles forced Ohio State into a number of sloppy possessions. They’re the best free-throw-shooting team in America. Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor can clearly play with anybody. Abmas had double-digit outings against Oklahoma State, Wichita State, Oklahoma and Missouri in nonconference action.
Does Florida present a more challenging test? Maybe. Yes, Oral Roberts can advance to the Sweet 16. But I don’t know how it will solve Tre Mann, who is a strong guard who can create shots. And Colin Castleton is a big body who will demand attention in the post. Plus, the Gators can pressure Oral Roberts on the perimeter. It’s a different puzzle.
Borzello: What impressed me was just how confident they looked on the offensive end. Oral Roberts was consistently getting open looks in the second half against Ohio State, driving into the lane, kicking it out and then swinging it around for an open shot — and the Buckeyes were chasing shadows on several possessions. A lot of it had to do with Max Abmas, of course; nobody on Ohio State could stay in front of him and he did whatever he wanted off the bounce. But Kevin Obanor was outstanding, creating matchup issues against the Buckeyes’ frontcourt.
Granted, a lot of those open looks didn’t fall during regulation. Players not named Abmas or Obanor shot 1-for-13 from behind the arc. Against Florida, the supporting cast will have to step up in order to get another win. I think they can win another game, but I don’t think they will. Ohio State’s offense looked slow and labored against Oral Roberts, overly reliant on one or two guys to create their own shot. I think Mann will be a catalyst for the Gators.
2-seed Ohio State has two chances to tie the game in overtime, but can’t connect as 15-seed Oral Roberts secures the upset and its first NCAA tournament win in 47 years.
Gasaway: Oral Roberts is more than just Max Abmas. To be sure, the leading scorer in the tournament field had a great game (29 points and five 3s), but Obanor scored 30 and Carlos Jurgens recorded four steals against what we thought was a very good and very polished Ohio State offense. The Golden Eagles will now face Florida and, on paper, the Gators will be favored by a significant margin. Still, Mike White’s group is nothing special on the defensive glass, and Obanor could create second chances for ORU. The odds will be against them, but Oral Roberts can win one more game.
Lunardi: I’m flashing back to Harold “The Show” Arceneaux and 14-seed Weber State knocking off North Carolina in 1999. The Wildcats advanced to face, believe it or not, Florida. Weber lost in overtime that year, but I think Oral Roberts can and will go one better. The Eagles fly into the Sweet 16.
No. 1 seeds Baylor and Illinois had it pretty easy in the first round. See anything from their second-round opponents — Wisconsin and Loyola Chicago — that has you thinking Sunday upset? Which game is going to be closer?
Gasaway: Loyola Chicago is perfectly capable of forcing Illinois into a half-court game and taking the issue into the final minutes. This is not Porter Moser’s first rodeo by any means, Cameron Krutwig‘s an exceptionally savvy big man and, yes, there is what hoops analysts in white lab coats refer to as “the Sister Jean effect.”
But I must concede that, after seeing what Wisconsin did to North Carolina, I like the Badgers’ chances against Baylor better than I do the Ramblers’ chances against the Illini. We’re talking about an experienced UW team that a good many people, present company included, picked to win the Big Ten. Well, that’s how good the Badgers looked against the Tar Heels. Brad Davison was on fire, and this is March. The Bears better be ready.
Lunardi: Baylor will have its hands full against the deliberate pace and overall experience of Wisconsin. But the Badgers’ out-of-the-box effort against North Carolina, especially on offense, doesn’t seem repeatable. I don’t think it’s a blowout, but Baylor should pull away with some comfort in a low-double-digit win.
Illinois’ situation is quite different. The Illini are capable of blasting almost any team in the field and could absolutely put a hurting on Loyola. But the Ramblers are rarely in a hurry and can make this a half-court game. And veteran center Cameron Krutwig is one of the few players in the country who won’t look small next to Kofi Cockburn. But unless Sister Jean puts on a uniform, I have to take Illinois in a tight one.
Loyola Chicago point guard Braden Norris jab-steps a defender and knocks down a 3-pointer, putting the Ramblers up by 11 with a little over two minutes remaining.
Medcalf: Nothing makes me think upset with Baylor-Wisconsin. The Badgers have been the kings of squashing the dreams of mediocre, volatile teams this season. A win over North Carolina followed that model. But the Badgers are 8-10 in their past 18 games because they couldn’t handle the top-tier opponents in the Big Ten. Baylor is at that level, despite its recent defensive slip. And the Badgers just haven’t excelled against teams of that caliber.
Loyola Chicago is a different problem for Illinois. Krutwig is playing at a high level. The defense is excellent. And the Ramblers have lost one game since Jan. 10. But Illinois just beat another Division I NCAA tournament team by 29 points. Brad Underwood’s team is playing the best basketball in America outside of Spokane, Washington. I think Baylor and Illinois coast to the Sweet 16.
Borzello: I don’t see either top seed losing on Sunday. Wisconsin hasn’t shown any ability to beat top-tier competition at all this season, so despite its dispatching of North Carolina in comprehensive fashion, I don’t have much faith in the Badgers taking down Baylor. Every game the Bears play, they’re further away from their COVID-19 pause and perhaps closer to regaining their prepause form. Loyola Chicago could cause Illinois some issues because of its Cameron Krutwig-focused offense. Kofi Cockburn isn’t used to guarding players like Krutwig, 6-foot-9 guys who can step out and dictate offense and find teammates despite his size. It’s a different offense than Illinois is used to seeing. And the Ramblers do have one of the elite defenses nationally.
All that said, I’m not sure it will end up being that close down the stretch. Illinois should overwhelm Loyola with its athleticism and speed. Georgia Tech caused a lot of problems when it amped up its defense, and Loyola had trouble getting things going for long stretches. Illinois can do even more of that — and better — than the Yellow Jackets.
Who’s your upset special from Saturday’s games?
Lunardi: It kills me to pick against Tony Bennett and Virginia, but anyone who knows which UVa teams shows up in Indy is guessing. In a one-and-one situation, it also helps to have the best player on the floor. That would be Jason Preston of Ohio U. Don’t believe me? See Abmas, Max, and Oral Roberts. Virginia’s tournament trip is a short one.
Medcalf: I’ll go with UC Santa Barbara over Creighton. I don’t think anyone affiliated with Creighton’s program is being honest right now about the impact Greg McDermott’s “stay on the plantation” comments have had on that locker room. Sure, you can rally and say all the right things, knowing the NCAA tournament is coming. But who was that team that got crushed by Georgetown in the Big East tournament title game? What about the team that didn’t wake up until the second half against Villanova, right after the comments were publicized?
This team’s top achievement in the past three weeks was a win over UConn in the Big East tournament when James Bouknight went 4-for-14. Enter the Gauchos, a good, efficient team that made 53% of its shots inside the arc this season. JaQuori McLaughlin (16.2 PPG, 5.2 APG) and the Gauchos have a chance.
Sean Farnham believes UCLA can build off its win against Michigan State and beat BYU to advance to the Round of 32.
Gasaway: I won’t cheat by looking at 8-9 games or even a potential No. 10 over No. 7 like Maryland over Connecticut. No, we’re going deep and picking UCLA over BYU. On paper, with no numbers next to their names, this would be close to a 50-50 proposition anyway. In fact, the Bruins carried the higher projected seed of the two teams until Mick Cronin’s group entered the tournament fresh off four straight losses. The losing streak came to an end in the First Four against Michigan State, however, and one thing we know about the Bruins is that they can make shots. With Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang leading the charge, UCLA drained nine 3s on 50% shooting against the Spartans. The Cougars will be challenged.
Borzello: Most of my original upset picks were on the other side of the bracket, but I’ll go with UCLA too. I originally had Michigan State in that game, and since UCLA really handled the Spartans for the final 25 minutes on Thursday, I can be talked into going with the Bruins over the Cougars. That said, it depends heavily on Johnny Juzang being healthy. Juzang left Thursday’s game with an ankle injury, and Mick Cronin reportedly is hopeful the Kentucky transfer will suit up against BYU. I’m not sure UCLA can win without a healthy Juzang, as he and Jaime Jaquez form a dangerous offensive duo. The key for the Bruins will be their ability to defend the 3-point line. They struggled to guard the arc in Pac-12 play, while BYU was the best 3-point shooting team in WCC play.
Who’s the player you’re most looking forward to seeing in action on Saturday?
Gasaway: There will be a flock of Wooden finalists in action Saturday against much lower seeds in games that, we think, won’t be very close. (Ask Ohio State how those assumptions work.) So I’ll go off-menu a bit here and say that I want to see what Osun Osunniyi of St. Bonaventure can get done against the talent and length of LSU.
Osunniyi has looked excellent all season against Atlantic 10 competition. But, to an extent that’s truly historic, that’s pretty much the only competition the Bonnies saw in this unusual season. St. Bonaventure has played a total of 80 minutes against two nonconference opponents: Akron and Hofstra. Maybe the NCAA tournament will be a coming-out party for the 6-foot-10 junior.
Borzello: Isaiah Miller is one of the best mid-major guards in the country, and on Saturday, he will have a chance to go against the size and length of Florida State. The Seminoles aren’t as elite defensively as they’ve been in the past, and Miller will be aggressive and put pressure on them with the ball in his hands. But he will have to navigate the shot-blocking bigs once he gets into the lane. At the other end, Miller is a pest defensively — and Florida State can certainly commit its fair share of turnovers. I’m not sure Florida State is a good matchup for UNCG’s upset hopes, but getting to see Miller on a big stage against a team like the Seminoles will be fun to watch.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicts Ohio’s Jason Preston will lead his team to an upset win over Virginia.
Medcalf: Ohio’s Jason Preston was playing rec-league ball at UCF a few years ago. Now, he’s the leader of a dangerous Ohio squad and an NBA prospect? You can’t beat that. It seems like it happened a year ago, but Preston, a 6-foot-4 guard, dropped 31 points in a two-point loss to Illinois in a nonconference matchup. My guess is we’re going to end the day, win or lose, talking about Preston and the Bobcats in a matchup against a Virginia team that might not be full strength. And even if Tony Bennett has everyone available, how much time have they had to prepare and practice for this group? Preston will be fun to watch.
Lunardi: Give me Evan Mobley of USC. He’s the best player in the country almost no one has seen. That’s about to change in a big way. The Trojans are in excellent position for a deep run, and will soon learn that Mobley has just as great an impact on a game as fellow frosh Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State and Jalen Suggs of top-ranked Gonzaga.