The gap appears to be closing in college basketball. 

Duke, Louisville, and Kentucky didn’t make the tournament. Kansas got blown right out of the gym by a six seed in the second round. North Carolina didn’t even get out of the first round. Guys have already announced their intentions to transfer from both Duke and North Carolina. These programs are your “Blue Bloods”. 

On the other hand, we have seen a 15 seed—Oral Roberts— fall one missed shot away from reaching the Elite Eight.

 A 12 seed—Oregon State—has reached the Elite Eight. They beat an 8 seed—Loyola—who had just dominated top seed Illinois. 

USC and Oregon made the Sweet Sixteen instead of Iowa and Kansas. UCLA came all the way from the First Four—as an 11 seed—to reach the Elite Eight by beating the SEC champs.

It would appear that seeds don’t matter nearly as much. Lower seeded teams no longer appear  afraid to take on the big dogs. Some of the big boys will make it through, but more of the lower seeds are seeping into the late rounds. Dare I say there is parity coming to college hoops.

The transfer portal is overflowing with talent, which will only help to balance the playing field. It will be much harder going forward to build a dominant “Blue Blood” type of program.

The 2021 tournament has accentuated all of this with the results to date. All of this talk of balance and parity, yet I think we are going to see an undefeated champion for the first time since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers did it way back in 1976.

The Sweet Sixteen was as entertaining as the first two rounds of basketball. And it took a while, but we finally got a buzzer beater in the Alabama vs UCLA game.

Here is a look at the round of sixteen games and a look ahead to tonight and tomorrow night’s Elite Eight games.

South Region

The South Regional is starting to look like the Baylor Invitational. After a super slow start, the Bears took care of a pesky and short handed Villanova squad. Baylor hit just enough long balls to build a comfortable lead in the second half. 

In the other game of this regional, Cinderella almost stopped the clock from striking midnight. Oralm Roberts held a lead over a sloppy and defensively disinterested Arkansas Razorbacks team. Arkansas finally started dominating the backboards and eked its way to a one point lead. With the game tied again, Arkansas took the lead with a go ahead shot at the three second mark. Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas still rushed up the court to get a great look that just rimmed out. Cinderella was dispatched from the ball, but it sure wasn’t easy.

Tonight’s game will bring back fond memories of the good old Southwest Conference. Arkansas better come with a better energy than they had Saturday or Baylor will run them out of the gym. We all know that doesn’t happen often, especially in this year’s tournament. With that said, I still think the trio of Teague, Mitchell, and Butler will be more than enough to handle the playground style of Arkansas. 

Baylor will head to the Final Four for the first time since 1948. What Scott Drew has done in Waco is miraculous. 

Midwest Region

The Midwest Region has been volatile. Many, including me, thought Illinois would cruise through this regional. I did say the game that would give them the biggest problem was Loyola. Well, I certainly was right about that. 

What I didn’t foresee is the Oregon a state Beavers keeping their miracle run going this far. If UCLA makes a last second free throw in round one of the Pac-12 tourney the Beavers would be home building a new dam right now. UCLA missed, and the rest is history.

I’m not totally surprised as I watched Oregon State a fair amount this year. They are more talented than their record. I even told my podcast partner, Jed Donahue, that they were a sleeper in the Pac-12 tournament. The Beavers have been in control of every game they have played since the UCLA game. They took an impressive Loyola team and made them look like a mid major. 

In the other regional semifinal Houston made Syracuse look like a team that lost to Pitt twice this season. Buddy Boeheim, the tournament darling so far, couldn’t throw one in the ocean. Houston is athletic and plays really good defense. They were beyond lucky to get past Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went full on choke mode during the last three or four minutes. Most teams that get to the Final Four have a game like that. It is possible that the Cougars got their lucky game out of the way. 

I am picking Oregon State to beat Houston. The Beavers were picked dead last(12) in the preseason Pac-12 poll. They almost lost their first Pac-12 tourney game. Now, they have to keep making new shirts using that 12 as motivation. Houston makes it tough to run offense. So does Oregon State. I think Oregon State has better players.

This year needs another first, so how about the first 12 seed to the Final Four.

West Region

Gonzaga is really, really good. Watching them run their offense is one of the most beautiful things you will see in basketball. They don’t have a player with a selfish bone in their body. They pass, rarely take a bad shot, and always are pushing.

Teams may stay with them for 5, 10, 15 minutes, or if they are lucky a half. But the Zags just keep coming. They just keep running that potent offense. On top of all of that, the Zags have had a truly easy path thus far. A 16 seed, an undermanned Oklahoma, and an outclassed Creighton have provided little to no resistance. Creighton hung in there for about 15 minutes, but you could just feel things slowly slipping away. It did.This sure seems like a team of destiny at this point.

The Pac-12 has been amazing in this tournament. Unfortunately because the committee showed them no respect, USC and Oregon had to play each other in a regional semifinal. How did the game go?

Just like the game these two teams played in the regular season, the Trojans blitzed the Ducks early. They extended the lead in the second half and held on down the stretch. The Trojans have maybe been as good as any team in the tournament to date. The crazy thing is that aside from that thunder dunk above, all-everything Evan a Mobley hasn’t had to do much.

I’ve been hard on Andy Enfield over the years, but this has been a great coaching job.

John Calipari proved the one and done will work. Teams like Wisconsin and Virginia prove that senior teams can win. Andy Enfield is proving an all transfer team can win. He brought the Mobley brothers dad in to coach. Along with those two there are only two other recruits in the regular rotation. In all there are eight transfers on the Trojans roster. Welcome to basketball in the 2020s.

There are few teams Gonzaga wanted to avoid. USC was probably one of them. The Trojans are hot and firing on all cylinders. They are long and athletic. The zone they play can be quite disruptive. A zone should slow down the Zags at least a bit. But, man, are they ever good. My heart says USC, but my head says there just isn’t any way.

The Zags are destined to win it all this year. Mark Few is long overdue for a championship.

East Regional

Michigan lost Isaiah Livers for the duration of the tournament and I immediately doubted them. I forgot how deep the Wolverines were and how well coached they were.

Florida State was always going to be the extraordinarily weak ACC’s best hope—no offense Mr. Boeheim. The Seminoles showed just how bad the ACC was this year. They weren’t even in the same class as Michigan, and the Wolverines didn’t exactly play their best game. Michigan is getting great production from second tier guys. The one who has impressed me is Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown.

It’s almost as if they don’t miss Isaiah Livers. Michigan continues to carry the Big Ten flag, and Juwan Howard is making his mark early at his alma mater.

When I defend UCLA’s hiring of Mick Cronin I’m always told he is a bad fit in LA. My man Mick can coach wherever you put him. He has worked miracles with UCLA this year. He lost, arguably, his best player in senior Chris Smith early in the year. The Bruins fought through it and had a good season.

UCLA got disrespected by being placed in the First Four game vs Michigan State. Cronin just kept coaching.

Last night the Bruins had the game against Alabama won, but then gave up the game tying three pointer at the buzzer. Alabama headed to overtime with more talent and all the momentum. UCLA lost Johnny Juzang to fouls late in regulation. All UCLA did was dominate overtime.

Alabama star Herb Jones could not have played worse. The Tide couldn’t have shot free throws any worse. 11-25 from the foul line will not cut it, particularly in the tournament.

Can the Bruins go from First Four to Final Four, ala 2011 VCU? It won’t be easy against a Michigan team that will play far more disciplined than Alabama. The Wolverines won’t mis one trillion free throws either.

I like Juwan Howard to keep the Wolverines marching on to the Final Four and to keep acting like everyone is not respecting his team.

I think we are headed for the game we all were talking about two months ago. Baylor vs Gonzaga.

Two Cent Takes

College Hoops

~New Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry has already pulled one of the transfers back from the portal. Izaiah Brockington announced he will be back with the Nittany Lions. Hearing Shrewsberry speak makes it easy for me to believe kids will gravitate to him. Look for at least one more of the transfers to come back.

~Indiana went into the way back machine for their new head coach. Mike Woodson, at age 63, will come back to his alma mater. Woodson has done all of his mediocre coaching in the NBA. He has never coached in college. Never recruited. Never had to deal with an 18 year old. He did play for legendary coach Bob Knight. You know, the guy they ran out of town because his methods were less than kosher. And we thought Penn State handled things poorly.

~I warned last week that Shaka Smart’s days were numbered at Texas. Smart decided to be proactive and jump ship, taking the head job at Marquette. Smart man. Smart move. Expectations at Marquette will not come close to those in Austin.

Will Chris Beard leave Lubbock and move his act to Austin? That is the next question to be answered.

~The look when you realize when Sister Jean is praying for the other team.

The look you give when you realize she ran out of prayers.

~Seniors usually take the last loss of the season pretty tough. Others realize how great the journey was.

~Poster of the tournament so far.

~Time to stop the East Coast bias and respect the West. Seven of eight teams in the Elite Eight are west of the Mississippi River.

Three of those teams are Pac-12 entries.

~I have been so impressed with all of the kids who have been interviewed after games. All have been pleasant, fun, and well spoken.

~Charles Barkley for the win, as always.

Golf

~This took place at the WGC Match Play event this weekend.

Was Na trying to get in the world number one’s head? Maybe. Or maybe Dustin Johnson is too cool to follow the rules. A putt, no matter how short, must be conceded by your opponent before you pick it up. Whatever the case, Na went on to upset Johnson and advance.

NFL

~The 49ers have traded up to number three in the draft. They will take whichever quarterback the Jets don’t. This is smart because I don’t think Jimmy Garoppolo is winning you a Super Bowl.

~The Jets were enthralled with a throw BYU draftee Zach Wilson made at his pro day. It looked a little bit like this.

You know, like the quarterback the Jets already have.

~I am so exited that I am not the only one dying on the Sam Darnold hill.

NHL

~The Penguins could really benefit from some quick healers. They are winning while greatly shorthanded, but that can’t possibly be sustained. Get well soon, Penguins.

~As a hockey fan, I would respectfully request that if you see a Flyers goalie on a milk carton you don’t actively try to find them. It is fun to see pucks go in the net. Who doesn’t like offense?

A Penny For My Final Thought…

I have been filling out a bracket(or three) since the 80s. 

Back then I would watch the selection show and write all the brackets down on a piece of notebook paper. Then on Monday my local newspaper would have a printed bracket in the sports section, and I would cut it out and transfer my picks from the notebook paper to the actual bracket. 

I have even won some bracket contests over the years. 

Granted, with each passing year it becomes a bit more difficult to pick brackets. As I said in the main part of the column, teams are much closer in ability level than they used to be.

I’m not a bird guy, but my sister owns a bird. I offered my bracket as birdcage lining. She didn’t even want it!

So there was only one thing to do.

I haven’t had a bracket that had this many slashes through it in 40 years.

Seriously.

My only saving grace will be if Gonzaga wins the whole thing. Tons of people picked the Zags so I surely won’t get any points for that. 

Sure, I hit one or two good picks. 

Ohio won one of the two games I thought they would. 

I had USC winning two games.

That’s it. That is the extent of my quality picks this year. 

I had the Big Ten with three teams in the Elite Eight. I had Illinois in the Championship game. The one Big Ten team I didn’t have in the Elite Eight was Michigan.

I thought Rutgers would reach the Sweet Sixteen because Houston was over seeded. Rutgers choked and Houston may still get to a Final Four. I still thing the Cougars were over seeded.

I had other upset picks: Utah State(no chance), UCSB(choked), Winthrop(no chance).

I foolishly went against Jim Boeheim, who makes a habit of sneaking in and advancing.

I thought the Mountain West was better than it was.

All in all, it was a disgraceful performance.

There is only one person—well, sort of—to blame for this debacle.

He will be stripped of his swag before you see him again.

That will be Thursday for my 2021 MLB Preview. Come back and check it out and see who me and my de-swagged partner thinks will be World Champs.

It’s bound to be better than my brackets.

Just my two cents…