The first full day of 2021 NCAA Tournament action got underway on Friday and the Big Ten was well represented with five teams in action. Top seeds Illinois and Ohio State opened up against what figured to be overmatched opponents and other teams like Purdue, Wisconsin, and Rutgers all had intriguing matchups.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 15 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles 75, No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 72 (OT)
This was an absolutely incredible game that unquestionably lived up to the “March Madness” moniker well. KenPom gave Oral Roberts less than a five percent chance to win at tip and things looked even more dire after the Buckeyes got up in the opening five minutes. However, a 17-3 run before half for Oral Roberts set up an absolute battle in the second half and overtime where the Golden Eagles were able to grab a 75-72 upset win.
While this game wasn’t quite on the scale of Virginia’s loss a few years back, there’s little denying it’s one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament. This is only the ninth time a two seed has lost in the first round and the first since Michigan State took a dive against Middle Tennessee State in 2016. It’s a mark Buckeye fans won’t soon forget.
In the months ahead, many will wonder what happened to Ohio State. The team seemed to be playing so well coming into the NCAAs, with many believing the Buckeyes had a chance to make it to the Final Four. However, the reality is a lot of things went wrong on Friday night. No single factor determined the outcome. Ohio State had a rough shooting night, turned over the ball constantly, got little from its role players, and Oral Roberts got epic performances from Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor. These kind of upsets are never just one or two things. It always takes a storm.
Ohio State will now head to the offseason sitting at 21-10 overall. Most of the team figures to be back next season, so expect the Buckeyes to get a chance at redemption next March.
-No. 1 Illinois Fighting Illini 78, No. 16 Drexel Dragons 49
Yeah, there isn’t much to take away from this one. Unlike Ohio State, Illinois showed up and took care of business as expected. Ayo Dosunmu led the way with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Illinois now sits at 24-6 overall and will get a showdown with a really good Loyola (Chicago) team on Sunday. Expect a thriller.
-No. 13 North Texas Mean Green 78, No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers 69 (OT)
This was the second crushing loss of the day for the Big Ten. Purdue entered this game as a moderate favorite, but thoroughly underwhelmed against the Mean Green. While I picked the Boilermakers to win, I cautioned fans about North Texas in our Friday preview:
Unlike some of the other lower seeded opponents previewed above, North Texas has actually done something against quality teams this season. The Mean Green went 0-3 against top 75 teams, but did record three victories against teams ranked between 75th and 100th on KenPom, including an overtime victory over Western Kentucky last Saturday. North Texas has a quality defense and a guard who can take over games in Javion Hamlet. He dominates the team’s offensive possessions and does a great job of driving the lane. The team also has a handful of three-point threats around him.
If Purdue shows up offensively, this should be a comfortable win. However, North Texas has more than enough to hang on Friday, especially if some of the team’s role players get hot from deep. Eric Hunter and Jaden Ivey will have a lot of pressure in this one.
Much of that took place on Friday night. Javion Hamlet finished with 24 points for North Texas, while Purdue got inconsistent play from its background. Jaden Ivey had 26 points, but Eric Hunter only had two and Trevion Williams had trouble getting involved. The Boilermakers were forced overtime, but could do nothing there and fell.
Generally speaking, this was a pretty solid season for Purdue. The team went 18-10 overall, made the NCAA Tournament, and won a plethora of big games. That’s not bad for one of the youngest teams in the country (327th in KenPom’s experience rating). However, it’s going to be hard to overlook the finish. Purdue’s back-to-back losses to Ohio State and North Texas will hurt Boilermaker fans well into the future. Hopefully, the team can avenge those losses next season.
-No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers 85, No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels 62
This game looked like a pick ‘em before tip, but ended in a blowout loss for the Tar Heels. Wisconsin’s offense came roaring out of the gate and Brad Davison put together one of his most impressive performances as a Badger, finishing with 29 points. The game was basically over at halftime.
Wisconsin will now prepare for a showdown with No. 1 Baylor on Sunday. The Badgers will be underdogs in that one, but have a 35 percent chance to win, at least per KenPom. And if the team’s offense shows up like it did on Friday, watch out.
-No. 10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 60, No. 7 Clemson Tigers 56
No, this wasn’t a pretty game. In fact, it was downright ugly for much of the evening. However, that’s exactly how this Rutgers team likes to play and it eventually led to the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory in over 30 years. Caleb McConnell led the way with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Rutgers will now prepare for a showdown with two seed Houston on Sunday. That game’s going to be a lot tougher than the one on Friday night, but the Scarlet Knights have knocked off some quality teams like Illinois and Purdue this season. We’ll see what ends up happening then.