INDIANAPOLIS – See how this works? Everyone talks for weeks about the rigors of cramming all 68 teams into one place for the NCAA tournament, and we turn around twice and 20 of them are already gone. Sixteen more will be out the door Saturday.
March does know how to thin a crowd. Among those still in town is an unusually large group of new faces.
Rutgers had not won an NCAA tournament game in 37 years, nor Oregon State in 38, nor Oral Roberts in 46, nor Drake in 49, nor North Texas ever. Those are some numbers to shine the way into the next round, and here are a few more.
0-3 — Overtime has become the Bermuda Triangle for the Big Ten, with Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue all foundering. It’s too early to say the conference is in trouble in this tournament, certainly with the way Illinois is marching about, Michigan yet to play. And did you see what Wisconsin did to poor Roy Williams? But one more mishap and then it becomes a true trend.
0 — Swell party you’re throwing, state of Indiana. Too bad none of your teams can come. Purdue was the lone soldier and the Boilermakers just lost to a North Texas program that hadn’t beaten a Big Ten opponent since 1967.
4 and 6 — In the 20 tournament games played so far, four have gone to overtime. Six have been won by the lower seed. Fair warning of drama ahead.
12-3 — Illinois’ record against Loyola Chicago. Except back in 1963 on Loyola’s national championship run, the Illini were one of the stepping stones. The two Land of Lincoln cousins will meet Sunday at high noon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the place could be rocking, at least by pandemic standards. They each brought the biggest crowds Friday, and that included Loyola’s Sister Jean, wheeled into a Hinkle Fieldhouse where she delivered the pregame prayer to the team over a cell phone, and then up to her spot in the southwest corner of the arena. There they were side by side, the 93-year-old Hinkle ad the 101-year-old nun. Her Ramblers might need a very good prayer against the torrid Illini, who crushed Drexel with 57-percent shooting while committing only five turnovers.
ONLY 121 LEFT: We're tracking perfect brackets in the 2021 NCAA tournament
5-0 — All hail, the state of Texas. The Longhorn State is 5-0 through Friday and apparently has made Bloomington its temporary capital, winning three of the games at IU’s Assembly Hall. That included Houston’s 87-56 dismissal of Cleveland State when coach Kelvin Sampson returned to his old place of employment, where it didn’t end well. Pretty good chance Texas’ unbeaten record gets blemished Saturday when Texas Southern goes against Michigan.
34-15 and 28-9 — Those are big advantages in points off turnovers for Arkansas and Texas Tech in their first-round games. Sunday they’ll be trying to harass one another into mistakes.
11 — Jack Ferguson scored 11 points in the first half for Colgate against Arkansas, and it’s too bad he won’t be around longer. He was made for Indiana. Why? His middle name is Naismith. His father tracked both his own family’s roots and James Naismith’s, and both trails led to Scotland in the 17th century. So it’s very probable a descendant of the man who invented the game of basketball was playing in Indianapolis. But not anymore.
59 — Points scored by Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas for Oral Roberts. The rest of the Golden Eagles team scored 16. That 1-2 punch sent second-seeded Ohio State to the canvas and now takes aim at Florida. While we’re on the subject, the only 15-seed to ever get to the Sweet 16 was Florida Gulf Coast.
1:34 — For everybody’s favorite upset victim, Villanova did not quite look the part. That’s how long the Wildcats trailed Winthrop, who was supposed to beat them on gobs of brackets. Now the team that had been looking so wobbly with the loss of Collin Gillespie has North Texas in the way to the second week.
1,981 — Combined victories of Jim Boeheim and Bob Huggins. They’ll be going at one another Sunday when Syracuse meets West Virginia. It’s not often that the 67-year-old Huggins is the youngest coach in a game — by nine years.
27-31-30 — Buddy Boeheim’s scoring the past three games for Syracuse. A son leading his 76-year-old father on another deep tournament run wouldn’t be a bad March storyline, would it?
16 — The Hartford Hawks were one of those NCAA tournament strangers so enraptured to be here, waving to their crowd before the starting lineups were announced with Baylor. That included guard D.J. Mitchell. Hartford won the opening tip, went to the corner to take a shot . . . and landed wrong on his foot and had to be carried off. His tournament was over after 16 seconds, and so far he’s the hard-luck face of the first week.
29-0 — That was Roy Williams’ record in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Make that 29-1 after North Carolina was bushwhacked by Wisconsin 85-62. The Tar Heels were one of four ACC teams to quickly be shown the exit, except the Badgers more or less picked them up and hurled them out. This was the second-worst tournament loss in program history, and the worst was 31 years ago against Arkansas. When last seen before Friday, Wisconsin was limping down the stretch, going 5-9 its last 14 games and looking for all the world like a one-and-goodbye team. But beware the value of seniors in the tournament, and the Badgers have so many, they’re hard to keep socially distanced. Brad Davison, for instance, who made 10 of his 15 shots and put 29 points on North Carolina. Now they’re Baylor’s problem.
15:25 — Oklahoma State phenom Cade Cunningham planned to take the NCAA tournament by freshman storm. It was more like easing into a cold swimming pool. His first field goal against Liberty did not come until 15:25 was left in the game and he finished with 15 quiet points, shooting 3-for-14. But he might be used to the water now, in time to play Oregon State on Sunday. Now there’s a matchup that shows how fates can change. Oregon State was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 and had to bid-steal its way into the bracket in the conference tournament. Now they’re playing for a spot in the Sweet 16. Or they join the migration home.