2021 March Madness brings upsets, heartbreaks and triumphs amidst pandemic


Todd Wickersty

A typical March Madness tournament would have fans loaded in the stands rooting for their team, this is not the case for the 2021 tournament though.

Luke Sugar, Crier Staff

So is your bracket busted yet? Welcome to March Madness, a tournament full of Cinderella stories and unpredictable upsets. And with less than one week into the tournament, the “madness” has already begun. This year’s Big Dance is one of the craziest ever.

The dream of the perfect bracket didn’t even make it through the weekend. The reason? Upsets galore. In a tournament that’s always David vs. Goliath, it’s been the “Davids” who have captured the headlines so far. A number of college basketball powerhouses and Final Four favorites have already bowed out.

Two absolute stunners from the first weekend were #2 seed Ohio State getting bounced by #15 seed Oral Roberts and and #1 seed Illinois losing to #8 seed Loyola-Chicago. Ohio State came in with a ton of firepower and seemed poised to make a deep tournament run. While EJ Liddell and Duane Washington poured their hearts and souls into the game for the Buckeyes, Oral Roberts would not be denied.

The Oral Roberts dynamic duo of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor was a nightmare matchup for Ohio State, combining for 59 points. Abmas actually leads Division 1 in scoring, averaging 24.2 points per game. It was the little things that killed the Buckeyes in the end. Liddell poured in 23 points and 14 rebounds, but missed the front end of a potentially game-tying 1-and-1 free throw with under a minute to play. Washington also shined with 18 points and 10 boards, but he missed the game tying three for Ohio State at the end of regulation, crushing the Buckeyes’ dreams. This is only the ninth time in March Madness tournament history where a #15 seed knocked off a #2. But Oral Roberts didn’t stop writing history there. They also took care of #7 seed Florida in the next round, becoming only the second #15 seed ever to make it to the sweet 16. Oral Roberts miracle run continues when they face off against #3 seed Arkansas on March 27.

Illinois might have made it past the first round, but that did not make their elimination any less shocking. #8 seed Loyola-Chicago bested the #1 seed Illinois on Sunday afternoon by a convincing score of 71-58. The fighting Illini were heavy favorites not only for that matchup, but throughout the entire tournament. Heading into the March Madness, they were given the third best odds to cut down the nets and hoist the trophy.

Illinois has a loaded roster, oozing with NBA talent. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn headline the stacked Illinois team. Ayo Dosunmu won the national player of the year award, the most prestigious individual accolade out there. His buddy and big man inside, Kofi, was named a Second-Team All-American. Ayo did not look like himself and just couldn’t get in rhythm on Sunday’s loss, only scoring 9 points. Credit the tough and gritty Loyola defense for Ayo’s struggles. Loyola’s defense averages a mere 55.7 points per game against, the best in all of college basketball. The tough pressure and pesky defense were too much even for the high-powered Illinois offense.

Loyola-Chicago have their own player of the year as well. Cameron Krutwig was named the Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and a Third-Team All-American. The big man did a little bit of everything for Loyola, racking up 19 points, 10 boards and 5 dimes. Krutwig and Kofi had a post battle for the ages with Kofi putting up 21 of his own points and 9 rebounds. Loyola also got some help from the stands during their improbable win. Loyola has maybe the most famous fan in the entire country: Sister Jean. Sister Jean has become an icon for Loyola-Chicago basketball and one of the most beloved people in the college basketball community. Sister Jean and the rest of the Loyola-Chicago fanbase await eagerly for their sweet 16 matchup with #12 seed Oregon State.

It is safe to say a lot of brackets were busted after Ohio State and Illinois were knocked out of the Big Dance. And they were far from the only teams who fell victim to an upset. #3 seed Texas also lost their first game, along with #4 seeds, Virginia and Purdue. This tournament marked only the second time in history where four or more teams seeded 13 or lower made it past the first round. Oral Roberts, North Texas, Ohio and Abilene Christian all won at least their first game, and only North Texas has been eliminated since. This year’s tournament has truly been “madness”, so stay tuned because things still have a chance to get even crazier as the tournament unfolds.