Cinderella Seasons

breaking down the upsets and madness of the 2021 NCAA tournament



2021 Champions Baylor Bears hold the victory trophy in the midst of confetti after winning the National Championship game

Eleanor Warren, Staff Writer

The 2021 NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball tournament has been one to remember. In the first round alone, there were nine upsets, resulting in zero perfect brackets left after just two days of playing. Of those upsets, many argue the most notable was the overtime defeat of 2-seed Ohio State by 15-seed Oral Roberts. The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles went on to also upset 7-seed Florida, and become the second 15-seed in history to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. 

Another bracket-buster of the first round was the victory of the 14-seed Abiline Christian Wildcats over the 3-seed Texas Longhorns. Although the Wildcats’ season ended just two days later in a loss to UCLA, the upset nevertheless shook the nation.

Speaking of UCLA – what a run they had! The true Cinderella of the tournament, the UCLA Bruins seemed unstoppable from the moment they hit the court. Though a defeat at the hands of Gonzaga ended their season, the Bruins made history, joining VCU as the only two First Four teams in history to make it to the Final Four, and it was not an easy road to get there. 11-seed UCLA was the underdog in every game, but one, and at first glance, their tournament performance wasn’t looking great. They barely squeaked by the Michigan State Spartans in a 6-point overtime victory, but in the First Round, things started looking up when the Bruins beat 6-seed BYU. They went on to face 14-seed Abiline Christian in the Second Round, and handed them a 20-point defeat, securing the Bruins spot in the Sweet Sixteen where they went head-to-head with 2-seed Alabama. The Bruins established an early lead, up by 11 at the half, but the Crimson Tide made a major come-back in the second half, hitting a game-tying three to send it into overtime. The Bruins came out on top of this overtime yet again and played the Michigan Wolverines in the Elite Eight just two days later. Again, it was a nail-biter, with UCLA winning by just two points. The team that was finally able to end their incredible run, was 1-seed Gonzaga –but even for the number one team in the nation, it was a battle the whole way. The Bruins took the game all the way to overtime, only to fall three points short of making the national championship game. Though the UCLA players were no doubt upset with the game, there is definitely something to be said for their 5-game streak in a shocking tournament run.

No other First Round upset team made it quite as far as the Bruins, but there were still some bracket-busting victories. 13-seeds Ohio and North texas both defeated their 4-seed opponents, Virginia and Purdue, and 8-seed North Carolina lost to 9-seed Wisconsin in coach Roy Williams’  first-ever Round of 64 loss. 10-seed Rutgers was also able to knock out 7-seed Clemson, though their run did not last long, losing by just 3-points to 2-seed Houston. 

One team that did make quite a splash was 12-seed Oregon State, who smashed 5-seed Tenessee in a 70-56 victory. They advanced to defeat 4-seed Oklahoma in a 10-point victory that secured their spot in the Sweet Sixteen, where they again led an upset victory over 8-seed Loyola Chicago. Unfortunately for many upset-lovers, the Oregon State Beavers’ season ended in their 6-point Elite Eight in a loss to 2-seed Houston.

Finally, 11-seed Syracuse made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen after crushing 6-seed San Diego State in the First Round and defeating 3-seed West Virginia in the Round of 32. However, just like Oregon State and Rutgers, the Syracuse Orange met their end against 2-seed Houston.

Even with all these upsets, the high seeds did ultimately regain control of the tournament, containing the Elite Eight to just one upset, preventing any Final Four upsets, and having only No. 1-seeds battling in the National Championship, where Baylor handily defeated Gonzaga in a 86-70 victory. All upsets considered, a 1-seed still came out on top with the Baylor Bears crowned as the 2021 Men’s Basketball Champions.