Issue 66: 16 Sweet (and Silly) Facts About the 2021 NCAA Tournament

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This issue is sponsored by Craig Leener, author of the Zeke Archer Basketball Trilogy. This young-adult trilogy, which includes the books This Was Never About Basketball, All Roads Lead to Lawrence, and This Was Always About Basketball, are fantastic reads for basketball and non-basketball fans alike. I read the first book on an airplane and it gripped me throughout—I nearly turned to my seatmate several times to say, “look at this!” but then decided they’d be upset that I woke them up from a nap, so instead, I just told them they should check it out as we were getting off the plane.

I’m doing the same for you, now. These books certainly dive into some hoops action, but they’re even more about friendship and finding your path in life, which are areas we can all use some guidance on. Craig’s writing is approachable, enjoyable, and full of wonder, and I highly recommend you diving into this trilogy. Grab a copy of one or all three books here.

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As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m a fan of the NCAA Tournament. Normally, we’d have already played half of the first round.

I’d proudly be sharing the one or two upsets I picked correctly, neglecting the other six that didn’t happen. It would have been great.

But because of the wackiness of trying to play college basketball in the midst of a pandemic, the tournament is starting on Friday (a.k.a. today).

We had to wait two years between March Madness, but I’m glad it’s here. So what better way to celebrate than with 16 facts about this year’s NCAA Tournament?

Appalachian State’s Battle with the Number 19

Appalachian State battled it out with Norfolk State last night to determine which of the 16-seeds would earn the right to get defeated by Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And for the first half, it looked like Norfolk State would run away with things.

The Spartans were playing well, but Appalachian State was also playing terribly. They missed their first 19 three-pointers, trailing by as many as 19 points. Woof.

Yet the Mountaineers kept at it (climbing that mountain, you might say), grinding all the way back to even take a two-possession lead. Alas, they couldn’t hold onto it, and Norfolk State eked out the 54-53 win.

I’m pretty excited for the Spartans’ win, though. Along with the Texas Southern Tigers, who won earlier in the evening, this is the first time two HBCUs have won in the same tournament. That’s awesome.

The Grace of an Antelope

The Grand Canyon Antelopes are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. And their fans are THRILLED about it. (Side note: it’ll be very sad that we won’t get packed arenas for March Madness, but let’s stay safe out there.)

The basketball team only joined Division I in 2013, but the NCAA says you can’t be eligible for the NCAA Tournament for a billion years after you move up to D-I. So despite playing well while being coached by former Phoenix Suns player and broadcaster that routinely makes casual halfcourt shots by flipping the ball over his shoulder Dan Majerle, the Antelopes couldn’t make the tournament.

Then, Majerle had one bad season, and the Antelopes traded him in for Bryce Drew, who previously made one of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history. Now, the Antelopes have Drew and Asbjørn Midtgaard, a seven-foot transfer with a badass name. Wild.

A Late Growth Spurt

The Ohio Bobcats are led by a player named Jason Preston, who made like me and averaged 2.2 points per game as a high school senior in Orlando. He was prepping for a transition from hooper to blogger, writing for the Detroit Pistons blog Piston Powered for free because he was too young for them to legally pay him. Kinda sounds like he was just getting a head start on college.

But then Preston grew four inches, which turned him from a six-footer that weighed 140 pounds into a 6-foot-4 playmaker averaging nearly 17 points per game. He’ll very likely be drafted by an NBA team this summer. It’s a delightful turnaround story.

He also lost his mother to cancer around his junior year and has fantastic hair. How could you not root for this kid?

Gonzaga’s Run to the Final Four?

Normally, when you’re filling out a bracket, you might have some pause along the way. “Hmm, I’d like to believe in this team,” you might say, “but what if they end up playing that team. Could they beat them?”

Well, with this region, you don’t have to worry about that, assuming the team you’re picking is Gonzaga. They beat 3-seed Kansas 102-90 on November 26, knocked off 2-seed Iowa 99-88 on December 19, and then took care of 4-seed Virginia a week later, 98-75.

So…at least you know what you’re getting into?

A Shockingly Long Wait

The Iona Gaels made some headlines last year by hiring disgraced Louisville coach Rick Pitino. But Pitino, who has certainly had a few transgressions in his day, is still a very good basketball coach. And he navigated his new team through some weird ground.

Namely, that ground featured a lot of not playing basketball. At one point in the season, the Gaels went 51 days without playing a game due to Covid-19 precautions. And then they had to pause their season again for the same reason.

No matter, though. The team stormed through the MAAC and is now in the NCAA tournament.

Hey, Down in Front

There’s a clip from a 2009 episode of The Late Show with David Letterman where the show hires Steve Nash to interview people during the NBA Finals.

One of the jokes finds Nash standing next to an average person to show you the size difference between NBA players and us regular folk. But Nash is 6’3”, and the guy he’s standing next to is probably about 6’1” or 6’2”, so they just look like a pair of dudes hanging out.

Anyway, all that to say that Abilene Christian is the shortest school in this tournament. Their average height is 75.2 inches, or about 6’3”.

Terrapins? More like Terrible, Amirite?

No, the Maryland Terrapins are still a fine basketball team. I didn’t mean to put them down like that.

However, at 16-13, they do have more losses than any other team in this tournament. Historically, teams have made the tournament with more losses. Even at-large squads have been selected with more than 13 losses.

But Maryland did make a bit of history this year. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, this is the first time an at-large team has the most losses entering March Madness.

Georgetown featuring Patrick Chewing

We’re heading into the 82nd NCAA Tournament of all-time. Thirty-six different teams have won the championship. One of those squads? The Georgetown Hoyas, led by former NBA star and current Snickers commercial star Patrick Ewing.

As a 12-seed, the Hoyas are the lowest-seeded team that has won a championship. Can they score another title this year?

Battle-Tested Cowboys

No, no, this isn’t the name of some ridiculous reality show…yet. Rather, it’s a nod to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who won 13 games against other tournament teams this year. That’s more than any other squad.

In fact, 16 teams that qualified for March Madness this year didn’t even beat ONE other team that’s in the tournament. What a bunch of slackers.


During March Madness, teams with good free-throw shooters tend to do fairly well. That’s because when these games are close and coming down to the wire, it’s comforting to know you have someone who can actually make a shot or two.

On the flip side, you have Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. And they marked that occasion by being the worst at free throws of any tournament team, hitting just 63.2% of their freebies.

Oh, You Bonnies

The St. Bonaventure Bonnies are coming into the tournament hot after winning the A-10. And if they can win their first-round game against LSU, they’ll put over half a century of losing to rest.

Now, I realize that sentence might be confusing. I just said the Bonnies are on a winning streak, yet they’ve been losing for five decades. What could I possibly mean?

That losing streak is the tournament only. St. Bonaventure did win a First Four game in 2018, but they haven’t won in the first round since 1970.

You Play to Win(throp) the Game…

Winthrop went 23-1 and are playing a school (Villanova) that will be without its starting point guard and possibly its starting shooting guard. That’s a rough break for Villanova, but it’s not the main reason you should pick Winthrop.

No, the highlight here is that Winthrop has a player named Adonis Arms who — get this — has some amazing arms. Way to live up to that name, Adonis.

The Eagles are also the only team from the Big South to ever win an NCAA Tournament game. The conference is 1-33 all-time.

…Or Maybe You Pur(due)don’t

I may have mentioned once or twice that I attended the University of Miami. You may also have noticed the Hurricanes are absent from this bracket. That’s because they finished 10-17 and teams with that poor of a record don’t get to do the March Madness.

But what Miami DID do earlier this year was beat Purdue, who’s sitting as a 4-seed in the South region.

Miami not only defeated Purdue, they did it after scoring just 14 points in the first half. That’s, like…middle school levels of poor scoring. And the Boilermakers had 32 points at halftime, so it wasn’t like they also were incapable of putting the ball in the basket.

I understand it was just one game and it was a while ago. But dang, that’s a memory that lingers in my mind.

This Is Our Year!

Would you rather only make the tournament once or routinely make it, but never reach the Final Four?

If you’re a fan of BYU or Missouri, I sure hope you picked the second answer. BYU has the record for most NCAA Tournament appearances (30) without making it to the Final Four. Missouri is right behind them with 28 bids and no Final Fours.

Maybe this year, one of them can finally break the spell!

The Toothpaste School

Colgate won 14 games this year and lost just one. That’s a grand total of 15 games. Their first-round opponent, Arkansas, played nearly double that amount (28 total).

Adding to the intrigue: Colgate has only faced five opponents this year. They beat Boston University five times and Holy Cross four times. But…maybe Boston and Holy Cross are just really bad?

The only team Colgate beat that played a non-conference schedule was Army. Everyone else has only gone up against Patriot League competition this year. Arkansas is notably not in the Patriot League.

So…is Colgate good? Who’s to say, really. But this should be a super-exciting matchup, regardless, since it’s gonna have a whole lot of running and scoring.

Do You Even Go Here?

The North Carolina Tar Heels are the youngest team in the entire tournament. Their rotation has averaged 1.02 seasons played.

Yep, they’re basically an all-freshman team. And that’s fresh, man!

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That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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