Observations on the Other First Round Games of the 2021 NCAA Tournament

March 20th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Today, I had planned to watch the Oregon-VCU game, but because some of the VCU players had caught COVID, that game was cancelled, as Oregon ended up winning as a result of VCU being forced to forfeit due to contact tracing.  I really wanted to watch Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland play against Chris Duarte, Will Richardson and Oregon, and I thought that would’ve been a very good test for him. Since that game was cancelled though, with Oregon getting an automatic win, instead, I’ll spend some time just sort of giving my thoughts about the other games and highlights, essentially some casual observations, of the rest of the games that were played in the 1st Round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Ohio’s 6-4 junior point guard, Jason Preston had 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists in his team’s upset win over Virginia in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Sam Owens/Indy Star, USA Today Sports)

I was able to see some of the Ohio-Virginia game.  Jason Preston played very well, and he really helped himself by leading his team to get an upset win over the 2019 defending champions.  Preston had 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, and he ran the point to perfection today. He is an agile guard that would consistently find teammates on the move to notch assists, and he did a terrific job of rebounding the basketball.  He also showed that he can effectively score off the dribble and knock down jumpers, and he did a very good job of not forcing up bad shots on offense.

Overall, Preston had a thoroughly impressive showing, and he’s shown why he is considered to be one of the best point guards in college basketball.  He dismantled a talented Virginia team with remarkable ease, and Preston is a high IQ basketball player who may have played his way into the late first to the second round range of the 2021 draft.

Ohio’s 6-8 junior forward, Ben Vander Plas also played very well in his team’s win over Virginia.  In this game, he had 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block to help his team get the victory. He is a skilled sharpshooter that can knock down shots from anywhere on the court.  Not only was he making threes, he effortlessly made a step-back three, and he also was effective as a scorer in the post.  He also passed the ball well, as he plays with a point forward’s mentality, and he also blocked a shot in this game.  Vander Plas may be a very underrated prospect, and surely, Preston and Vander Plas now will have NBA scouts’ attention for the upcoming game against Creighton, if they didn’t have their attention before.

For Virginia, this game was very disappointing for them.  As Ken Pomeroy’s website, kenpom.com has listed them as consistently among the slowest paced teams in college basketball on a yearly basis, they’ve consistently disappointed in the NCAA Tournament, with the exception of one remarkable postseason run, led by De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and company in 2019.  Virginia was bounced by 16th seeded UMBC in 2018, won the National Championship in 2019, but now lost in the first round again, this time to Ohio in 2021. I feel like any time a person decides to watch a Virginia Cavaliers basketball game, there should be a warning sign, that they are about to watch an enormously slow-paced college basketball game, where the tempo is basically at a crawl pace.

Virginia played at an enormously slow, snail-pace, and they were really struggling to score the basketball.  They even made their fast breaks look slow.  Watching them was like watching paint dry, it was utterly dreadful and unsightly to watch them play at such a slow pace.

Jay Huff had played well early on, as he was blocking shots, and was scoring on threes and in the post to show off versatile scoring skills.  Sam Hauser was making mid-range jumpers, and Trey Murphy was also knocking down threes.  However, they struggled to score consistently or efficiently as the game wore on, and Virginia was unable to get any reliable offense from any of their players.  Even worse, they were unable to stop the incredibly efficient duo of Preston and Vander Plas.  Definitely, this loss will sting for Virginia, and I think the draft stock of Virginia’s trio of Hauser, Huff, and Murphy will probably take a slight hit.

Colorado’s McKinley Wright had 12 points, 13 assists, and 5 rebounds in his team’s double-digit win over Georgetown.
Alton Strupp/Indy Star, via The Indianapolis Star)

Early this morning, I caught some of the Colorado-Georgetown game.  I was sort of eager to see how this would go down, even though I was fairly certain that Colorado would win, and I wanted to see how well Georgetown would play after they ended up winning the 2021 Big East Conference Tournament. Right out of the gates, Colorado came out firing, and they were running, moving the ball, playing stifling defense, and they were making plenty of threes against the lumbering Georgetown team.

Colorado was making a lot of threes from many different players, and they received strong shooting from Jabari Walker, D’Shawn Schwartz, Eli Parquet and others.  Eli Parquet is a very athletic swingman that was able to throw down a thunderous dunk off of a backdoor cut, and he showed versatile scoring skills.  McKinley Wright did a very good job of distributing the basketball, he played very good defense, and he also ran the point well today.

For Georgetown, their only consistent source of offense came from their center, Qudus Wahab, who would score consistently in the post and on rolls to the rim, but Georgetown’s other players really struggled to make shots, and they had lots of trouble defending the three-ball in this game.

Also in other news, I didn’t see the Maryland-Connecticut game, but news did reach to me that Maryland ended up winning that contest.  I found it mildly surprising that 7th seeded Connecticut ended up losing to 10th seeded Maryland in the NCAA Tournament today.  James Bouknight has been receiving a lot of hype, and he’s definitely turned in some very good games this season, but the concern about UConn was that they looked to be a one-man team, especially on offense.    Bouknight was shut down by the Terrapins, as he scored just 15 points on 6 of 16 shooting, and he had 3 turnovers in this game.

Meanwhile, Maryland had a more balanced attack on offense, as they had 23 points from Eric Ayala, 14 points from Aaron Wiggins, and 12 points from Donta Scott.  Top to bottom, it seemed that Maryland had a more talented group of players overall, as where UConn just had the one very good prospect.  For UConn, their record seemed to suggest that their team goes as how Bouknight goes, and if he’s not getting much offense, it’d be tough for their team to generate offense as a whole, and so they ended up losing to Maryland.

Abilene Christian’s Joe Pleasant and Texas’ Kai Jones were two of the top performers in the last game of the night, as Pleasant’s game-winning free throws made helped Abilene Christian get an upset win over Texas in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press, via The Seattle Times)

As for the last basketball game of the night, congrats to Abilene Christian for pulling off an upset win over Texas.  Abilene Christian’s junior forward, Joe Pleasant made game-winning free throws after being fouled by Matt Coleman on a wild reach-in attempt, and the Wildcats were able to get the win.  Pleasant showed off some low post scoring skills, and he also intercepted Brock Cunningham’s inbound pass to get a clutch steal at the end.

Also, Abilene Christian’s 6-0 senior guard, Coryon Mason was able to get some strong scores off the dribble.  Kolton Kohl also was able to get some scores in the post. Paul Hiepler really seemed to fuel his team with enthusiastic cheering off the bench, and he really seemed to help his team get amped up.

For Texas, Kai Jones played fairly well, especially early on, and he was able to use a pump fake and a nifty eurostep move to score on a smooth baseline drive, and he also made a mid-range jumper, but he struggled with turnovers down the stretch, and he also air-balled a three-point shot.  He certainly had moments where he looked like a lottery pick, but down the stretch, he seemed to fade into the background as his team’s offense was sputtering late in this game.

Andrew Jones shot the ball well, as he made a late-game three that briefly gave his team the lead, and Brock Cunningham was able to make several solid defensive plays, but Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman committed too many bad turnovers, and Coleman made a really poor decision to foul Pleasant, which ended up giving Abilene Christian to go ahead to win on free throws. This was an oddly bad game from Texas. At the Maui Invitational, they played with poise and their teamwork and depth from top to the bottom allowed them to shine early in the season. They also rallied to get a tough comeback win over Texas Tech late in the season.

Today though, they seemed to virtually be a no-show. Their guard play tonight was really bad, with the exception of Andrew Jones having played very well, and Greg Brown continued to not do much of anything, as he made one three-pointer early on, and the coach rewarded that by….not playing him at all in the second half. It turns out, Brown wasn’t rewarded that much after having made that three-point shot. Despite having shot the ball efficiently, his guards didn’t look to get him the ball very much, and the problem gets compounded because Brown’s lack of playing time suggests that he may be in his coach’s doghouse. Either way, that may not bode well at all for Brown’s draft stock.

As for the game itself, the game between Abilene Christian and Texas was just not well played at all.  It was a game where players had trouble making inbounds passes, players were dribbling balls off their own foot that would end up out of bounds, and Texas committed far too many turnovers and had trouble making shots, especially in the second half.  Texas committed 23 turnovers in this game, in a game where the winning team made just 30% of their shots from the field.

Definitely, Texas played like they did not want to win, and as they were played really poorly in this game, the way they played, Texas deserved to lose to a hungry, Abilene Christian team.  Well, at least Andrew Jones played like he wanted to win, but the other players on Texas’ team seemed to play as if they really did not want to be on the floor late in that game.

Overall, I was hoping to watch Oregon and VCU play, but that game ended up getting cancelled due to VCU having multiple players test positive for COVID, and Oregon ended up winning on a technicality.  There’s been a fair share of duds amongst college basketball games, and by the end of the week, maybe it’ll be a good thing to get some off days where there would be no NCAA Tournament games for a change, as some of these games are too slow paced, and there have been too many missed shots and turnovers for my liking.

Other Thoughts on Last Night’s Games:

Watching highlights of the Oral Roberts-Ohio State game was very interesting.  Oral Roberts’ sophomore point guard, Max Abmas is a speedy playmaker that can really shoot and score the basketball, and he can really create his own shot at will.  He also is a fairly good passer and ball handler, and he was able to get 29 points and make 5 threes yesterday.

Kevin Obanor is a very good shooter, and he did a great job of making long-range shots whenever he had space to get his shot off.  He’s not overwhelmingly athletic, but his strong shooting skills combined with his ability to rebound as an interior player helps give Oral Roberts a potent attack on offense.

I thought Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell played very well based on what I saw last night.  He was very good as a scorer down low, as he would overpower his opponents on the block, and he also excelled as a scorer off the dribble and as a shot blocker in the paint.  He is an athletic, high-motor forward that made solid plays on both ends of the floor, and he looks to be an underrated prospect that could be a solid find for an NBA team if he declares to enter the 2021 draft.

North Texas’ Javion Hamlet played very well last night, especially down the stretch to help get his team an OT win over Purdue.  He showed a terrific ability to score on floaters, and he was very effective as a shooter, facilitator, and rebounder when he was on the court.

Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim did a terrific job of knocking down shots, and he showed a lot of range to shoot and score on offense, as he had 30 points on 11 of 15 shooting, and he made 7 threes in his team’s win over San Diego State. 

Sure, the other team did appear to be undersized, and he easily made shots over the top of defenders early on, but he also was able to make some impressive long-range shots against other wing defenders his size, which included Matt Mitchell.  Talented shooters are always in demand from NBA teams, and Boeheim’s stock may have jumped up significantly with his strong performance in his team’s impressive win over San Diego State. Certainly, there will be more people tuning in to see him play against West Virginia tomorrow, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up his tremendous play throughout this tournament.

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