March Madness: Six key takeaways from Saturday's men's NCAA Tournament first-round games

Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY
·5 min read

For a while, it didn't seem as though the second day of the men's NCAA Tournament would provide as many scintillating upsets as the first, with several top-seeded teams staving off any bracket-busting.

Then No. 13 seed Ohio became the first true bracket-buster of the day by sending home reigning national champion Virginia. The best came last, however, when No. 14 seed Abilene Christian stunned Texas in the final game of the first round. Save the best for last right?

There was no shortage of highlights from the 16 games that helped fully slice the field down to 32 teams. Top overall seed Gonzaga made Norfolk State look like an intramural rec league squad in a 43-point demolition. And the Pac-12 is now 6-0 in this tournament thanks to Colorado and Southern California holding their seeds, while UCLA and Oregon State have played spoiler as double-digit seeds.

Oregon advanced to the second round by way of no-contest, as Virginia Commonwealth was forced to leave March Madness due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the program.

Joe Pleasant of the Abilene Christian Wildcats is surrounded by teammates after his winning free throw to defeat Texas Longhorns 53-52 in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Joe Pleasant of the Abilene Christian Wildcats is surrounded by teammates after his winning free throw to defeat Texas Longhorns 53-52 in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 20, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

A look at the biggest takeaways from Saturday's action:

Abilene Christian is really, really good at defense. The No. 14-seeded Wildcats pulled off a shocking upset of Texas by forcing the Longhorns into a season-high 23 turnovers. Abilene Christian didn't beat the Big 12 Tournament champion with hot shooting. Coach Joe Golding uses a stifling defense that leads the nation in turnover margin to discomfort opponents and take them out of their rhythm. UCLA coach Mick Cronin, whose team draws the Wildcats in the second round, told reporters: "Texas had 23 turnovers. They’ve got seniors. They’ve got serious guards. That means Abilene Christian is really, really good."

Ohio is more than a one-upset Cinderella. The No. 13-seeded Bobcats took down reigning national champion Virginia and they did so without even playing their best basketball. Taking a look at the bracket, Ohio has the firepower and winning momentum — having won 10 of 11 games — to knock off Creighton, a No. 5 seed that barely avoided an upset to UC Santa Barbara in a one-point win to advance. It starts and ends with Jason Preston, who had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the win over Virginia, highlighting his triple-double ability.

UCLA might be the surprise of this tournament. The Bruins, a No. 11 seed that barely squeezed into the field of 68, looked impressive in a 73-62 win over Brigham Young, fueled by 27 points from Johnny Juzang. Coach Mick Cronin has been criticized for his NCAA Tournament record at Cincinnati. Well, he's 2-0 in this tournament after UCLA was a bubble team that lost its last four. The Bruins' win over Michigan State in the First Four and now BYU show the underrated strength of the Pac-12. Now, Cronin's Bruins draw Abilene Christian instead of Texas with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

Cameron Thomas and LSU can absolutely beat No. 1 Michigan. The No. 8-seeded Tigers handily dispatched St. Bonaventure in their first-round game behind the offensive machine known as Cameron Thomas. The freshman guard, who averages 23 points a game, scored 27 against the Bonnies. Why this is important: Michigan, which took care of business against Texas Southern on Saturday, is vulnerable and can be the first No. 1 seed to lose. The Wolverines' team backbone, Isaiah Livers, is out for the tournament with an injury, and as well run as coach Juwan Howard's system is, going up against a high-octane team like LSU could spell doom. Michigan is ripe for an upset, and LSU has the weapons to pull it off in the second round.

Iowa and Kansas showed signs of potential to slay Gonzaga. No one is beating Gonzaga. That's the way it looks right now. But both the Hawkeyes and Jayhawks have teams capable of dealing the 'Zags their first loss of the season should either advance to the Elite Eight, where Gonzaga will almost certainly advance. What makes Iowa special is coach Fran McCaffery has arguably the best player in the country in big man Luka Garza, who is the key in creating open shots for the Hawkeyes' great guards. What makes Kansas special is this team isn't a typical Bill Self-coached team of NBA-caliber players. Five players average in double figures and it's more the sum-of-its-parts. Iowa looked impressive in its cruise-control win over Grand Canyon and Kansas showed mettle in staving off Northeastern.

Colorado, Creighton were not having your upset picks. The good old No. 12-over-No. 5 seed pick didn't go so well on Saturday. The Buffaloes completely thrashed Georgetown, while the Bluejays barely escaped UC Santa Barbara in a one-point win. While No. 12 seed Oregon State did bounce Tennessee on Friday, Winthrop also fell short. In a tournament in which a No. 15 seed, a No. 14 seed and two No. 13 seeds have advanced, it's been the not-so-obvious picks taking all the headlines.

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness: 6 key takeaways from Saturday's NCAA Tournament games