The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament brought us several close matches along with a handful of upsets. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1999, there has always been at least 1 regional host that has failed to advance and this year saw 3 come up short.
Arizona, ranked No. 18, went to Kentucky and won what was expected to be, and was, the tightest regional. The Wildcats won a hotly contested battle in the first round over No. 46 Michigan. Arizona dropped the doubles point but won four of six singles matches with Gustaf Strom winning the final match left on court at No. 1 singles 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. In the second round, Arizona won the battle of the Wildcats and advanced to its first-ever Sweet 16 by knocking off the regional host and No. 14 seed Kentucky 4-2. Arizona won the doubles point and then in singles Herman Hoeyeraal, Carlos Hassey, and Jonas Ziverts picked up singles wins with Ziverts clinching at No. 2 with a 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over #14 Gabriel Diallo.
Mississippi State, ranked No. 16, would have normally hosted a regional based off its top 16 ranking but was sent on the road instead. The Bulldogs probably used that as extra motivation and walked out of the UCF regional with a pair of victories to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last five seasons. In the opening round, MSU won a close doubles point over No. 39 Miami and then picked up singles wins from Florian Broska, Gregor Ramskogler, and Carles Hernandez to win 4-1. In the second round, MSU dropped the doubles point to No. 9 seed UCF with all three doubles courts going to tiebreaks. However the Bulldogs rallied in singles with same trio of Broska, Ramskogler, and Hernandez winning again along with Nemanja Malesevic coming through at No. 3 singles.
The last upset, if you want to call it that, saw No. 35 Ohio State go to Winston-Salem and defeat No. 36 VCU 4-1 and No. 10 Wake Forest 4-1 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 15th straight time. The Buckeyes were actually tested more by VCU in the first round after the Rams took four opening sets in singles after dropping a close doubles point. John McNally and JJ Tracy won in straight sets and James Trotter rallied from a set down to clinch at No. 3 singles with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win. VCU had leads in the other two matches that went unfinished. In the second round match against Wake, Ohio State won the doubles point with 6-3 and 6-4 wins at No. 2 and No. 3 and then took five opening sets in singles. Wake tried to make a late charge but it wasn’t enough as Kyle Seelig clinched at No. 5 with a 7-5, 7-5 win.
Top-seeded Florida, played without undefeated Blaise Bicknell over the weekend, but still rolled to a 4-0 win over South Alabama and a 4-1 win over South Florida. The Gators won 19 of 20 sets in singles and went 1-1 in doubles after creating two new pairs of doubles teams.
Top ranked, but second seeded, Baylor posted a pair of shutouts over Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Oregon. The Bears won 9 of 10 sets in singles against TAMUCC and 9 of 11 sets against Oregon with the match against Oregon starting outdoors and moving indoors due to bad weather.
Tennessee, ranked and seeded No. 3, walloped Alabama A&M 5-0 and then dispatched Memphis 4-0. The match against 145th ranked Alabama A&M went as expected with the Vols only dropping 14 games total in singles. Against Memphis all three doubles courts came down to the wire with two going to tiebreaks but in singles the Vols found three quick straight set wins to advance.
The fourth-seeded Texas Longhorns cruised to a pair of 4-0 wins over Northern Arizona and Northwestern. Texas won all 9 completed sets in singles against NAU and 9 of 11 sets against Northwestern.
Virginia, seeded No. 5, blew past Fairleigh Dickinson 4-0 in the opening round before overcoming the loss of the doubles point to defeat Pac-12 regular season champion Stanford 4-2. UVA freshman Chris Rodesch rallied from 5-1 down in the third set to clinch the victory with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Tristan Boyer. UVA senior Carl Soderlund led 3-0 in the third set of the other match that went unfinished.
Six-seeded North Carolina was back to full strength for its 4-0 wins over Presbyterian and Oklahoma State. William Blumberg and Rinky Hijikata returned to the singles lineup, after missing the ACC Championship match against Virginia two weeks prior, and both were victorious against Presbyterian. The Heels faced a greater test against Oklahoma State with each team winning three opening sets in singles however UNC pulled away down the stretch with Brian Cernoch clinching at No. 4 with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win.
TCU, seeded No. 7, was the only seed to face a top 50 opponent in the opening round. The Horned Frogs won a comfortable doubles point over No. 43 Arkansas and then picked up 3 straight-set wins in singles. Arkansas did manage to win 3 sets in singles but it wasn’t enough. In the second round, TCU dropped the doubles point against No. 20 Arizona State but then won four singles matches in fairly routine fashion to win 4-1. ASU was coming off a tough 4-3 win over Wichita State that saw the Sun Devils win the doubles point in a tiebreak and then the deciding singles match in a third-set tiebreak.
Eighth-seeded Texas A&M advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four seasons with 4-1 win over New Mexico and Oklahoma. The Mountain West champion Lobos put up a good fight in the opening round winning four sets in singles but A&M won most of the close ones including the 6-4, 7-5 clincher from Guido Marson at No. 6. In the second round against No. 27 Oklahoma, the Aggies dominated the doubles point only dropping 1 game between No. 1 and No. 2. The teams split opening sets in singles but A&M would convert each of its first-set victories into straight set wins including the clincher from Noah Schachter at No. 4.
Georgia, seeded No. 11, is back in the Sweet 16 after a four-year absence thanks to a pair of 4-0 wins over East Tennessee State and Texas Tech. The Bulldogs won 9 of 11 sets in singles against the SoCon champs in the first round and then 9 of 12 sets against Texas Tech in the second round. 4 of the 12 sets finished 7-5 or 7-6 with Georgia winning all four of those.
Pac-12 Tournament Champion and No. 12 seed USC cruised past Grand Canyon 4-0 in the opening round before facing a stiff test from local rival Pepperdine in the second round. After the Trojans claimed the doubles point, each team won three opening sets in singles including a 14-12 tiebreak win by Stefan Dostanic over Daniel De Jonge at No. 3. The first four matches to finish were split 2-2 and despite Pepperdine leading 3-1 in the third at No. 6 it’d be Dostanic that would put it away at No. 3 with a 7-6, 6-2 win.
South Carolina, seeded No. 13, put on a strong showing and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 with 4-0 wins over UNC Wilmington and NC State. The Gamecocks won 9 of 10 sets in singles against UNCW and 9 of 11 against NCST. NC State got a walkover win in the first round after Florida Gulf Coast was forced to withdraw due to COVID contact tracing which was the same thing that happened to Liberty which was the team that FGCU replaced in the draw.
Ole Miss, seeded No. 15, is back in the Sweet 16 after posting a pair of 4-0 wins over Belmont and Tulane. The Rebels won a close doubles point against Belmont by fighting off a few match points but were in charge in singles winning 8 of 9 sets. In the second round against Tulane, Ole Miss clinched the doubles point with a tiebreak win at No. 3 after winning 6-3 at No. 2. The teams split opening sets in singles but Ole Miss dominated the second sets winning all five that were completed. John Hallquist Lithen won his match at No. 4 singles 6-0, 6-0 and Simon Junk and Lukas Engelhardt only dropped five games each in their straight set wins at No. 5 and No. 6.
The Big Ten Tournament Champs No. 16 seed Illinois advanced with a 4-1 win over DePaul and a 4-0 win over Notre Dame. Against the Big East Champs DePaul, the Illini overcame the loss of the doubles point by winning all 10 completed sets in singles. In the second round, Illinois played much better in doubles and then won 8 of 9 sets in singles with most of them not very close.
Box scores from all first/second round matches can be found HERE.
Round of 16 Schedule (Monday, May 17 – All Times in ET
#3 Tennessee vs. Arizona (10:00 am)
#6 North Carolina vs. #11 Georgia (10:00 am)
#10 TCU vs. Ohio State (1:00 pm)
#2 Baylor vs. #15 Ole Miss (1:00 pm)
#4 Texas vs. #13 South Carolina (4:00 pm)
#5 Virginia vs. #12 USC (4:00 pm)
#1 Florida vs. #16 Illinois (7:00 pm)
#8 Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State (7:00 pm)