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March Madness and religious schools: Stunning upsets and a top seed

Oral Roberts stuns Ohio State and Florida, Loyola Chicago shocks No. 1 Illinois and Abilene Christian takes down Texas

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Oral Roberts players and coaches celebrate after beating Ohio State 75-72 in a first round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

Robert Franklin, Associated Press

The first major upset in this year’s NCAA Tournament was pulled off by a private evangelical school from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Oral Roberts, a 15 seed, didn’t stop after it knocked off the second-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes 75-72 in overtime Friday. The Golden Eagles followed that shocker by surprising No. 7 Florida 81-78 on Sunday in Indianapolis.

Two other schools with religious affiliations earned stunning victories.

Abilene Christian, a 14 seed, ousted third-seed Texas on Saturday.

On Sunday, Loyola University Chicago toppled No. 1 Illinois to become the first team to reach the Sweet 16.

Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian and Loyola Chicago are three of 13 religiously affiliated schools competing in this year’s March Madness. Here’s a little about each school with religious ties.


Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas (3) goes up for a shot over Ohio State’s Musa Jallow (2) during the second half of a first round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. Oral Roberts won 75-72 in overtime.

Robert Franklin, Associated Press

Abilene Christian University: Founded in 1906, ACU is a private Christian university affiliated with Churches of Christ. Students are required to attend daily chapel sessions and take several Bible courses before graduation. The Wildcats earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance by winning the Southland Conference in 2019.

The Wildcats upset Texas in the first round but lost to UCLA on Monday. ACU’s all-time NCAA Tournament record is now 1-2.

Baylor University: Baylor is a private Baptist university. The school is No. 9 on The Princeton Review’s list of the Most Religious Students and No. 16 on Stone-Cold Sober Schools list. The Bears have twice reached the Elite Eight in their school’s history.

The No. 1 seed Baylor defeated No. 16 seed Hartford 79-55 in the first round Friday and No. 9 Wiscons, 76-63, on Sunday.

Baylor’s all-time NCAA Tournament record is now 16-14.

Brigham Young University: Owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, none of BYU’s teams compete on Sundays because of its Honor Code. The NCAA Tournament said it would flip the tourney schedule if BYU reached the Sweet 16 to help the school honor its commitment, but BYU lost to UCLA on Saturday night.

BYU has been ranked the nation’s No. 1 Stone-Cold Sober school for 23 years by the Princeton Review and is No. 2 on the Princeton Review’s 2021 list of the Most Religious Students.

The No. 6 Cougars fell to No. 11 UCLA on Saturday, 73-62.


BYU and Gonzaga, two of the religiously affiliated schools in this year’s NCAA tournament, prepare to play in WCC men’s basketball tournament finals at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Creighton University: Creighton, located in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of the 28 schools nationwide that are part of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The Bluejays have made 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton, a No. 5 seed, beat 12 seed UC Santa Barbara on Saturday. The Bluejays then blasted Ohio on Monday to advance to the Sweet 16.

Creighton’s all-time tournament record is 14-21.

Georgetown University: While Georgetown is part of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the campus welcomes students from a wide variety of religious and nonreligious backgrounds. The team rose to basketball prominence behind Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in the 1980s, and now Ewing is the school’s head coach.

No. 12 seed Georgetown lost to No. 5 seed Colorado on Saturday.

Georgetown is 47-30 in tournament games.

Gonzaga University: This private Jesuit, Catholic university was founded in 1887 when Father Joseph Cataldo purchased land in Spokane, Washington, with 936 silver coins. It’s interesting to note that more than 55% of Gonzaga undergraduates study abroad before graduation, according to Gonzaga.edu. The Bulldogs, the top-seeded team in this year’s NCAA Tournament, finished as the runner up in 2017.

Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 in the country all season. It is only the 13th team in the history of the Associated Press poll to accomplish the feat, according to the NCAA Tournament record book.

The Bulldogs are one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament and defeated No. 16 seed Norfolk State on Saturday.

Gonzaga pummeled Norfolk State 98-55 on Saturday.

Gonzaga is 36-22 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

Grand Canyon University: Grand Canyon is a private Christian University in Phoenix, Arizona. It was established in 1949 as a Baptist-affiliated institution.

The university began its transition to Division I in 2013 and became eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2018. This is the first appearance in March Madness for the Antelopes.

No. 15 GCU lost to No. 2 Iowa on Saturday.

Iona College: Founded in 1940 just before the United States entered World War II, Iona is a small private Catholic college in New Rochelle, New York. A Gael, the school’s mascot, is a person of Irish-Gaelic ancestry. It stems from the school’s founders. Iona has appeared in 14 NCAA tournaments.

Iona is a No. 15 seed and lost to No. 2 seed Alabama on Saturday.

Iona is 1-15 in NCAA Tournament history.

Liberty University: Liberty is a private evangelical University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The university was founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., a prominent Baptist minister, televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority. Liberty has an honor code called the Liberty Way and requires three Bible studies classes for undergraduates. It also has a campus doctrinal statement outlining the school’s beliefs.

The Flames have four appearances in the NCAA Tournament, with a fifth trip canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No. 13 seed Liberty lost to fourth-seeded Oklahoma State 69-60 on Friday night.

Liberty is now 1-5 in the tournament.

Loyola University Chicago: Loyola is a Jesuit school that made history on its way to winning the 1963 NCAA men’s basketball championship. That team was enshrined in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, in part because it regularly broke what was called “the gentleman’s agreement” to start two or fewer Black players in each game. Loyola often started three or four Black players. In fact, they were the team Mississippi State played when it defied segregationists and broke the unwritten rule banning Mississippi teams from playing schools with Black players. The game is known as the Game of Change.

A No. 8 seed, Loyola beat ninth-seeded Georgia Tech on Thursday 71-60 and then shocked No. 1 Illinois, 71-58, on Sunday to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16.

Loyola has a 15-5 record in the NCAAs.

Oral Roberts University: Founded by the Charismatic Christian televangelist Oral Roberts, the eponymous school is a private evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma, founded in 1963. All students sign a pledge to live the honor code and can seek the Lord in the Prayer Tower in the center of campus. The school’s mission statement is “To develop Holy Spirit-empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world.”

In a monumental upset, 15th seed Oral Roberts stunned No. 2 seed Ohio State in overtime on Friday 75-72, then edged out seventh-seeded Florida 81-78 on Sunday.

Sunday’s victory was the school’s fourth in NCAA Tournament history. Overall, Oral Roberts is now 4-5 all-time.

St. Bonaventure University: Named after Bonaventure (1221–1274), a Catholic cardinal and contemporary of Thomas Aquinas who became head of the Franciscan order, St. Bonaventure is a private Franciscan university in Allegany, New York, founded in 1858.

The university is home to the Franciscan Institute and is dedicated to Saint Bonaventure’s teaching that “there is no knowledge without love.”

No. 9 St. Bonaventure lost to No. 8 LSU on Saturday.

The Bonnies are 7-10 in the NCAAs.

Villanova University: Villanova was founded in 1842 by the Order of St. Augustine and remains the only Augustinian Catholic university in the nation. Based in Villanova, Pennsylvania, it is named for Saint Thomas (1488-1555) of Villaneuva, Spain.

The majority of students are Catholic, each building is adorned with a cross and every student is required to take a freshman course called the Augustine and Culture Seminar.

Villanova is a No. 5 seed and defeated 12th-seeded Winthrop on Friday night, and dropped North Texas on Sunday.

The Wildcats are 67-37 in NCAA Tournament games.

Correction: A previous version of this article omitted Grand Canyon University. There are 13 religious schools playing in the NCAA Tournament. Grand Canyon University is a non-profit institution. An earlier version of this story stated otherwise.