In the Summer of 2020 when it was announced that there would be college basketball during the winter there was uncertainty of how the sport would be able to play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled the 2020 NCAA Tournament. However, months later the surreal 2020-2021 season is set to conclude as March Madness has officially arrived with the announcement of the 68-team field.
The entire Tournament will be played in the entire state of Indiana beginning with the First Four matchups on March 18th, which will highlight a game between blue-blood programs UCLA Bruins and the Michigan State Spartans, who will be playing in for the 11th seed of the East Region with the winner getting the right to take on the 6th seeded BYU Cougars.
The No. 1 overall seed in the tournament are the star studded Gonzaga Bulldogs that finished the regular season at 26-0 (15-0 WCC) and took home both the WCC regular season title and tournament title. Gonzaga will be the one seed of the West Region.
The No. 2 seed is the Illinois Fighting Illini who finished the season 23-6 (16-4) led by the duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn as they won the Big 10 Tournament title over Ohio State. The Fighting Illini will be the one seed in the Midwest Region.
The No. 3 overall seed is the Baylor Bears, the winners of the Big 12 regular season title, who boast the most talented backcourts in the nation with Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and Macio Teague. The trio helped them finish the season 22-2 (13-1 in the Big 12). The Bears will be the one seed in the South Region.
The Michigan Wolverines, the regular season Big 10 champions, finished 20-4 (14-3) and will be the one seed in the East region. Their health and consistency is concerning as they suffered crushing loss to the Fighting Illini (Illinois without Ayo Dosunmu) on their home floor in Ann Arbor on March 2nd, but when consistent they are tough to beat. All four teams have the potential to get to Lucas Oil Stadium on the weekend of April 3rd for the Final Four.
Other than the top seeds there are many dark horse teams that could make a run if given the chance. The UConn Huskies who are the 7th seed in the East region returned to the Big East conference after a stint in the American Athletic Conference this year and made their presence felt. They are led by guard James Bouknight, an absolute scoring machine who is one of my favorite players in the country and is a likely lottery pick if he decides to declare for the NBA draft. If they are able to get by the 10th seeded Maryland Terrapins, they have a chance to make some noise.
Likely first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, leads a hungry Oklahoma State Cowboys team seeded 4th in the Midwest region that should’ve been at least a 2 seed, especially because of how they dismantled 3rd seed West Virginia Mountaineers twice during Big 12 play. The backcourt of Cunningham and fellow All Big 12 performer Avery Anderson will have to lead the Cowboys into some tough games starting with mid-major threat Liberty who are seeded 13th. It doesn’t get any easier if they beat them because they have Tennessee and Illinois looming in the next rounds. It won’t be easy but they have talent to make a run to make a deep run in the tournament.
There is also the Alabama Crimson Tide who are seeded second in the East region partly because of them winning the SEC tournament final over the LSU Tigers. They have the potential to be a final four team as they have a deep bench.
Every March Madness tournament usually has a team considered a Cinderella story making a deep run. This is very typical in games such as the 5th vs 12th seed, the 4th vs 13th, 3rd vs 14th and even some 2nd seed vs 15th see games. This year’s tournament has that in teams such as the Ohio Bobcats who are seeded 13th in the West region, the Winthrop Eagles who are seeded 12th in the South region and even the Georgetown Hoyas who finished as one of the worst teams in the Big East won there tournament to steal an NCAA bid are seen as an upset worthy team in their game against the Colorado Buffaloes.
I think this year’s Final Four teams will be Alabama, Gonzaga, Baylor and Illinois with Gonzaga and Illinois meeting in the National Championship. In a year where traditional national powerhouse programs like the University of Kentucky Wildcats and Duke University Blue Devils failed to qualify, Gonzaga should win the National Championship and become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to end the season undefeated with a Championship as the end result. Regardless of who’s playing in each game of this tournament, they should be action packed. A link to the bracket can be found below here.