After a long and stressful year, the best tournament in sports is back, folks. It’s time for March Madness, the NCAA’s best basketball tournament.
The conference tournaments this year were exciting. Close games in almost every conference championship, and a lot of surprising stepping-up from teams (I did not expect LSU to keep up the pace with Alabama like they did, but they have improved in key areas).
Your number one teams are (deservedly) Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, and Michigan. On ESPN, Dick Vitale predicts that Gonzaga will run the table. He also did a little dance.
— ESPN (@espn) March 14, 2021
Here’s a look at each region:
Michigan tops the ranks here and will be facing the winner of Thursday night’s matchup between Mount St. Mary’s and Texas Southern. Michigan has had a strong season and, coming out on top in their conference, they appear to be set for a pretty solid run. The big question for the Wolverines will be how they make up for the injured Isaiah Livers, who is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot.
If Michigan wins their first-round game, they’ll face either St. Bonaventure or LSU, who play this weekend. St. Bonaventure has survived a strong season and won its conference championship. LSU played a stellar championship game against SEC champion Alabama, losing by one point in the last second of the game.
Alabama is the No. 2 team in the East Region, followed by Texas at No. 3, and Florida State at No. 4.
The Baylor Bears of Waco, Texas, make program history by earning the No. 1 seed in their division, also earning the No. 2 overall seed (behind Gonzaga).
The Bears won the Big 12 in league play, though dropped a loss to Oklahoma State in the conference tournament. Nonetheless, they are heavily favored to proceed deep into the NCAA tournament this year. Baylor’s strength is in their offensive power, but their weakness is definitely in completing games. That loss to Oklahoma was by one point and came as Oklahoma erased a 7-point deficit at the end of the game.
Behind Baylor is Ohio State at No. 2, followed by Arkansas at No. 3, and Purdue at No. 4.
Topping the Midwest Region is Illinois, which beat Ohio State by one point in their conference tournament championship game. While Illinois is certainly strong their matchup against Ohio State on Sunday showed some flaws. One of the stars of post play in the NCAA, Kofi Cockburn, will certainly be a target from anyone who plays against Illinois. He can get into foul trouble but also is a great target for fouls because he does not shoot free throws well at all.
The Ohio State game, in particular, also shows that the Fighting Illini (I am still not totally sure what a “Fighting Illini” is) struggle with preventing major runs. The Buckeyes came back multiple times despite some pretty wide gaps in the score.
Houston follows Illinois at No. 2, with No. 3 being West Virginia, and Oklahoma State rounding it out at No. 4.
Gonzaga, No. 1 in this region and overall, is definitely a favorite. Seemingly unstoppable throughout the year, the school has had a major impact on college basketball during the pandemic, ending their conference tournament 26-0 on the year and looking to complete the first perfect season in 35 years.
With players like standout Jalen Suggs on the floor for the team, they’ve won almost every game by double digits. The only game where they didn’t? Suggs was unable to play.
It is very hard to see anyone in their region stopping them. Iowa (No. 2), Kansas (No. 3), and Virginia (No. 4) are all extremely talented, but Gonzaga currently appears to be on a different level right now. Dick Vitale may be right to give them the nod for a perfect season, but it’s possible to overcome them.
Teams To Watch
I am a fan of Virginia, and I think there’s a lot of defensive potential there. The North Carolina Tarheels are also massive, and they can definitely wear you down (if you watched their conference tournament matchup against Florida State, that’s exactly what you saw there).
Alabama is also really strong this year, and that could definitely have an impact on the tournament, but let’s be honest: They should have performed much better against LSU in the SEC conference tournament final. They have a phenomenal team but also struggle playing the whole way through if a team manages to slow them down in the half-court.
I would also not be surprised to see some stellar play in the opening rounds by Syracuse and Tennessee.
This is going to be a phenomenal tournament. The favorite is very clearly Gonzaga, but there are going to be so many great games you can’t just ignore them. This has been a very trying year, and I’m glad that college basketball was able to return and provide us all with much-needed entertainment.
Kudos to the coaches and players for such a stellar year. Let’s enjoy this fantastic tournament.