March Madness is officially here!!! The men’s basketball tournament will tip off on Mar 18, with four play-in games to determine the final field of 64 teams. With the virus still looming around, the tournament will take place mostly in Indianapolis, Indiana, followed by Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana, and Mackey Arena, in West Lafayette, Indiana. The decision to play the 2021 Tournament in one state was made with the intent to reduce the amount of travel and venues, minimizing any potential spread of the coronavirus. The NCAA announced on Feb 19 that it will allow “up to 25 percent capacity with physical distancing,” in conjunction with local and state COVID-19 policies.
What does the schedule for the tournament look like?
First Four — 4 PM start on Thursday, March 18
First Round — 12 PM start on Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20
Second Round — 12 PM start on Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22
Sweet 16 — 2 PM start on Saturday, March 27 and 1 PM start on Sunday, March 28
Elite Eight — 7 PM start on Monday, March 29 and 6 PM start on Tuesday, March 30
Final Four — 5 PM start on Saturday, April 3
NCAA Championship Game — 9 PM on Monday, April 5
The Final Four and National Championship game will take place in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home of the NFL football team, the Colts. CBS Sports and Turner Sports will continue to distribute all 67 games of the tournament across TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV and their digital platforms.
All eyes are on the Bulldogs of Gonzaga in the West region. After coming off a historic 26-0 season with a West Coast Conference Championship under their belt, the Zags are the frontrunners to win this year’s tournament. Behind Corey Kispert and Joel Ayai, the Bulldogs have one of the most potent offenses in college basketball. Besides Gonzaga, the west has many teams with a chance to run the table. #2 Iowa, #3 Kansas and #4 Virginia all pose a legit threat to Gonzaga’s dominance. Iowa will look to their Naismith Trophy candidate, Luka Garza, to grab rebounds and score points in the paint.
#5 Creighton, #6 USC, and #7 Oregon all look to make a dark-horse run in the West region. One team that has the highest chance of making an upset is the #12 Cal State Santa Barbara Gauchos. The Gauchos are red hot after winning the Big West Conference Championship, and with a matchup against the cold Creighton Blue Jays, this game has all the chance for an upset.
Team to Watch Out For: Eastern Washington… This one may come as a surprise but #14 Eastern Washington is a team on the rise and could really turn some heads. The Eagle’s first matchup is against a Kansas team that may not have all their starters set to play. The Jayhawks are down starting forward Jalen Wilson, starting center David McCormack and backup wing Tristan Enaruna, two of whom may make a return at the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend depending on how things shake out. A win over Kansas could give the Eagles a lot of confidence to make a deep run.
West Region Champion: Gonzaga Bulldogs- The Zags will play in the Final Four game against the winner of the East region. If all goes as planned it looks like the Zags will be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
Baylor is the top seed in the South Region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament after a solid season and hovering near the top spot all year. Ohio State, Arkansas and Purdue round out the top four seeds in the South Region. The South region games will begin on Mar 19. Besides the top four teams, the South is well rounded by popular basketball schools such as Villanova, Texas Tech, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
#5 Villanova is in some trouble, considering their top player Colin Gillespie was ruled out for the year. Villanova lost in the 2nd round of the Big East tournament to the Big East champion Georgetown Hoyas. Villanova will face #12 seed, Winthrop, coming off a 23-1 season. #4 seed Purdue will be playing in front of the hometown crowd throughout the tournament, whether that will be an advantage or not is still unknown, but watch out for the Boilermakers especially if they start to make a run.
Team To Watch Out For: North Carolina Tar Heels… Despite being an 8 seed, I believe the Tar Heels serve as a threat to the top-seeded Baylor Bears. North Carolina could easily lose in the first round and their hopes could be over quickly, but a well-experienced coaching staff can go far in the tournament. Carolina has been an inconsistent team, but is a great rebounding team, averaging 14 offensive rebounds a game. If both the Tar Heels and Baylor Bears get past the first round, I can see Carolina pulling off a second-round upset, ending what has been a successful season for the Bears.
South Region Champion: In a region where a lot of potential upsets could be made, I see the Ohio State Buckeyes cutting down the nets. Led by guard Dwayne Washington Jr and forward EJ Liddell, the Buckeyes fell short of winning the Big Ten Championship, losing to Illinois by three points in overtime. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, Ohio St dropped four in a row, which makes me think Ohio St has gotten their cold streak out of the way and are back to playing their best basketball. Ohio St has the most wins over Quad 1 teams, “teams ranked in the top 30” over any other team in the country with 9 wins. If the Buckeyes can keep playing as they did in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio St will be a tough team to stop from reaching Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Final Four.
The Illinois Fighting Illini anchor the region as the No. 1 seed. The Illini are worthy of top billing with an elite one-two punch in guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn surrounded by a strong group of shooters and defenders. Other top seeds in the Midwest consist of #2 Houston Cougars, #3 West Virginia, #4 Oklahoma State and #5 Tennessee Volunteers. The Midwest Region games will begin on March 19.
Team To Watch Out For: San Diego State Aztecs… Winners of the Mountain West conference, the Aztecs have yet to lose a game since Jan 16, winning thirteen consecutive games. Seeded 6th in the region, San Diego State will be extra motivated, considering they were projected to be a 1 seed last season. The Aztecs are led by Forward Matt Mitchell, who averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds in the regular season. The Aztecs on offense are explosive, shooting on average 44% from the field, 35% from behind the arc, and 82% from the free-throw line. San Diego State will play the #11 seed Syracuse Orange in the first round.
Midwest Region Champion: Despite a lot of people predicting either Illinois or Houston to win the Midwest region, I have the Oklahoma State Cowboys making a run to the final four, defeating Illinois and Houston in the process. The Cowboys may just have the best player in the tournament, freshmen Cade Cunningham, who is projected to be a top 5 lottery pick in the NBA draft. Cunningham is averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game, shooting 45% from the field and 41% percent from the three.
Oklahoma State fell short of winning the Big 12 tournament, but defeated 10th ranked West Virginia and 2nd ranked Baylor, before losing 91-86 to the Texas Longhorns in the championship game. It will be a difficult path for Oklahoma State if they wanna make a final four run, but I believe Cade Cunningham will put up big numbers and lead the Cowboys to their seventh final four in program history.
The East region just might be the toughest region in this year’s tournament. With teams such as #1 Michigan, #2 Alabama, and #3 Texas, the program that makes it out alive will be battle-tested and ready to win a Championship. The favorite to win the East is the Michigan Wolverines hailing from the Big Ten conference. The Wolverines will look to their star players Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner for rebounds, open shots, and points in the paint. However, Michigan will be without star Guard Isaiah Livers who is battling a fractured foot. In the conference tournament, Michigan found themselves losing to arch-rival Ohio State in the semifinals. With this surprising loss, Michigan is hungry for a deep run in the tournament.
The most surprising team in the East region is the SEC Champs Alabama. Yes, it has happened Alabama is both great at basketball and football. Alabama has a strong chance to win some games thanks to their stellar three-point shooting. When the three-ball does not fall, Alabama plays a tremendous defense that will lock up any offense. All-SEC Conference Player of the Year, Herbert Jones, should be fun to watch.
#3 Texas, #4 Florida State, and #5 Colorado will need their best players to step up and play well for them to advance through the tournament. The best chance for an upset is #13 UNC-Greensboro Spartans topping Florida State. The Spartans have won six out of their last eight games including the Southern Conference Championship. This momentum can give UNC-Greensboro a strong chance to send the Seminoles back home.
Team to Watch Out For: Georgetown Hoyas… Georgetown is coming off a historic Big East Title run to give them their first conference title since 2007. The Bulldogs knocked off top seed Villanova in the second round and dismantled Creighton in the conference championship game by a score of 73-48. Senior Guard Jahvon Blair leads the Hoyas in both points per game and assists per game, he should play a large role in Georgetown’s hopeful run.
East Region Champion: Michigan Wolverines- Michigan has proved time in and time out that they can beat some of the best teams in college basketball. They ran through the Big Ten with a 14-3 conference record, which is impressive considering the Big Ten was the toughest conference in basketball this year. With this Final Four bid, it will put the Wolverines right back in the Final Four for the second consecutive tournament.