March Madness is back after being cancelled in 2020 for the first time in the history of the event. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament had been played every year since 1939 until the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation last year.
The NCAA has done everything in its power to ensure that March Madness 2021 is played in its entirety. Here’s a look at what you need to know heading into this year’s tournament.
This year’s NCAA tournament will be held in and around the city of Indianapolis. This will limit travel and exposure for players, coaches, and staff. Teams will play and practice at a number of different venues in and near the city. Local health officials will administer COVID testing protocols and fans will be limited to family members of players, coaches, and staff.
March Madness History
As mentioned, March Madness has been played every year since 1939. The first tournament had just eight teams. The number of teams increased over the years and reached 64 in 1985. In the years since, the NCAA added one play-in game and then the current four play-in games for a total of 68 teams.
March Madness 2021 No. 1 Seeds
Filling out an NCAA bracket after it has been released is now part of popular culture for basketball fans and non-fans alike. Trying to pick who will win all 67 games is something that is nearly impossible, which is why fans continue to do it year after year.
Each year, the NCAA selection committee does its best to pick the top four teams in the country and assign them to a No. 1 seed in a region. This year, Gonzaga and Baylor are clearly the two best teams in the country.
Michigan, which has stumbled a bit recently, and Illinois are most likely the other two No. 1 seeds. Illinois has been on fire as of late with wins over Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa as part of a six-game win streak.
The Best of the Rest
The quality of play in the Big Ten was outstanding this season which is why Ohio State and Iowa are likely No. 2 seed. They will be joined by American Athletic Conference champ Houston and SEC champion Alabama. Navigating through a difficult Big Ten schedule has prepared those teams well.
The other conference that was tough to play through was the Big 12. Baylor, of course, lost just once in regular season play while the rest of the conference beat each other up. Texas and Oklahoma State, with fabulous freshman Cade Cunningham, are two teams to watch. Both, along with perennial power Kansas, will all most likely be No. 3 seeds.
The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that each year it brings us a number of upsets. In some years, we see some huge surprises like 2018 when No. 11 Loyola-Chicago advanced all the way to the Final Four.
If there is a team like that this year, it could be Loyola once again. The Ramblers will probably be a No. 8 seed after winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title and conference tournament. Arkansas was a big surprise in the SEC finishing just behind Alabama in the regular season standings. The Razorbacks will be a third or fourth seed in the tourney.
Others that could pull upsets include Atlantic-10 champ St. Bonaventure and a down Michigan State. Both will probably be seeded at No. 10 in their respective divisions.
March Madness Best Bets
Predicting the NCAA champion is difficult, but you can use some history and recent performances to help. Three of the past four March Madness winners were No. 1 seeds. Since 1990, 20 NCAA champions have been a No. 1 seed.
Since the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams in 1985, there have only been 14 teams seeded lower than No. 6 to ever even make a Final Four. The bottom line is the teams that win the NCAA tournament are typically seeded No. 1, 2, or 3.
This season, as mentioned previously, there is no question the best two teams in the nation are Gonzaga and Baylor. The Bulldogs are the favorite to win the school’s first-ever NCAA championship. Head coach Mark Few and company made it all the way to the final in 2017 losing to North Carolina 71-65.
This year, Gonzaga is loaded with talent. Corey Kispert leads the Bulldogs averaging 19.2 points per game. Drew Timme adds 18.7 and 7.1 rebounds a game. Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs (14.3 ppg) will be a top five NBA draft pick for the nation’s No. 2 scoring team. This is a team that put up over 90 points against Virginia this season. The Cavaliers are well-known for their defense and the Bulldogs destroyed them earlier this season.
Baylor (22-2) is very similar to Gonzaga scoring 84.4 points per game, but the Bears are a better defensive team allowing 66.4 points a game. Baylor also navigated a tougher conference schedule, which may give them an advantage should the two meet in national final.
If there is a team that can challenge the top two, it is likely Illinois. Leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu (21.0 ppg) and 7-footer Kofi Cockburn (17.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg) lead an Illinois offense that averages 81.1 points per game. Freshman Andre Curbelo has blossomed into a nice young talent and the Illini can match up with most anyone on both ends the floor. If anyone can invade the space of Gonzaga and Baylor and steal a title it would be Illinois.