Monday, March 15, 2021

The 68 Are Seeded: Initial Thoughts

By Jean Neuberger

We have a tournament. Sixty-eight teams are headed (or in many cases, already arrived) to Indianapolis for a March Madness that, while unprecedented, will be a refreshing return to normalcy for so many of us.

Now that we have our 68-team field announced and set, here's my initial thoughts on this year's March Madness.

* The bubble was, for the most part, non-controversial. Sure, one could claim Louisville might have deserved a chance, but after their performance in the ACC tournament, there was more than a strong case to leave them out. Kudos to the committee for inviting 25-4 Drake to the Big Dance, as well. The Bulldogs were a solid second in the Missouri Valley and deserved their chance.

* I don't see anyone bowing out of the tournament by Tuesday, so I don't expect any of the four alternates to make it in. The NCAA has the teams fairly isolated and bubbled in; something they've learned from the successful NHL and NBA bubbles of last fall. I like the backup plan, but I don't think it'll need to be used.

* Speaking of Drake, I was surprised that Wichita State was as much on the bubble as they were. The Shockers won the American, where second-place Houston earned a No. 2 seed, and three of the Shockers five losses were to NCAA tournament teams in Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Houston. Wichita is a very poor shooting ball club, but that didn't stop them from having an impressive season under very rocky circumstances.

* The biggest "snubs" by the NCAA weren't by leaving teams out; rather where they placed them. Besides the oddity of Wichita State, LSU as an 8 seed really surprised me. After their performance in the SEC tournament, I was thinking of LSU as more of a 6 seed than an 8. It makes for a great game with St. Bonaventure and a pretty big roadblock for Michigan, regardless of who wins. Also, how is Oklahoma State a 4 seed? I definitely was thinking the Pokes would be a solid 3 seed, especially after taking down Baylor. The committee should've swapped Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Also, Oregon at a 7 was a bit of a surprise. They definitely have the ability to get to the Sweet 16 and shred brackets and Iowa hearts.

* As long as Isaiah Livers is out, Michigan is the most vulnerable top seed. Illinois is red-hot, Baylor is finding their stride again and Gonzaga has as favorable a path to the Final Four as you could ask. With that said, if Michigan can get through the Sweet 16, they present a bad matchup for Alabama, should they reach the Elite Eight. The Tide has tremendous shooters, but their weakness is facing teams with a strong front-court presence. Hunter Dickinson would give them a lot of trouble.

* The trendy upset pick each year is a 12-seed over a 5-seed. This year, that trendy pick would be Winthrop. The Eagles are 23-1, losing their only game by 2 points. Teams with veteran guard play are always dangerous in March, and Chandler Vaudrin is the type of veteran guard that could destroy a lot of brackets. Collin Gillespie's absence for 'Nova also looms large this weekend. The second-trendiest pick? Ohio has won nine of their last 10 and is facing a Virginia team that's been facing COVID issues.

* I love the Loyola Chicago/Georgia Tech matchup. If Loyola wins, I really love the Loyola/Illinois matchup in the second round. That might be the most anticipated matchup between two Illinois schools in some time, even if the Illini would be sizable favorites. Porter Moser has worked wonders with the Ramblers and with Minnesota and Indiana's coaches on the hot seat, could a Loyola run pull him to a Power Five program?

* Another second round game that will be fun: Ohio State vs. either Florida or Virginia Tech. Both the Gators and Hokies have the ability to be fantastic at points and horrible at others. If the winner is on, they could give the Buckeyes a really good challenge.

* Final Four picks? I think this is a bracket with a lot of chalk, so my picks will be similar. Give me Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, and Florida State. As for the title, while Illinois and Baylor are fantastic, Gonzaga has to be the choice. The 'Zags are undefeated with wins over Kansas, Virginia, Iowa, and West Virginia, with the latter being their only win by single-digits all year. They don't seem to have a weakness anywhere. I think this is finally their year to cut the nets.

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