Slant Pattern’s March Madness 2021 Preview

I know I am the not the first person, the hundredth, or the thousandth to say so, but, isn't it nice to have a tournament again?

Sure, it's not quite the same. Limited attendees, all the games in Indiana, teams that are surely still to forfeit due to positive Covid cases — these are all still a thing. Indeed, Louisville and the top three teams in the NIT are all on notice, as they may be called upon to jump in to take the place of a team that finds out they can't play prior to the first round.

If that happens, the substitute team will simply take the place of the forfeiting team, with no bracket adjustments. You could hypothetically see No. 1 seed Gonzaga against No. 16 seed Louisville.

It makes me glad that UMBC as a No. 16 beat No. 1 Virginia a few years back. If the first No. 16 to beat a No. 1 was a late-substitute high major, you couldn't make the asterisk large enough.

Speaking of Gonzaga, my first prediction is that they will not win it all. I suppose they will eventually, but heavy is the head that wears the undefeated crown. There's a reason no one has been able to pull that trick since the '70s. It's so much pressure that even blue bloods like Kentucky ultimately falter going into the big dance undefeated.

And while I think Gonzaga is as good as any team in the country, playing the last 85% of your schedule against WCC schools doesn't prepare you as well as, say, an ACC slate does. The same would be true every year, of course, but again, most years the 'Zags won't be going into the tournament with zero losses.  

People have been pointing to the fact that the 'Zags have already beaten a number of the high seeds in their bracket, but I don't know that that's an advantage either. It's hard beating teams the quality of Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia twice, especially since you learn more in defeat than you do in victory.

Of course, that's assuming Virginia and Kansas are good to go after having to bow out of their conference tourneys with Covid issues. That's why Ohio is a very popular first round upset pick. Not only is Virginia sometimes upset-prone, but they won't be able to practice much beforehand and Ohio is scorching hot. Georgetown-hot.

So Virginia is vulnerable, but how vulnerable is the ACC as a whole? The highest ACC seed is Florida State at a No. 4. Any other year, it would be unthinkable to imagine no ACC team among the nation's best 12 teams.

But are we buying too low on the ACC in a year when we have fewer data points (by which I mean non-conference games) to cross-reference? Remember, the ACC was a Boston College overtime against Minnesota away from splitting the ACC/Big Ten challenge with the league widely considered to be the best in the land by a large margin.  

So I think it might be wise to be careful betting against ACC teams. I myself have Florida State coming out of their region (and I have Baylor winning it all; they should be playing with no pressure, no monkeys on their backs).

If the Big Ten is the best conference, then the worst conference with multiple bids in this year's tourney is surely the Missouri Valley Conference. Loyola Chicago is clearly the class of the conference and a dangerous team, but Drake also squeaked in by the hairs of their chinny-chin-chins.

In three games (two at home and one on a neutral site) between Drake and Loyola, Drake won one game by one and were blown out in the other two. They are also dealing with serious injury problems.

What am I getting at is my favorite bet of the opening round of the tournament. Drake plays Wichita State. The Shockers were the American Athletic Conference regular season champs. They went toe-to-toe with Houston in conference, losing by seven and beating them by five in their two meetings. Their only other conference loss was to Memphis, allowing Wichita to take the regular season crown while Houston took the tourney title.

Houston is a No. 2 seed. Wichita State is a play-in-game No. 11.  

Am I saying that Wichita State is as good as Houston? No. But I am saying there are not 9 seeds' worth between them. Wichita State is going to blow the doors off Drake, but they are only 1.5-point favorites at this writing on Bovada. Anything can happen in March, but this is one where I am betting right up to the penny of my comfort limit on the Shockers. Happy Madness to one and all!

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