Predictions for the 2021 men’s NCAA Tournament bracket
Predicting the 2021 NCAA Tournament:
Gonzaga. The Zags are too experienced and frankly too good not to advance to this year’s Final Four. Standout freshman guard Jalen Suggs is just what Gonzaga needed to put Mark Few’s team over the top. And maybe win it all.
Baylor. I know, I know, the Bears haven’t looked the same since their late-season COVID-19 pause, but the guess here is that Scott Drew will right the ship by the time Baylor gets to Indianapolis. Tempted to go with Chris Holtmann and Ohio State, but you wonder how much the deep Big Ten Tournament run took out of the Buckeyes. And Baylor is the better team.
Illinois. The talented Illini is led by the terrific bookend combination of guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn. But depth is what sets Brad Underwood’s team apart. The lllini have plenty of weapons to get the job done.
Alabama. Move over, Nick Saban. Former UK associate athletic director Greg Byrne made an astute hire when as Alabama AD he brought Nate Oats from Buffalo to Tuscaloosa. And it took just two years for Oats to win the SEC regular season and tournament titles. Now, Roll Tide to the Final Four.
Illinois over Gonzaga. Sorry Zags, not even in a crazy COVID-19 year am I ready to predict that any team can finish the college basketball season unbeaten. When locked in, Illinois is the best team in the country, and during this global pandemic it will be only fitting that the Illini’s mask-wearing guard Ayo Dosunmu hoists the national title trophy on April 5.
Morehead State. After a great season, Preston Spradlin’s Eagles are capable of shocking West Virginia in the first round, but I just can’t quite bring myself to predict it will happen. But I’ll bet Johni Broome gives Huggs fits.
No. 12 UC Santa Barbara will beat No. 5 Creighton. The Bluejays appear on a downward spiral and the Gauchos are good.
No. 11 Wichita State-Drake winner will beat No. 6 USC. The guess here is Drake will beat Wichita State, then turn around and send the Trojans back to Los Angeles.
No. 10 Rutgers will beat No. 7 Clemson in a mild upset. Rutgers Coach Steve Pikiell has done a terrific job on the streets of Jersey and the Scarlet Knights have been battle-tested playing in the Big Ten.
▪ To me, the West is the weakest region with Iowa as a No. 2 seed and Kansas a No. 3. No. 4 seed Virginia is battling COVID-19 and No. 5 Creighton got blown out in the Big East Tournament title game. Look for Gonzaga to not meet much resistance on its way to the Final Four.
▪ Way back in 1987, Rick Pitino beat a very good Alabama team on the way to taking Providence to the Final Four. That won’t happen this time around when Pitino’s Iona Gaels, a No. 15 seed, play No. 2 seed Alabama in the round of 64. In fact, Alabama now plays the up-tempo, three-point shooting style that Pitino used as an up-and-coming coach of the Friars.
▪ If it gets past No. 9 seed Georgia Tech in the first round — certainly not a given — No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago would probably play No. 1 seed Illinois in the round of 32. Guessing the Windy City will be looking forward to that one.
▪ If it can get past No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure — certainly not a given — No. 8 seed LSU could give a depleted No. 1 seed Michigan fits in the next round of the Midwest Region. The Tigers pulled off a good SEC Tournament semifinal win over Arkansas and took Alabama to the wire in the title game.
▪ If No. 3 seed Arkansas meets No. 6 seed Texas Tech in the round of 32 of the South Region, it’ll be quite the contrast between Eric Musselman’s get-it-and-go Razorbacks and Chris Beard’s defensive-minded Red Raiders.
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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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