As the 68-team field gathers in Indianapolis for this NCAA Tournament, the joy of having the opportunity to play will and should be first and foremost. With “March Madness” being canceled last season due to COVID-19 it’s such a huge relief to see the tourney return.
Indianapolis is nicknamed “Naptown,” which many believe points to its reputation as a sleepy community.
Or others believe it’s an ode to a 1930’s Blues song. Either way, beginning this week they’re hooping for 3 weeks and in the end, some team will have that “One Shining Moment.”
The hype and euphoria surrounding playing at fabled Assembly Hall (Indiana Hoosiers) and Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler Bulldogs), will surely bring more life to this area for the next three weeks than when a certain IndyCar series race arrives every year.
The “Madness” will consist of 67 games spread across the state of Indiana, with most matchups taking place near its capital city.
Following Sunday’s bracket release here are some of my thoughts and opinions as to what awaits those in a place known for more than just corn.
Navigating Through A Pandemic
In the interesting cases of Kansas and Virginia, both had to withdraw from their conference tourneys because of COVID-19. Both are also in the West Region with the Jayhawks as the No. 3 seed and the Cavaliers the No. 4 seed. At this point, they’ve been cleared to play. But that’s something worth keeping an eye on as all participating tournament teams must clear daily testing.
No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed Gonzaga is a heavy favorite to win the West Regional
Covid-19 issues cloud the futures of No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Virginia
Check out the odds, analysis, and betting predictions, below
Gonzaga (26-0) https://t.co/VIYGOoW9fv
— Spark (@sparkonlinenow) March 16, 2021
6 NCAA Tournament referees have already been sent home because of COVID-19. Navigating through potential virus contraction is a new opponent March Madness teams have never faced.
Patrick & Hoyas Back On Top In Big East
Every year you have your bid stealers and that was no different this year with the Patrick Ewing led Georgetown Hoyas surprisingly winning the Big East Championship, its first since 2007, and receiving the conference’s automatic bid.
Georgetown's 1984 title was bittersweet for the Hoyas after they dealt with so much tragedy. Patrick Ewing discussed the run with @John_Fanta.
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) March 16, 2021
They also did it 49 years to the day that the school hired the late great John Thompson to be its head coach. What a moment to have accomplished this feat under the leadership of Ewing, the program’s greatest player.
What a capper after the week Ewing had with the Madison Square Garden security accosting him over badge credentials as if his jersey doesn’t hang in the rafters of the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
The Oregon State Beavers stole another NCAA Tourney bid by winning the PAC-12 Championship, and that was with former Beaver great and NBA Hall Of Famer Gary Payton in attendance.
The upsets pulled by Georgetown and Oregon State caused a trickle-down effect within the committee, which led to the Bubble bursting for a few teams expected to make it into the field.
There’s No Easy Path To The NCAA Championship
One may laugh when viewing Gonzaga’s “oh-so-easy path” to the Final Four. The unbeaten and barely challenged Zags have already destroyed the West Region’s No.2 (Iowa), 3 (Kansas) and 4 (Virginia) seeds by an average of 15 points this season and all were played at neutral sites.
Upsets do happen, however, especially in the NCAA Tourney. So overconfidence would be a risky character trait at this juncture.
Blue Blood Play-In Game
How about that interesting play-in game between two “Blue Bloods,” in Michigan State and UCLA? The winner will be an 11 seed in the East and face Brigham Young. BYU gave conference foe and title favorite Gonzaga its biggest scare of the season in the West Coast Conference Championship title game, leading by 12 at halftime and eventually losing 6 in the end.
UPSET SEASON: No. 1 Seeds Don’t Get To Breathe
Let’s not be so fast to advance all the No.1 seeds, to a Final Four. I see games Michigan could lose in the Sweet Sixteen (Florida State) and Elite Eight (Texas) in potential matchups if seeds hold. Juwan Howard will need leading scorer Isaiah Livers back from a foot injury to make it to a Final Four IMO.
Upsets are what this tourney is about and here are some I believe could happen early in each region:
No.13 Ohio over No.4 Virginia in the West. No.12 Winthrop over No. 5 Villanova in the South. Wildcats lost senior point guard Collin Gillespie and that really elevates their chances to be upset. No. 11 Syracuse over No. 6 San Diego State in the Midwest is plausible, but I also believe the Aztecs could make a deep run as well.
No. 12 Georgetown over No. 5 Colorado, as the Hoyas are hot and playing a suffocating style. Reminds you a bit of those vintage Hoya Destroyer squads under Big John Thompson.
The No.3 vs No.14 line is always intriguing and this year’s barnburner could come in the form of Arkansas vs Colgate in the South. Razorbacks average (82.4 PPG) and the Raiders average (86.3 PPG). We could be in-store for entertainment overload.
Return Of The Mack
Rick Pitino is back in the tourney as he brings the Iona Gaels the champions of the MAAC to the party. They won the MAAC Championship despite multiple program stoppages due to the pandemic. He joins Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith as the only coaches to bring five different programs to the dance.
Top Tourney Talent
Some players just have the “IT” factor and I believe these guys could singlehandedly take their squads very deep into the tournament:
Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma St), Evan Mobley (USC), James Bouknight (UCONN), Nah’shon Hyland (VCU), and Trevion Williams (Purdue).
Missing Blue Bloods Hurt Viewership?
With Duke and Kentucky not making the tournament in the same year for the first time since 1976, that in itself shows how unprecedented and unpredictable this season has been. Two “Blue Bloods” who dominate recruiting are not a part of “March Madness.” This can’t be a good look for viewership.
Each bracket has a sleeper that could hang around if things fall their way:
Oregon (West), Texas Tech (South), Florida State (East) and Tennessee (Midwest). Leonard Hamilton is due for a championship.
I’ve given you many different angles and scenarios to look at thus far, but in the end, I like Gonzaga, Baylor, Alabama, and Houston to reach the Final Four.
With the Zags finally breaking through and giving Mark Few that elusive National Championship and the first for a team not from an “Autonomy Five” conference since the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels led by Jerry Tarkanian, Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon.
“Let The Madness Begin”