The 2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament pool has been released, and for the next 96 hours before the first round begins on Friday, March Madness pool enthusiasts and rim fans will fill the brackets and dive into the debates over which teams will cut the nets in Indianapolis. This year’s tournament will take place in a unique bubble environment, required by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the intrigue around the clashes and who will be the surprises this year, Cinderellas and the stars remains the same. .
The location is different, but the names of the regions (West, East, Midwest, South) remain the same. With the road to the Final Four, we are evaluating the players, teams and games to watch in each region.
What should we do about the South, where Baylor aspires to reach its first Final Four in more than 70 years?
Seed Status No. 1: Baylor
The Bears clinched the Big 12 regular-season championship for the first time in 71 years (1950) en route to claiming the school’s top No. 1 seed. Baylor was forced to go on a COVID-19 hiatus for three weeks in early February, then suffered both losses after the breakout. That said, that seven-game span was a “killer row” of competition, with six of the seven games against the top 25 teams.
Still, the Bears have legitimate problems to solve, specifically how to close games. On Saturday, Oklahoma State erased an eight-point deficit on a 31-14 streak with just under eight minutes remaining in the Big 12 semifinals to give Baylor its second loss of the season. The Bears have yet to return to their “pre-COVID-19 hiatus” form, either because of their 21 turnovers against Kansas State in the 12 quarterfinals or their dismal 38.9% shooting performance in the loss to the Cowboys.
That said, the Bears have a perfect collection of blue-collar talents, play with a toughness and guts that overwhelm their opponents over the course of the game, and have eight Quad 1 wins. The Bears could face early resistance in the second round from Carolina. North or Wisconsin, but its depth should be too much for the upper half of the support.
Who Has the Hardest Draw: No. 2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes nearly stole the Big Ten title, but ultimately fell in overtime to Illinois, 91–88. For their trouble, they will have to maneuver through the lower half of the southern stretch, which is riddled with potential landmines. The Buckeyes should handle No. 15 Oral Roberts convincingly, but No. 7 Florida or No. 10 Virginia Tech looms in the second round. Both teams have multiple double-digit scorers and depth. If they go ahead, the Buckeyes would likely face No. 3 Arkansas or perhaps the tournament’s most dangerous No. 6 seed, Texas Tech, before potentially seeing No. 1 Baylor, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “no rest. for the weary “.
Team that could break your frame: No. 12 Winthrop
The Eagles face No. 5 seed Villanova in the first round, and the Wildcats are set for the pick with point guard Collin Gillespie in streetwear after suffering a season-ending knee injury earlier this month. . That’s 14 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds out of the lineup against an Eagles team that considers depth one of its greatest strengths. Winthrop has a legitimate 11-man rotation, backed by Chandler Vaudrin, a 6-foot-7 left-handed point guard who does it all, averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game this season. The Eagles have won 28 of their last 29 games since last season, including an impressive victory over Southern Conference champion UNC Greensboro. Las Águilas have all the ingredients to get to Sweet 16.
Player to watch: Duane Washington Jr., Ohio State
Talk about peaking at the right time. Washington entered the Big Ten tournament averaging 15 points per game, and in the three games in Indianapolis he averaged 25.3. That’s great news for the Buckeyes, who will need that level of production in the grueling South. Washington gave Illinois all sorts of headaches in the Big Ten title game, scoring in different ways across all three levels en route to losing 32 points in the loss. Washington, which remains in attack mode, gives Ohio State its best chance to advance in each round. Expect it to eclipse the 32-point mark for the next two weeks.
Most intriguing matchup: No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Colgate
Moses Moody and Co. will be very busy with the Patriot League champions, who come to the Big Dance with a 13-game winning streak. Both teams are capable of putting great numbers on the scoreboard (Arkansas: 82.4 points per game, Colgate: 86.3 points per game), both are led by talented guards and both have great depth. The Raiders began their conference schedule on January 2 and have limited teams to just 68.6 points per game this season. Arkansas has more battle scars, but the Raiders tend to get hot and stay warm; in March that’s all that matters.
Regional Finalists: No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes more than demonstrated what they are capable of pushing Illinois to the limit in the Big Ten title game before finally going down. Yes, they needed 32 points from Washington, a career high, to get there, but their production had been on an upward trajectory throughout the tournament and they got their points on pace. That’s a great sign for an Ohio State team with nine Quad 1 wins this season. Baylor is playing with the best chip after losing two games in the last three weeks and watching the conversation about the national title cool down. The Bears are better defensively and are deeper, but the Buckeyes have consistently shown that, in their prime, they are more than capable of defeating a No. 1 seed.
Pick to Win Region: Baylor
I know, I know, there was a mass exodus in Baylor’s car for the past two weeks, but the Bears’ body of work trumps his recent skid. Baylor is an offensive monster, averaging 84.4 points per game and led the second-best conference in basketball in scoring, field goal percentage (49.3%), three-point percentage (41.8%) and steals (8.9 per game). , and is run by seniors. In the end, that will make a difference.
Complete South Region:
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 North Texas
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. Utah State No. 11
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.