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 Midwest, where Michigan hopes a key injury won’t cloud its Final Four hopes?
Seed Status No. 1: Michigan
Unranked in the AP preseason poll, Michigan came out of nowhere to start 11-0 and win the Big Ten regular season title for the first time since 2014. That Big Ten championship is no small feat, considering that the conference is the highest rated conference. anywhere since 2002, according to KenPom. The Big Ten was a glove this season, and navigating it as well as the Wolverines did is one of the most impressive achievements of the season.
What has made Michigan so good? The Wolverines have the combination of NBA experience, depth, shooting and talent that is ideal for trying to fight for a national championship. Freshman big man Hunter Dickinson exceeded expectations and became one of the best players in the country up front, while sophomore winger Franz Wagner has enjoyed a great season and does absolutely everything for the Wolverines. . But the real revelation has been point guard Mike Smith, a transfer graduate from Columbia who has been the steady hand running the show. Dickinson’s dominance in the paint, combined with elite shooting and playmaking around him, makes Michigan incredibly difficult to score.
The great concern is the health of senior wing Isaiah Livers, an essential component of this team. Livers will be out indefinitely due to a stress injury to his right foot and his status for the NCAA tournament is unclear. The team’s second leading scorer, Livers is an elite shooter, a solid distributor and, perhaps most importantly, one of the leaders of this team.
A showdown with LSU or St. Bonaventure in the second round could be quite challenging, particularly without Livers. However, if the Wolverines can survive the first weekend, the path to Elite Eight feels very manageable given the vulnerability of both the state of Florida and Colorado.
Who has the toughest draw: No. 3 Texas
The Longhorns landed a No. 3 seed after winning the Big 12 tournament, but the committee did them no favors in terms of matchups. First-round foe Abilene Christian is no piece of cake thanks to an elite defense that held her Big 12 rival, Texas Tech, to 51 points earlier this season. Assuming the Longhorns surpass Abilene, they’re looking at either a showdown with an elite BYU team that led Gonzaga late last week … or a potential showdown with a Michigan State team that has beaten three of the two best seeds this season. Beyond that, Alabama’s No. 2 seed or a red-hot No. 7 UConn is looming just to make it to the Elite Eight. If Texas runs its first deep run of the Shaka Smart era, it will certainly have been won.
Team that could break his frame: No. 9 St. Bonaventure
I really like the Bonnies draw, who looked great in the A-10 tournament. The first-round matchup against a talented but optional LSU team feels manageable, and St. Bonavenutre was paired with the most vulnerable No. 1 seed on a Michigan team without Livers. Of course, winning a matchup like that will be challenging, but Bonaventure center Osun Osunniyi is one of the nation’s best interior defenders and could make Hunter Dickinson’s life difficult if he can avoid foul trouble. If Osunniyi can stop Dickinson and perimeter scorers Dominick Welch and Jaren Holmes knock down shots, the Bonnies could pull off the surprise and leave this region wide open. Much has been made of St. Bonaventure’s lack of depth, but the Bonnies’ five starters are incredibly talented and disciplined. This is a definite team to follow.
Player to watch: James Bouknight, UConn
Big East’s second leading scorer this season and a likely first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, few players are more exciting in the country than Bouknight. An elite athlete who is a threat in transition, Bouknight is capable of taking over a game with his ability to score. He has greatly increased UConn’s ceiling since returning from an elbow injury in January, leading the Huskies to a 6-2 finish after his return in mid-February. Still, UConn is 11-3 with Bouknight in the lineup and 4-4 without him. The Huskies are more dangerous than their No. 7 seed indicates now that he’s completely healthy, and a possible second-round showdown against Alabama could be one of the best games of the entire NCAA tournament.
Most Intriguing Pairing: No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Michigan State / UCLA
Regardless of whether UCLA or Michigan State win in the top-four matchup, this 11/6 matchup with BYU has the potential to be an incredibly exciting game. The Cougars have great potential from Cinderella, a shooter-laden elite offensive team that led Gonzaga with less than 10 minutes left in the WCC title game. Alex Barcello is one of the best shooting guards in the nation, and Mark Pope’s club will be up for the challenge against any opponent they attract. But facing a Michigan State team that is playing its best basketball of the season right now or a UCLA team with a relatively meager but highly talented résumé will be challenging. Add in the potential for a strong MSU fan presence in Indianapolis, and this could be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament.
Regional Finalists: St. Bonaventure vs. Alabama
Between the No. 9 St. Bonaventure seed and the University of Connecticut No. 7 seed, I’m confident that at least one of the top two seeds in this region will rebound in the first weekend. Either of the first two survivors will be in the driver’s seat to win the region, and here I will give Alabama a slight lead. As I wrote earlier, the Bonnies are perfectly positioned for a deep run thanks to their experience, talent and training, combined with the drawing of a weakened Michigan team. Meanwhile, Alabama has a challenging road, but he continues to convince me with his shooting ability and competitiveness, and Herbert Jones might be the best player in this region. If Tide can beat a UConn team that plays great basketball, they have a good chance of making the Final Four.
Pick to Win Region: Alabama
There’s been a lot of talk about Alabama’s offensive dynamics, but it’s really the success on the defensive end that has taken the Tide to new heights this season. Nate Oats ‘team outscores Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels in the first round, wins a close battle against UConn in the second round, thanks to Herb Jones’ defense over James Bouknight, and is ready for the races after the surprises in the upper part of the region.
Complete east region:
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s / Texas Southern
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 San Buenaventura
No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Georgetown
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro
No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Michigan State / UCLA
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Maryland
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Iona
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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.