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 with the West, where Gonzaga comes to Indy in search of perfection?
Seed Status No. 1: Gonzaga
Frankly, Gonzaga has seemed destined to top the overall standings since a landslide win over Kansas in the first game of the season. The Bulldogs have earned and lived up to their lofty expectations every step of the way since then, relying on a balanced, turbocharged offense and four players with All-American cases. You rarely find four stars with such complementary skill sets as Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and Joel Ayayi. Mark Few’s teams have led the nation in offensive efficiency for three years in a row, and this edition is the third best nationally in the past 10 years, according to KenPom data. They’ve done it without relying too heavily on the release of three, which bodes well for the sustainability of it all. The synergy between its stars passes the test of sight, and Gonzaga’s ball movement can be a beautiful thing.
Still, running the table presents its own set of challenges. As history has shown, coming into the tournament undefeated guarantees new levels of pressure. Aside from a slow first half against BYU in the WCC championship game, Gonzaga hasn’t played a really close competition since Dec. 2 against West Virginia, a game he still won by five. The Bulldogs defense is stable, not elite, but no opponent has been able to make the most of it. Attrition can be a nasty thing to do in March, but it’s hard to argue that Gonzaga is really vulnerable, mainly because we haven’t seen him yet. However, as the stakes rise, your toughest test is almost certainly yet to come.
The big question when it comes to the Gonzaga region is whether the Zags will encounter that kind of challenge before the Final Four. In fact, we have more answers than usual on that front: They’ve already beaten the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seeds – Iowa, Kansas and Virginia – in the regular season, and comfortably. At a glance, the answer is probably no. But of course we have to play the games first.
Who has the toughest draw: No. 2 Iowa
The lower half of this stand is fully charged; Iowa’s road to a possible Elite Eight rematch with Gonzaga doesn’t look like fun at all. Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes attract a pretty solid first-round opponent in the Grand Canyon, but it’s the prospect of having to go through a highly experienced and under-seeded Oregon team in the second round that should set off the ring. potential surprise bells. Win that one, and Iowa could lead to Kansas (always formidable, pending COVID-19) or USC (not so scary, but still dangerous) at Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes are certainly good enough to pull it off, but of all the seeds. No. 2, they may be looking down the roughest road.
The team that could break their bracket: No. 7 Oregon
There are several good bottom seeds in this region, but among the teams that can avoid Gonzaga until the Elite Eight, Oregon deserves your attention. Led by 23-year-old Chris Duarte, one of the best players in the country, the Ducks are very experienced and proven. Losing to Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament was a bit of a concern, but since February 6, they’ve lost only twice, and on a good night of shooting, they have a lot to handle. If they can handle VCU (who fought hard in the A-10 final) in Round 1, the Ducks won’t fear Iowa and will be able to match them shot for shot. If they can go that far, what is one more victory?
Player to watch: Evan Mobley, USC
In addition to being one of the first projected picks in the NBA draft, Mobley has done a lot of heavy lifting for the Trojans this season, and most opponents haven’t dealt with anything close to his game-changing defensive length. USC is a bit vulnerable on its own due to inconsistent base play, but it’s also capable of beating good teams on any given night. Mobley has been on lockdown, scoring 26 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking shots in each of his last two games of the Pac-12 tournament. This is your last chance to see Mobley play in college, and an Elite Eight career isn’t out of the question, though it’s not necessarily likely. As a smaller question, a second-round matchup between USC and Kansas would be quite intriguing.
Most intriguing matchup: No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio
This region might be ready for multiple first-round surprises (also keep an eye out for Creighton-UC Santa Barbara), but this is the game I’m most curious about. Virginia will face a layoff of more than a week after withdrawing from the ACC tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. Ohio star playmaker Jason Preston is capable of being the best player in this game. As we all know, Virginia’s slow pace can leave her vulnerable to lesser competition. The Bobcats struggle on the defensive end, but they have plenty of shots and have shot to a 12-3 mark dating back to Jan. 2. They won’t be fazed after memorably playing Illinois in a two-point loss in November. This is a potentially tricky starting point for the Hoos.
Regional Finalists: Gonzaga and Iowa
I realize I spent quite a bit of time causing a possible surprise in Iowa, but in the end I think the Hawkeyes win the games they are supposed to do and they get the job done. Luka Garza still has a lot to handle, and it is a huge challenge for opponents to adequately call or force his team out of their comfort zone with tempo. If they tie Oregon in the second round, things could get tough early in the group, but Iowa has been through intense testing so far.
As for Gonzaga, it’s hard to see the Bulldogs wither away at any point before the Elite Eight at the very least. The Oklahoma and Missouri winner shouldn’t pose an intense challenge. Creighton and UVA had tough draws in the first round, and no matter who the Zags would draw in the Sweet 16, they would be in good shape.
Eventually the pressure will mount here, and the prospect of facing a team they’ve already played with could complicate matters, but Gonzaga is as good as advertised, and exceptionally tough to face, at least until the Final Four.
Complete western region:
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State / Appalachian State
No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Missouri
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Wichita / Drake State
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington
No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 VCU
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon
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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.