The 2021 NCAA Tournament could be one of the best in college basketball history.

At long last, Selection Sunday is finally here. It’s been just under two years since we witnessed Virginia avenge its 2018 upset with a national title over Texas Tech. It’s been a challenging 12 months for everyone, but we’re so thankful to finally have the best postseason in sports back in our lives.

Not only is March Madness back, this year’s tournament is shaping up to be a historically great one. There are too many headlines and storylines to highlight, but we did our best identifying the ones that stand out most.

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Below we have five reasons why the 2021 NCAA Tournament will be one of the best ever.

Mid-major standouts

Winthrop is 23-1 with the best do-it-all point guard in college basketball. Loyola Chicago is 24-4 and ranked 9th in KenPom. San Diego State is 23-4 and hasn’t lost in two months. Jason Preston and Ohio are in the field; Javion Hamlet and North Texas punched a ticket, too, and so did UCSB’s JaQuori McLaughlin and Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer. We use the term “Year of the Mid-Major” so often, but 2021 might actually live up to the billing. The bracket’s mid-major class is superb.

Future NBA stardom

Remember last summer when a small corner of social media panicked about Jalen Green opting for the G League pathway program over college hoops? While we wish Green the best (he’s going to make millions as an NBA star), the college game is just fine. Cade Cunningham chose to weather the storm through Oklahoma State’s impending postseason ban and pandemic-impacted season to lead the Cowboys to one of their best campaigns in program history. Elsewhere, Ayo Dosunmu is leading Illinois to a historic season and fellow potential lotto picks Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga), Evan Mobley (USC), Moses Moody (Arkansas) and Scottie Barnes (Florida State) will all play major roles on prominent tournament squads.

Unlikely bid thieves

Four of the six primary high-major leagues have crowned champions as of Sunday morning. Let’s take a look at these squads:

  • ACC: Georgia Tech
    • Preseason conference poll: 9th of 15
    • Started 0-2 with losses to Georgia State and Mercer
    • Second NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years
  • Big 12: Texas
    • Preseason conference poll: 4th of 10
    • Entered season with Shaka Smart on the coaching hot seat
    • Zero NCAA Tournament wins since 2014
  • Big East: Georgetown
    • Preseason conference poll: 11th of 11
    • Started 3-8 and 1-5 in the Big East
    • Hasn’t reached NCAA Tournament since 2015
  • Pac-12 : Oregon State
    • Preseason conference poll: 12th of 12
    • Started 2-3 with losses to Washington State, Wyoming and Portland
    • Second NCAA Tournament appearance in 31 years

This year’s bid thieves lived up to the billing, and it will provide several enjoyable stories to monitor over the next week.

Gonzaga’s pursuit of perfection

Oh, by the way, Gonzaga is attempting to become college basketball’s first undefeated champion in 45 years. The Bulldogs are one of the most dominant and efficient teams in recent memory, ranking No. 1 in the AP poll and leading KenPom’s rankings by a huge margin. Mark Few is chasing his first national title after falling just short in 2017 to North Carolina. If the Bulldogs can get the job done, the 2020-21 squad will go down among the all-time teams in college basketball history. GU’s quartet of Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme is as good as it gets in this sport, helping the Bulldogs average a nation-best 92.1 points per game.

March is back … finally

Above all else, a sense of normality is finally here. The past 12 months have been rough for everyone, especially college hoops die-hards. College basketball was the only major sport that didn’t crown a 2020 champion given the timing of COVID-19’s touchdown in the United States. And while we’re still dealing with the virus, the end is near and the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. March is back, and we are so, so grateful.

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor