No team is unbeatable, and everyone loves upsets. Learn what could be the downfall for each 1-seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
For the last three weeks, a group of four teams has emerged as overwhelming favorites to win the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. The debate between Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, and Michigan has been heated, without any other challenger entering the conversation for over a month. Therefore, it’s fitting that these are the four teams selected as the 1-seed in each quadrant for the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket.
While it’s clear that each team has the talent to bring home the hardware, it’s also important to know the biggest weakness for each team before choosing them to win it all. These holes haven’t cost the teams many losses, but they could certainly prove fatal if an opponent can take advantage.
Michigan Wolverines (No. 4 Overall Seed) – Isaiah Livers’ absence
Announced before the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal game, senior forward Isaiah Livers will be out indefinitely with a stress injury in his foot. Whether or not he misses the entire tournament isn’t known, but the outlook certainly isn’t great. Without Livers — the top outside shooter on Juwan Howard’s squad — more pressure will be placed on Mike Smith, Franz Wagner, Chaundee Brown and Eli Brooks to make up for his multi-level scoring. Even before being ruled out, Livers hadn’t scored in double digits for four straight games, a slump that contributed to Michigan losing three of five entering Selection Sunday. If a team can threaten 70 points against them (a difficult task), I am not sure the Wolverines have the offensive firepower to match.
East Region teams to watch: LSU, Florida State, Alabama
Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 3 Overall Seed) – Turnover differential
Illinois has the best two-man combo in the country in Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu, and they have looked particularly dominant over the last few weeks. With Andre Curbelo stepping up as a solid role player, this team may be the second most popular title pick to win the national championship. It is difficult to identify any huge holes for the Illini, but their biggest issue is ball security and the inability to force turnovers on defense. According to KenPom, Brad Underwood’s team ranks 135th in offensive turnover percentage and 319th in defensive turnover percentage. This is fueled primarily by Cockburn, Curbelo and Dosunmu’s nearly eight combined turnovers per game. While it hasn’t been an impossible hurdle lately, if a team can succeed in transition, it may be too much for Ayo to overcome as he has previously.
Midwest Region teams to watch: Georgia Tech, Houston, San Diego State
Baylor Bears (No. 2 Overall Seed) – Disappearing defense
The bread and butter of the Bears’ early success, Baylor’s defense has begun to disappear over the last two months. While the team has only given up 70 or more points nine times this season, seven of those games have come in the final nine games of the season. A lot of this can be attributed to their COVID pause and its lingering affect, but they also gave up 72 and 69 points, respectively, against Auburn and Texas in the two games prior to the pause. This trend has been strong enough to drop Baylor’s adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom from top five to 44th in the country. While the offensive end hasn’t struggled nearly as much, the Bears’ reliance on three-point shooting makes them a perfect candidate to loss on a bad scoring night.
South Region teams to watch: Ohio State, Purdue, North Carolina
Gonzaga (No. 1 Overall Seed) – Too many open threes
If Illinois makes it difficult to find many holes, Gonzaga makes it almost impossible. The Zags have been the best team in the country from start to finish, and their effort on both ends is a huge reason. If there is one issue that could come up against them, it is the yearly propensity to give up too many open threes. This was the reason behind BYU’s big early lead in the WCC championship, and would be the likely culprit of a failed national championship run. This issue on defense has come about for two big reasons: bad rotations and over-helping in the paint. Because the Zags can score 80 or more against almost anyone, it has never been a killer issue, but it also makes it real tempting to predict an opposing team will go nuclear from deep. If you have someone beating Gonzaga before the Final Four, make sure they can shoot.
West Region teams to watch: Virginia, Iowa, Creighton