Which teams are smiling and which ones are scratching their heads after Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show?
We have them! After almost two full years, we finally have new NCAA Tournament brackets to fill out! The NCAA selection committee revealed its field of 68 teams Sunday evening, and with all the jubilation came a lot of justifiable confusion. This season of COVID has thrown many teams’ seasons into disarray, but the brackets came out about as well as most people would have liked.
This does not mean, however, that there aren’t teams that came out on top or behind in the bracket reveal. Many teams, especially the ones at the top of the seeding, have fantastic matchups to look forward to, while others may feel that their draw is just a bit unfair.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket reveal.
Winners: Mid-major conference teams
Gonzaga has the No. 1 overall seed; San Diego State and BYU snuck up to the 6-seed line, and five conferences outside the traditional high-major six have earned multiple bids. That is incredible work for a season in which quality wins were difficult to come by, indicating the committee’s efforts to reward teams for winning the games they could play. With many bracketologists having at least one of the Utah State, Wichita State and Drake group out of the tournament, it is a huge victory for the mid-major ranks to have all three in the big dance.
Seeding was not the only place where mid-major teams won, as multiple 12-, 13- and 14-seeds from one bid leagues ended up with favorable matchups going into the first round. UC Santa Barbara, Ohio and Winthrop are all likely to be very popular upset picks in this year’s bracket pools, with all three facing very vulnerable competition. If you are the commissioner at the mid-major level, the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket is a dream scenario.
Losers: Big East
Sure, the Big East managed to get four bids in the dance, which was the presumption after Georgetown’s bid steal in the Big East Tournament, but their fortune ends there. With Villanova missing star guard Collin Gillespie and possibly Justin Moore for their first-round game, they are presented with a nightmare situation against a Winthrop Eagles squad that already makes it tough on opponents’ backcourts. Creighton drew a UC Santa Barbara team that could honestly match up with them at all five positions and may have the best player on the floor in JaQuori McLaughlin.
Things are even worse for UConn and Georgetown, who both drew tough high-major matchups in their first-round games. Georgetown must deal with a tough and experienced Colorado squad that will be heated off a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament. UConn has to take on Maryland, whose Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell will make things miserable for star wing James Bouknight. We have discussed all year about how the Pac-12 is the worst of the high-major conferences, but it would not surprise me if the Big East goes 0-4 in the tournament given its draw.
Winners: Syracuse Orange
They made it … and safely. That is all that really needs to be said about this one. I get that a matchup against SDSU in the first round and potential game against West Virginia makes it highly unlikely for the Orange to make a second weekend run. However, just the fact that they will not be playing on Thursday is already one check in the win column for Jim Boeheim’s team.
Losers: Blue Bloods
Kansas is a vulnerable No. 3 seed in a region with Gonzaga, Iowa and USC’s Evan Mobley. Michigan State and UCLA have to play each other on Thursday to make it to the Round of 64, and a date with BYU. And Duke is not even a First Four alternate after a day of discussing their ability to play in Indiana. With only three loosely defined blue bloods in the round of 68, two in the round of 64, and none with a high chance to reach the third weekend, this season may be pointed to a potential power shift.
Winners: Illinois Fighting Illini
After weeks of discussion that the top three overall seeds were locked in, Illinois managed to crash the party and secure the third overall seed over Michigan, putting them on the opposite side of the bracket from favorite Gonzaga. They have a reason to be excited, after winning a tough game to secure that seed, and the fact that their late Big Ten wins swayed the committee theoretically gives them a better path to the National Championship…
Losers: Illinois Fighting Illini
… Or does it?
Of all the regions, the Midwest region is this year’s “Region of Death.” Illinois will have to face either the MVC champion Loyola-Chicago or ACC champion Georgia Tech just to get to the second round, and both of them present unique matchup challenges for the Illini. Their second weekend won’t be any easier, with a presumed date against Cade Cunningham, followed by a game against either Houston or West Virginia.
If Illinois makes it to the Final Four, nobody will be questioning their talent because that region is a buzzsaw. But buzzsaws also have a knack of catching great teams in their teeth. I personally have the Final Four locked in for the East, South and West regions, but my Midwest pick will likely go through multiple iterations before brackets are due.