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After a year of sparse crowds, COVID cancellations, and the NCAA treating their student athletes like workers without paying them, we’ve somehow made it to the tournament. This year, the on-court story that carried through the season was about how the blue bloods haven’t been as strong as they once were. UNC diverted all attention to Roy’s growing collection of Jordans. Bill Self and Kansas are kind of good, but unlike their great teams of the past, they don’t have a Cousy Award-worthy point guard. Coach K was busy taking a strong stance against the pandemic by losing a shitload and alienating his top recruit, while John Calipari spent the year trying to figure out if there’s any way to get out of a lifetime contract with the city of Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve been told by the NCAA’s marketing team that I have to mention UCLA and Indiana alongside these other teams, but we do not give a shit about them.
Regardless, even without many of college basketball’s cornerstones, we’re in for a memorable tournament full of upsets (beating a PAC-12 team doesn’t count), possible all-time great teams (Gonzaga and Baylor), bad teams that for some reason think they’re going to put it together (Michigan State), and the looming unpredictability of the pandemic. I can’t wait, and I hope it all goes as smoothly as possible. Here’s a very important forward look at some of the potential outcomes by me, a serious college basketball expert co-signed by Jon Rothstein, Doug Gottlieb, and Jim Boeheim.
The teams to tell the kid who you hate to bet on
- Any team in the PAC-12
Given the fixed location in Indiana and the unpredictability of the pandemic, this year’s tournament is going to be a mess. The seeding almost feels irrelevant: All teams should care about is avoiding Baylor and Gonzaga for as long as they can. Virginia looks better on paper than they do in person. They won a weak regular season ACC title because Florida State “choked” aka Leonard Hamilton wants his team to stay under the radar so nobody realizes Scottie Barnes is pulling up to the arena in a wraith. Unlike Virginia, Arkansas is not coasting on legacy, but I refuse to believe in an Eric Musselman team after all the hype he failed to live up to with Nevada. Everyone on Wisconsin is about 28 years old, checked out already, and probably more worried about settling down and starting a family. The PAC-12 continues to be a joke; I would bet on any Ivy League team making a deep run in this year’s tournament over the Colorado’s or Oregon’s of the world (joke explainer: The Ivy League cancelled their season this year, so no team’s from the conference are in the tourney).
The short white guy who will take the nation by storm
- Mac McClung (Texas Tech)
- Austin Reaves (Oklahoma)
- Braden Norris (Loyola Chicago)
- Every Iowa guard except Joe Touissant
March Madness is a good time in the basketball world for short white guys. You know, the ones who chuck up threes and everyone begins to wonder why they’re not a first-round draft pick, until they’re guarded by Baylor’s Davion Mitchell or Kansas’ Marcus Garrett and go 3-9 from the field, and we’re like “Oh yeah, nevermind.” Since the start of the season, this year’s tournament was made for Villanova’s Collin Gillsepie—he’s been in training for his short white guy moment since taking over the point guard position from Ryan Arcidiacono a couple of seasons ago—but an MCL tear has sadly sidelined the senior. Luckily for us, there are others ready to take his position.
Most basketball fans still know Tech’s Mac McClung as the shaggy-haired white kid who was throwing down ferocious dunks in high school mixtapes. But Mac can actually play, at least, sometimes. He can drop 25 against almost anyone, and he can also drop five with four threes bricked off of the side of the backboard against almost anyone, too. Austin Reaves is similar—except more hateable. He looks like he makes the Sooners practice to NF, the Eminem of the Christian rap world. Loyola Chicago’s Braden Norris is less explosive than the other two, but if Sister Jean’s boys make another run, he’ll be a big part of it. Lastly you will not be able to tell the difference between Iowa’s guards, outside of Joe Touissant, throughout the entire tournament. So I’m sorry, but Wieskamp, McCaffrey, Frederick, and Bohannon, all count as one person. If the Luka Garza-led Hawkeyes make a deep run, that probably means the brigade of Iowa guards (who look like future contestants on the Bachelorette who get kicked off for problematic Tweets) are doing something right.
Teams that should hang a banner even if they lose
There are plenty of teams who probably won’t win shit, but should hang something in the rafters anyway. Creighton’s Greg McDermott suffered through a massive one-game suspension after being racist as shit and kept his job. Hang a banner! Alabama basketball players will finally stop being asked if they play football on campus. Hang a banner! Texas’ Shaka Smart will probably keep his job, and he has hair now. Hang a banner! Iona took a chance on an unfairly written off underdog named Rick Pitino, and he beats the odds. Hang a damn banner!
The second-tier teams that could easily move up a tier
- Oklahoma State
It would be poetic if Kansas made a deep run in a year where we endlessly argued about the death of the blue bloods, which means it will probably happen. Oklahoma State has the most talented player in the country, Cade Cunnigham, and they’ll be hard to stop unless his offshore bank account statement magically ends up on the NCAA’s desk. Illinois has been just a tier below great all year, and their best player Ayo has a mask now, which is always good luck. Juwan Howard and Michigan are just happy to be here. He’s playing with free money since he has the no. 1 recruiting class coming in next year, so if he loses he can do that thing the Boston Celtics do when they’re like, “No, we care more about next year anyway.”
The teams that can actually win a national championship
The longer the season carries on, the tighter the gap becomes between Gonzaga and Baylor and the tier right below them, despite that they remain the clear favorites. Scott Drew’s Bears have a combination of guards that will remind you of the ’06 Villanova team with Kyle Lowry and also a deep mix of wild cards like Mark Vital, a 6 foot 5 dude who usually plays center because he’s built like someone Vince McMahon would give a WWE title shot. Gonzaga is even more impressive; they’re arguably the most talented team I’ve seen since Zion Williamson’s Duke squad. And let’s be real: No other teams in the country are as consistent. Drew and Few have built cultures at their respective schools that should be strong enough to withstand just about anything—except COVID or Coach K figuring out a way to name Duke the 2021 co-champions. Let’s pray we can get through the next couple of weeks without having to worry about either.