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This year’s March Madness Tournament just feels different. It’s undeniable that the last twelve months of college basketball have been unlike any other thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. I won’t bother your precious little head with worries about more possible cancellations of games, etc. We are here for ANALYSIS from a kind gentleman who has access to Google. A lot has happened since the March 12th cancellation of last year’s tournament and it’s my job to dig through the rubble and find the gems that will result in our dear reader (you) walking away with the perfect March Madness bracket.
It may seem like a daunting task to pick the perfect bracket with the plethora of teams at your disposal, especially to an outsider who hasn’t watched much basketball this year, and you’d be right to feel that way. Every team has fought a never before seen level of adversity to get to this point, and nobody is going out easy. This year more than any other year I believe the saying “it’s still anyone’s game” holds power, and each team that steps out onto the court has a chance to be the one cutting down the nets once it’s all said and done. Basically you can’t be mad at me for being wrong because literally anything can happen. What I want to run you through today are the teams that have a real chance of winning, the teams that have a dark horse chance of going deep, and the team that will bust your bracket no matter how you pick ’em.
*Magic Johnson voice* The Gonzaga Bulldogs are an interesting team this year and the #1 seeded team in the country.. The 26-0 Bulldogs look to be the first team since 1975/76 Indiana to win the big dance without losing a single game. Four Gonzaga players average double digit points per game, including future NBA lottery picks in freshman Jalen Suggs (14.3 PPG) and senior Corey Kispert (19.2 PPG). The Bulldogs will want to prove to the few doubters they have left that they deserve to be considered the best team in the country. Their 4-0 record vs. ranked teams, including double digit wins against Virginia, Kansas, and Iowa, shows that the Bulldogs are ready to put the narrative to rest and they will be hungry to get revenge for having their season ended abruptly last March.
There won’t be any shortage of Wooden Award finalists deep in this tournament. The aforementioned Gonzaga Bulldogs have plenty of Wooden finalists on their roster. One of my favorite players to watch this season has been Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who is averaging 19.9 PPG, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, and is the favorite to be the next #1 overall draft pick. Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza will look to continue his domination of college basketball with a March Madness run, and has a great team around him to boot. PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year Evan Mobley averages 2.9 blocks per game for USC and looks to be a future NBA stud. Illinois has two Wooden Award finalists of their own in Kofi Cockburn and the freshly masked Ayo Dosunmu. You can bet plenty of NBA scouts will be joining you in watching these games like a hawk trying to determine who will be the stars of the future.
However, my personal favorite squad this year is a team that flies under the radar living in the shadow of it’s behemoth of a football program. That’s right, this year my darkhorse pick is none other than the Alabama Crimson Tide. The SEC as a whole has been tough all year and the #2 seed Crimson Tide have been at the front of the charge almost the entire season, which is rare in the usually Kentucky dominated conference. The Tide are ranked #1 in Kenpom defensive efficiency and shot the most 3-pointers in D-1 basketball this season. Alabama has two 44% 3-point shooters in SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones and Jahvon Quinerly and they don’t shy away from shooting early and shooting often, for better or for worse. Bama really impressed me coming back from down 31-40 at halftime against Tennessee early in the SEC tournament, the Crimson Tide ended up winning the game 73-68 and shifted into a winning gear. The 2009 Florida Gators are the only school to ever win the men’s basketball and football championships in the same year. Could this be the year it happens again with the Alabama men’s basketball team adding to their school’s already expansive trophy case? Are the winds shifting in Tuscaloosa’s favor once again? All I know is The Tide have the leadership and experience it takes to make a historic deep run.
Even with all the talent at the top, it truly feels like the playing field is more level than ever and surely brackets will be busting in record time. I’m putting the 8 seed Loyola-Chicago Ramblers on Cinderella watch. Sister Jean is in her 101st year and has been fighting tooth and nail to attend Loyola-Chicago’s games. She could prove to be the true X-Factor nobody saw coming, especially if she clears those pesky NCAA eligibility waivers and is rightfully allowed to play in the games. It also helps that the Ramblers play tenacious defense and hold their opponents to a measly 55.5 points per game, good for #1 in the country. Loyola-Chicago may be too good to be considered a Cinderella these days, but how can you not root for them knowing Sister Jean could suit up at any moment? The Ramblers would need a lot of momentum to get through a team like Illinois, but with the power of Cameron Krutwig and Sister Jean on their side anything is possible.
No team in the tournament knows soaring highs and pitiful defeating lows more than Ohio State. At one point the Buckeyes looked destined for a #1 seed and were maybe the best team in the Big 10. However, after slipping near the end of the season Ohio State settled for a #2 seed and haven’t really shown the ability to close out games or hold onto leads down the stretch. Now those games did come against cream of the crop competition, and they did grind out a Big Ten finals appearance even taking the Illini to OT, so the Buckeyes clearly have what it takes to hang with the best of them. Ohio State is a team to watch for me simply because you never know which version of them will show up. I absolutely could imagine Oral Roberts stealing a first round victory if they get hot and Ohio State can’t keep up. On the other side maybe the late season slip will inspire the Buckeyes into making a deep push. They’re one of the most battle tested teams in the tournament but they have a long road ahead of them if they want to make it to the end. However don’t let my kind words fool you, nobody likes a Buckeye and I wish them the absolute worst.
Regardless of how it plays out I think this will be one of the most exciting March Madness tournaments in recent memory as the stakes seem a little higher compared to previous years. Teams have been through a lot the past two seasons and will be giving it their all until the end to make it worthwhile. March is where dreams are made and heroes are born and angels learn to fly. I have a feeling in my chest that someone in my circle is going to have the perfect bracket this year. It could be me, hell it could even be you my dear reader.
We’re all in this together. As Jon Rothstein would say, this is March.