Today is the best sports day of the year. It’s Christmas Day, but even better. It’s the single most “wake up with eagerness and energy” day of the year. We’re here. It’s happening. After two years off, we’ve arrived back at one of the most sacred days on the American calendar: The first true day of March Madness.
As the Round of 64 is about to get underway in the great basketball state of Indiana, many people feel good about their bracket––as they should be–– because, after all, it’s still perfect. I know with tremendous certainty that my bracket will be busted sooner rather than later, but regardless, here are five March Madness predictions, some hot take-y, some not, that I forecast for this NCAA Tournament.
At Least Four 11 and 12 Seeds win in the Round of 64
We know the deal with the 11 and 12 seeds. We know that they win their Round of 64 matchups at a decently frequent clip. So for this year, I think that every 11 or 12 seed besides Oregon State has at least a, say, 45% chance to win their Round of 64 game. San Diego State is good, but I have a lot of faith in Syracuse. The Orange’s 2-3 defense is a legitimate asset in March and they have a pair of heat check guys in Buddy Boeheim and Alan Griffin who can light it up.
UC Santa Barbara is 18-1 in the year 2021, shoots the ball well, and has an Oregon State transfer in McLoughlin who averages 16.2 PPG. Also, Creighton isn’t exactly heading into the tournament with good momentum. Villanova is a completely different team with senior PG Gillespie; meanwhile, Wintrop has a balanced scoring attack, has tremendous rebounding rates, and is 23-1 on the season. Additionally–– Drake is fiesty, Georgetown and Patrick Ewing are riding high coming off their run in the Big East Tournament, and Utah State is very good defensively.
West Virginia doesn’t reach the Sweet 16
WVU is a 3 seed and has been ranked pretty highly in the AP poll all season… but I’m not buying stock in this Mountaineer team. They rank beyond the top 200 in the country in both true shooting percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage. Additionally, they’ve lost three of their last four games, including back-to-back games to Oklahoma State. Never a good sign to lose to the same team in the span of under a week. They do have several good players in Miles McBride, Derek Culver, Taz Sherman, and Sean McNeil, each of whom I like, but again, they are suspect of going into shooting droughts. I have lots of confidence in the winner of SDSU-Syracuse to take down the WVU team, that is unless Morehead State pulls off the upset in the first round.
Illinois either loses in the Round of 32 or reaches the National Title game
The Fighting Illini are obviously playing like the hottest team in America. They have a great team; 8 really good rotation guys and the vibe of a team that thoroughly enjoys playing basketball with each other. I think that they will wind up playing for the National Title; but, with that said, I think that Loyola-Chicago can spoil their promising season. The Ramblers have been in the March Madness spotlight just three years ago and have continuity with the coach Moser and their big man Krutwig.
Loyola-Chicago has the best adjusted defense rating in the nation and are top 7 in the country in both true shooting percentage and assist per possession percentage, which each makes sense given their nature to share the ball and utilize dribble handoffs. In my heart I think Illinois will get by in that potential game, but I wouldn’t put it past Sister Jean and the Ramblers to shock the world again.
Gonzaga and Iowa meet again in the Elite 8
These two teams feel destined to collide in the Elite 8. Luka Garza is the type of college player who should lead his team to this round, and, on the other side of the equation, Gonzaga is simply a juggernaut. I do think that Oregon will test Iowa, should the Ducks advance to that point, and I think that Virginia will put up a good fight against the Zags should they reach the Sweet 16, but c’mon now, these two should both be alive for a chance to reach the Final Four.
Gonzaga Wins it All
32-0. The 2nd perfect season ever, the only one since the ’76 Hoosiers. In Indiana. That’ll be the dominant storyline with this team if and when they cut down the nets in Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5th. They’re the best team in the land, and it’s not particularly close. Don’t come at me with the “2019 Duke” narrative. Stop it. That Duke team heavily, heavily relied on their talent. This Zags team has both really good talent and a good backbone to them. We know of Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Drew Timme. They’re great players. But Ayayi is a very key guy for them and Nembhard can go out and get buckets. Those five guys are better than any other 5-man lineup in the country, and they can turn to Watson and Cook and trust them to play at a high-level as well.
The scariest part about them, which seperates them not just from the Gonzaga teams of the past and all the other college teams in the country, is that they carry themselves with almost insane confidence. They never feel out of control. They don’t panic. It’s almost like they’re playing a whole different sport. Now, could they get tripped up in this tournament and we and sit back and say “wow, they did get too confident. They didn’t take that team seriously?” Sure, of course we can. But I think this team is head and shoulders above the field and they’ll put their imprint on this tournament and put themselves into the March Madness history books.
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