The idea of canceling the NCAA Tournament once seemed unthinkable. “March Madness” took on a whole new meaning last year, though, when the powers that be in Indianapolis called off the whole thing in response to Covid-19 pandemic. Even though the U.S. hasn’t quite kicked the coronavirus, college hoops is dancing again in 2021.
We’re so excited about the return of the tournament that we’re breaking down each region with some thoughts on sleeper teams, upsets, predictions and more. Let’s start with the West Region, where the Oklahoma Sooners are the No. 8 seed.
2021 NCAA Tournament Preview - West Region
Player to watch: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Suggs is far from a mystery on the national scene, but college hoops junkies should still savor what will surely be his only tournament appearance. You won’t find any holes in Suggs’ silky game. As pure point guards go, the Gonzaga freshman is the best NBA prospect in years.
If we had a vote for the national player of the year, we’d give it to Suggs. His addition to the Gonzaga roster turned the Bulldogs into a force to be reckoned with in 2021.
Trending up: Oregon
The Ducks seem to start every season in a state of upheaval. It often has something to do with a looming scandal, but coach Dana Altman has developed an ability to steer his team through the chaos. (Yes, that is a backhanded compliment.) Per usual, UO is rounding into form just in time for the Big Dance after winning 11 of its final 13 games.
UO has a versatile lineup led by seniors Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte. With Altman calling the shots, the Ducks will make for a tough out in the coming weeks.
Trending down: Creighton
No one should question the Bluejays’ firepower. They’re one of the best shooting teams in the country from inside and outside the arc.
Even so, coach Greg McDermott’s bizarre use of a racist analogy in comments made to his players appears to have sidetracked his team down the stretch. Creighton was dismantled by Georgetown in the finals of the Big East Tournament, which feels like an ominous sign for this week.
Best first-round matchup: No. 8 Oklahoma vs. No. 9 Missouri
As you’d expect in an 8-9 tournament game, the margin between the Sooners and Tigers is miniscule. Hence the oddsmakers installing OU as a two-point favorite.
While most of the pregame hype may focus on the battle between the two teams’ guards, OU’s ability to neutralize Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon and Kobe Brown on the boards will likely determine the final outcome.
Most likely upset: No. 13 Ohio over No. 4 Virginia
The Cavaliers may be the defending champs of this tournament, but they’re also no strangers to stunning upsets in the opening game. Complications from Covid-19 could make the Hoos ripe to bow out early again this year.
With most of the team in quarantine, the UVA players can’t practice together until Thursday. Meanwhile, the team can’t travel to Indianapolis until Friday for the Saturday game. As such, Ohio coach Jeff Boals has a leg up on designing a game plan to advance to the next round.
Predicted winner: No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 7 Oregon
Gonzaga is the best team in the country, and the selection committee rewarded the Bulldogs with the easiest path to the Final Four of the top seeds.
The No. 2 seed in the West, Iowa, looks primed to get bounced in the opening weekend. The third- and fourth-seeded programs are dealing with Covid-19 uncertainties. The No. 5 seed is a mess internally.
Don’t be shocked if the Zags benefit from carnage below them and breeze to the regional finals against the Ducks, who epitomize “good, but not great.” Unfortunately for UO, it will take a great team to knock off Gonzaga this year.