10 Bold Predictions for the NCAA Tournament
Let’s be candid. Here at the bold predictions department, this is the stuff we live for. Everybody is making bold predictions. Remember those lunatics who had UMBC knocking off Virginia? No 16 seed vs. 1 upset had ever occurred. Until it did. And those lunatics became basketball savants. Never mind that they literally didn’t know enough to know what was supposed to be impossible. It’s March. It’s madness. It’ll happen this year too. Will, maybe not a 16 over a 1, but something bold. Here are 10 guesses to try on.
1. Gonzaga will not win it all
Yes, they’re the favorite. Yes, the field would still get a sizeable advantage as a bet. And the field will win. The Zags are good. Really good. Final Four good. But perfect season good? Seriously, 1991 UNLV and 2015 Kentucky are calling. That’s Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. They said nobody’s going to do this. They didn’t, so rest easy 1976 Indiana. The 2021 Zags won’t, either.
2. Two double-digit seeds will make the Sweet 16 and one will make the Elite 8
These are the teams that we live for in March. Granted, it helps Lehigh’s chances at immortality when they take down, say, Duke. But the story of March is the Florida Gulf Coasts, the Loyola-Chicagos, the teams you never heard of but suddenly find yourself rooting for like they’re your alma mater. And 2021 will definitely have some of those. We’ll take two to the Sweet 16, one to the Elite 8. Want a few tips on who those teams might be?
3. The Gauchos
UC-Santa Barbara is this year’s team to love. Their defense forces massive amounts of turnovers, they’re solid on the backboard, and they defend the 3 well. They also get a very solid bracket. I’m sure Creighton is good, but they’re only slightly less anonymous than the Gauchos and are kind of 3-point heavy. Virginia is, as we all remember, a team that can win the national title or lose in historic fashion in the first round. Or lose in the second round, as they will to UC-Santa Barbara. Gaucho power. (Plus, the Cavaliers are dealing with COVID issues.)
4. The Wildcats back in the Sweet 16, too. But not those Wildcats
Certainly not the Kentucky Wildcats. Not the Arizona Wildcats, who aren’t in the NCAA Tournament, either. Or even the Kansas State Wildcats. Nope, we’re talking about the Abilene Christian Wildcats. How about a turnover-hawking defense, prominently featuring a 5-7 guard named Damien Daniels? That’s the stuff of March legend right there. Again, Abilene keeps opponents off the glass, takes good shots and doesn’t beat itself. You know who historically does beat themselves? Texas. And BYU (or UCLA or Michigan State) isn’t exactly horrifying in the Sweet 16. If you’re looking for a flier on a longshot, find the right Wildcats.
5. Four SEC teams in the Sweet 16 — the two everybody knows …
We weren’t kidding about bold when we dropped 4 SEC teams in the Sweet 16. Almost everybody has Alabama in the Sweet 16 (and a good number of pickers have them in the Final Four). Arkansas didn’t get a horrible path either and looks fairly solid. The other two I’d pick?
6. The two SEC surprises in the Sweet 16
Tennessee outlasts the fighting Cade Cunninghams in their game, and LSU knocks off Michigan in the second round. Stop laughing, Cunningham will fall victim to the Kevin Durant system of great players going out quickly in March (Durant may have broken my particular heart and bracket in his one year of college). And the Tigers? They should have won the SEC title. Seriously. Three-foot lay-up with the clock running out that gets clanked. That’s the only reason we’re not talking about the SEC champion Tigers. Meanwhile, Michigan is walking wounded with the foot injury to Isaiah Livers.
7. A first-round loss to Virginia Tech is Mike White’s last game at Florida
There’s certainly logical reasons that a COVID season is a bad reason to ax any head coaches. That said, tell it to Malzahn and Muschamp and Mason and Pruitt (not to mention Archie Miller at Indiana and Richard Pitino at Minnesota). Sure, this is basketball, but standards are standards. The loss of Keyontae Johnson was horrific and devastating, but this Florida team has enough horsepower to play better than it does. They’ll make a move after a first-round loss.
8. Nate Oats goes nowhere
Meanwhile, on the other end of things, if Nate Oats’s seat is hot, it’s only because some big jobs will be coming open (Indiana as a starter, though he says he’s not interested) and he’d sell very well to the alumni and fan bases. There’ll be a little sweating here for the Tide, but Oats recognizes that he has a good thing going in Tuscaloosa, and will stand by his Alabama men, at least for another season.
9. The SEC has a Final Four team, but not the one you think
What about Arkansas? It’s not an easy bracket, with Baylor and Ohio State, but Eric Musselman’s group (SEC Tourney loss notwithstanding) has melded veteran transfers and Moses Moody into a dangerous group. Is Alabama better? Sure … but they feel really due for a cold streak at some point in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. Meanwhile, it’s the Razorbacks who sneak into the Final Four.
10. Want a winner? Illinois
The Big Ten feels so far beyond overdue that it’s insane. No B1G team has cut down the nets since Michigan State celebrated the 2000 national championship. Illinois is the kind of team that fits together six great games and wins this sucker. Ayo Dosunmu is about to be the annual “Who’s that?” guy who becomes the “Ah! That guy.” And Kofi Cockburn, all-name team status aside, is the kind of guy who very few teams can manage in the post. Sure, they havne’t been in the Tournament since 2013. And the Big Ten hasn’t been relevant in forever. But streaks are made to be broken. Like making weird predictions and seeing them pan out.