Expert Picks for the 2021 March Madness Brackets
The unbeaten Gonzaga Bulldogs have reigned as the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Basketball all season long. As March Madness approaches, the Zags, who've never won the title, loom large as +200 favorites to take it all this year. However, there are also four Big Ten schools listed among the top 10 contenders. It's been 21 years since a Big Ten school emerged as the champions of March Madness.
- Gonzaga are +200 favorites to win the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship
- The Bulldogs (West), Michigan Wolverines (East), Baylor Bears (South), and Illinois Illini (Midwest) are the No. 1 seeds in the four regions of the NCAA Tournament bracket
- A top-seeded team has won nine of the past 12 March Madness titles
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have done everything in recent years except winning the NCAA Tournament. They've gone 15-5 over the past five tourneys. Gonzaga has made two Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights, and one title-game appearance, a 71-65 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2017.
This year marks the fourth time they've entered the tourney as a No. 1 seed. But they've never finished the dance as the prom king, only as perennial bridesmaids. For the Zags, it's been more March Sadness than March Madness.
The schools of the Big Ten can relate to Gonzaga's sentiments. No Big Ten team has claimed the title as champions of March Madness since the Michigan State Spartans in 2000. Since then, seven Big Ten schools have reached the Championship Game - Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013, 2018), and Wisconsin (2015) - and all came out second best.
As the 2021 NCAA Tournament gets set to get underway, both of these entities are well-positioned to end their respective frustrations. Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the West Region and the +200 favorite to win the tournament. Michigan (East Region) and Illinois (Midwest Region) are also No. 1 seed, while Ohio State is the two seed in the South Region.
Those numbers bode well for both Gonzaga and the Big Ten in their bids to end their respective March Madness frustrations. Nine of the past 12 March Madness winners started the tournament as No 1 seeds.
A promising season for the Wolverines ended up sputtering into March Madness. Michigan is 2-3 over the past five games. To make matters worse, the status of senior win Isaiah Livers is uncertain due to a stress fracture in his right foot.
Michigan's misfortune is Florida State's gain. The Seminoles also stumbled at the finish line. They lost the ACC Tournament title game to Georgia Tech. However, coach Leonard Hamilton's team is poised to do big things in March Madness. They are a solid squad at both ends of the court.
Illinois beat Michigan late in the season by 23 points in Ann Arbor and then dispatched Ohio State, which bounced the Wolverines from the Big Ten Tournament, in the final. The Illini have both the talent and depth to deal with any scenario and any opposing team.
They'll face a tough road in this region. Both Loyola-Chicago and Oklahoma State potentially will stand in Illinois' way. But the Illini have met and overcome such challenges all season long in the deep and daunting Big Ten.
The top two contenders in the South can both be enigmas. Baylor has two likely NBA first-round draft picks in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. The Bears shoot threes better than any team in the country (41.82 percent). They force turnovers on almost one out of every five opposition possessions.
And yet, Baylor's unbeaten campaign ended in a late-season loss to Kansas. The Bears fell to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament semi-finals. They've not looked like the same squad since a three-week COVID-19 induced pause to their season.
Today didn’t go our way, but our story is far from being over. Regroup and get ready for the madness.— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) March 14, 2021
Let’s DANCE‼️ pic.twitter.com/VUEjPaQbER
Ohio State won five straight road games over Rutgers, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Maryland in mid-February. Then the Buckeyes lost four in a row. But they rebounded to get to the Big Ten Tourney final.
Gonzaga is clearly the best March Madness bet to run the table and win its region. Not only the No. 1 team, but the Bulldogs are also the No. 1 offense in the nation.
For any team to stop Gonzaga from getting to the Final Four would have to be considered an epic NCAA Tournament upset.
Gonzaga will be too much for Florida State in one semi-final. Meanwhile, Illinois and Ohio State get one another yet again in the other half of the Final Four. The Illini outlast the Buckeyes once more.
WE'RE NOT DONE YET!— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) March 14, 2021
In the Championship Game, the Bulldogs have the offensive power, but it's the Illini who are the more complete team, and that makes them the best in the NCAA basketball odds.
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