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2021 NCAA Tournament Picks: Proceed with Caution

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In fact, once you get to the Elite Eight, you might as well sub out my picks for the opposite.

NCAA Basketball-WCC Tournament-BYU vs Gonzaga
Like nearly everyone out there, I’m taking Gonzaga. Given my track record of late, the Bulldogs are surely doomed.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long two years since I last made NCAA Tournament picks over at SBNation.com. So, while going through 2019’s post:

  • I was pleased to remember that I picked both Murray State and UC Irvine to pull off first-round upsets.
  • Annoyed that I didn’t go with Wofford over Seton Hall.
  • Flat-out distressed to realize that I missed each and every Final Four team (Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, North Carolina).

That was the second straight year that I went 0-3 in Final Four games. Even though I correctly picked three of 2018’s Final Four (Kansas, Michigan, Villanova) my miss was Arizona, so my national championship game prediction of Wildcats over Jayhawks didn’t pan out.

So, my 2019 post-First Four record was 39-24 (39-21 outside of the Final Four). That’s just one win worse than 2018’s of 40-23 (40-20 outside of the Final Four).

Since my track record of picking games is frankly terrible, I’m not going to write too much about these. Upsets are in bold.

Starting in the upper-left corner ...

West

First Four: 16. Appalachian State, 11. Drake

First Round: 1. Gonzaga, 9. Missouri, 12. UC Santa Barbara, 13. Ohio, 6. USC, 3. Kansas, 7. Oregon, 2. Iowa

I don’t have much faith in either Creighton or Virginia at the moment.

Second Round: 1. Gonzaga, 13. Ohio, 6. USC, 2. Iowa

Sweet Sixteen: 1. Gonzaga, 6. USC

At some point, Iowa’s defensive issues create a problem.

Elite Eight: Gonzaga over USC

Moving down to the No. 4 overall seed’s region ...

East

First Four: 16. Texas Southern, 11. Michigan State

First Round: 1. Michigan, 8. LSU, 5. Colorado, 4. Florida State, 6. BYU, 3. Texas, 7. UConn, 2. Alabama

I was tempted to pick both St. Bonaventure over LSU and Michigan State over BYU, but don’t think either squad will quite be able to put away their higher-seeded opponents. This is a chalk set of winners, but that won’t last.

Second Round: 8. LSU, 4. Florida State, 3. Texas, 2. Alabama

The Wolverines are a different team without Isaiah Livers, so if he doesn’t return quickly, their tournament run will be disappointingly short.

Sweet Sixteen: 8. LSU, 3. Texas

If Alabama-Texas happens, it could end up being the game of the 2021 NCAAs. As for LSU-FSU, the Seminoles have been a little too inconsistent of late for me to take them for more than two wins.

Elite Eight: Texas over LSU

Switching to the right side of the bracket, top quadrant ...

South

First Round: 1. Baylor, 9. Wisconsin, 12. Winthrop, 4. Purdue, 6. Texas Tech, 3. Arkansas, 7. Florida, 2. Ohio State

Traditionally, I pick teams I don’t project into the field to win their first-round games. That ends here because I think Texas Tech is going to have way too much for Utah State. I was also tempted to pick against the alma mater because of its experiences playing in the very first game of the tournament (UF lost to Manhattan in 2004) and in Hinkle (where the Gators lost to Butler in December 2019).

Second Round: 1. Baylor, 4. Purdue, 3. Arkansas, 2. Ohio State

While Winthrop may push Purdue, I think the top four seeds in this region should all get through to the second weekend easily.

Sweet Sixteen: 1. Baylor, 3. Arkansas

Arkansas-Ohio State would be another Sweet Sixteen game to make time for next weekend.

Elite Eight: Baylor over Arkansas

To the final quarter of the draw ...

Midwest

First Round: 1. Illinois, 8. Loyola Chicago, 5. Tennessee, 4. Oklahoma State, 11. Syracuse, 3. West Virginia, 10. Rutgers, 2. Houston

Second Round: 1. Illinois, 4. Oklahoma State, 11. Syracuse, 2. Houston

A Syracuse “apology tour” would be a sure sign that society is healing in 2021. Both second-round matchups in the top half of the bracket are sure to be dramatic, as they’d feature a rarely-played in-state rivalry and a pair of quality power conference teams.

Sweet Sixteen: 1. Illinois, 2. Houston

If only Oklahoma State were seeded higher, we could have gotten Cowboys-Fighting Illini in the Elite Eight, where the game should have happened.

Elite Eight: Illinois over Houston

To wrap things up ...

Final Four

National Semifinals: West No. 1 Gonzaga over East No. 3 Texas, Midwest No. 1 Illinois over South No. 1 Baylor

I didn’t set out to take three No. 1s to the Final Four, but the Bulldogs, Illini, and Bears really seem to have gotten draws that give them an advantage in making it to the final weekend.

National Championship: Gonzaga over Illinois

Enjoy the games, everyone!