(CBS Pittsburgh) — The excitement is palpable for the first NCAA Tournament in two years. March Madness will draw a talented field to Indiana, where the entire event will take place within the confines of the Hoosier State. The cloud of COVID hangs over college basketball, as it does the entire country. But there’s also a certain sense of optimism underlying the Tournament’s return.
“I’ve always thought that March Madness was a ray of sunshine for the American psyche,” said CBS Sports lead announcer Jim Nantz. “Kids are playing their hearts out. We see it on the floor. There’s so much excitement, and we missed it. I think we missed it as a sports nation. And I really believe it’s going to make this year’s edition different than ever before.”
Part of the tradition for the fan is filling out their brackets, only to see them busted long before Final Four weekend. Even the experts struggle to stay alive, as Cinderellas fight for their share of the spotlight at the Big Dance. SportsLine’s Wizard of Odds Kenny White shares what he thinks makes for a successful team in the Tournament.
“I’m looking for senior-laden teams, junior, seniors, very experienced teams,” says White. “Also look for coaches that have been there before that preach defense and their teams play it. Look for teams that are very good free throw-shooting teams as well. Those are some keys that you want to have going your way if you if you’re going to bet on a team to win it all or to get to the Final Four, those types of bets.”
This year’s brackets feature four fairly obvious top seeds. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, coming out of the West region, are the Tournament’s top overall seed. They remain undefeated this season, after winning the majority of their games by double-digits. The Baylor Bears top the South region, with a trio of guards fueling one of the country’s most efficient offenses. The Michigan Wolverines lead the East after falling in the Big Ten tournament semifinals by two points to Ohio State. They went 20-4 this season, winning 18 of 19 games to open the season. The Illinois Fighting Illini earned the top seed in the Midwest behind the rising Ayo Dosunmu and the dominating Kofi Cockburn.
“I have all four of those one seeds getting to the Elite Eight,” says White. “I think they’ve got a shot. Now it’s only happened one time ever that all four number ones made it to the Final Four. But a lot of years it’s one, two teams. The Gonzaga Bulldogs I give the best chance of making it to the finals. They’re -$2. They’re a favorite to get there, 67 percent chance. So I think they’re the best number one. They are the number one overall seed. And the team right now that’s hurting a little bit, Michigan, they lost one of their better players, Isaiah Livers, last week. He’s now out of the lineup. They lost a key part of their rotation. Always tough when you lose a bigtime player like that. So I’m going to say Michigan has the least chance of the four to get to the Final Four.”
While all four top seeds have the inside track to the Final Four, or at least Sweet 16, it’s unlikely all four will be there come April 3. Who could make a run and possibly upset one of the favorites?
“In the East, I love Connecticut. I think they’re a really good basketball team. They have the experience. They have the defense, the free throw shooting and one of the best players in the country in James Bouknight. From the Midwest, I like Houston. Kelvin Sampson’s team plays tremendous defense. They’re a great offensive team too. They played a great schedule. They will give the Illini a great game in the [regional] finals to get to the Final Four. Wisconsin is a very long shot, 20-1, to get out of the South. But they are my longshot. I think they could upset Baylor. Wisconsin has everything I talked about — experience, defense, free throw shooting. And another big key is they never turn the basketball over, second best team in the country in taking care of the basketball. And then the longshot in the Gonzaga bracket in the West would be Iowa. Just saw them in the Big Ten semifinals, they played down to the wire. Watched them against the Illini. They are a very, very good team, great offensive club. The one thing they lack is the defensive end, the numbers for the season don’t look good. Actually, over the last eight games, their defense only allowed 66 points a game, which would put them in the top 20 defensively. So their defense has gotten better.”
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