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Last year, these questions were mostly about restrictions on the coronavirus and player-led protests about gender equality and the right of players to get paid for their fame.
Gonzaga tried to be the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go the whole season without losing, but it lost the championship game to Baylor, a team that deserved to win. There were a lot of upsets, and the 12th-seeded Oregon State almost made it to the Final Four. There were also unforgettable moments, like Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs’s nearly halfcourt heave that broke the heart of U.C.L.A. in the semifinals.
As the tournament starts on Tuesday with the first of four “play-in” games, it seems like last season and even the beginning of this one happened a long time ago. Concerns about players or teams missing games because of a positive test for coronavirus have been eased, and so have the rules about how to handle coronavirus.
Who is most likely to make it to this year’s Final Four in New Orleans? Who are the ones who sleep? Who will win against Duke?
For the first time in more than two years, most of the questions now have to do with basketball.
No. 11 seed Rutgers beat No. 6 seed Alabama, which was a big surprise. This season, the Crimson Tide’s defense and 3-point shooting are not even close to what they were last year. Rutgers can move on if it beats Notre Dame in a play-in game and then stops Alabama’s fast Jahvon Quinerly. [Update: We’ve been wrong all along. In double overtime, Notre Dame beat Rutgers.]
Teddy Allen, who is at his fifth school in five years, gives New Mexico State a good chance of beating Connecticut.
Chet Holmgren, a 7-foot-1 freshman for Gonzaga, is not only the best player on the best team, but he is also likely to be the first pick in the NBA draft.
Hyunjung Lee, a forward for Davidson from South Korea, is getting looks from the NBA and being compared to Stephen Curry for his 3-point shot. But if the Wildcats go far in the tournament, like Curry’s team did in 2008 when they were also the 10th seed, you’ll find out that Lee is a rock star in Korea.
Kevin Obanor is a familiar face in a new place. He helped Oral Roberts make an amazing run to the round of 16, and he has fit right in at Texas Tech.
Full bracket picks: Gonzaga over Georgia State, Boise State over Memphis, Connecticut over New Mexico State, Arkansas over Vermont, Rutgers/Notre Dame over Alabama, Texas Tech over Montana State, Davidson over Michigan State, and Duke over Cal State Fullerton. Gonzaga beat Boise State to move on to the second round. Connecticut beat Arkansas, Texas Tech beat Rutgers, and Davidson beat Duke. Gonzaga beat Connecticut in the regional semifinals, and Texas Tech beat Davidson. Gonzaga lost to Texas Tech in the regional final.
The No. 10 seed, Loyola-Chicago, beat the No. 7 seed, Ohio State, in an upset. The Buckeyes have lost four of their last five games, and only one of them was to a team in the NCAA tournament. On offense, the Ramblers look for good shots. Their leader, Lucas Williamson, is a leader who has been through a lot, and it’s hard to beat everyone’s favorite trash-talking old nun, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.
Keep an eye on: Jordan Walker, a guard for Alabama-Birmingham who goes by the nickname “Jelly,” scored 26, 40, and 27 points in the three Conference USA tournament wins that his team had. The Houston defense will make it hard for him to do well.
The best chance to make it in the NBA: Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, a sophomore with a smooth shot and great athleticism, has a game made for the NBA.
The best tale: David Roddy, a guard for Colorado State, was an all-state quarterback in high school who weighed 270 pounds. He was recruited by Iowa to play defensive line. He won the state discus title in Minnesota. Now that he only plays one sport, he makes 45% of his 3-pointers and 65% of his 2-pointers. He also passes and grabs the ball. Anyone, starting with Michigan, would hate to play against the Mountain West player of the year.
Silvio De Sousa went to Kansas and found nothing but trouble there. After the F.B.I. college basketball corruption investigation found that his guardian had been paid illegally by an Adidas representative, the N.C.A.A. suspended him for a season. He was also suspended twice more, once for a fight with Kansas State and again for a fight in a bar. De Sousa is now playing for Chattanooga. In the Southern Conference championship game, he had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Arizona will beat Wright State/Bryant, Texas Christian will beat Seton Hall, Alabama-Birmingham will beat Houston, Illinois will beat Chattanooga, Colorado State will beat Michigan, Tennessee will beat Longwood, Loyola-Chicago will beat Ohio State, and Villanova will beat Delaware. Arizona beat Texas Christian in the second round, Illinois beat Alabama-Birmingham, Tennessee beat Colorado State, and Villanova beat Loyola-Chicago. Regional semifinals: Arizona over Illinois, Villanova over Tennessee. Regional final: Villanova over Arizona.
Upset special: There are a lot of chances for upsets in this bracket (see below), but the one that stands out is the No. 11 seed Iowa State beating the No. 6 seed Louisiana State. Coach Will Wade and his assistant Bill Armstrong were fired on Saturday, so this is a big loss for Louisiana State.
Ryan Kalkbrenner, a 7-foot-1 center for Creighton, was the backup for Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren on the U.S. under-19 team, and he is starting to play like Holmgren. Over the last 11 games, he has averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks as a sophomore. He makes a big difference on defense, and by being a threat inside, he frees up the Bluejays’ shooters.
Jabari Smith, a 6-foot-10 freshman at Auburn who is the best scorer in the country, is the best pro prospect.
The best tale: Grant Golden, a smooth-passing sixth-year senior for Richmond, was given an extra year of eligibility after he passed out on the court as a freshman because of an irregular heartbeat. He had a procedure called a cardiac ablation and came back the next season.
Last year, Walker Kessler, the 7-foot-1 center for Auburn, had to sit on the bench for North Carolina. This year, he is starting for Auburn. But he and his fellow transfers, K.D. Johnson (from Georgia), Wendell Green Jr. (from Eastern Kentucky), and Zep Jasper (from the College of Charleston), could lead Auburn back to the Final Four for the second time in four years.
Kansas will beat Texas Southern/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Creighton will beat San Diego State, Richmond will beat Iowa, South Dakota State will beat Providence, Iowa State will beat Louisiana State, Wisconsin will beat Colgate, USC will beat Miami, Auburn will beat Jackson State. Creighton beat Kansas in the second round, Richmond beat South Dakota State, Wisconsin beat Iowa State, and U.S.C. beat Auburn. Creighton beat Richmond in the regional semifinals, and Wisconsin beat U.S.C. Wisconsin beat Creighton in the regional final.
The No. 11 seed, Virginia Tech, beat the No. 6 seed, Texas.
Texas will slow the game down, which is great for the Hokies because Storm Murphy will have more time to check out the defense.
Watch out for Kellan Grady, a sharpshooter for Kentucky who used to play for Davidson. He made seven 3-pointers in a rout of Alabama last month and was shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc for the season. Since then, he has only made 5 of 22 3-point shots, including 0 of 5 in a loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals. The Wildcats’ chances of making the Final Four depend on Grady getting back to form.
The best NBA prospect is Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who is the son of Niele Ivey, the coach of the Notre Dame women’s team.
The best tale: Four years ago, Akron forward Enrique Freeman came to school on an academic scholarship. At the time, he had no plans to play basketball. The next year, he showed up at an open tryout, and Coach John Groce thought he would be a good player for the scout team. Then he gained 25 pounds and was named the best defensive player in the Mid-American Conference this season. In a win over Kent State, he scored 23 points and grabbed 8 boards. He was named the most valuable player at the MAC tournament.
Brady Manek played for four years at Oklahoma, where his brother and parents also played. He has done well at North Carolina, where he has helped open up the court for Armando Bacot as the Tar Heels have gotten better as the season has gone on.
Baylor will beat Norfolk State, North Carolina will beat Marquette, St. Mary’s will beat Wyoming/Indiana, U.C.L.A. will beat Akron, Virginia Tech will beat Texas, Purdue will beat Yale, Murray State will beat San Francisco, and Kentucky will beat St. Peter’s. Baylor beat North Carolina in the second round, U.C.L.A. beat St. Mary’s, Purdue beat Virginia Tech, and Kentucky beat Murray State. U.C.L.A. beat Baylor in the regional semifinals, and Kentucky beat Purdue. U.C.L.A. beat Kentucky in the regional final.
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