You all are coming to my city, even if you never leave yours, even if it’s only through a cable, satellite dish or internet connection.
Because of the pandemic that destroyed its predecessor, the 2021 NCAA Tournament will be played almost entirely within the city limits of Indianapolis. OK, technically I don’t live inside those city limits, but still. This has been my home for nearly seven years and it is a delightful place filled with people who agree on two things above all:
St. Elmo’s makes a heck of a steak.
MARCH MADNESS: The best bracket names for 2021
Basketball is a gift from the heavens and is, as Shooter says in Hoosiers, “the greatest game ever invented.”
Even if you are fortunate enough to make the trip, your experience will not be the same as it might have been when the early rounds were here in 2017, when the Midwest Region was here in 2013 or when the Final Four visited in 2015. The stands will not be jammed with fans at every venue. Face coverings are required indoors.
There will be a tournament, though. There were so many who doubted whether the college basketball season could make it to this point. There were a few who argued it shouldn’t bother. The images of joy and anguish we saw during the conference tournaments – Connecticut’s players celebrating the 3-pointer from walk-on Andrew Hurley, son of coach Dan Hurley, or the tears of the Florida State players who lost their second chance at a championship in eight days – demonstrated why there was value in attempting.
Because there will be a tournament, we will have a champion, and bracket pools to predict who that team might be. This is where I see it going. There are no guarantees. But expect that we will get there.
MARCH MADNESS: Download a 2021 printable bracket
March Madness bracket predictions
Gonzaga. The Zags have been the best team in the country since the season began. And though their dominance of the West Coast Conference has been even more overt than usual because they weren’t forced to cope with all those crazed crowds in bandbox gyms, the WCC final against BYU showed they could be resilient. The double-digit halftime deficit presented freshman Jalen Suggs with an opportunity to become THAT GUY, and he seized it. The Zags will reach the Final Four.
Alabama. The weird thing about the Crimson Tide isn’t that they’re good at basketball, too, it’s that they’re known for their 3-point shooting when their best quality is how they defend. Alabama has the nation’s second-best D. The Tide will take the ball away from you. If you keep it, they’ll block your shots. They’ll stop you from getting the attempts you want and from making those you take. And if they bomb in 20 or so threes, they’re darned near impossible to beat.
Illinois. Coach Brad Underwood, who worked at Oklahoma State prior to taking the Illinois job, can’t be pleased about the possibility of seeing the Cowboys in the Sweet 16. Do you know who has reason to be even less pleased? OK State coach Mike Boynton. Whereas Underwood has to deal with a dangerous team just to reach the Elite Eight, Boynton has to deal with one of the nation’s three best teams. His Cowboys deserved better treatment. The Illini will not have an easy time, but they’ll send OK State home at least a round earlier than ought to have been necessary.
Purdue. The last time we had a tournament, the Boilermakers were a single-made free throw away from their first Final Four appearance since 1980. That free throw was not made, and they are still waiting. They might not for much longer. This is a young, developing team but appears to have landed in a bracket that can be conquered. The key will be whether young Jaden Ivey can continue his recent ascent toward stardom.