Monday, August 2, 2021

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N.C.A.A. Tournament Brackets: A Guide to the Madness

Gonzaga is the top No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament field.
David Becker/Associated Press

Gonzaga, the top No. 1 seed, is the first team to enter the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2014-15, and the Zags have a legitimate shot to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana finished 32-0 in the 1975-76 season.

Gonzaga is 26-0 after beating Brigham Young to win the West Coast Conference championship on Tuesday. The Zags have a free-flowing, fast-paced offense, and they pass up the good shot for the great shot. But while Gonzaga has wins over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, it has not faced an opponent outside the West Coast Conference since December.

Other teams to watch: No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Virginia, No. 7 Oregon, No. 12 U.C. Santa Barbara


No. 1 Baylor had the best start in program history, with 18 consecutive victories, and won the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time. The last time the Bears clinched a conference title was in 1950 as a co-champion and in 1948 as the outright winner. Baylor’s proficiency — it led the league in 3-point shooting this season — could help reverse its struggles of late.

Other teams to watch: No. 5 Villanova, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 10 Virginia Tech


No. 1 Illinois will be playing in its first N.C.A.A. tournament since 2013. Its run in the Big Ten tournament, which it won with an overtime victory against Ohio State on Sunday evening, was the work of a team that felt spurned: The Fighting Illini have been irate over the winning-percentage model, approved months ago, that gave Michigan the Big Ten regular-season title. Unfortunately for other conferences, Illinois may now be looking to take out some frustrations on their teams.

Other teams to watch: No. 2 Houston, No. 3 West Virginia, No. 12 Oregon State


No. 1 Michigan was 19-3 entering the Big Ten tournament despite going 23 days between games when the university athletic department shut down all sports for three weeks because of coronavirus concerns. In his second season, Coach Juwan Howard has guided the Wolverines to their first No. 1 seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament since 1993, when he played on a team that reached back-to-back N.C.A.A. championship games.

Other teams to watch: No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Colorado, No. 15 Iona

The UConn Huskies celebrating after winning the women’s Big East tournament.
David Butler Ii/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The women’s bracket will be announced on Monday in a selection show airing at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The usual elite teams will be there — but others have a real shot to win a championship this year.

Blue-chip programs have again ruled the season. Six of the top 10 teams in The Associated Press poll have won at least one title; only two have never been to a Final Four.

But the high rankings of perennial contenders like Stanford, Baylor, Louisville and, yes, UConn obscure the fact that there’s a much more level playing field at the top of the game than there has been in years, as evidenced by the split votes for the No. 1 spot.

UConn is the only team in the top 25 with just one loss, but the Huskies played a relatively easy schedule. Among their peers at the top, there is no clear front-runner, which sets the stage for tight Elite Eight matchups.

Picking a correct champion is but one part of winning your office (or virtual) pool.
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

You don’t need to be a college basketball expert. But you do need to read the rules of the pool thoroughly.

If it’s an old-school pool that awards the same number of points no matter which team you pick, you’re going to want to stick to the favorites. Don’t be clever with U.C. Santa Barbara or Liberty. There’s no reason to; the reward is just not worth the risk.

But if the pool awards bonus points for upsets, you’ve got to go in a completely different direction. Now you want to pick long shots in the early rounds; indeed, you must do so to have any chance of winning.

The number of players in the pool can have a big effect. If the pool is just you and a handful of friends, go ahead and pick all the favorites. But the best bet for a bigger pool is to mix up your picks a bit once you’re down to the final eight. And when picking your eventual winner, it can be to your benefit not to go with the team everyone else in your pool likes.

The men’s bracket may be out, but it will not freeze until 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday — an allowance for the possibility that the virus will derail a team’s hopes while giving another a chance to play for a championship.

The rules vary depending on a stricken team’s home conference.

If a team plays in a league that has just one team in the tournament, the conference may choose its substitute. The new team will assume the position in the bracket of the team it replaced.

If a team is from a league that earned multiple tournament bids, four teams — Louisville, Colorado State, St. Louis and Mississippi — will be waiting to replace it in the same bracket spot. Replacement teams that do not ultimately qualify for the N.C.A.A.’s men’s tournament may play in the National Invitation Tournament as No. 1 seeds.

Once the deadline passes on Tuesday, no new teams will be added to the brackets for the men’s or women’s tournaments. When the tournament is underway, if a team does not have at least five eligible, healthy players to start a game, the game will be classified as a no-contest, moving the opponent to the next round.

Duke withdrew from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament after a positive coronavirus test.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Duke and Kentucky have combined to win three championships since 2010, but for the first time since 1976, when the field had only 32 teams, neither will be in the field this year.

Kentucky’s season came to a merciful end last Thursday when the Wildcats lost to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament. That came about two hours after Duke had announced that its season was over after a member of the program tested positive for the coronavirus.

Two other traditional blue bloods, Kansas and North Carolina, also had frustrating seasons but earned tournament bids, Kansas as a No. 3 seed in the West region and North Carolina as a No. 8 seed in the South.

Kansas and another marquee team, Virginia, withdrew from their conference tournaments last week because of coronavirus cases, throwing into question whether they would be able to participate in the N.C.A.A. tournament. Virginia is seeded No. 4 in the West region.

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