Let The Madness Begin: Predictions Prior to the Big Dance


Photos from practices sessions for the NCAA basketball tournament. The overall number one seed Kansas Jayhawks were on the court when I stopped by the venue. The first and second rounds are being held for the first time ever in Des Moines at Wells Fargo Arena. (Image via WikiMedia Commons)

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


We deserve this; we have sacrificed so much; it has been a long dark nuclear winter, but we have emerged into the sunlight. March Madness is here, perhaps the greatest sports month of the year outside of October, and it is now officially upon us. Doesn’t it feel good? Last year we were just learning what COVID-19 was, adjusting and realizing we would have to stop using water fountains, which now that we know how bad they are will we ever go back to using them?

That is entirely beside the point but a thought to get us rolling here as we examine the bracket set out in front of us and the teams that made it to March. Attached are the favorites, Cinderella’s and first-round upsets that will make you say, this is March. As well as some taglines a la John Rothstein to get us going into March.


Favorite: Gonzaga

Gonzaga is a group of clinical snipers led by Jalen Suggs that can hurt you from anywhere on the floor. Do you want paint scoring? Corey Kispert and Drew Timme both average 18 plus points per game, and if you want a three-point sniper, the aforementioned Suggs is your guy. This is the team I would be most surprised to see knocked off before the final four. They are the best in the country for a reason.

First-round upset to watch: Eastern Washington over Kansas

Kansas is a wounded dog. The Jayhawks are without several players because of COVID and here come the big bad Big Sky boys of Eastern Washington. Don’t mind them, they just shoot 46% from the field and lead the nation in free throws made shooting 80% from the line. Kansas is solid defensively as always but entirely lacks scorers. This is the upset that will set you apart in your bracket pool.

Cinderella: Wichita State

The Shockers are a fun team who can move the ball well and has good guards and play solid defense. Those things combined can carry you to a Sweet 16 berth and getting to the second weekend of the tourney is half the battle.

Elite 8 and Final Four pick: Gonzaga vs. Oregon, Gonzaga to the Final Four.

Oregon is an extremely undersold team. The lineup is finally healthy, and Dana Altman is one heck of a coach. Oregon should take care of an Iowa team that does not play defense.


Favorite: Alabama

The formula for the Crimson Tide is simple: shoot the three get back on D. Nate Oates team is one of the best in the country at doing those two things and those two things can get you to a final four.

First-round upset to watch: Georgetown over Colorado

Georgetown was the eighth seed in the Big East and went into the tournament with a below .500 record. If you win your conference tournament though, you get to go dancing and that is what Georgetown did. Patrick Ewing’s team is hot going into March and gets a matchup with Colorado. This will be a tough one for Georgetown, but momentum matters and Georgetown has a ton of it after upsetting their way through the Big East.

Cinderella (none here), but:

Under seeded team that could make a run: Florida State

Florida State is led by scorer M.J. Walker, who only averages 13 points per game, but the team is deep when it comes to scoring. Three players average ten or more points per game. The ACC was weak this year, but if things break right, the Seminoles can go on a bit of a run in this bracket.

Elite 8 and Final four pick: Michigan vs Alabama, Alabama to the Final Four.

Michigan is cold right now, and the last few weeks have not been good to them. At their peak, they can be the final four team out of the region, but Alabama is just playing better basketball right now.


Favorite: Baylor

Good guards will get you a long way in March. Baylor runs four deep at the position, and three of their leading scorers happen to be guards. Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are the best on the team, but there is also considerable depth as mentioned above. Baylor has no issue scoring the basketball and despite having a tough draw with Arkansas in the bracket, but that should make some serious noise in March. Scott Drew raised the Titanic and it’s time to reap the rewards with a run in March.

First-round upset to watch: Utah State over Texas Tech

The Utah State Aggies are as good of a high mid-major program as you will find. Coach Craig Smith has done a fantastic job in Logan taking the Aggies to three straight NCAA tournaments (the Aggies would have been an auto-bid last year as they won the Mountain West before the shutdown). Mac McClung is a marvel to watch for Texas Tech and Chris Beard is a good coach, but Utah State center Neemias Queta is one of the top defensive players in the country. Texas Tech is ripe to be upset in the first round and the Aggies can make that happen.

Cinderella: Winthrop

Winthrop is a team that lost one game this year. Winthrop is a great three-point shooting team and has the DNA of a team that can make a Cinderella run in March, especially in a bracket where they might get to play North Texas in round two as Purdue is an upset likely in the four seed. Winthrop could easily make the sweet 16 and make it a game with whoever they face.

Elite 8 and Final Four pick: Baylor vs. Arkansas, Arkansas to the Final Four.

Arkansas is full of good transfer players with experience and promising freshmen. Eric Musselman is a good coach that has transformed the program into one of the best in the SEC and one of the best in the country. Arkansas is set to do something special in March and Musselman is set to cement his growing legacy further.


Favorite: Illinois

Illinois has two elite scorers on the roster. Ayo Dosunmu is one of the best guards in the country and coming off a spectacular tournament run. Kofi Cockburn is one of the best centers in the country and a walking dunk. Illinois is set up to make a deep tourney run in the toughest bracket in the field.

First-round upset to watch: Rutgers over Clemson.

Rutgers hasn’t played well in almost two months. That said, anything can happen in March and Clemson is a bit overseeded.

Cinderella, none, the only team that will truly challenge Illinois: Oklahoma State

Cade Cunningham is the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft, and the Pokes are fun to watch in every game they play. Oklahoma State is set to challenge Illinois in the Sweet 16, but unfortunately, they don’t quite have enough firepower or defensive prowess to overcome Illinois.

Elite 8 and final four pick: Illinois and Houston, Illinois to the final four.

Final Four and National Championship picks

Gonzaga over Alabama.

Illinois over Arkansas.

Gonzaga over Illinois: Mark Few gets over the hump and finally wins a title and cements Gonzaga as one of the best basketball programs in the nation. The team is the best in the country and despite Illinois being able to hang blow for blow, it won’t be enough. This is a team that knows what it feels like to lose in March, and they won’t let that happen this year.


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