[See our complete guide to March Madness.]
The NCAA Men’s 2021 basketball tournament ended on Thursday with the Indiana box office. That included a nightly matchup for UCLA and the State of Michigan, the winners of a total of 13 national championships, but the action ends in earnest on Friday.
Starting at 12.15 p.m. Eastern Time, there will be eight games on Friday afternoon, followed by eight more in the evening. All games are played in Indiana because of the pandemic. 16 more games will be played on Saturday. Four national television channels – TBS, CBS, TNT and TruTV – will broadcast the action.
This year’s second round games will be played on Sunday and Monday (you can call in sick on Monday), and the round of 16 will be set on Monday evening.
Here’s what to look out for on the first weekend of the tournament.
Gonzaga begins his quest for history.
The Bulldogs are the top overall seeds and Enter the tournament with 26-0. They are the first team to enter the tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2015. Kentucky, which featured nine future NBA players, won 38-0 that season before losing to Wisconsin in the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Previously, Jerry Tarkanian’s Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin ‘Rebels were the last undefeated team to reach the Final Four in 1991 before falling to Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Duke in the national semifinals at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
To become the first undefeated champion since Indiana in 1976, the Bulldogs have to record six wins over the next three weeks – also in Indianapolis – starting on Saturday night against Norfolk State, which beat Appalachian State on Thursday (54:53).
Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s team consists of three finalists – Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme – for the John R. Wooden Award for the nation’s best player, while Joel Ayayi, the team’s fourth-best player, the only triple-double in program history.
If Gonzaga can win six times in a row, it’s 32-0 – just like Bob Knight’s Indiana team.
“Damn it, we want to win a national championship,” said Few on Sunday on ESPN. “But every damn game we have to be ready and we have to play really, really well, including this first one.”
Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia Tech have problems with viruses.
Virginia, the 2019 title winner, is technically the defending champion as the tournament was canceled last year. But the Cavaliers had to withdraw from a semifinal game at last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament after a positive test, subsequent quarantines and contact tracing within the program.
Coach Tony Bennett said most of the team ranked 4th in the West Region spent the week in quarantine in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Cavaliers are expected to arrive in Indianapolis in 13th place on the Friday before Saturday night’s game against Ohio. They have to jam a lot during practice on Friday to prepare for their first game in nine days.
“I’m just very hopeful that we can play this weekend,” said Redshirt striker Sam Hauser said. “Quarantine isn’t that much fun, but at least we’re allowed to walk around and get some fresh air, so just try to get hold of a basketball as best you can.”
Ohio has Jason Preston, a 6-foot-4 junior point guard who averages 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.8 rebounds called “The LaMelo Ball of College Hoops” by Jay Bilas of ESPN. Both Bilas and former President Barack Obama choose Ohio to upset Virginia.
Number 3 in the West region, Kansas will play its first game in nine days against the number 14 in east Washington on Saturday after withdrawing from the Big 12 tournament. Great junior David McCormack is set to train in Indianapolis on Friday after looking into virus logs. Coach Bill Self said The second security guard Tristan Enaruna would miss at least the first two games after a positive coronavirus test on Sunday “after numerous negative tests in a row”. Newcomer Jalen Wilson, averaging 12.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, will miss at least the first game after testing positive last Friday.
Wilson’s former high school teammate De’Vion Harmon of Oklahoma will also miss his team’s first game against Missouri after testing positive. Harmon is the Sooners’ second top scorer with 12.9 points per game. Kansas beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament last Thursday before Kansas was eliminated because of Wilson’s test.
“I think it’s going to be an adjustment, but not as much as many people think,” said Self. “We may not play well, but I don’t think we got a curveball that we can’t hit.”
Georgia Tech, the ACC tournament winner and number 9 in the Midwest, has been dealt a heavy blow. Moses Wright, who won the ACC Award for Player of the Year, will miss at least the first game against Loyola Chicago No. 8 on Friday due to problems related to Covid Reports.
Wright, a 6-foot-9 forward, averages 17.4 points, 8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game. Coach Josh Pastner now has to use a smaller line-up against Loyola, with 6-foot-9 player Cameron Krutwig, Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, averaging 15 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Some key players will return. Others stay outside.
Connecticut could have Redshirt junior point guard RJ Cole ready for Saturday’s game against Maryland. UConn said Thursday that Cole was in the final stages of the concussion protocol, which includes full contact practice. Averaging 12.3 points, 4.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game, Cole hit the ground less than five minutes ahead of Creighton in the Big East tournament semifinals and was bleeding on the court.
Drake’s top scorer ShanQuan Hemphill returned to the team’s warm-up Thursday, a 53-52 win over Wichita State after breaking his foot in a game last month. Averaging 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, he helped the Bulldogs start the season 18-0.
Michigan star Isaiah Livers (stress fracture in his right foot) is absent indefinitely, which could affect the Wolverines with the first seeds. Alabama Guardian Josh Primo (sprained knee ligament) is listed as day to day. He averages 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for the Crimson Tide, the regular season and tournament champions of the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee striker John Fulkerson remains listed as day-to-day after undergoing face surgery flexed by Florida’s Omar Payne during the SEC tournament. Fulkerson averages 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Hall of Famers will roam the sidelines.
Five of the seven active Division I basketball coaches in the Naismith Hall of Fame participate in the NCAA tournament. Tom Izzo from Michigan started Thursday night against UCLA and lost 86-80 in overtime. Kansas’ Self, Rick Pitino of Iona, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Roy Williams of North Carolina are also back in the tournament.
Neither Dukes Mike Krzyzewski nor Kentucky’s John Calipari received an offer, the first time since 1976 that both programs were eliminated from the tournament.
Villanova’s Jay Wright, a Hall of Fame finalist this year, is back in the tournament after winning two of the last four NCAA titles. Among the active coaches, only Krzyzewski (five) and Williams (three) have more titles than Wright.