March Madness 2021: Tournament Schedule, Bracket Predictions for No. 1 Seeds

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 2, 2021

March Madness 2021: Tournament Schedule, Bracket Predictions for No. 1 Seeds

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    March has arrived, so it's time for the most important month on the men's college basketball schedule. And this year, the coronavirus pandemic isn't preventing it from taking place.

    Last year, there was no March Madness, as most conference tournaments weren't completed and the NCAA tournament was canceled. But this year, there are COVID-19 protocols in place as 68 teams will all be going to Indianapolis and the surrounding areas to play the entirety of the NCAA tourney later this month.

    Selection Sunday is still 12 days away, so there will still be opportunities for bubble teams to play their way into March Madness. Most conference tournaments have yet to even begin, and those will help to shape the 68-team field for this year's NCAA tourney.

    But it's not too early to start looking ahead. Here's the schedule for this year's March Madness, followed by predictions for the four teams that would currently be the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

March Madness 2021 Schedule

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Selection Sunday: March 14

    First Four: March 18

    First Round: March 19-20

    Second Round: March 21-22

    Sweet 16: March 27-28

    Elite Eight: March 29-30

    Final Four: April 3

    National Championship: April 5

Gonzaga (24-0)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Gonzaga's regular season is over, and it was an impressive showing by the Bulldogs. They won all 24 games, including impressive non-conference victories over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, all of which are currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.

    As long as Gonzaga isn't upset during the WCC tournament (it plays its first game on Monday in the semifinals), then it has a strong chance of landing the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney. The Bulldogs are the only undefeated team in the nation, while no other WCC team is even ranked. So they shouldn't have trouble winning the conference tournament for the eighth time in nine years (which includes 2020, as the tourney was completed).

    With four players averaging double-digit points, including senior forward Corey Kispert (19.5) and sophomore forward Drew Timme (18.9), Gonzaga is a well-balanced team that has proved difficult to beat. And things aren't likely to get easier for its opponents anytime soon.

    Expect the Bulldogs to remain undefeated heading into March Madness and solidify their spot as the No. 1 overall seed.

Michigan (18-1)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    There are six Big Ten teams currently ranked in the Top 25, which includes four in the top seven. Despite that fierce competition, Michigan has still lost only one game this season (Jan. 16 at Minnesota) while continuing to rack up impressive wins against quality opponents.

    The Wolverines are currently on a seven-game winning streak that includes victories over No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 25 Wisconsin. And they'll have an opportunity for another huge win if they can beat No. 4 Illinois at home on Tuesday.

    Even though Michigan has played well so far, things could quickly take a turn. In addition to that matchup against Illinois, it also still has two games remaining against Michigan State. Then the Wolverines will be tested in the Big Ten tournament.

    But even if Michigan doesn't win the Big Ten tourney, it could still earn a No. 1 seed, as there's a solid chance that two teams from the conference will do so. It's likely that the Wolverines fare well enough to land one of them. If they don't win the Big Ten tournament, expect them to still have a strong showing and come close.

Baylor (18-1)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Baylor won its first 18 games of the season before losing at Kansas on Saturday. And things don't get easier for the Bears during the final stretch of the regular season, as they still have matchups against No. 6 West Virginia (Tuesday), No. 17 Oklahoma State (Thursday) and No. 18 Texas Tech (Sunday) this week.

    It's also an opportunity for Baylor to reestablish some momentum with a few quality victories before the Big 12 tournament gets underway. With seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, the Big 12 has a lot of strong competition this year. But Baylor has been impressive in going 10-1 so far in conference play, and it also owns a non-conference win over Illinois.

    The Bears have a balanced scoring attack with six players averaging at least 7.5 points, including four in double digits. Junior guard Jared Butler leads the way, averaging 16.4 points, and he and Baylor's other top players should be able to get Baylor back on course after its first defeat.

    The Big 12 tournament isn't going to be easy to win. But the Bears should play well enough to win the conference tourney for the first time since it was established in 1997, earning a No. 1 seed for March Madness.

Illinois (18-6)

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    Holly Hart/Associated Press

    The top three teams in the country (Gonzaga, Michigan and Baylor) have a combined two losses. There's no other ranked team with fewer than three losses, and each of the teams in the Nos. 4-8 spots have all lost at least six games. So there are a bunch of teams that could potentially play well enough to land a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.

    But Illinois has been playing some of its best basketball of late, having won nine of its past 10 games, a stretch that includes a pair of victories over Wisconsin and one against Iowa. But the Fighting Illini end the regular season with two tough road matchups against No. 2 Michigan (Tuesday) and No. 7 Ohio State (Sunday).

    If Illinois wins both of those games, it will put itself in a strong position to earn a No. 1 seed heading into the Big Ten tournament. There could be numerous teams from the conference that end up with a top seed, and it will all depend on what happens when teams such as Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State go head-to-head over the next two weeks.

    The Fighting Illini have one of the top scorers in the country in junior guard Ayo Dosunmu (21 points per game), and he's likely to power them to some big wins in early March. Don't be surprised if that ends up being enough for them to earn a No. 1 seed and establish more momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

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