March Madness 2021: Tournament Schedule and Bracket Predictions for Bubble Teams

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 3, 2021

March Madness 2021: Tournament Schedule and Bracket Predictions for Bubble Teams

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    Andrew Shurtleff/Associated Press

    March Madness is making a return in 2021 after last year's NCAA men's basketball tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be some changes from the norm, such as every game taking place in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas, but there will still be 68 teams battling it out for a chance to win the national championship.

    Of those 68 teams, 31 will receive automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments (the Ivy League isn't playing this season, which would have made it 32). The rest of the field will then be chosen and seeded by the selection committee.

    A lot can still change between now and Selection Sunday (March 14), as conference tournaments will be taking place over the next two weeks. For teams that are currently on the bubble, it'll be important to finish the regular season strongly and have a solid showing in their conference tourney in order to work their way into the NCAA tournament.

    Here's a look at this year's NCAA tournament schedule, followed by predictions for the last four bubble teams that will make it into March Madness.

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

Drake (24-3)

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    Drake may only have three losses this season, but it hasn't faced much tough competition while playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs own only one win over a ranked team, which was a victory over No. 20 Loyola Chicago on Feb. 14 (a day after they lost to the Ramblers).

    There's a strong chance that Loyola Chicago and Drake will play a third time in the championship game of the MVC tournament, so the Bulldogs could punch their ticket to March Madness by winning the tourney title. But let's assume the Ramblers, who will be the No. 1 seed, end up beating the No. 2-seeded Bulldogs.

    If that's the case, Drake should still have a strong enough argument to make the NCAA tournament, especially if it reaches the MVC tournament championship game. If it gets upset before that, then its odds could go down. But the Bulldogs shouldn't have any trouble getting to that point (even though they lost their regular-season finale at Bradley on Saturday).

    Considering Drake won its first 18 games and has looked strong this season, its four-loss record should be enough for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.

Xavier (13-6)

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    John Peterson/Associated Press

    After winning 10 of its first 12 games, Xavier played only one contest between Jan. 11 and Feb. 12 (a 68-55 win at Butler on Jan. 30) due to cancellations/postponements caused by COVID-19 protocols. Since the Musketeers got back into action in mid-February, they've endured some struggles.

    Xavier has lost four of its last six games heading into Saturday's regular-season finale at Marquette. But if the Musketeers can beat the Golden Eagles for the second time this season (they previously beat them 91-88 on Dec. 20), they can reestablish a bit of momentum heading into the Big East tournament.

    Although Xavier is 13-6, it's notched some quality wins. Its last victory was a 77-69 home win over No. 14 Creighton on Saturday, avenging an earlier loss to the Blue Jays. The Musketeers also own a victory against Oklahoma, which is now ranked No. 16, as they beat the Sooners 99-77 on Dec. 9.

    If Xavier's recent struggles lead to an early elimination from the Big East tournament, it could be less likely to reach March Madness. But expect the Musketeers to earn at least a win or two and play well enough to make their way into the NCAA tournament.

VCU (17-6)

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Although VCU reached the NCAA tournament eight times from 2011-19 (which included a Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2011), it only won the Atlantic 10 tournament once during that span (2015). So the Rams are quite familiar with waiting until Selection Sunday to see if they've earned an at-large bid.

    That could be the case again this year, as VCU could have some trouble trying to take down St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship game (assuming the No. 1-seeded Bonnies and No. 2-seeded Rams both make it there). VCU could be on the bubble after losing two of its final three regular-season games to George Mason and Davidson.

    Still, VCU split its regular-season series with St. Bonaventure and mostly fared well against the rest of its Atlantic 10 competition. The Rams also played a close game against West Virginia (which is now ranked No. 6) on Nov. 26, falling 78-66.

    Assuming VCU doesn't lose early in the Atlantic 10 tournament, it should earn an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. And as the Rams have proved in the past, never count them out once they've gotten into March Madness.

North Carolina (15-9)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Since Roy Williams became North Carolina's head coach ahead of the 2003-04 season, the Tar Heels have typically had no trouble reaching the NCAA tournament. The only time that North Carolina has missed out during the Williams era was in 2010.

    The Tar Heels were likely going to miss out on March Madness last year, as they were 14-19 when the season was ended. They've fared a bit better this season, as they're 15-9 heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Duke, which is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament itself.

    North Carolina picked up one of its better wins of the season on Saturday, when it beat No. 11 Florida State 78-70. And although that was their only win in their past three games, the Tar Heels have played well enough to be considered for an at-large bid, assuming they come up short of winning the ACC tournament.

    Still, North Carolina can improve its resume with a quality win or two during the ACC tourney, which should be enough to push it into March Madness. The Tar Heels may not be the powerhouse they've frequently been in the past, but they're strong enough to reach the NCAA tournament once again.