NCAA Bracket 2021: Tips, Info and More for Top March Madness Games
Last year, sports fans across the country missed out on one of their favorite activities: filling out March Madness brackets. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament was canceled, bringing the season to a premature end.
But March Madness is back this year. The 68-team field for the tournament will be set Sunday evening, and then, the entire tourney will take place in Indianapolis, utilizing multiple venues. One team will emerge victorious as the national champions on April 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Several high-profile conference tournaments are taking place this week, so it's not yet clear which bubble teams will make it into March Madness and which ones will be left out. But it's not too early to start thinking about which teams you want to pick to make deep tournament runs when filling out your bracket.
As you get ready to participate in bracket challenges for the first time since 2019, here's the upcoming NCAA tourney schedule and some tips to consider when making your picks for March Madness.
March Madness 2021 Schedule
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
Pick a No. 1 Seed to Win the National Title
Wouldn't it be fun to see a team seeded No. 9 or lower make a Cinderella run to the national championship? Well, don't count on it, because it's never happened before. In fact, it's risky to even pick a team that isn't a No. 1 seed to win the national title.
As pointed out by NCAA.com's Eric Vander Voort, a No. 1 seed has won the NCAA tournament 22 of 35 times since 1985, which is when the tourney field expanded to 64 teams. There have been five No. 2 seeds and four No. 3 seeds to win the national title and only four teams seeded lower: No. 4 Arizona in 1997, No. 6 Kansas in 1988, No. 7 UConn in 2014 and No. 8 Villanova in 1985.
So while there may be upsets in the tournament along the way, there's a strong chance that one of the four No. 1 seeds will end up cutting down the nets and be crowned national champions. That shouldn't be too surprising, considering these have been the best teams in the country for much of the season.
Gonzaga is likely to be the No. 1 overall seed in this year's tourney after winning the West Coast Conference tournament, while Baylor, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa are among the other teams that could end up as a No. 1 seed. Don't overthink it, and pick a No. 1 seed to win it all (or maybe a No. 2 seed, depending on how teams end up getting seeded).
Don't Be Afraid to Pick a No. 11 or No. 12 Seed Early
While many of the favorites typically fare well during March Madness, it's unlikely that the NCAA tournament isn't going to have some upsets along the way, even if there are only a few. Winning your bracket pool could depend on whether you can correctly pick these upsets.
There have been some frequent upset wins for Nos. 10, 11 and 12 seeds since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. According to NCAA.com's Andy Wittry, a No. 10 seed has defeated a No. 7 seed 55 times, a No. 11 seed has defeated a No. 6 seed 50 times and a No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed 50 times. So these are some strong potential upsets to consider in the first round.
It's riskier to pick a No. 13 or No. 14 seed to win, and it's unwise to pick a No. 15 seed or No. 16 seed to win. The only time a No. 16 seed has ever won an NCAA tournament game is when UMBC upset Virginia in 2018.
Although the bracket isn't set yet, one team that will likely be a lower seed that could be worth picking to score a first-round upset is Michigan State. ESPN's Joe Lunardi is projecting the Spartans to be a No. 11 seed, and while they've had a down season, coach Tom Izzo has been successful in leading them to deep tournament runs in the past.
So pick one or two Nos. 11 or 12 seeds to pull off first-round upsets (and maybe even to win again in the second round), as it's likely that at least one or two will happen.
Go with Your Gut and Have Fun
This might be the most important tip to filling out brackets.
It's important to do some research and make smart picks if you want to fare well in your bracket pool. Don't pick all four No. 16 seeds to win or one of those low-seeded teams to win the national title. But also don't overthink it too much. Trust your gut and pick a strong team that has proved it's capable of making a championship run.
Fill out your bracket with educated predictions, trust your instincts and then sit back and enjoy all the exciting basketball that's about to occur over the next few weeks. March Madness is back and will likely bring a lot of thrilling action this year.