March Madness 2021: Predicting Top Four Seeds and Championship Favorites

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2021

March Madness 2021: Predicting Top Four Seeds and Championship Favorites

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    March Madness is nearly here.

    It's the middle of March, or as college basketball fans know it, the most wonderful time of the year.

    Conference tournaments are roaring toward the finish line this weekend, which will end with the always captivating (and always second-guessed) Selection Sunday. Brackets will be furiously filled out by millions shortly thereafter.

    Bleacher Report will have all your tourney needs covered. Keep these links close by and visit them early and often:

    Bracket Challenge Game – Join the Bleacher Report Group

    Start Your 2021 Bracket

    Watch Selection Show Live

    Now, let's break out the crystal ball to predict the top four seeds and spotlight three championship favorites.  

Predicting Top Four Seeds

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    No. 1 Seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Illinois

    There might be arguments to make with some portions of this group, but they aren't loud ones.

    Gonzaga should be a lock for the top overall seed. Baylor won't land too far behind. Michigan and Illinois aren't quite cemented in place, but a win each at the Big Ten Tournament could do the trick.

                   

    No. 2 Seeds: Iowa, Alabama, Houston, Arkansas

    Iowa has the most potent offensive weapon in the country in Luka Garza. Alabama won six of its last seven games and features four double-digit scorers. Houston has lost three games all season and only one since early February.

    Arkansas is playing as well as anyone with eight straight victories, including a 15-point triumph over Alabama. If the Razorbacks' hot play carries over into the conference tournament, they can play their way into this spot.

                

    No. 3 Seeds: Ohio State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Virginia

    Ohio State might take issue with sliding out of a No. 2 seed, but Thursday's four-point win over Minnesota didn't make us forget about the four-game losing streak that preceded it. Kansas experienced more turbulence than most seasons, but it recovered to win eight of its last nine.

    Oklahoma State has the top draft prospect in Cade Cunningham, and it gave its resume a nice boost with back-to-back wins over West Virginia. Virginia survived a serious scare with a buzzer-beating win over Syracuse on Thursday and could lock down this seed if it can make its top seed in the ACC tournament count.

                   

    No. 4 Seeds: Villanova, West Virginia, Purdue, Texas

    Villanova might have once hoped for a higher seed, but with three losses in their last four games—including Thursday's upset at the hands of Georgetown—this is probably as good as it can get. The same goes for West Virginia, which has also dropped three of four.

    A strong run at the Big Ten tournament would be huge for Purdue, but it'll have to knock off a couple of juggernauts to make that happen. Texas has a chance to make some noise in the Big 12 tournament after edging past Texas Tech on Thursday and could climb a seed line if it does.

Favorite No. 1: Gonzaga

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Do we even need to spell this one out?

    Sure, there will always be the competition-level critiques for as long as the Bulldogs call the West Coast Conference home. But Gonzaga loaded up the non-conference portion of its schedule and still kept its record unblemished. The Bulldogs knocked off Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, and only the Mountaineers came within single digits.

    Metrics love this team. KenPom.com puts the Zags first in the nation on offense and 10th on defense.

    The eye test might be even bigger fans of coach Mark Few's bunch. Freshman sensation Jalen Suggs should be a top-five pick in this year's NBA draft. Senior sniper Corey Kispert could land in the lottery as the top shooter in the draft. Sophomore forward Drew Timme joined his teammates as three of the 15 players on the ballot for the John R. Wooden Award.

Favorite No. 2: Illinois

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Three teams put multiple players on the Wooden Award ballot. One was Gonzaga. Another was Villanova, which lost one of those players, senior guard Collin Gillespie, to an MCL tear.

    The other was Illinois.

    Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu might be Garza's biggest threat for any player of the year honors. The 6'5", 200-pounder was sensational in all facets this season. He paired his 20.9 points per game with a tidy 49.2/40.0/78.2 shooting slash and stuffed the rest of his stat sheet with 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals.

    Sophomore center Kofi Cockburn also made the cut. He paced the Illini in boards (9.6) and blocks (1.3) and averaged the second-most points (17.3) while converting a blistering 66.0 percent of his field goals.

    Illinois has reeled off 11 wins in its last 12 games, taking down five ranked teams and three Top 10 opponents (Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State) in the process. Illinois and Michigan are the only teams with top-seven efficiency rankings at both ends of the floor.

Favorite No. 3: Baylor

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    As unpredictable as the Big Dance can be, there are things we know that matter in this tournament. Experience and strong guard play might be atop that list.

    Baylor's top-five scores are all guards. Four of the five are upperclassmen. Two should be selected in the upcoming NBA draft. One will factor in the national player of the year race.

    The marquee name is junior Jared Butler, a Wooden Award finalist who aces both the eye test and the statistical measures. He leads this Baylor team, which has lost once all season, in points (17.1), steals (2.1) and threes (2.7). He'll hear his name called on draft night, possibly in the first round.

    Butler isn't the top Baylor player listed on the big board of B/R's Jonathan Wasserman, though. That distinction instead goes to sophomore Davion Mitchell. He's a relentless defender who made big leaps as a shooter, shot-creator and distributor this season.

    Senior MaCio Teague, the squad's second-leading scorer, might convince an NBA club he's worth a look, too. Though not a great athlete, he's another strong defender who has connected on 39.6 percent of his long-range looks.

    Baylor beat every team on its schedule—it split its season series with Kansas—and scored a double-digit victory over Illinois in December. If this isn't the best team in college basketball (it might be), it can certainly look the part any given night.

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