Welcome to the 2021 March Madness coverage presented by Vendetta Sports Media! For other region previews, click below!
No. 1 Seed Overview: Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini enter the 2021 NCAA Tournament red-hot after capturing the Big Ten Tournament title in overtime over Ohio State. Illinois looks to finally be playing to their full potential and stepping into their preseason Final Four hype. The 1-2 punch of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn is as good as any in all of college basketball.
Illinois got an absolutely brutal draw with the prospect of facing No. 8 Loyola Chicago in the second round. However, Cockburn gives them a solid answer to the Ramblers’ Cameron Krutwig down low. After Loyola Chicago, No. 4 Oklahoma State will also present serious issues for Illinois.
Coming off seven consecutive wins in the Big Ten, no easy feat, the Fighting Illini seem to be putting together the pieces towards a March Madness title run. They’ll need to ride their momentum to have a real shot to win the Midwest Region.
Sleeper Team to Win Region: No. 8 Loyola Chicago Ramblers
The Ramblers were severely disrespected by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. An 8-seed is almost indefensible for a team as strong as they are. Loyola Chicago is the No. 9 overall team in KenPom and ranks first overall in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. The eight teams above them comprised all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. They are a more efficient team than the Ramblers team that reached the Final Four a couple years ago. They will undoubtedly be a popular sleeper pick to win the region.
Double-Digit Seed Most Likely to Make Noise: No. 11 Syracuse Orange
I’m putting the Orange in this spot by virtue of them being the best double-digit seed in this region. No. 10 Rutgers are decidedly uninspiring, No. 12 Oregon State don’t have enough to get it done, and No. 13 Liberty have to play Cade Cunningham in the first round. Syracuse and Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim have a winnable first-round matchup in San Diego State. West Virginia is undoubtedly a better team than them, but the precedent for Syracuse overperforming in March has already been set.
Player to Watch: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State Cowboys
This is an easy one. Cade Cunningham is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. He has really turned it on in the final stretch of the season, leading Oklahoma State to a Big 12 Championship appearance. The Cowboys go as far as Cunningham takes them. His playmaking and shooting elevate OSU to Final Four contenders.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 6 San Diego State Aztecs vs. No. 11 Syracuse Orange
Here’s a fun first-round matchup between two good-not-great teams. San Diego State is much better defensively, but Syracuse’s efficient offense keeps them in games. The Aztecs are also looking to make up for last year’s unfortunate ending to the season where they were the nation’s final undefeated team. Some people didn’t even have the Orange making the March Madness field. Jim Boeheim’s team gets a chance to prove the doubters wrong against a top-25 team in the first round.
I think the draw for No. 1 Illinois is too challenging for them not to stumble somewhere along the way. Beating No. 8 Loyola Chicago and No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 3 West Virginia would be tough for any team. For what it’s worth, I think No. 2 Houston are frauds and will be dispatched relatively quickly. I’m looking at two Big 12 teams to make the Elite Eight in the Midwest Region.
Region Final Prediction: No. 4 Oklahoma State Cowboys over No. 3 West Virginia Mountaineers
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