March Madness
(Richard W. Rodriguez/AP Photo)

Welcome to the 2021 March Madness coverage presented by Vendetta Sports Media! For other region previews, click below!

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No. 1 Seed Overview: Baylor Bears

Baylor is a very interesting team to evaluate in March Madness this year. There have been moments this year where they have legitimately looked like the best team in the country. Jared Butler, likewise, has played like a real National Player of the Year candidate with his shooting and defense.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they simply haven’t looked the same since their COVID-19 pause partway through the year. Their overall defense and three-point shooting have both taken a step back since their return. Scott Drew’s team suffered their only two losses of the season after the pause, one to Kansas and the other to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Bears have an extremely tough path to the Final Four. Their second round game will be against either No. 8 North Carolina or No. 9 Wisconsin, two real threats to upset them. No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Arkansas, and No. 4 Purdue are no easy outs either. Baylor finished fourth overall in KenPom, 3rd in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, and 44th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They have their work cut out for them, but still have the personnel to make things happen.

Sleeper Team to Win Region: No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers were a top-five preseason team, and they still have the capability to make a deep run despite their rough season. Getting past Baylor will be the biggest speed bump for the Badgers, but it’s certainly possible. Keys for Wisconsin will be getting their offense out of the funk it’s been in for the whole season and seeing improvement from both Brad Davison and Nate Reuvers. The talent is there for the Badgers – which is why they were evaluated so well in the preseason – and they are a real threat if they put it all together.

Double-Digit Seed Most Likely to Make Noise: No. 12 Winthrop Eagles

At this point, picking No. 5 Villanova to beat Winthrop might be seen as the upset pick. The Eagles have been a very popular mid-major all season. They enter the tournament with a favorable draw against a vulnerable Villanova team and will be a trendy pick to make the Sweet Sixteen. Don’t sleep on No. 14 Colgate either. Heat Check CBB has them as one of the 10 most under-seeded teams in the field.

Player to Watch: Duane Washington Jr., Ohio State Buckeyes

Jared Butler is an easy pick for this, so I’ll go with the hot hand in Duane Washington Jr. instead. Washington just put up 32 points and 8 rebounds in the Big Ten Championship against Illinois. Despite not coming away with the win, Washington will nonetheless be a big part of the Buckeye’s plans for March Madness. The junior guard also scored 24 points in a semifinal upset of top-seeded Michigan. With his high-level scoring and efficient shooting over the last few games, look for Duane Washington to continue to crush it.

Most Intriguing First-Round Matchup: No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers

Both these teams are going to cause problems for Baylor in the second round. It’s just a question of which one will come out on top in the first round. Wisconsin had major aspirations at the beginning of the season and are a top-10 KenPom team. The Tar Heels have been impressive lately and Roy Williams is usually a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. Look for this 8-9 game between two big-name programs to be a back-and-forth affair.

Prediction

Despite their recent struggles, I still believe Baylor is far and away the best team in this region. Even if their defense is a fraction of what it was before the COVID pause, it will still be good enough to make it happen. It may take a few tough wins, maybe one in overtime, but I still like the Bears to get out alive.

Region Final Prediction: No. 1 Baylor Bears over No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes

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