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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Final Four Predictions 2021: Early Projections Following NCAA Bracket Release

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Get those brackets ready, folks. 

    March Madness is close. Less than a week away. And that means you’ll be furiously filling out your bracket, doing your research and hoping to win bragging rights—and maybe a few bucks on the sly—with your yearly office or friend pool. 

    Looking for some strong contenders to reach the Final Four? Look no further. In the following slideshow, we picked the most likely team to get out of each region. Let the fun begin. 

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    Let’s not overthink this region. 

    Gonzaga has already beaten the No. 2 seed (Iowa), the No. 3 seed (Kansas) and the No. 4 seed (Virginia). Every one of those wins was by double-digit points. 

    Gonzaga is going to get out of this region. The undefeated Bulldogs might not break a sweat until the Elite Eight. Don’t be surprised if future NBA top-five pick Evan Mobley and USC make a deep run and make it interesting. But Gonzaga will get to the Final Four. Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme are just too good.

    Prediction: Gonzaga

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    While the West is an easy call, the South is tougher. 

    Baylor is a deserving No. 1 seed with one of the best backcourts in the country—Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague take turns giving opponents migraines—an impressive resume and a composed overall group that dealt with a tough Big 12 schedule. But a potential second-round matchup against either North Carolina or Wisconsin is no walk in the park, while the Big Ten’s Purdue could loom in the Sweet 16. And don’t sleep on No. 12 Winthrop, either.

    On the other side of the bracket, Ohio State just reached the Big Ten title game, losing in overtime to a red-hot Illinois team. Arkansas, Texas Tech, Florida and even Colgate are tough potential Elite Eight matchups for the Bears. 

    Yes, Baylor lost in the Big 12 semifinals to Oklahoma State, a disappointing result after winning the conference’s regular-season tournament. But hey, you try beating Cade Cunningham three times in the same season.

    These Bears are legitimate, and they have the sort of guard-heavy offense and perimeter shooting41.8 percent from three, first in the nation—that always fares well come March.

    Prediction: Baylor

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    No team other than Gonzaga is hotter than Illinois—winners of 14 of its last 15, topping Iowa (twice), Wisconsin (twice), Michigan and Ohio State (twice) during the run—but it could face a major challenge as soon as the second round, when the defensively stout Loyola Chicago might await (first in the nation in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). 

    Oh, and then that Cunningham fella—you know, the potential first overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft—might be awaiting in the Sweet 16. 

    The bottom of that bracket is dangerous too. West Virginia can play with anyone and was one of the few teams to keep things close with Gonzaga (87-82 loss). It also boasts wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech (twice) and Texas. 

    And then there’s No. 2 Houston, excellent on both ends of the floor (eighth in adjusted offense, 16th in adjusted defense). Quentin Grimes (17.9 PPG) is the real deal.

    Illinois has a potentially brutal path to the Final Four, and yet there isn’t one team that leaps out of this bracket and looks likely to end its hot run. If the Fighting Illini get past Cunningham and Oklahoma State—or if the Cowboys don’t survive Liberty or a potential second-round matchup with Tennessee—it’s hard to imagine Illinois being stopped in this region.   

    Prediction: Illinois

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    OK, OK, it’s been all chalk to this point. Boring, right? 

    Well, it ends here. 

    Let’s talk Texas. The Longhorns started 10-1 and looked like one of the best teams in college basketball, promptly lost four of their next five games and ended the season on an 8-2 tear, which included wins over Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. 

    So, which Texas will we get in the NCAA tournament? The one that started and finished hot, or the one that went through a midseason lull? 

    Bank on the former. This team has a loaded backcourt and two future NBA players (Greg Brown and Kai Jones) in the frontcourt. Outside of Gonzaga, no team in the country has Texas’ inside-outside balance. The Longhorns are for real.

    It’s tough to put your money on Michigan in this bracket after watching the Wolverines lose three of their last five games. It’s tougher to bet against an Alabama team that won both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. The Crimson Tide can run teams out of the gym and shoot past them, too. 

    A Texas vs. Alabama matchup in the Sweet 16 will be fun. Look for the slightly more battle-tested Longhorns to sneak out the win and ride that momentum into the Final Four. 

    Prediction: Texas

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    David Becker/Associated Press

    You have to love Baylor’s excellent guard play, or Texas’ balance. Illinois’ incredible run to end the season and impressive overall resume makes it an intriguing pick. 

    But do you know which team has excellent guard play, fantastic inside-out balance, an amazing resume and, oh yeah, is 26-0 this season?

    Gonzaga. The answer is Gonzaga. First in adjusted offense, 10th in adjusted defense. Two future lottery picks in Suggs and Kispert. If they play like they are capable of playing, they are winning this tournament. 

    It isn’t a foregone conclusion. Well, unless Gonzaga decides it is. The Bulldogs have the talent to make this all look easy.

    Prediction: Gonzaga

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