March 16, 2021 

Instant reaction: The 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket

A couple surprises and more than a couple spicy matchups

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The two-year wait is over. We have a bracket. You can all exhale now.

OK, that’s enough relaxing. It’s time to break down what we just saw, as ESPN released the 64-team NCAA Tournament bracket before our eyes. There’s going to be plenty of #TAKES over the next week as we wait for the First Round to tip-off on Sunday, so here are a few rapid-fire thoughts:

The 1 seeds were impossible to pick

In a normal year, MAYBE you get five teams with a good case for a 1 seed. This year, there were seven such teams. Ultimately, the committee went with Stanford, UConn, NC State, and South Carolina, in that order. I had Maryland over South Carolina but AGONIZED over the decision this weekend, so I cannot fault the committee one bit. The Gamecocks have four losses, but all are against teams seeded on the top three seed lines. They also won the SEC Tournament, avenging a loss to Tennessee along the way.

I took Maryland, wagering that the committee would put extra weight on wins over Rutgers and Indiana, which the NET says were better than they probably actually were. The Terps also went 9-1 on the road, which the committee tends to value greatly. Still, we’re splitting hairs here. South Carolina and Maryland were both deserving, but ultimately Maryland has to settle for being the best 2 seed.

What did Wake Forest show?

I had Wake Forest as my fourth team out of the field, so including the Demon Deacons at all wasn’t the biggest shock in the world. Putting them on the 9 line, though, seems like a bit much (mind you we don’t have a seed list yet and it is possible they were moved up for procedural purposes). Wake went 12-12 overall and was 47th in the NET. For context, a 26-2 FGCU team was ranked 41st but fell all the way to an 11 seed.

It makes you wonder if the volume of losses matters at all. To be fair, Wake had its share of solid wins, including two over North Carolina and one over Georgia Tech. One over Missouri State in the non-conference helps too. But at some point, how much can you really reward a .500 team, particularly if its NET doesn’t do much to make up for it?

Comparing ACC teams

Let’s take Wake Forest’s situation a step further. Even without a seed list, we know that Wake Forest was ahead of North Carolina because the NCAA said the Tar Heels were the second-to-last team into the field. Why?

North Carolina went 13-10, 8-9 in the ACC. Wake Forest was 12-12, 8-10. North Carolina is 35 in the NET, Wake Forest is 47. North Carolina beat NC State, Wake’s best win was Missouri State. After NC State, Georgia Tech and Syracuse were next in the ACC standings. North Carolina went 2-1 against them and Wake went 1-2. Yes, the Demon Deacons did win two out of three against the Tar Heels, but I’m not sure that’s enough to justify such a difference here.

UConn fans are in a glass case of emotion

There some great news and not-as-great news for the Huskies — and it has nothing to do with Geno Auriemma’s surprising COVID-19 diagnosis. First, the good: The Huskies can get rival Syracuse in the second round and nemesis Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Fans will love that. More importantly: A potential matchup with Caitlin Clark and Iowa in the Sweet 16 is a real possibility — if the Hawkeyes can get there. UConn fans are adamant that Paige Bueckers is the better player of the two and are excited to see the two go head-to-head.

The bad part: Without seeing a seed list, it feels like the Huskies’ region is the toughest overall. 3 seed Tennessee played UConn to the wire. Either 4 seed Kentucky or 5 seed Iowa could be a headache. 6 seed Michigan is under-seeded. AND THEN THERE’S BAYLOR AS THE 2 SEED.

UConn, in theory, would be favored in that game, but the Bears match up well with the Huskies. They bludgeon opponents on the boards, led by NaLyssa Smith (18.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and Queen Egbo (11.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG). Olivia Nelson-Ododa is an elite defender but will have her hands full alongside freshman Aaliyah Edwards.

No real snubs

I have real disagreements with the order of teams, but there were no snubs from the field overall. So, teams that are maybe under-seeded can prove themselves, and teams that I feel were over-seeded have the opportunity to make me look stupid.

Houston was the first team out of the field (and my only miss, not to brag). I had the Cougars in because of how good their Stephen F. Austin win looks (the Jacks were 19 in the NET) and a great late-season win over USF. But as soon as the Bulls showed up on the 8 line, Houston was in trouble. Their March 2 loss to Cincinnati probably kept them out of the field. You can’t fault the committee for this one.

Written by Russell Steinberg

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