March Madness predictions: Cinderella and the big bad Bears

Will Baker

The 2020-21 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball season has been one of the wildest and most unpredictable seasons in recent history. COVID-19 threatened to derail the entire college season, leading to a shortened schedule in which fewer out-of-conference games were held than normal. Additionally, COVID-19 outbreaks in the past week have taken several teams out of contention for both a conference championship and a March Madness tournament bid. Perhaps most indicative of the type of season it has been is the absence of three of the college basketball’s ‘blue bloods’ from the top 25: Duke, North Carolina (UNC) , and Kentucky. Of these three teams, only UNC will be playing in the March Madness tournament. 

On the flip side, the number one ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs are heading into the madness with a full head of steam led by Jalen Suggs and Corey Krispert. Iowa senior Luka Garza has impressed this year as well, shooting 43 percent from three and being a force in the paint and low post. Oklahoma State Cowboy Cade Cunningham, a projected future top five draft pick, has had an electric freshman season, with 19.7 points per game, putting his team in the spotlight as contenders for the National Championship. Baylor, Michigan and Illinois have found themselves as top seeds along with Gonzaga with highly touted players on each team leading to several wins over top-25 teams. The bottom line of the 2021 season is that many teams have a chance to put together an electrifying run to the Final Four, and there are no clear favorites to take home the National Championship in Indianapolis.


Surprise Early Exit: University of Michigan

The Wolverines are coming off of a tough loss in the Big 10 tournament semi-final against rival Ohio State,

Dealing with injuries and a shaky resume, Michigan’s stay in Indianapolis could be brief. (Courtesy of MGoBlue)

but still managed to secure a 1 seed in the Eastern conference’s bracket. Michigan will likely be without senior forward Isaiah Livers, who is suffering from a stress fracture in his right foot. This is a major setback for the team, considering Livers’ 13.1 points per game this season. Michigan’s two closest losses of the season (vs. Michigan State and Ohio State) came against relatively low levels of competition, given their seeding. Michigan also suffered massive blowout losses to Minnesota and Illinois. Assuming Michigan makes it past the first round, they will inevitably have to beat one or more tough teams in the Eastern bracket, which includes familiar foe Michigan State, Texas, Alabama and LSU. Given their inconsistent record against marginal teams and the absence of a core player, do not be surprised by a premature Michigan elimination. 

Cinderella Team: Winthrop

Coming off of a near-perfect season, the Winthrop Eagles look to take flight in the early rounds of March Madness as this year’s Cinderella team. (Courtesy of Winthrop University)

Every year, a team performs beyond all expectations in March Madness, finding its way to the Sweet Sixteen or even past that. 12-seed Winthrop has a great opportunity to be this year’s Cinderella team. Winthrop begins the tournament with a bout against 5-seed Villanova, who comes into the tournament having lost 5 of their last ten games. Villanova’s top guard, Justin Moore, will also be out with a “severe ankle sprain.” Winthrop’s success will not solely rely on their opponents’ failures, though; they come into the tournament with a 23-1 record lined with blowout wins. Winthrop also touts a 35 percent team three point shooting and four scorers average double digits. Keep an eye out for the Big South Champion, Winthrop Eagles, as they attempt to become the next March Madness team to surpass expectations.



Who’s Taking Home the National Championship? Baylor

While the field of legitimate contenders this year seems larger than ever, Baylor is the team that

Scoring with incredible proficiency this season, Baylor is poised to cut the nets this March Madness. (Courtesy of Baylor University Athletics)

has the depth and talent to offensively take over and win games. Jared Butler, Baylor’s junior Guard, is arguably the Bears’ best player and is complemented by versatile guard Davion Mitchell who is shooting a ridiculous 51.5 percent from the field this season. Baylor also leads the NCAA in three point percentage at 41.82 percent. For any team, these offensive statistics are great, but Baylor has put up these numbers against fellow teams in the Big 12, one of the toughest conferences in the nation this year. With Jared Butler and a strong supporting cast, the battle tested Baylor Bears are poised to break brackets everywhere and come out as the champions.