Photo courtesy of Kathy Kmonicek – AP Photo
It’s Madness Time ladies and gentleman, and with that comes Bracket Challenge season. I spend the entire week leading into the tournament doing bracketology, and in this series I’ll be giving you my entire 2021 Bracket Predictions as the opening tip draws near.
Each day we’ll run through my key thoughts on a specific region, and today we’re checking in on the Beasts of the East. I’ll update each post with links to the other regions as they come out, so if you haven’t gotten the chance to check out the West, Midwest, or South, then you’ll be able to find them as soon as the hyperlink appears on the region.
Trader’s Projected East Region Bracket
Most Interesting Opening Day
What an opening round for the East Region! While March Madness is always filled with the allure of the unexpected, this quadrant of the bracket finds itself the most primed for chaos that I’ve seen in recent memory.
In my estimation, five of the eight Round of 64 games within this region are on upset alert. Now, to be fair, my St. Bonnie’s pick is only a 9/8 matchup, but it is an upset nonetheless. Georgetown is one of the hotter teams in the country coming off of their Big East tournament run, and Colorado found themselves the runners-up in a Pac-12 that was among the worst of the major conferences this season. I’ve seen this one as a consensus 50/50 pick, but I had to lean with the hot hand in this one.
As well as that, the 6th seeded BYU Cougars will have to run up against the winner of one of the premier First-Four games in NCAA History. Michigan State vs. UCLA for the 11 spot is a fantastic game as is, but momentum is a crazy thing and I wouldn’t count out two of the most successful coaches in the country as they look to make a Cinderella run. UConn and Maryland is another of the toss-ups we’ll be seeing in the set-field, so there’s no real shock factor one way or the other. 7/10s are among the trickiest games to pick, and some of the most missed, but chaos is key to a great tournament, and I’ve got the Terps to wreak some havoc in the East.
Speaking of chaos, Rick Pitino’s Iona team returned to play after a 51 DAY STOPPAGE to the tune of 7-2 in their last 9, including 6 straight leading into their matchup with Alabama. This is a truly impressive Alabama team, and by no means am I saying to side with Iona in this one, but it does warrant a mild alert in my opinion. The Tide are the new kids on the block, and Pitino has *unofficially* won a National Championship as recently as 2013.
Clearly, nothing is certain when it comes to the spectacle that is March Madness, but if you don’t have a rooting interest, you may as well join me on the sideline of chaos as the games begin.
My Cinderella Region
I mentioned a Cinderella run when talking about the play-in-game of the century, but the team in which I have faith to make it to the ball is neither the Spartans nor the Bruins. I believe that the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have what it takes to find themselves in the Elite Eight.
Their opening round draw of LSU is one of the tougher in the country, as LSU is playing their best ball of the season heading into the tournament. Fortunately, so are the Bonnies. This will be the best opening round matchup of the year in terms of pure basketball, and if St. Bonaventure survives this first test then I think they could cause some trouble moving forward.
With an incredibly shallow, veteran rotation, the Bonnies have to keep their legs fresh. The week between the A10 tourney and the Big Dance will do wonders to recharging that roster. Beyond the first round, Michigan is a shell of themselves without Isaiah Livers and I think this may just be the luckiest draw for the A10 champs. With all signs pointing to the team remaining without Livers for the rest of the season, I could easily see an upset spot in the cards for the top seeded Wolverines.
In the Sweet Sixteen, I have Bonnie taking on the Florida State Seminoles. Personally, I was a coin flip away from sending Georgetown forward, but alas the 4 seed survived the madness.
This is a matchup where I just had to go with my gut, and if there’s gonna be a surprise Elite Eight team this year then it’s gonna be the Bonnies. 6’10” Center Osun Osunniyi will be a huge name to watch, literally and figuratively. Averaging just under 10 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, Osunniyi will be the difference between this team getting bounced against LSU and the run that I’m predicting.
Who knows, maybe LSU takes care of business and these six paragraphs were a complete waste of time, but I’m leaning on the Bonnies heavy as my Cinderella this year.
Is Texas Back?
Last I checked March isn’t anywhere near college football season, and with that I would finally like to announce that Texas *basketball* is baaaaaaaaack. Texas has never been a true power of college basketball, but Shaka Smart seems to have the Horns on the right track in just his 6th season.
Fresh off their first Conference Tournament Championship since 1995, the Longhorns have one of the more favorable draws in the quadrant in Abilene Christian. In the Ro32 they’ll find themselves up against either BYU or the winner of Michigan State vs. UCLA, a game that should be easily winnable barring any chaos (which I’m admittedly a proponent of). In the Sweet Sixteen I reckon that Bama will be there waiting for them, and this will likely be my pick for best non-guaranteed game of the region. both teams have a really solid shot to advance, and I believe the winner of that will punch their ticket to the Final Four against my Bonnies.
I do think that this will be a close call, but Alabama’s wins have just not been as impressive in my eyes. As much as I respect the Muss Buss, wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Ok. State, and West Virginia just make me feel that the Longhorns are the more battle tested team.
This region is wide open, and I think there’s a good chance it will produce the most entertaining pre-Elite Eight matchup of the entire tournament. Between the surprise run of St. Bonaventure and the fall of a Michigan team that was receiving votes to be the AP #1, to the First-Four game of the century, this will be a fantastic portion of what’s setting up to be a great tournament. Make sure to check back every day to keep up with all the Bracketology at the Trader Talks Sports Network!