It is the most talented team in the country (Illinois), the projected No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft (Oklahoma States cad Cunningham), capable of beating anyone. Virginia in low seeds like Missouri Valley champion Loyola Chicago and ACC tournament champion Georgia Tech) and potential sleepers. Rutgers, seeded 10th, has proven that it can beat anyone, with wins over Illinois, Purdue and Maryland, and it wasn’t long before No. 5 Tennessee was considered one of the premier teams in the country . Illini was no favor here.
Final Four Pick: Illinois
Cad conignum is terrific. Oklahoma State could meet for a Final Four as a whole. So can West Virginia. Neither team will do. Illinois is getting better from the game. It has star power, frontcourt shape and scoring punch, and experience that wins this year’s time. Ayo Dosumu, against Cunningham, will be one of the thrills of this tournament in the Sweet 16. Illinois survives second-round Loyola Chicago’s Gauntlett, Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16 and West Virginia in the Elite Eight.
Player to Watch: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Unlike other top one-to-one prospects like Ben Simmons, Anthony Edwards and Markelle Fultz, Cunningham was able to excel after passing on a bevy of blue-blood events. The 6-foot-8 point guard, averaging 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists, led the Cowboys to a big season in the rugged Big 12, beating the likes of Baylor, West Virginia (twice), Texas Tech (twice) . Arkansas.
Unsung Player: Miles McBride, West Virginia
The sophomore guard is a light-out shooter who rarely rolls the ball. He scores and delivers at a high level, and is a tough perimeter defender, producing 1.8 steals per game. He took a big jump this year, his scores improving throughout the division, which was important for the Mountaineers’ third place in the Big 12.
Best first-round matchup: No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is coming off an ACC title. Loyola Chicago has won 17 of 18 games. The Ramblers are ranked first in defensive efficiency and will gain the game at their own pace, as neither team plays fast. It is written 55–53, someone made a play in the last second to determine who was next.
First-Round Upset Watch: No. 11 Syracuse at No. 6 San Diego State
The Orange are reaching the summit at the right time, winning six of their last nine matches to reach the tournament. His last loss was at the buzzer in Virginia. Buddy Boehm is one of the region’s premier shooters and knocked out San Diego State from the tournament before a scare in West Virginia.
Bracketbuster: Number 10 Rutgers
Yes, the Scarlet Knights enter the tournament in a clash against quality teams. They can go into aggressive drought. But his defense keeps him in the games, and Steve Pikil’s team got a great draw with seventh-ranked Clemson in the first round and the worst No. 2 seed Houston in a second-round roundup match. Rutgers will play independently after their 30-year-old drought crackles, and shots begin to fall.