Around this time last year, the NCAA shut down my favorite sporting event of the year. And while I tend to eschew the “blame the refs” approach to things, we can blame them for the Madness drought. It was, however, the right call. We had no idea of the extent to which coronavirus would impact the country, nor did we anticipate botching the response so badly. In fact, watching the degree to which we, as a nation, imploded was like watching a 1-seed come blow a 20-point lead – and the game – because half the team decided to play no defense whatsoever.
But we’re limping back. The big dance returns and for that we must be grateful. It's an opportunity for fans to relax for a moment, to take a breath. The last year has been a difficult and turbulent mess of navigating unfamiliar terrain. For one shining moment, it's nice to simply enjoy something for its own sake and remind us we are in fact on the (long) road to recovery. It's as welcome as it is needed.
The season has been strange to say the least. Schedules shifted, players fell ill and recovered, and some teams took weeks – and in Michigan’s case, a whole month – off. Like so many aspects of life, they had to make it up as they went along. Some teams have withdrawn from the tournament due to illness. The NCAA had four teams waiting in the wings in case a school was forced to withdraw for health and safety reasons. All the games will be played in one place. The abnormality of these times persists.
Nonetheless, we’re back – in a sense. Gonzaga is the talk of the town, going 26-0 on the year and poised to run through the tape, something that has not happened since Indiana did it in 1976. The Big 10 (or Big 23, I honestly don’t know how many teams are in that conference these days) is strongly represented in all four corners of the bracket. Hartford is dancing! Yup. Hart. Ford.
We’re inching back!
So, as is my custom, here are my picks for the 2021 Tournament: