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Instant picks for the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament bracket

Here are our NCAA men’s tournament picks after the 2021 bracket was announced.

NCAA Basketball-WCC Tournament-BYU vs Gonzaga Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is finally back after last season’s NCAA tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. While Covid has continued to wreck havoc on the world and the sport ever since, college basketball has made it through the season and back to the onset of the tournament.

The 2021 men’s NCAA tournament bracket has been announced, with 68 teams headed to Indianapolis for a “bubble” set-up that will conclude with the national championship game on April 5 in Lucas Oil Stadium.

While the field has been announced, it is still subject to change. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA has installed a 48-hour window for replacement teams to be named if a program can’t meet the medical protocol. We already saw Duke, Kansas, and Virginia get booted from their conference tournaments for a positive test, so there remains a very real possibility Covid could impact the bracket.

With the field set for now, it’s our duty to provide instant bracket predictions. Trust our picks at your own discretion.

West region

We expect Gonzaga to skate through to the Sweet 16 after beating No. 8 seed Oklahoma in the round of 32. We’ll take Ohio over Creighton in the Sweet 16, and then the Zags over the Bobcats.

On the bottom half of the region, we’ll go with Kansas over USC in the round of 32, and Oregon over Iowa. We’ll take Oregon to the Elite Eight with a win over Kansas until they fall to Gonzaga.

East region

We’ll take LSU making the Sweet 16 over top seed Michigan. We’ll pick Georgetown to win their first game with an upset of Colorado before losing to Florida State. The Seminoles will then beat the Tigers to advance to the Elite Eight.

Alabama will beat UConn in the round of 32, and then beat Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The Spartans need to win a play-in game against UCLA, but then they can beat BYU and Texas.

The Crimson Tide will then defeat Florida State to make the Final Four.

South region

Baylor is a heavy favorite in the South region, but they’ll have a hard time against North Carolina in the round of 32 before coming away with the win. The Bears will defeat Purdue in the Sweet 16. If you’re looking for an upset, pick Winthrop over Villanova in the first round.

Texas Tech and Arkansas should be a great round of 32 matchup — we’ll take Chris Beard and the Red Raiders in that one. Ohio State should have a manageable path to the Sweet 16. We think Ohio State makes the Elite Eight and then loses to Baylor.

Midwest region

This is the region of death in the bracket. Illinois is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, but they will have an extremely tough matchup against Loyola. We’ll pick the Illini to win a thriller and bust into the Sweet 16 against Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State. We’ll pick Cade’s Cowboys over Illinois in the Sweet 16.

We’ll take Syracuse over San Diego State and West Virginia. The Orange’s run will end with a loss to Houston. The Cougars will then lose to Oklahoma State. Cade Cunningham is going to the Final Four.

2021 Final Four predictions

Gonzaga will beat Alabama. Baylor will beat Oklahoma State in a Big 12 tournament semifinals rematch. We’ll take Gonzaga to beat Baylor for the national title.

Why Gonzaga will win the 2021 NCAA tournament

Much like Villanova’s national championship-winning team in 2018, Gonzaga has felt like the most talented team in the country from the very start of the season. If anyone beats the Zags, it’s going to count as a major upset.

Gonzaga’s days of being viewed as a mid-major are over. The Bulldogs went to the national championship game in 2017 and lost a close game to North Carolina. The Zags were battle-tested in the non-conference season, defeating Kansas, Iowa, Virginia, and more. Gonzaga maintained its perfect record by sweeping its way through every West Coast Conference opponent and now enter March Madness at 26-0 on the season.

Gonzaga is full of star-power. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs was a five-star recruit who is currently projected as the No. 3 overall pick in our latest 2021 NBA mock draft. Senior wing Corey Kispert is one of the nation’s best three-point shooters, and is also being projected as an NBA lottery pick. There’s a case to be made that sophomore center Drew Timme is the Zags’ most important player. All three have a chance to be named All-Americans this year.

Gonzaga has great depth in addition to its front line stars. Guards Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard are college veterans who have played in many big games throughout the years, with the latter arriving as a transfer from Florida before this season. Anton Watson has given the Zags a versatile forward in the front court, while Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, and Oumar Ballo have each given the program good minutes off the bench.

The Zags will enter the field with the No. 1 rated offense and No. 10 rated defense according to KenPom’s efficiency metrics. Gonzaga plays fast, has shooters everywhere, and thrives in transition. It’s a team without many apparent weaknesses.

No team has finished the college basketball season as an undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976. It’s so hard to go wire-to-wire with an unblemished record, but the Zags are good enough to do it.