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2021 Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: A Region-by-Region Guide

To get you ready to revel in the Madness (and win your bracket pool), here's everything you need to know about the players, teams and games you can't miss when the tournament tips off.
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The men's field of 68 is set for the greatest postseason in sports: March Madness. Sunday's selection show revealed the 2021 bracket that sets the table for this year's race for the national title. Gonzaga enters the tournament as not only the No. 1 overall seed, but also chasing the first undefeated season by a D-I men's basketball team since 1975–76 Indiana.

Before the games begin (the First Four is Thursday, while the Round of 64 starts Friday), SI's experts have broken down the teams to watch in each region, from the outlook for the top seeds to the squads most likely to make a Cinderella run and much, much more.

Region-by-Region Breakdowns

West Region

1. Gonzaga
2. Iowa
3. Kansas
4. Virginia
5. Creighton
6. USC
7. Oregon
8. Oklahoma 
9. Missouri
10. VCU
11. Wichita State/Drake
12. UC Santa Barbara
13. Ohio
14. Eastern Washington
15. Grand Canyon
16. Norfolk State/Appalachian State

State of the No. 1 Seed

Frankly, Gonzaga has looked destined for the top overall seed ever since an emphatic win over Kansas in the very first game of the season. The Bulldogs have earned and lived up to their lofty expectations each step of the way since, leaning on a turbo-charged, balanced offense and four players with All-American cases. Rarely do you find four stars with skill sets as complementary as Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Joel Ayayi. Mark Few’s teams have led the nation in offensive efficiency three years running, and this edition is the third-best nationally in the last 10 years, per KenPom’s data. They’ve accomplished that without over-relying on launching threes, which bodes well for the sustainability of the whole thing. The synergy between their stars passes the eye test, and Gonzaga’s ball movement can be a beautiful thing.

Still, running the table presents its own set of challenges. As history has shown, going into the tournament undefeated guarantees new levels of pressure. Apart from a sluggish first half against BYU in the WCC championship game, Gonzaga hasn’t played a truly close contest since Dec. 2 against West Virginia, a game they still won by five. The Bulldogs’ defense is steady, not elite, but no opponent has been able to take full advantage. Attrition can be a nasty thing in March, but it’s hard to make a case for Gonzaga being truly vulnerable, mostly because we have yet to see it. Still, as the stakes magnify, their stiffest test is almost certainly still to come.

The big question as it pertains to Gonzaga’s region is whether the Zags will encounter that type of challenge prior to the Final Four. We actually have more answers than usual on that front: they’ve already beaten the 2, 3 and 4 seeds— Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia—in the regular season, and handily at that. At a glance, the answer is probably not. But of course, we have to play the games first. —Jeremy Woo

Click here for the complete West Region breakdown

South Region

1. Baylor
2. Ohio State
3. Arkansas
4. Purdue
5. Villanova
6. Texas Tech
7. Florida
8. North Carolina
9. Wisconsin
10. Virginia Tech
11. Utah State
12. Winthrop
13. North Texas
14. Colgate
15. Oral Roberts
16. Hartford

Who Has the Toughest Draw?

The Buckeyes nearly stole the Big Ten title, but eventually fell in overtime to Illinois, 91–88. For their trouble, they’ll have to maneuver through the bottom half of the South bracket, which is riddled with potential landmines. The Buckeyes should handle No. 15 Oral Roberts convincingly, but in the second round either No. 7 Florida or No. 10 Virginia Tech looms. Both teams have multiple double-figure scorers and depth. Should they move on, the Buckeyes would likely face No. 3 Arkansas or perhaps the most dangerous No. 6 seed in the tournament, Texas Tech, before potentially seeing No. 1 Baylor, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “no rest for the weary.” —Jason Jordan

Click here for the complete South Region breakdown

Midwest Region

1. Illinois 
2. Houston
3. West Virginia
4. Oklahoma State
5. Tennessee
6. San Diego State
7. Clemson
8. Loyola Chicago
9. Georgia Tech
10. Rutgers
11. Syracuse
12. Oregon State
13. Liberty
14. Morehead State
15. Cleveland State
16. Drexel

Player to Watch: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

One-and-done guard Cade Cunningham is the type of talent who can take a team a long way—it’s not out of the question for him to have a Carmelo Anthony-esque run in his only NCAA tournament before becoming the likely No. 1 pick in the draft. Cunningham was outstanding in the Big 12 tournament, averaging 23.7 points, six rebounds and four assists. He is smooth and unhurried with the ball, and at 6’ 8” can see over and play above guards assigned to guard him. Coach Mike Boynton has let the offense run through Cunningham and allowed him to play through his mistakes (he will turn the ball over), and the payoff has been a player ready to shine at tournament time. —Pat Forde

Click here for the complete Midwest Region breakdown

East Region

1. Michigan
2. Alabama
3. Texas
4. Florida State
5. Colorado
6. BYU
7. UConn
8. LSU
9. St. Bonaventure
10. Maryland
11. Michigan State/UCLA
12. Georgetown
13. UNC Greensboro
14. Abilene Christian
15. Iona
16. Mount St. Mary's/Texas Southern

Team That Could Bust Your Bracket: St. Bonaventure

I really like the draw for the Bonnies, who looked excellent in the A-10 tournament. The opening-round matchup against a talented but defense-optional LSU team feels manageable, and St. Bonavenutre got paired with the most vulnerable No. 1 seed in a Livers-less Michigan squad. Winning a matchup like that will of course be challenging, but Bonaventure center Osun Osunniyi is one of the nation’s best interior defenders and could make life difficult for Hunter Dickinson if he can stay out of foul trouble. 

If Osunniyi can slow Dickinson and perimeter scorers Dominick Welch and Jaren Holmes knock down shots, the Bonnies could pull the upset and blow this region wide open. Much has been made of St. Bonaventure’s lack of depth, but the Bonnies’ five starters are incredibly talented and disciplined. This is a definite team to watch. —Kevin Sweeney

Click here for the complete East Region breakdown

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