March Madness 2021: Printable bracket, key players for Illinois

NBC Sports Staff
·13 min read

March Madness 2021: Printable bracket, key players for Illinois originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The 68 teams that will participate in this year’s NCAA Tournament were revealed on Selection Sunday. 

College basketball fans around the country have been checking top bracketology expert predictions over the last week, but now the official bracket has been revealed and fans all know their fate, for better or worse.

This year, due to the Ivy League canceling its 2020-21 men's and women's basketball seasons, there are 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large bids that will compete for the national title. 

The No. 1 seeds are Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and Michigan, with Gonzaga being named as the top overall seed. 

To download a printable 2021 March Madness bracket, click here.

After March Madness was canceled last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s field will compete in Indiana beginning Thursday, March 18. 

The tournament will be held at a single site to limit travel and the potential spread of COVID-19. Instead of dividing the teams into four regions across the country, they will all be in one state for this year’s madness. However, the tournament’s format will remain the same. 

Since every team is playing in Indiana this year, the selection committee did not have to take geography into account when making the 68-team bracket. Instead, the committee used the S-curve, which ranks each of the 68 teams in a snaking pattern. Essentially, the goal of the S-curve is to reward higher seeds with easier matchups as they advance in the tournament. 

When will the NCAA Tournament take place?

The First Four is set to begin on Thursday, March 18.

The tournament’s first and second rounds will take place between Friday, March 19, and Monday, March 22.

That will be followed by the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight the following week. The Sweet Sixteen will be played on March 27 and 28, while the Elite Eight will occur on March 29 and 30.

The Final Four will take place on Saturday, April 3, culminating in the 2021 NCAA Championship Game, which will take place on Monday, April 5.

Can fans buy March Madness tickets?

The NCAA is opening the arenas to 25% capacity, which includes fans as well as all of the players, coaches, staff and guests who will be there. Social distancing will also be observed, in accordance with local and state COVID-19 guidelines.

Fans can buy tickets for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight starting on March 16. Tickets for the other rounds are sold out.

Who won automatic bids to the 2021 NCAA tournament?

The 31 teams that won their conference tournaments received automatic bids, as always, to this year’s NCAA Tournament:

Atlantic Sun: Liberty

ACC: Georgia Tech

America East: Hartford

American: Houston

Atlantic 10: St. Bonaventure

Big 12: Texas

Big East: Georgetown

Big Sky: Eastern Washington

Big South: Winthrop

Big Ten: Illinois

Big West: UC Santa Barbara

Colonial: Drexel

Conference USA: North Texas

Horizon League: Cleveland State

MAAC: Iona

MEAC: Norfolk State

Mid-American: Ohio

Missouri Valley: Loyola-Chicago

Mountain West: San Diego State

NEC: Mount St. Mary’s

OVC: Morehead State

Pac-12: Oregon State

Patriot League: Colgate

SEC: Alabama

SoCon: UNC-Greensboro

Southland: Abilene Christian

Summit: Oral Roberts

Sun Belt: Appalachian State

SWAC: Texas Southern

WAC: Grand Canyon

WCC: Gonzaga

Who received at-large bids?

The other 37 teams were given at-large bids, as the selection committee deemed them as the next 37 best teams to compete for a national title. 

One powerhouse program that will be absent from this year’s tournament is Duke. The Blue Devils withdrew themselves from the ACC tournament and ended their season on Thursday following a positive COVID-19 test within the team.

In addition, both Kansas and Virginia were forced to withdraw from their respective conference tournaments due to COVID-19. Both teams are in the field of 68, but they weren’t able to improve their resumes with a conference tournament run.

Some notable teams that received at-large bids include:

Villanova: The Wildcats won the Big East regular season title, but that team is far different from the team that will play in the NCAA Tournament. Over the last two weeks of the season, ‘Nova lost starting guards Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore for the season due to injuries and lost three of their final four games. The Wildcats were given a No. 5 seed in the South region with a first round date against Winthrop looming.

Maryland: The Terrapins finished the season just 16-13, but they had quality wins over Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin to help boost their resume. Maryland earned a No. 10 seed and will take on No. 7 UConn in the first round.

Oregon: The Pac-12 regular season champions were knocked out by Oregon State in the conference tournament but received a No. 7 seed from the selection committee. Oregon will take on VCU in the first round of the tournament with a potential matchup against No. 2 seeded Iowa in the second round.

Who was left out of the bracket? 

While some teams were able to play themselves off the bubble and into the tournament, other teams had the bubble burst on them on Selection Sunday.

Louisville, Colorado State, Saint Louis and Ole Miss were the first four teams out of the field, but they will act as replacement teams for multi-bid conferences if teams are unable to compete due to COVID-19.

How will replacement teams be decided if they are necessary? 

The NCAA announced its contingency plans in case teams are forced to withdraw from the tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Replacement teams will be announced before the tournament tips off, and every single-bid conference can replace their automatic qualifier with a pre-approved replacement team. Other than that, replacement teams will be chosen from the pool of teams that were being considered for an at-large bid.

While replacement teams will be in place, the NCAA has decided that they will only join the tournament within 48 hours after the announcement of the field, and will not be able to after that.

Who are the favorites to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament?

Gonzaga (26-0, 15-0 WCC): The Bulldogs have steamrolled the competition all year long. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate included impressive wins over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia. Perhaps even more impressive, head coach Mark Few’s team has won 23 straight games by double figures. West Virginia was the only team within 10 points of Gonzaga all season. They are the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2015.

Baylor (22-2, 13-1 Big 12): The Bears came into the Big 12 Tournament at 21-1, but they were upset by Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Still, the Bears have never been below No. 3 in the AP Poll this season and both their losses came to top-25 teams in Kansas and Oklahoma State. Baylor has impressive wins over Texas and Illinois and was 8-2 against Quad 1 teams this season.

Michigan (20-4, 14-3 Big Ten): The Wolverines enter the NCAA Tournament at 20-4 after one of their best regular seasons in recent history. Head coach Juwan Howard led his alma mater to a Big Ten regular season title, but the team has sputtered down the stretch. Michigan was 18-1 entering the final week of the season before losing to Illinois and Michigan State. In the conference tournament, the Wolverines lost in the semifinals to rival Ohio State. Perhaps more importantly, senior Isaiah Livers was ruled out indefinitely after their quarterfinal win with a stress injury to his right foot. Momentum is clearly not on Michigan’s side entering March Madness, but anything can happen in the Big Dance.

Illinois (23-6, 16-4 Big Ten): The Fighting Illini, led by junior guard Ayo Dosunmu, took home the Big Ten title after knocking off Ohio State in overtime. Illinois has had some signature wins over the past few weeks, as it defeated Ohio State twice, Michigan, Iowa, Rutgers and Wisconsin in its final six games. Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn combine to average nearly 40 points per game for the Illini and are one of the better duos in this year’s field. Illinois is certainly battle-tested as it heads to Indiana. 

Alabama (24-6, 16-2 SEC): The Crimson Tide and head coach Nate Oats closed out an impressive regular season by narrowly winning the SEC Tournament over the LSU Tigers on Sunday. Alabama has four players who averaged double figures on the season, led by sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford, making them one of the more complete teams in the field. After going 16-15 last season, Alabama and Oats have completely turned things around during the 2020-21 campaign. The Crimson Tide have now won nine of their last 10 games and will head into March Madness as one of the hottest teams in the country.

Who are the best players in this year’s NCAA Tournament?

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State:

Cunningham came into this season as the most highly touted prospect in college hoops, and he has not disappointed. The freshman point guard was named the Big 12 Rookie and Player of the Year and for good reason. 

Cunningham is averaging 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc. At 6-foot-8, Cunningham is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses at the point guard position. 

The Cowboys aren’t the best team in the field, but having a star like Cunningham will make them a dangerous matchup. 

With the 2021 NBA Draft on the horizon, Cunningham could solidify his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick with a big showing during March Madness.

Luka Garza, Iowa:

When it comes to the best big man in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, there is no need to look further than Iowa’s Luka Garza. The senior forward built on a fantastic junior season to lead the Hawkeyes to a 20-7 record this season. 

Garza, who is averaging 23.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, can dominate in the post, but he also stretches the floor for Iowa. The senior is shooting a career-high 40.7 percent from beyond the arc this season on just over three attempts per game. 

Iowa will slot in as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Garza’s experience could play a big factor in their chances of making a run to the Final Four. 

Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga:

Another freshman phenom, Jalen Suggs leads the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs into the tournament after they won the West Coast Conference. 

Suggs is yet another highly touted prospect, but his best attribute may be his ability to create for others. He averages 4.5 assists per game this season, which was good for third in the West Coast Conference. 

The freshman can fill it up too, as he is shooting 51.2 percent from the field (35.4 percent from 3-point range) and averaging 14.3 points per game this season. 

The Bulldogs and head coach Mark Few are searching for that elusive first national title, but this team may be as good as any that Gonzaga has had in Few’s tenure. 

There have been countless memorable performances by guards (Ryan Arcidiacono, Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Tyus Jones just to name a few) that culminated in their team winning the national title. Suggs is looking to add his name to that esteemed list. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois:

Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu has been able to help the Illinois men’s basketball program do a complete 180 over the past three seasons. In Dosunmu’s freshman year (the 2018-19 season), Illinois was just 12-21 under Brad Underwood and finished in 10th place in the Big Ten. 

The Fighting Illini flipped the script last season, as they went 21-10, but the transformation into one the nation’s best teams came during the 2020-21 campaign. Dosunmu was a big reason why Illinois went 20-6 and finished second in the Big Ten, as he averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists.

The junior is one of the best scorers in the country, averaging 20.7 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from 3. He does a little bit of everything for the Fighting Illini, who picked up a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Moses Moody, Arkansas:

Arkansas’ Moses Moody is yet another freshman who can score in bunches. The 2020-21 SEC Rookie of the Year, Moody averages 16.3 points per game while shooting 42.1 percent from the field.

Moody is an intriguing NBA draft prospect at 6-foot-6 as a 3-and-D wing. Arkansas was 22-6 this season, including an impressive 16-1 at home.

Moody’s scoring, coupled with the Razorbacks’ experience, should make them a dangerous team in the tournament.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova:

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will have his hands full in the NCAA Tournament for the Wildcats. 

Villanova has lost its second-leading scorer and co-Big East Player of the Year (Gillespie) for the season due to a torn MCL, and its third-leading scorer (Moore) is dealing with a severe ankle sprain. That led to the Wildcats getting bounced in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament by Georgetown

Robinson-Earl is averaging 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but Villanova and Jay Wright will need even more from the sophomore to make a Final Four run, especially if Moore can’t suit up.

Jared Butler, Baylor:

The Baylor Bears and star junior Jared Butler followed up their 26-4 campaign last season with a 22-2 record during the 2020-21 season. Butler has taken the next step as a scorer, improving his points per game average to 17.1 a night. 

However, the biggest change for the junior guard is the efficiency with which he scores the ball. After shooting 42.1 percent from the field last season, Butler is shooting a blistering 48.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. He is one of the deadliest shooters in the country, as he averages 2.6 made triples per game. 

The Bears received a No. 1 seed and are one of the favorites in this year’s madness.

Chris Duarte, Oregon: 

Oregon sophomore Chris Duarte is another knockdown shooter who will require plenty of attention in this year’s tournament. 

Duarte shoots 43 percent from beyond the arc and averages 16.7 points per game this season. 

Oregon won six consecutive games before losing in the Pac-12 tournament’s semifinals, and Duarte averaged 17.0 points on 53.8 percent shooting from 3-point range over that stretch. 

If he can stay hot, the Ducks could make some noise as a No. 7 seed. 

Peter Dewey and Logan Reardon contributed to this story.