By Nelson Hubbell
It’s been nearly two years since our favorite teams have competed in the annual 68-team tournament, bringing even more anticipation and excitement to the 2021 NCAA March Madness Tournament than those in years past.
Two teams from Michigan made it to the big dance this year.
Michigan State University and the University of Michigan have both grabbed spots in the tournament, with Oakland University falling short in their conference title game, one that would have earned them an automatic bid to the tournament.
The First Four play-in games start on March 18, with 16 seeds Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s at 5:10 p.m. on truTV. The winner of which will play No. 1 seed Michigan at 3:00 p.m. on CBS.
Michigan State, an 11 seed, will be in the nightcap game playing UCLA at 9:57 p.m. on TBS where the winner of that game will play 6 seed Brigham Young University on Saturday.
Michigan State has been a pick by many as a team that could upset some higher seeds like BYU in the Round of 64 or Texas in the Round of 32, but they have struggled with some of the lesser teams in the Big Ten this year making their game on Thursday night a fascinating one to watch.
MSU will have all of their main rotational players except for backup Point Guard Foster Loyer, who injured his left shoulder earlier this season.
Loyer has not played since Feb. 16 when he got injured. Loyer was averaging only four points per game before the injury. Michigan State went on a streak of beating three Associated Press Top 5 opponents in the span of two weeks after his injury, proving that they can beat anyone without him.
That may not be the case for some other big name teams in the tournament however.
5 seed Villanova and 1 seed Michigan will both be playing without one of their best players in Point Guard Collin Gillespie of Villanova and Forward Isaiah Livers of Michigan.
Livers is averaging 13 points, six rebounds, and two assists per game was replaced in the starting lineup last Saturday by Junior Brandon Johns Jr. who has averaged less than 11 minutes per game this season but averaged 19.5 minutes per game as a sophomore.
Michigan Head Coach Juwan Howard has not yet tipped his cap as to who will be starting in place of Livers, but Johns Jr. is a pretty good bet seeing
“Something a lot of people don’t talk enough about with Brandon is that he’s a very athletic and physical forward who is versatile in a lot of ways,” said Howard on the Inside Michigan Basketball radio show and podcast that’s hosted by Terry Mills and Brian Boesch. “He’s gonna get better and he’ll continue to be better no matter what.”
Michigan will also likely look towards Senior Chaundee Brown and Freshman Terrance Williams II in the absence of Livers.
“In the middle of chaos lies opportunity” Livers tweeted this past Sunday.
An opportunity for players like Johns Jr., Brown and Williams II to take advantage of the 31.6 minutes that will need to be distributed without their senior leader in the lineup.
Livers and Gillespie are both senior leaders who have been crucial parts to their team’s success. If you are making a bracket you should keep in mind these players’ absences for the possibility of an upset.
Assuming Michigan wins on Saturday (only once has a 16 seed upset a 1 seed) they would have to play 9 seed St. Bonaventure or 8 seed Louisiana State University (LSU) on Monday. Both the Bonnies and the Tigers will have Michigan on upset watch.
LSU and St. Bonaventure play at 1:45 p.m. on TNT Saturday, March 20.
5 seed Villanova will play 12 seed Winthrop tomorrow at 9:57 p.m to finish off the day.
A first round matchup to watch between two big name schools is 8 seed North Carolina vs 9 seed Wisconsin.
Both schools have underperformed compared to what their fan bases have come to expect as of late, but each have terrific head coaches in Greg Gard of Wisconsin and Roy Williams of North Carolina.
I would expect a close matchup between two teams when they tip-off at 7:10 p.m. on Friday, March 19 on CBS.
There are a handful of middle-of-the-road to lower seeded teams that have been popular picks for making a deep run in the tournament this March. Here’s a roundup of those teams and what they look like.
8 seed Loyola Chicago has been playing well all season with Center Cameron Krutwig anchoring the inside and head coach Porter Moser who have already made a run together to the Final Four that fell short against Michigan in 2018.
9 seed Wisconsin has a lineup with seniors as six of their top eight contributors and four of their five starters. Every one of these players can hit a shot outside the arc which is crucial for floor spacing in a tournament where defense usually gets ramped up.
Brendan Burke, one of our very own staff writers here at The Collegiate Live, has 6 seed Texas Tech moving on to the Elite Eight. Burke believes that they can play at a high level but says that, “when they struggle they really struggle”.
Soon enough we’ll find out who the legitimate contenders are. For now, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the best basketball that you’ll get to watch all season.