Mar 15, 2021 - Sports

What to know about the first March Madness in two years

Basketball in a bubble
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly two years in the making, the Big Dance is finally returning from its pandemic-induced hiatus. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to fill out your bracket.

Driving the news: 68 teams have been invited to the men's NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis — a bubbled basketball extravaganza unlike anything college sports has ever seen.

  • No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, Michigan
  • Last four in: Michigan State, UCLA, Wichita State, Drake
  • First four out: Louisville, Colorado State, St. Louis, Ole Miss
  • Bids by conference: Big Ten (9), SEC (6), Big 12 (7), ACC (7), Pac-12 (5), Big East (4), American (2), Atlantic 10 (2), West Coast (2), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (2), 20 conferences (1)
An old woman covered in final four gear.
Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago are back and ready to make some noise once again. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Best matchups:

  • No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA: The Spartans and Bruins will play in Purdue's Mackey Arena to conclude Thursday night' play-in games. Safe to say this is one of the best "First Four" matchups ever.
  • No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop: This will be a popular upset pick — for good reason. The Wildcats are without star point guard Colin Gillespie and the Eagles are an impressive 23-1.
  • No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech: The Ramblers have the nation's best defensive rating, while the Yellow Jackets have lots of momentum after winning the ACC Tournament.
  • No. 12 UCSB vs. No. 5 Creighton: The Gauchos are one of the most talented mid-majors, and the Blue Jays may still be licking their wounds after losing big to Georgetown in the Big East title game.
  • No. 13 Ohio vs. No. 4 Virginia: The Bobcats have a stud point guard and nearly beat Illinois. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers won't arrive in Indy until Friday, with most of the roster in quarantine.

By the numbers:

  • 6 shades of orange: Six teams in the Midwest Region have orange as their primary color: No. 1 Illinois, No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 7 Clemson, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 12 Oregon State.
  • 4 top-two seeds: The Big Ten has a pair of No. 1 seeds (Illinois, Michigan) and No. 2 seeds (Ohio State, Iowa), marking the first time a conference has ever earned four top-two seeds.
  • 72-68: No. 9 seeds are 72-68 (.514) all-time against No. 8 seeds in the Round of 64, the only lower seed with a winning record. By comparison, No. 10 seeds are just 55-85 (.393) against No. 7 seeds.
  • 44 schools: With Hartford and Grand Canyon making their debuts, there are now just 44 Division I programs (out of 357) that have never gone dancing.
  • 3rd coach: Iona's Rick Pitino is the third coach to lead five programs to the tournament, joining Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith.

Printable bracket.

Official seed list

1–10: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Baylor, 3. Illinois, 4. Michigan, 5. Alabama, 6. Ohio State, 7. Iowa, 8. Houston, 9. Arkansas, 10. West Virginia

11–20: 11. Texas, 12. Kansas, 13. FSU, 14. Purdue, 15. Oklahoma State, 16. Virginia, 17. Creighton, 18. Villanova, 19. Tennessee, 20. Colorado

21–30: 21. USC, 22. Texas Tech, 23. BYU, 24. San Diego State, 25. Oregon, 26. UConn, 27. Clemson, 28. Florida, 29. LSU, 30. Loyola Chicago

31–40: 31. UNC, 32. Oklahoma, 33. Missouri, 34. Georgia Tech, 35. Wisconsin, 36. Maryland, 37. Virginia Tech, 38. VCU, 39. St. Bonaventure, 40. Rutgers

41–50: 41. Syracuse, 42. Utah State, 43. Michigan State, 44. UCLA, 45. Wichita State, 46. Oregon State, 47. Georgetown, 48. Drake, 49. Winthrop, 50. UC Santa Barbara

51–60: 51. Ohio, 52. North Texas, 53. Liberty, 54. UNC Greensboro, 55. Abilene Christian, 56. Morehead State, 57. Colgate, 58. Eastern Washington, 59. Grand Canyon, 60. Cleveland State

61–68: 61. Oral Roberts, 62. Iona, 63. Drexel, 64. Hartford, 65. Mount St. Mary's, 66. Texas Southern, 67. Norfolk State, 68. Appalachian State

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