While upsets happen all the time in the NCAA Tournament, there are usually only a handful of teams that can win the tournament. Here are the six teams who can win the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
These teams are efficient on both ends of the floor and are usually battle-tested as well. The last team to win it all and not be top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (according to kenpom.com) was UConn in 2014. That UConn team is the only team since 2002 not meet those parameters and still win the championship.
Other teams could follow in 2014 UConn’s steps and win it all, but they would be a statistical outlier.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the number one overall seed and have officially shed the “Cinderella” label over the last several years. Although they have never won the National Championship, this may be their year. They currently are undefeated at 26-0. The Bulldogs are also battle-tested with eight quadrant 1 wins, with several of those coming out of conference.
There will be pressure on Gonzaga to finish the season unscathed. They do fit the paramaters though. Gonzaga is the most efficient offense in the country and they also rank 10th in defensive efficiency. Between Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme, the Bulldogs can attack are fully capable of cutting down the nets in Indianapolis this year.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan came out of nowhere this year and captured a no. 1 seed. Juwan Howard won Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading Michigan to a 20-4 record. They won eight quadrant 1 games and went through a tough Big Ten and held up.
The Wolverines rank sixth in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. With good marks in both, Michigan is a well-rounded team. Unfortunately, these numbers may not hold up if Isaiah Livers, one of their starters, can’t play because of a stress fracture in his foot. Michigan can go on a run when fully healthy, but it may be worth checking out his injury before picking the Wolverines to go far in a bracket.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini
Brad Underwood made his first tournament as the head coach of Illinois in his fourth season. The Fighting Illini have more impressive wins than anyone in the country this season with 12 quadrant 1 wins. After winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship, the Fighting Illini are hot heading into the NCAA Tournament and are one of the four no. 1 seeds.
Illinois ranks fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency and seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency. The NCAA Tournament usually favors teams that have good guard play and Illinois has that in bunches. Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo and Da’Monte Williams all make major contributions to the team. If that wasn’t good enough, the Fighting Illini also have a star big man in Kofi Cockburn to go along with Giorgi Bezhanishvili in the frountcourt.
4. Houston Cougars
The Cougars may come from the AAC, but they have been a great team over the last few years. They won the AAC Tournament and were awarded with a no. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Although they have just two quadrant 1 wins, the Cougars ranked fifth in the NET and should be ready for this challenge.
Houston’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency are both solid, as they rank eighth and 16th respectively. The level of competition in conference may not be the same as other teams on this list, but their efficiency is adjusted for that. With Kansas-transfer Quentin Grimes on the floor, Houston will always have a chance.
5. Purdue Boilermakers
One of the youngest teams in the field is Purdue. After they had six quadrant 1 wins and seven quadrant 2 wins in the Big Ten, they were given a no. 4 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. They grinded out a solid season in a very tough Big Ten conference and should be ready to go starting this week.
The Boilermakers rank 23rd in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll have to play well during the tournament to stay within the top 25, but they are capable of doing so. With Trevion Williams leading the way in scoring and rebounding, the Boilermakers have a go-to player. They also have a new 7-footer in Zach Edey and guards who can make plays in Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic. Purdue may not win it all, but they do fit into the parameters of past champions.
6. UCONN Huskies
Connecticut is the only team to ever be outside the parameters and win the championship and now they meet these parameters. Connecticut received a no. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, wihch makes them the lowest-seeded team on the list. They did play well this season though, with four quadrant 1 wins and three quadrant 2 wins.
The Huskies are the 24th-ranked offensive team and the 25th-ranked defensive team. While they barely fit into our parameters, the Huskies play hard. They also had their best player, James Bouknight, miss eight of their 22 games on the season. With Bouknight back, the Huskies could go on a run this March.
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