Joe Lunardi’s 2021 NCAA tournament bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from Selection Sunday as college basketball readies for the 2021 NCAA tournament, according to Joey Brackets:

WINNERS: 68 teams, approximately 1,000 college basketball players and millions of March Madness fans around the world. My co-author David Smale calls Selection Sunday “the biggest non-sporting sporting event” in America. He’s not wrong.

LOSERS: In the big picture, none. The world didn’t stop turning because we didn’t have a basketball tournament. And, tragically, we can’t bring back any of those we lost in the pandemic just because the Big Dance has returned. But we can all smile a little and hope this NCAA tourney in some small way helps put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.

WINNERS: The four top seeds — Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and Michigan — were correctly selected and placed. It’s rare the line between the elite and very good falls exactly after four teams, but that is the case this year and the selection committee got it right.

LOSERS: Alabama was good enough to be a No. 1 seed in most years, but we ran out of regions. The Crimson Tide will have to settle for being No. 2 in Michigan’s bracket and the possibility of the Wolverines not being at full strength in the later rounds.

WINNERS: The committee also nailed the top 16 teams, which can be a subtle element that often sets up the entire flow of the tournament. Just as there was a convenient separation point between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, the same can be said for the top four lines compared to the rest of the field.

LOSERS: Did the committee lose its cable signal while Oklahoma State was playing? The Cowboys were much closer to being a 2-seed than the No. 4 they received. West Virginia, whom the Cowboys beat twice in the past two weeks, got a No. 3 seed despite trailing Oklahoma State by 14 spots in the NET. This is a clear seeding error.

WINNERS: Non-Power 5 bubble teams Utah State, Wichita State and especially Drake were treated fairly by the committee. And both Colorado State and Saint Louis made the list of four replacement teams. Any time these conferences, which should never be called mid-major, have the next-level teams selected should be praised.

Carlik Jones, who transferred from Radford, led Louisville in scoring, but the Cardinals were left out of the NCAA tournament. Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesLOSERS: I thought Louisville would make it ahead of Wichita State, but the Cardinals really have no argument. Pandemic or not, the Cardinals were of the classic “middling major” type that is typically included. Kudos to the committee for recognizing that our planet will be just fine with only seven ACC teams in the field (and for not including Duke anywhere).

WINNERS: Hartford’s reticent coach, John Gallagher, was convinced his Hawks would make their first NCAA tournament appearance in an opening-round game. I told him Hartford was going to play Baylor or Illinois. It’s Baylor. And, John, don’t mess with the Bracketologist.

LOSERS: I thought my hometown Drexel Dragons got stiffed a little in falling below the 16-line. The Dragons get Illinois instead of a marginally easier No. 2 seed. Regardless, it’s hard to be a loser when you’re in the tournament for the first time in a quarter century.

WINNERS: UConn, Clemson and especially Villanova. Each might have been overseeded based on conference strength or recent performance. In the case of the Wildcats, even though we correctly forecast their No. 5 seed, it’s hard to see them playing to that without senior star Collin Gillespie.

LOSERS: LSU, North Carolina, Missouri, Michigan State, UCLA and especially Wisconsin. All those teams join Oklahoma State in the “notably underseeded” club. Metrics are a big part of the equation, but they shouldn’t be the whole story.

WINNERS: Every one of us who are overjoyed to have the world’s greatest sporting event back.

LOSERS: Everyone else …

Happy hoops!

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