More than two years after the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, men's college basketball is dancing again.
This year's field of 68 teams was revealed more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports and forced the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga, the overall No. 1 seed, is trying to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976, playing out of the West Region.
Baylor is the No. 1 seed in the South Region and Illinois the top seed in the Midwest Region.
Which brings us to the East Region, which is topped by another Big East team – Michigan. The Wolverines, led by first-year coach and alumnus Juwan Howard, stumbled down the stretch and will be without their glue – forward Isaiah Livers is out with a stress fracture in his right foot.
The Wolverines will meet the winner of Mount St. Mary's-Texas Southern, teams that face off in a First Four game Thursday.
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Michigan guard Mike Smith reacts during the first half of the Wolverines' Big Ten tournament game against Maryland at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports)
Nickname: Wolverines. Location: Ann Arbor.
Record: 20-4, 14-3. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2019, lost to Texas Tech in Sweet 16.
Coach: Juwan Howard (first appearance).
Overview: In his second year, Juwan Howard has elevated his alma mater to one of the best teams in the country after winning the Big Ten regular-season title. While there is a veteran presence on the roster, the team is led by Big Ten freshman of the year Hunter Dickinson. What makes this team special is their efficiency on the offensive and defensive end. The loss of forward Isaiah Livers to a stress fracture in his right foot will hurt the Wolverines' chances.
Projected starters: G Mike Smith, 5-11, Sr. (8.7 ppg, 5.0 apg, 43.9 3FG%); G Eli Brooks, 6-1, Sr. (8.7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 94.1 FT%); G Franz Wagner, 6-9, So. (12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.4 spg); F Brandon Johns Jr., 6-8, Jr. (4.1 ppg, 2.1 rbg, 53.8 FG%); C Hunter Dickinson, 7-1, Fr. (14.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 59.6 FG%).
Nickname: Crimson Tide. Location: Tuscaloosa
Record: 24-6, 16-2. Bid: SEC champion.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Villanova in second round.
Coach: Nate Oats (2-3 in three appearances).
Overview: While the prevailing impression of Alabama in its second season under Oats is that of a fast-tempo, 3-point shooting team, the Crimson Tide is the No. 1 team in the nation in defensive efficiency. Alabama can make 3-pointers by the bushel when it is on (it set the SEC record with 23 at LSU Jan. 12) but can also win when percentages are down. Eight different Crimson Tide players have 48 or more 3-point attempts this season. Senior forward Herbert Jones was SEC Player of the Year despite being the No. 4 scorer on his own team. Streak-shooter John Petty was also All-SEC and Jahvon Quinerly, a transfer from Villanova, is an offensive threat who has blossomed in a sixth-man role. UA does not have a strong shot-blocking presence at the rim and opposing teams can score inside if patient. Alabama has not advanced past the second round since 2004, when it made the Elite Eight, the best showing in its NCAA history.
Projected starters: F Herbert Jones, 6-8, Sr. (11.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.3 apg); G Jaden Shackelford, 6-2, Soph. (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 75.2 FT%); F John Petty Jr., 6-5, Sr. (12.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Josh Primo, 6-6, Fr. (8.1. ppg, 3.4 rpg, 39.0 3FG %); C Jordan Bruner, 6-10, Sr. (6.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Nickname: Longhorns. Location: Austin.
Record: 19-7, 11-6. Bid: Big 12 champion.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Nevada in the first round.
Coach: Shaka Smart (7-7 in seven appearances).
Overview: It was a crazy year for the Longhorns, who started with coach Shaka Smart on the hot seat and ended by winning the school’s first Big 12 tournament championship. In between, they won 11 of their first 12 games, then slumped at the same time Smart tested positive for COVID-19. Blessed with a veteran three-guard lineup that makes up its top three scorers, Texas has the potential to knock off anyone. The key question: Are the Longhorns consistent enough shooting the ball to avoid a bad game and premature exit?
Projected starters: G Andrew Jones, 6-4, Jr. (14.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Courtney Ramey, 6-3, Jr. (13.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.1 apg, 84.0 FT%, 44.8 3FG%); G Matt Coleman III, 6-2, Sr. (12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 81.3 FT%); F Greg Brown, 6-9, Fr. (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg); F Jericho Sims, 6-10, Sr. (8.7 spg, 6.6 rpg, 67.8 FG%).
4. Florida State
Nickname: Seminoles. Location: Tallahassee.
Record: 16-6, 11-4. Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2019, lost to Gonzaga in Sweet 16.
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (12-10 in 10 appearances).
Overview: The Seminoles came up short in the ACC tournament final but might nevertheless be the league representative best constructed to make a deep run. They have a plethora of scoring options and a deep bench led by Scottie Barnes (10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg) and Anthony Polite (9.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg). They defend the paint well and generally take care of the ball – so long as they’re not playing Georgia Tech. Their decent percentage at the line (73.8%) could also serve them well in a tight contest.
Projected starters: G M.J. Walker, 6-5, Sr. (13.1 ppg, 44.1 3fg%, 81.5 FT%); F RaiQuan Gray, 6-8, Jr. (12.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 52.6 FG%); C Balsa Koprivica, 7-1, So. (8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 60.0 FG%); G RayQuan Evans, 6-4, Sr. (6.0 ppg); G Wyatt Wilkes, 6-8, Jr. (4.5 ppg).
Nickname: Buffaloes. Location: Boulder.
Record: 22-8, 14-6. Bid: Pac-12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Connecticut in first round.
Coach: Tad Boyle (1-4 in four appearances).
Overview: The Buffaloes have one of the nation’s best point guards in McKinley Wright, who is making his first NCAA Tournament appearance after becoming the first Pac-12 player to make 1,700 points, 600 assists and 600 rebounds. He has broken school records previously belonging to two Colorado guards who went on to have long NBA careers: Chauncey Billups and Jay Humphries. This year he led a team that finished the regular season ranked first nationally in free-throw shooting (83.4%) while its best rebounder and 3-point shooter usually came off the bench: Tulsa graduate transfer Jeriah Horne.
Projected starters: G McKinley Wright, 6-0, Sr. (15.3 ppg, 4.3 rbg, 5.7 apg); G Eli Parquet, 6-3, Jr. (5.5 ppg, 0.9 spg, 0.7 bpg); F D’Shawn Schwartz, 6-7, Sr. (8.8 ppg, 4.3 rbg); F Evan Battey, 6-8, Jr. (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rbg); C Dallas Walton, 7-0, Sr. (7.0 ppg, 55.8 FG%).
Nickname: Cougars. Location: Provo, Utah.
Record: 20-6, 10-3. Bid: West Coast at-large.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Mississippi in First Four.
Coach: Mark Pope (first appearance).
Overview: The Cougars could be a tough out, especially if their hot shooting from the WCC tournament carries over. They don’t rely exclusively on the three-point arc, however. The addition of Matt Haarms as a grad transfer from Purdue gave BYU versatility at both ends with a rim protector and a true post scorer. They can’t afford turnovers, particularly against opponents with multiple scoring options.
Projected starters: G Alex Barcello, 6-2, Sr. (15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 52.2 FG%, 48.6 3FG%, 84.1 ft%); G Brandon Averette, 5-11, Sr. (11.5 ppg, 3.7 apg); C Matt Haarms, 7-3, Sr. (11.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 54.8 FG%, 82.0 FT%); F Caleb Lohner, 6-8, Fr. (7.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F Gideon George, 6-6, Jr. (5.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
Nickname: Huskies. Location: Storrs.
Record: 15-7, 11-6. Bid: Big East at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Kansas in second round.
Coach: Dan Hurley (2-2 in two appearances).
Overview: The Huskies had the typical fits and starts of this most atypical of seasons, but for the most part their return to the Big East has been successful. Guard James Bouknight is a legitimate takeover threat, though the team could benefit from having to play without him for a stretch while he recovered from an elbow injury. Though often outsized, UConn manages to hold its own on the boards. But ultimately the Huskies will likely need to exceed their season shooting average of 43.9% in order to advance.
Projected starters: G James Bouknight, 6-5, So. (20.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 47.2 FG%, 80.3 FT%); G R.J. Cole, 6-1, Jr. (12.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.3 apg); G Tyrese Martin, 6-6, Jr. (11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg); F Isaiah Whaley, 6-9, Sr. (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.7 bpg); F Adama Sanogo, 6-9, Fr. (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 55.3 FG%).
Nickname: Tigers. Location: Baton Rouge.
Record: 18-9, 11-6. Bid: SEC at-large.
Last appearance: 2019, lost to Michigan State in Sweet 16.
Coach: Will Wade (3-3 in three appearances).
Overview: LSU finished in the top three of the SEC with double-digit conference wins for the third straight season, matching a feat not done at LSU since Chris Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal under coach Dale Brown from the 1989-90 through 1991-92 seasons. Guard Cameron Thomas averaged 23.1 points a game (fourth in the nation) and became first freshman to lead SEC in scoring since Jackson. The Tigers finished second in the SEC and No. 8 in the nation in scoring with 82.7 points a game. Defense improved in the SEC tournament and late in the regular season, but it can be a problem as the Tigers finished league play No. 280 in points allowed with 75.4 a game. A deep team, LSU can play 10.
Projected starters: G Cameron Thomas, 6-4, Fr. (22.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Javonte Smart, 6-4, Jr. (15.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg); F Trendon Watford, 6-9, So. (16.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg); F Darius Days, 6-7, Jr. (12.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg); F Mwani Wilkinson, 6-5, Fr. (3.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
9. St. Bonaventure
Nickname: Bonnies. Location: Olean, N.Y.
Record: 16-4, 11-4. Bid: Atlantic-10 champ.
Last appearance: 2018: lost to Florida in first round.
Coach: Mark Schmidt (1-2 in two appearances).
Overview: The Bonnies’ season got off to a late start, but the veteran group meshed quickly to claim the A-10 title. They space the floor well and – usually – choose good shots. Osun Osunniyi, the league defensive player of the year, is also a huge help to the offense facilitating from the post. There isn’t a ton of help on the bench, so avoiding foul trouble will be a must.
Projected starters: G Kyle Lofton, 6-3, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 79.8 FT%); G Jaren Holmes, 6-4, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 42.0 3FG%); G Jalen Adaway, 6-5, Jr. (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 53.1 FG%); G Dominick Welch, 6-5, Jr. (11.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 41.4 3FG%); F Osun Osunniyi, 6-10, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 55.2 FG%).
Nickname: Terrapins. Location: College Park.
Record: 16-13, 9-11. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2019, lost to LSU in second round.
Coach: Mark Turgeon (9-9 in nine appearances).
Overview: Maryland was on the verge of missing the tournament after a slow start to conference play, but five consecutive wins to close February proved to be just enough to sneak into the tournament. The offense is nothing to boast about, but the defense is what got the Terps back in the picture; they gave up no more than 60 points twice in their last nine wins of the regular season. The frontcourt will need to be more efficient on offense, as guards Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins accounted for 57.8% of the team’s scoring.
Projected starters: G Darryl Morsell, 6-5, Sr. (8.8 ppg, 2.8 apg); G Eric Ayala, 6-5, Jr. (14.5 ppg, 83.5 FT%); G Aaron Wiggins, 6-6, Jr. (14.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 79.4 FT%); F Donta Scott, 6-7, So. (11.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 44.1 3FG%), F Galin Smith, 6-9, Sr. (4.0 ppg, 57.1 FG%).
11. Michigan State
Nickname: Spartans. Location: East Lansing.
Record: 15-12, 9-11. Bid: Big Ten at-large
Last appearance: 2019, lost to Texas Tech in Final Four.
Coach: Tom Izzo (52-21 in 22 appearances).
Overview: Just when it seemed like Michigan State would miss the tournament for the first time since 1997, Tom Izzo’s squad rose from the ashes and is now a dangerous team headed into March. They won five of their last seven regular-season games, three of which were against top five teams. Opposing teams struggled to shoot the ball during that stretch as the Spartans gave up at least 50% of made shots once, and they shut down any 3-point threats. A second-round exit in the Big Ten tournament may have dropped their seed, but it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if they make it into the second weekend of the tournament.
Projected starters: G Rocket Watts, 6-2, So. (7.8 ppg, 2.7 apg, 78.0 FT%); G Joshua Langford, 6-5, Sr. (9.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.8 apg); F Aaron Henry, 6-6, Jr. (15.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg); F Malik Hall, 6-7, So. (4.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Julius Marble II, 6-8, So. (4.0 ppg, 59.7 FG%).
Nickname: Bruins. Location: Los Angeles.
Record: 17-9, 13-6. Bid: Pac-12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to St. Bonaventure in the First Four.
Coach: Mick Cronin (6-11 in 11 appearances).
Overview: The Bruins were a preseason pick to finish first in the Pac-12 but lost their final three regular-season games to finish fourth and then lost in overtime against Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. Coach Mick Cronin still had the Bruins headed in the right direction in his second season at UCLA since coming over from Cincinnati. His team lost star senior guard Chris Smith for the season in late December, when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang has stepped into the void and last month scored 32 points at Washington. He also made 42 of 45 free throws in the regular season.
Projected starters: G Johnny Juzang, 6-6, So. (14.0 ppg 4.1 rpg); F Jaime Jaquez, 6-6, So. (11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Tyger Campbell, 5-11, So. (10.5 ppg, 5.6 apg); F Cody Riley, 6-9, Jr. (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Jules Bernard, 6-6, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Nickname: Hoyas. Location: Washington, D.C.
Record: 13-12, 7-9. Bid: Big East champion.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Utah in second round.
Coach: Patrick Ewing (first NCAA appearance).
Overview: It is undeniable that the Hoyas caught a bit of a break catching a short-handed Villanova early in their run through the Big East tournament. It is equally undeniable that the job Patrick Ewing did this season putting together a competent roster after last year’s spate of departures and transfers has been nothing short of phenomenal. The interior presence of Qudus Wahab and timely three-point shooting will make them a dangerous draw from the lower half of the bracket.
Projected starters: G Jahvon Blair, 6-4, Sr. (15.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 84.9 FT%); C Qudus Wahab, 6-11, So. (12.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 59.1 FG%); G Jamorko Pickett, 6-9, Sr. (12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 82.9 FT%); F Chudier Bile, 6-7, Sr. (10.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Dante Harris, 6-0, Fr. (8.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 89.7 FT%).
13. UNC Greensboro
Nickname: Spartans. Location: Greensboro.
Record: 21-8, 13-5. Bid: Southern Conference champion.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Gonzaga in first round.
Coach: Wes Miller (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: Miller, who won a national championship as a player at North Carolina, has built one of the top programs in the SoCon, winning 78 percent of its conference games over the last five seasons. The Spartans’ formula largely revolves around their depth, their defense — they held opponents to 41.4 percent shooting this season — and winning the turnover battle. UNCG doesn't always shoot it well — nobody on the roster hit the 35% mark from the 3-point line this year — but if they can get on a decent shooting run, they could be a dangerous double-digit seed. Point guard Isaiah Miller has been the best player in the conference the past two seasons and has won the SoCon defensive player of the year award three times.
Projected starters: G Isaiah Miller, 6-0, Sr. (19.3 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.6 spg); G Keyshaun Langley, 6-1, So. (9.8 ppg, 3.4 apg); G Kaleb Hunter, 6-4, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Angelo Allegri, 6-7, Jr. (7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Mohammed Abdulsalam, 6-9, Jr. (6.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 51.6 FG%).
14. Abilene Christian
Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Abilene, Texas.
Record: 23-4, 13-2. Bid: Southland champion
Last appearance: 2019, lost to Kentucky in first round.
Coach: Joe Golding (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: The Wildcats will be making their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after winning 12 of their last 13 games. With the exception of all-Southland first team member and 7-footer Kolton Kohl, they are one of the smallest teams in the tournament. However, they prove height is just a number because they are a defensive nightmare, as they are first nationally in turnovers forced per game (20.5) and turnover margin (6.7). They are also second in steals per game (9.8) and eighth in scoring defense (61.1), which can play a big role as they look for their first ever NCAA Tournament win.
Projected starters: G Damien Daniels, 5-7, Jr. (5.9 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg); G Reggie Miller, 6-0, Sr. (6.0 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.0 spg); G Coryon Mason, 6-0, Sr. (10.7 ppg, 2.3 apg, 39.1 3FG%); F Joe Pleasant, 6-8, Jr. (10.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 44.7 3FG%); C Kolton Kohl, 7-0, Sr. (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 55.3 FG%).
Nickname: Gaels. Location: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Record: 12-5, 6-3. Bid: MAAC champion
Last appearance: 2019, lost to North Carolina in first round.
Coach: Rick Pitino (39-16 in 17 appearances).
Overview: In less than one year, the decision to hire Rick Pitino (and the accompanying baggage) paid off for the Gaels. And Pitino, who proved he didn’t lose his touch, was a leading voice in wanting to push the season back due to coronavirus fears. The Gaels entered the season as the Metro Atlantic Athletic's ninth seed and won four in a row – including an upset of top-seeded Siena in the quarterfinals – to make the big dance. Iona likely will not be the fourth program Pitino leads to a Final Four, but who is to rule it out at this point?
Projected starters: G Isaiah Ross, 6-3, Sr. (18.4 ppg, 39.1 3FG%, 1.5 spg); G Asante Gist, 5-10, Sr. (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 88.9 FT%); F Nelly Junior Joseph, 6-9, Fr. (11.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg); G Berrick JeanLouis, 6-4, Jr. (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg); F Dwayne Koroma, 6-7, Fr. (2.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg).
16. Mount St. Mary’s
Nickname: Mountaineers. Location: Emmitsburg, Md.
Record: 12-10, 9-7. Bid: Northeast champion.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to Villanova in first round.
Coach: Dan Engelstad (first appearance).
Overview: The Mountaineers dealt with major adversity early as leading scorer Jalen Gibbs opted out after four games, and several games were cancelled due to COVID-19 before losing five of their first seven games. They rallied to make the four-team Northeast tournament and won their way into the field. The Mount relies on its size, led by conference defensive player of the year Nana Opoku, to hold opponents to just 62.3 points per game and be one of the top teams in rebound margin. Damian Chong Qui carries much of the offense, though Opoku has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.
Projected starters: G Damian Chong Qui, 5-8, Jr. (15.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.5 apg, 81.9 FT%); F Nana Opoku, 6-9, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg); F Mezie Offurum, 6-8, Jr. (9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg); F Malik Jefferson, 6-9, Jr. (8.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 57.9 FG%); G Josh Reaves, 6-4, Fr. (7.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
16. Texas Southern
Nickname: Tigers. Location: Houston.
Record: 16-8, 10-3. Bid: Southwestern Athletic champion.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Xavier in the first round.
Coach: Johnny Jones (0-3 in three appearances).
Overview: The Tigers finished third in the SWAC, but knocked out the two higher seeds to win the league’s NCAA berth, led by tournament most valuable player Michael Weathers. Their success starts with having a strong interior presence and consistently outrebounding opponents. The area of concern is outside shooting. Texas Southern makes 27.6% from three-point range and needs to stretch defenses to open up their inside game.
Projected starters: G Michael Weathers, 6-3, Sr. (16.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.2 spg); F John Walker III, 6-9, Jr. (12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 59.9 FT%); F Joirdon Karl Nicholas, 6-9, Jr. (11.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 55.3 FG%); F Justin Hopkins, 6-5, Sr. (8.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Jordan Gilliam, 6-5, Jr. (5.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 apg).
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