There are two dominant questions heading into the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  

Is this the year Gonzaga finally wins it all?  

Or will the Big Ten flex and break a 21-year championship drought? 

“Man, Gonzaga can score.” That’s the first thing I say every time I watch the Bulldogs. Gonzaga leads the nation with 92.1 points per game, and Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs are remarkable offensive players. If Gonzaga does finally break through, I won’t be surprised.  

I just think the second question has a chance of being answered with a “Yes.”  

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are all Final Four-caliber teams. In fact, the Big Ten dream would be to see all those schools run it back in Indianapolis for a second time. The Illini won the Big Ten tournament.

MORE: Get your printable March Madness bracket here

Michigan State is the last Big Ten team to win a national championship. The Spartans broke through in 2000 with Tom Izzo and a gutsy performance by SN first-team All-American Mateen Cleaves.  

Seven Big Ten teams have finished second since, including Indiana (2000), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013, 2018) and Wisconsin (2015). Of those seven teams, I always felt the 2005 Illinois team was the best. Illini fans probably felt the same about the 1989 team that fell short in the Final to Michigan.  

That’s how I feel about this year’s team. Of those four Big Ten contenders, Illinois is best suited to win it all. The combination of SN first-team All-American Ayo Dosunumu and center Kofi Cockburn is dominant, and Trent Frazier is the perfect third wheel.  

So, I think those questions will collide in the national championship game. Illinois beats Gonzaga in the national championship game. Should you have confidence in this pick? Well, I picked Virginia to win it all in 2018, and they lost to No. 16 UMBC in the first round. I tried Duke in 2019, and they lost in the Elite Eight to Michigan State.  

I’ll stick with the Big Ten this time.  

2021 NCAA Tournament bracket predictions

West Region

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South Region

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East Region

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Midwest Region

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Final Four picks

  • Gonzaga
  • Florida State
  • Ohio State
  • Illinois  

Gonzaga has a decent look, but a matchup with Virginia could test their patience if it comes to that. Kansas also recalibrates, but it’s not enough in the Elite Eight. 

Florida State finally breaks through against Michigan in the Sweet 16, and a matchup with Texas in a battle of runner-ups from conference championship weekend goes the Seminoles’ way. Leonard Hamilton finally gets to the Final Four. 

Ohio State and Illinois rep the Big Ten on the other side of the bracket, and the Illini win a fourth thriller between the teams in the Final Four. 

That sets up Gonzaga against Illinois in the final. 

National champion: Illinois

This is the most-complete team in the country, and that shines through with a run led by those star players. Illinois had teams of capable of doing it in 1989 and 2005. This team breaks through in a high-scoring thriller with Gonzaga. 





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