The field is set for the 2021 NCAA men's tournament.
One year ago, the uniforms were packed away, the basketball courts were silent, and no one needed to find where truTV was at in their channel guide.
Here in 2021, while the world is still in process from recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness has returned. Protocols may be different, game days are altered, and the tournament will be played in one (mostly) central location across several venues. But these facts remain: 68 teams will be vying over the next month to be crowned the top team in men's Division I college basketball.
It remains to be seen, however, if the same 68 teams announced on Sunday will be the same ones that begin tournament play on Thursday.
Positive coronavirus tests in programs like Virginia (no. 4 seed, West region) and Kansas (no. 3 seed, West region) ended their conference tournament runs. Most of Virginia's roster is still in quarantine and there are already procedures in place to replace any team(s) that can't continue on prior to the start of the tournament.
Replacement teams are on standby if a team is forced to bow out due to COVID-19 prior to the 6 pm ET deadline on Tuesday.
A positive coronavirus test also halted the season of the Duke Blue Devils. Duke had won their first two games of the ACC tournament before having to bow out. The Blue Devils likely needed to win the ACC tournament to make the NCAA tournament in 2021.
Duke's absence is the first time since the 1994-95 season in which the Blue Devils will not be in the Big Dance. Joining them on the sideline is perennial power Kentucky, making for the first time since the 1976 season neither Duke or Kentucky is in the NCAA tournament.
The ACC will be represented by seven teams, tied for second-most among conferences with the Big 12. The Big 10 Ten placed nine teams in the tournament, including two no. 1 seeds and two no. 2 seeds.
The SEC has six teams in this year's tournament.
2021 was also year that saw top-seeds fall in conference tournaments across the land. Many expected winners fell in the semis or quarterfinals. For some, it didn't affect berths in the Big Dance. And for others, it was March madness turned March sadness, has excellent regular seasons were gone in a flash.
That, however, is the pain and glory involved this time of year. With or without fans in attendance, it's good to have it back.
The no. 1 seeds
4 teams to watch
The First Four
Interesting opening games
- South Region: (8) UNC vs (9) Wisconsin (3/19)
- Midwest Region: (8) Loyola Chicago vs (9) Georgia Tech (3/19)
- West Region: (7) Oregon vs (10) VCU (3/20)
- East Region: (2) Alabama vs (15) Iona (3/20)