The 2021 college basketball season was strange, but it ended with the top two teams facing off in the title game. From buzzer-beaters to Cinderella stories, this NCAA Tournament truly had it all. It combined the suspense of two years and still delivered to college basketball fans around the country.
While we look back, there is plenty to learn. However, this season was unprecedented. One game was canceled due to COVID-19. There were limited fans, and teams were forced to bubble in one city. That took away the familiarity of the NCAA Tournament and turned the experience into something that will never happen again.
Still, college basketball fans can take things from this year’s NCAA Tournament that will translate to college basketball when things get back to normal. There were trends that happened in March that are becoming more of the rule than the exception, and it will impact betting lines as next season approaches.
Here are the top three takeaways from the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Blue Bloods Are a Thing of the Past
This is becoming more common, and bettors should take note. Before, it was easy for the top programs to recruit the best players and build one-year superteams. Now, that is no longer the case. Kentucky and Duke missed the NCAA Tournament. UNC was bounced in the first round, and Kansas had a down year by all standards. Instead, teams like Alabama, Baylor, UCLA and Illinois took their place.
There is a clear reason why this is happening. Young basketball stars have more options. More players are choosing the G-League or an overseas team. Once the NBA finally allows players to declare for the draft out of high school, the talent pool in college basketball will be a fraction of what it used to be.
That means that veteran play matters. Teams filled with A- players with experience will go farther than the teams with one A+ star. Also, the top players are diversifying their options within college basketball. Cunningham chose Oklahoma State. Wiseman chose Memphis. In 2021, JD Davison will play for Alabama. All of this weakens the hold that blue bloods have on the rest of college basketball. Don’t be surprised when you’re watching perennial programs lose to teams that are built with depth and experience.
The Pac-12 Deserves More Respect
Everyone knows why the Pac-12 is often disregarded. The bias against teams on the west coast is clear. When the majority of college basketball fans don’t watch you play consistently, you won’t get the recognition you deserve.
This year, the Pac-12 dominated the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t just the top teams. USC and Oregon made it to the Sweet Sixteen after upsets over Kansas and Iowa. Oregon State almost made it to the Final Four. UCLA made it from the First Four games to the Final Four after upsetting teams like Alabama and Michigan. They were one play away from upsetting Gonzaga and playing for a national championship.
With the structure of the NCAA Tournament, you can catch lightning in a bottle and make a deep run. That doesn’t mean that you will succeed next year. Still, the Pac-12 managed to have so many success stories after being counted out throughout the regular season. If anything, that needs to be considered next year.
I’m not saying that the Pac-12 will have this much success next season. I’m simply saying that they need higher seeds than they received in 2021 after what they proved as a conference.
The Cream Still Rises
The Cinderella talk was great. Oral Roberts, UCLA, Loyola-Chicago and Oregon State all surprised us. Celebrate this all you want. At the end of the day, none of this matters once you get to the Final Four. The two best teams still made it to the national championship, and the better team won.
All the NCAA Tournament does is create controversy in the first few rounds. Teams like Ohio State get upset early, but they were clearly not the best teams in college basketball. If you can’t survive the first round, you won’t make it far.
When making bets regarding who will win it all, one-seeds are still the safest bet for a reason. It might not be the top team, but all Cinderella stories come to an end.