March 14, 2021 | 7:00am
The day has finally arrived. It’s Christmas for college basketball fans. Selection Sunday is at long last here after COVID-19 knocked out the tournament a year ago.
By 7 p.m., we will have a bracket, 68 teams all sharing the same dream and all headed to Indianapolis for a truly unique NCAA Tournament.
The Post prepares you for the long-awaited festivities below:
There shouldn’t be any surprises here.
Undefeated Gonzaga will be the overall No. 1 seed. Baylor, Michigan and Illinois will be the other three. There really isn’t an argument or debate. These are the top four ranked teams in the NET, the evaluation tool the selection committee relies on.
The Illini, who have emerged in recent weeks as the last No. 1, does have six losses. But they also have 11 Quad 1 wins, the most in the country. Nobody else has more than eight. Michigan star Isaiah Livers’ foot injury won’t be used against the Wolverines, because the committee won’t have a body of work by which to evaluate Michigan without him.
It’s Selection Sunday, so of course Syracuse is one of the big stories.
The Orange have lived on the bubble in recent years. This team played its way into this spot, going 6-3 down the stretch and defeating tournament teams Clemson and North Carolina in that time, while losing at the buzzer to Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
Syracuse’s 40 NET rating and 6-1 record in Quad 2 games should be enough, even if the one Quad 1 win is light. It will be interesting to see what the committee does with Missouri Valley Conference runner-up Drake. Two Quad 3 losses and a 1-2 record in Quad 1 games is underwhelming. But the Bulldogs do have nine road wins — only Illinois has that many — a NET of 43, and there is a chance star forward ShanQuan Hemphill could return from a fractured foot in time for the NCAA Tournament. He was out for three of Drake’s four losses.
Utah State entered the day with the biggest opportunity for a bubble team, facing tournament lock San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference title game. But a 68-57 loss loss leaves the Aggies 2-5 in Quad 1 games and potentially on the outside looking in despite a NET of 37.
Bubble teams will have a close eye on the AAC title game, hoping Cincinnati doesn’t join Georgetown (Big East) and Oregon State (PAC-12) as a bid-stealer.
This is usually the time of the year Rutgers fans are thinking of a coaching search or wondering why their recruiting class is so meager. Not this year. Not now. Rutgers, in the tournament for the first time since 1991, will be the only power-conference team from the area in the NCAA Tournament. It will be joined by MAAC Tournament champion Iona College and Rick Pitino, a remarkable story in its own right.
The lower the seed, the better for Rutgers. Given the Scarlet Knights’ resume — they are ranked 39 in the NET and are 5-9 in Quad 1 games — it is in that spot teams would like to avoid, as a potential eight- or nine-seed. That means a powerhouse in the second round, granted they win their first game. A 10 of 11 seed would be preferred.
Either way, coach Steve Pikiell’s team is going dancing and should have a winnable opening-round game. That’s reason enough to celebrate.
This is, meanwhile, becoming a March tradition for Iona, advancing to its fifth straight tournament. although the first one with Pitino as its coach. The road to get there was very different.
The Gaels’ season was destroyed by COVID-19 pauses. They had a 51-day layoff and were the ninth seed in their conference tournament, since the MAAC seeded based on the number of conference wins, not win percentage. Pitino’s team responded by winning four games in five days. Iona is unlikely to have to play in the First Four, since it has a NET of 139, high for a low major conference champion. A 15 seed is probable.