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A Catholic guide to March Madness 2021

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by Christine Rousselle

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2021 / 04:00 am MT (CNA).- Last year, the official NCAA Basketball tournament–”March Madness”–was canceled and replaced by a decidedly less fun March “madness” of shopping for toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other pandemic supplies.

But the real March Madness is back–finally. And while the tournament looks slightly different this year–all games are taking place in Indiana with limited fan attendance–CNA is once again providing its annual look at all of the Catholic colleges and universities among the 68 teams vying for the championship. This year’s bracket features eight Catholic schools.

So if your alma mater was not selected for this year’s tournament, or if you’re looking for a bandwagon to hop on for the next few weeks, read on. The tournament begins on Thursday with the “First Four” set of play-in games. On Friday, the first round kicks off, so get those brackets in quickly.

CNA makes no guarantee about the accuracy of these predictions. Fill out a bracket at your own risk.

West Region:

(1) Gonzaga University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Nickname: Bulldogs

Location: Spokane Washington

Conference: West Coast Conference

Star players: Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs

Tournament outlook: Gonzaga is the top overall seed, and they’re entering the tournament undefeated. While this is an impressive accomplishment, a record like that places a massive target on their backs. An undefeated team has not won the tournament since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers squad in 1976. Gonzaga has consistently performed well in the tournament–finishing second overall in 2017 and making an “Elite Eight” appearance in 2019–but they have never won a championship. This might be the year that their luck changes, however. Their journey to a title kicks off on Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s play-in contest between Norfolk State and Appalachian State.

(5) Creighton University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Nickname: Bluejays

Location: Omaha, Nebraska

Conference: Big East

Star players: Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney, Christian Bishop

Tournament outlook: Creighton had a decent regular season, but the Bluejays were demolished by Georgetown in the Big East Tournament final. Obviously, that blowout loss is not the momentum they would want to be taking to Indianapolis, and they will have to shake off the cobwebs by the time they tip off against UC Santa Barbara on March 20. A lot of people have this game pegged as a potential first-round upset, so Creighton needs to show up in a big way.

East Region:

(9) St. Bonaventure University

Catholic affiliation: Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans)

Nickname: Bonnies

Location: Olean, New York

Conference: Atlantic 10

Star players: Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi, Dominick Welch

Tournament outlook: The Bonnies have two paths: they will either become this year’s “Cinderella” and overperform, or they will exit the first round “one-and-done”–again. The last time St. Bonaventure won a first round game was in 1970–their 2018 victory against UCLA came in a play-in game. St. Bonaventure is a decent team with a lot of potential. The Bonnies will face off against Louisiana State University on March 20.

(12) Georgetown University

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Nickname: Hoyas

Location: Washington D.C.

Conference: Big East

Star players: Qudus Wahab, Jahvon Blair, Chudier Bile

Tournament outlook: Welcome back, Georgetown. A former perennial powerhouse, the Hoyas have appeared rather like runts of the litter for the past few seasons. After a huge upset win over Creighton in the Big East final, which followed other upset wins over both Villanova and Seton Hall, Georgetown punched its ticket back to the “Big Dance.” Former Georgetown star Patrick Ewing took the reigns as head coach in 2017, and it appears as though things have finally hit their stride in his tenure. The 12-seed vs. 5-seed games are always a bit tricky to predict, and Georgetown faces off against CU Boulder on Saturday. Could they be this year’s Cinderella story? The pieces are certainly in place for it to happen.

(15) Iona College

Catholic affiliation: Congregation of Christian Brothers

Nickname: Gaels

Location: New Rochelle, New York

Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

Star players: Asante Gist, Isaiah Ross, Berrick JeanLouis.

Tournament outlook: Iona has the unfortunate spot of playing one of the hottest teams in the country, Alabama, in the first round. They have the good fortune, however, of being coached by Rick Pitino–a coach who certainly knows how to win games when it matters. The Gaels have made the tournament every year since 2016, but haven’t won a game in that time.

(16) Mount St. Mary’s University

Catholic affiliation: Independent

Nickname: Mountaineers

Location: Emmitsburg, Maryland

Conference: Northeast Conference

Star players: Damian Chong Qui, Nana Opoku, Malik Jefferson

Tournament outlook: The Mountaineers are back in the tournament for the first time since 2017, with a play-in game on Thursday against Texas Southern University. If they win that game, they will face off against top-ranked Michigan. A 16 seed has only beaten a 1 seed once in the tournament’s history, but everything is quite unpredictable this year.

South Region:

(5) Villanova University

Catholic affiliation: Order of St. Augustine (Augustinian)

Nickname: Wildcats

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Conference: Big East

Star players: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels

Tournament outlook: Villanova has their work cut out for them, with one of their star players injured and out for the season. This certainly affected their relatively anemic performances during the last week of the season and in the Big East Tournament. It’s a shame, as a healthy Villanova could have gone on quite the run through the tournament.

Midwest Region:

(8) Loyola University Chicago

Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Nickname: Ramblers

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Conference: Missouri Valley Conference

Star players: Cameron Krutwig, Lucas Williamson, Braden Norris

Tournament outlook: The darlings of the 2018 tournament, who made it to the Final Four as an 11-seed while playing in their first tournament since 1963, are back again. At first, it was questionable if their 101-year-old chaplain Sr. Jean Schmidt, a bona fide basketball celebrity herself, would be permitted to take the trip to Indianapolis. After not being permitted to travel to the team’s conference tournament in St. Louis, Sister Jean–the breakout star of the 2018 tournament–was reportedly “so mad” at this decision. She’s now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. On Tuesday she received permission from the NCAA to join her team for the tournament, with the condition that she not run down on the court, and that she follows all rules. Can lightning strike twice for the Ramblers? We’ll find out when they face off against Georgia Tech on Friday.

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