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Which No. 1 Seed Will Be Eliminated First? (2021 March Madness)

Mar 17, 2021

Isaiah Livers’ status will go a long way to determine how far Michigan can go in this year’s tournament.

No. 1 seeds have a target on their back entering the NCAA Tournament. While their roads are usually most easily paved toward a Final Four, we all know that not all top seeds can complete that journey. Our writers each provide which No. 1 seed they feel will fall first this March.

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Illinois Illini
Illinois has a great team; they have gone 23-6 in a brutal conference, and they are third in the Kenpom rankings. I think they have a tough draw that could make them the first No. 1 Seed to exit the 2021 NCAA Tournament. For starters, they have the ninth-ranked team in the Kenpom rankings on their side of the bracket, Loyola Chicago, as an eighth seed. That means a potential second-round game against a top-10 team. If they survive that game, they could face Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16, the same team that beat Baylor in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and could have the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham. They also have Jim Boeheim coaching the 11th seeded Syracuse team and Bob Huggins coaching the third-seeded West Virginia team. Boeheim is second in career NCAA wins, and Huggins is eighth. That is a tough draw, and several potential matchups could trip up Illinois on their way to the Final Four. I would not be shocked if they were upset either in the Round of 32 or the Sweet 16.
– Derek Lofland

This is less an indictment of Illinois and more a vote of confidence in a hot Georgia Tech team that ran through the ACC Tournament. They aren’t a team I would want to face right now. Assuming Illinois makes it to the Sweet 16, Oklahoma State and Cade Cunningham are likely to be waiting on them. The Illini have the toughest region in the bracket as Houston, San Diego State, and WVU are all on the lower half, too. Playing in the Midwest for the entirety of the tournament will help, but for Illinois to make it to the Final Four, they have quite the gauntlet to run.
– Jason Kamlowsky

It’s almost impossible to knock out Gonzaga or Baylor early in the Tournament based on each team’s respective season — in which they essentially had a stranglehold on the top two spots for the entire year. That leaves us with only Michigan and Illinois. There’s a “contrarian” approach that should help us gain an edge when filling out a bracket — make no mistake, March Madness brackets are as much about game theory as they are about individual game outcomes. Michigan’s biggest “negative” is the time it missed as a team due to COVID, and this is going to be used as a reason to fade the Wolverines. The reality? Even with a firestorm of uncertainty, Michigan managed to nab a one-seed. That speaks volumes, and it slides them ahead of Illinois in the pecking order of top seeds.
– Mario Mergola

Michigan Wolverines
This all depends on the health of Isaiah Livers. The assumption is Livers will miss the tournament with a foot injury, and that’s a huge blow to a Wolverines team I would have in at least the Elite Eight otherwise. Plus, Michigan will face a stiff test in the second round against the winner of LSU-St. Bonaventure. The Wolverines proved their vulnerability in their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinal; the offense isn’t as dangerous without Livers. Illinois is the second-best team in the country right now behind Gonzaga, but boy did they get a terrible draw. Loyola and Georgia Tech are both capable of knocking off the Illini in the Round of 32. Baylor’s path is pretty easy, especially if Wisconsin beats North Carolina. And Gonzaga has beaten the 2, 3, and 4 seeds in their region already. Meanwhile, Michigan isn’t at full strength and has a grueling path ahead of them. That spells trouble.
– Matt Barbato

Michigan is a talented team from top to bottom, so it may seem strange to pick them just because of one player’s absence, but that’s where I’m going here. Isaiah Livers will miss the tournament due to a stress fracture in his foot, and his presence will be sorely missed. Livers, the second-leading scorer on the Wolverines, is an elite three-point shooter who moves well without the ball and can create favorable spacing for teammates. Michigan shouldn’t be counted out completely, but the team could be looking at a second-round matchup with high-scoring LSU led by Cam Thomas. There’s some upset potential early, and of all the top seeds in the tournament, Michigan is the most vulnerable.
– Zak Hanshew

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