Fans are excited that March Madness is back this year - Graphics Editor / Jana Jackstis

For almost two years, college basketball fans across the nation have been patiently awaiting the return of the NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournaments. This year, in 2021, both the men’s and women’s tournaments will be returning to provide fans with the usual major upsets, powerhouse matchups and buzzer-beaters.

In March of 2020, the NCAA cancelled their annual tournaments in both men’s and women’s basketball due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States. This was a major disappointment for both fans and schools, as it was one of the only major sports to fail to crown a 2020 champion.

The NBA and NHL both concluded their seasons during the summer by creating “bubbles” to keep their players isolated in a select location for a number of months. The MLB, on the other hand, was able to have a condensed season with less games and a new playoff format. Regardless of the unusual circumstances, almost all of the major sports found a way to crown a champion – except NCAA Basketball. 

Annually, family and friends come together for traditions based around the NCAA tourneys: filling out brackets, gathering together to watch major games or make wagers on who they think will make the Final Four. The absenteeism of those traditions last year is a major reason why fans have been craving the return of March Madness.

Personally, filling out brackets has always been an enjoyable, competitive tradition to participate in with my father and grandfather. While our brackets usually get busted by the conclusion of the Round of 64, it has always been a fun family custom to do annually. That tradition is one that many people across the nation, including myself, will be eager to have return this year. With “Selection Sunday” already coming and going, many fans have already rushed to make their picks on who they think will win every matchup.

For many, the return of the tournaments symbolizes the privilege that we have had to be able to make it this far. Joe Lunardi of ESPN, the inventor of “bracketology,” joined Rowan Sports CaM’s weekly session of “Pizza with the Pros” on March 8, 2021. Throughout his virtual visit, students had the opportunity to ask Lunardi about his career and predictions for this year’s Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. However, when asked about his excitement about the upcoming tournament, he reminded everybody that it is a privilege to even have March Madness this year, considering the amount of causalities and livelihoods that have been lost due to COVID-19.

For the men’s D1 tournament, this year’s competition is one of the more unique ones we have seen. For starters, many of the usual powerhouse teams missed out on qualification for the tournament, including the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils. Both teams, led by iconic coaches John Calipari [Kentucky] and Mike Krzyzewski [Duke], are usually one or two seeds in their respective brackets of the tournament. This year, they are not in the race at all.

Other team’s that are usually at the top of the seeding find themselves toward the middle class of teams. The University of North Carolina Tarheels, a team that has won seven men’s national titles, are the eighth seed in the Southern Bracket this year. Additionally, UCLA, the school with the most men’s tournament wins [11], will be battling it out in a play-in game with the Michigan State Spartans for the 11th seed in the East Bracket.

While the usual big-name teams are either ranked low or not in the contest this year, other schools that are not usually in the competition qualified this year. For example, fellow New Jersey college, Rutgers University, qualified for the tournament for the first time since 1991. After 30 long years, alumni, students and fans of the team are ecstatic about the team’s appearance.

Rutgers freshman Chris Garofalo kept his answer short and sweet when asked about his excitement for his school making the tournament. 

“Rutgers all the way, baby. Rah! Rah! Rah!” said Garofalo.

Alongside Garofalo, many Rutgers alumni are excited to watch their Scarlet Knights compete for the first time in three decades. 

“As a part of the Rutgers alumni community, it is an exciting time to be a sports fan of the school,” said Jimmy Ferriola, a Rutgers alumnus. “I cannot wait to root the basketball team on in the NCAA Tournament this year.” 

Even the fans and college students whose teams are not participating in March Madness can’t help but be excited for its return. 

Gabe Yosef, a sophomore at Rowan University, has a lot of things that he is thrilled about with the tournament on the horizon. 

“I’m especially excited to see who is going to make it to the Final Four,” said Yosef. “You never really know who’s going to be the Loyola-like Cinderella team, but I am excited to see all the upsets that are bound to happen. I am also looking forward to seeing how my bracket does, which is a tradition I do with my friends every year.”

All in all, it is just a great feeling for many to have NCAA Basketball Tournaments back in an inimitable year like this. Considering everything that has gone on in the past year, with the tournaments being cancelled altogether last year, it is hard to imagine that fans would not be eager for college basketball’s grandest stage to return this year.

Regardless of the number of brackets that are bound to be busted, students, alumni and fans of college basketball will all be happy to sit back and enjoy this unique month of March Madness.

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