The questions going into each N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament tell us about a moment in time.
Last year, those questions centered on coronavirus restrictions and player-led protests over gender equity and the right for players to earn money for their fame.
Gonzaga tried to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to run through a season unbeaten — until it lost to a worthy champion, Baylor, in the title game. There were upsets galore, with 12th-seeded Oregon State nearly making the Final Four, and indelible moments, like Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs’s nearly halfcourt heave that broke U.C.L.A.’s heart in the semifinals.
As the tournament begins Tuesday with the first of four play-in games, last season, and even the start of this one, seems so long ago. Coronavirus protocols have been eased, as have concerns about players or teams missing games because of a positive test.
And the questions again tell us about a moment in time.
Who are the favorites to reach New Orleans, the site of this year’s Final Four? Who are the sleepers? Who is going to beat Duke?
The questions now, for the first time in more than two years, are more centrally about basketball.
Upset special: No. 11 seed Rutgers over No. 6 Alabama. The Crimson Tide aren’t close to the same defensively this season and neither is their 3-point shooting. If Rutgers beats Notre Dame in a play-in game and then contains Alabama’s speedy Jahvon Quinerly, it can move on.
Keep an eye on: Teddy Allen, at his fifth school in five seasons, gives New Mexico State a gunner’s chance of taking down Connecticut.
Best pro prospect: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren is not only the best player on the best team, but the 7-foot-1 freshman is likely to be the top pick in the N.B.A. draft.
Best story: Hyunjung Lee, a South Korean forward for Davidson, is getting N.B.A. looks and drawing comparisons to Stephen Curry for his 3-point stroke. But if the Wildcats make a deep tournament run, as Curry did in 2008 when they were also a 10th seed, you’ll learn about …….