Illinois, Loyola put in NCAA Tournament South Regional, will open in Pittsburgh

Notre Dame also made the field of 68, earning a spot in the First Four.

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After meeting in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, Illinois and Loyola are in the same regional this year — and they’ll play first-round games at the same site.

The Illini earned the No. 4 seed and the Ramblers the No. 10 seed in the South Regional when the tournament field was announced Sunday. Illinois will play No. 13 Chattanooga and Loyola will face No. 7 Ohio State in Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame also made the field of 68, earning a spot in a First Four game against Rutgers on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.

Gonzaga received the top overall seed for the tournament, with Arizona, Kansas and defending champion Baylor joining the Zags as No. 1s. 

This marks the return to the first “normal” tournament since 2019, with teams scattering to jam-packed arenas in eight cities for the first weekend, then to four different destinations for the Sweet 16 before the fun ends in the Big Easy for the semifinals and title game.

The tournament was scratched in 2020 due to the then-erupting COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, all the teams played in front of limited crowds in a makeshift bubble in and around Indianapolis. One thing that remains the same: Last year’s finalists, Gonzaga and Baylor, are top seeds, with the Zags the 15-4 favorite to win it all, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Arizona was next at 6-1, followed by No. 2 seed Kentucky (15-2) and Baylor (11-1). 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last tournament has Duke playing as a No. 2 seed in the super-stacked West, meaning he might have to get past Gonzaga in the regional final to make his 13th Final Four. 

It’s one thing to face a tough bracket, quite another not to be in it at all. Dayton, Oklahoma, SMU and Texas A&M were the “first four out,” meaning there’s still a glimmer of hope for them if a team must make a late withdrawal due to COVID-19.

Teams that just snuck in included No. 12 seeds Wyoming and Indiana. The Hoosiers are one of a nation-leading nine teams to make it from the Big Ten. The Big East, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference placed six teams each.

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