The last time we did this, the Big Dance was in Minneapolis, with 72,000-strong packed in for the 2019 Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Now, after a one-year pandemic pause, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is back, a fan's most wonderful time of the year, starting with Selection Sunday.

But here's where it gets weird.

The road to Indianapolis starts … in Indiana. All 68 teams and all six rounds will be there, with the competition spread over six arenas: Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Assembly Hall in Bloomington and Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

Then there's the calendar. We all know people who plan their days around March Madness. It's going to be a bumpy few weeks for those folks. Be kind to them. Here's a field guide:

When to watch

First Four games: Traditionally held Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, the First Four play-in games will all take place on Thursday, with two games at Mackey Arena and two at Assembly Hall.

Those first four long, crazy days: Perfect time, traditionally, to use a couple of sick days. Same goes this year, but adjust them to a Friday and a Monday. The first round starts Friday (not Thursday), and continues into Saturday. Second-round games run Sunday and Monday.

Second weekend: The Sweet 16 /Elite Eight weekend starts on Saturday and goes through Tuesday, with the Sweet 16 on Saturday, March 27, and Sunday the 28th; and the Elite Eight games Monday (March 29) and Tuesday (March 30).

The Final Four: Same as it ever was: semifinals on Saturday (April 3), with the title game Monday (April 5).

Who to watch

OK, for those who haven't paid any attention to college basketball this season, let's get you caught up in 200 words or fewer.

The clear team to beat is Gonzaga (26-0). And one of the Zags' co-stars, along with Corey Kispert, is Minnesota's own Jalen Suggs.

Yes, Suggs is that good, as shown when the freshman guard hit two clutch three-pointers Tuesday to help the Zags fend off BYU in the West Coast Conference championship game.

Four other players to know:

Luka Garza, Iowa: The first unanimous back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year since Ohio State's Jim Jackson in 1991 and '92.

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois: The 6-5 junior guard is the first Big Ten player with two triple-doubles in the same season since Magic Johnson.

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State: The potential No. 1 draft pick is a 6-8 freshman phenom with the ability to score 30 points, dish out 10 assists and hit clutch shots to win games.

Jared Butler, Baylor: The All-America point guard is the orchestrator for arguably the country's best team not named Gonzaga.

What to watch

The biggest story, of course, will be how the NCAA pulls off a 68-team tournament with the inevitable COVID situations. Put it this way, there are contingency plans to the contingency plans.

There will be replacement teams picked to slot in if a team has a COVID issue before the tournament starts. But once it starts, there will be no replacing. A team with a COVID issue would be done, with its opponent advancing via "no contest."

Coronavirus aside, from a pure basketball standpoint, here are three things to watch:

• No Big Ten team has won this tournament since Mateen Cleaves got it done for Michigan State in 2000. Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio State are top-10 teams with a chance to end that drought.

• Duke's COVID issue derailed tournament hopes for muliti-talented Rochester native Matthew Hurt. Kentucky had no chance after finishing 9-15. Kansas and North Carolina aren't as formidable in a down year for blue bloods.

• Loyola-Chicago was the 2018 tournament darling, reaching the Final Four for Sister Jean. Ramblers coach Porter Moser said this year's team is even better.

Paige time

For Minnesota basketball fans, Paige Bueckers' NCAA tournament games for UConn could become appointment viewing. But the women's tournament will be different, too, so take note.

Instead of starting on a Friday, the women's first-round games will come Sunday-Monday (March 21-22) with the second round Tuesday-Wednesday (March 23-24).

Don't blink, because the Sweet 16 happens March 27-28, the Elite Eight on March 29-30, and the Women's Final Four is April 2 and 4.

Just like the men with Indianapolis, the women's tournament will be based almost entirely in San Antonio, with the champion crowned at the Alamodome.

And just think, next year's Women's Final Four is coming to Minneapolis, a short drive from where Bueckers started carving her legend in Hopkins.

The 'new' bracket

Remember the genius in your office pool, who calculated the mileage from Birmingham to Louisville and used it to predict 14-seed UAB over 3-seed Iowa State in 2015? Almost none of that matters now. The whole geographic component is moot because everyone's playing in Indiana.

The men's selection committee is using an S-curve to seed the entire field into four regions. That's S as in snake. The committee will place the four No. 1 seeds in order of their strength, and then go in reverse order with the No. 2 seeds.

So the strongest No. 1 will play the weakest No. 2 and so on, all the way through the bracket. The committee used to do this just for the top 16 overall teams, but now it's for all 68.

What about fans?

For the men's tournament, the NCAA is permitting up to 25% of capacity for all arenas and all rounds. That means about 4,500 fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the Pacers) and 2,275 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Gene Hackman has his measuring tape handy. The crowds will be even more quaint at Mackey Arena (1,850) and Assembly Hall (500)

Starting with the Elite Eight, all the games will be at Lucas Oil Stadium, where 17,500 can attend. The whole thing will be on TV, of course, spread across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.

Finally, a prediction

The 68-team men's field won't go undefeated against COVID. There will be issues, just like Duke, Virginia and Kansas having to leave their conference tournaments. But March Madness will turn out to be an overall success. It won't have all the same charms, with fewer fans and less regional flavor, but there will be riveting drama late into the night for those who can keep their calendars straight to see it.

Gonzaga will defeat Illinois for the title, with Suggs as the tournament's most outstanding player. And it'll feel good for the soul again, to hear "One Shining Moment" as the champions cut down the nets.

Staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.