We have went from 68 teams to just eight in a little over a week, and the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has provided a ton of excitement in its return from a year-long hiatus. Gonzaga still feels like the team to beat after three games in Indianapolis, but the seven other remaining teams will be looking to play spoiler to their undefeated run. Check out previews on the four regional final games for the next two nights:
MONDAY, MARCH 29
2 Houston vs. 12 Oregon State (7:15 PM, CBS)
I have picked against the Beavers in each of their last three games, and they have proved me wrong every time. Their defense is legit, it ranked fourth in the Pac-12 during the regular season and held Loyola Chicago to 16 first half points in their last game. It has also held two of their three opponents to under 60 points while in Indianapolis. Houston was able to transfer the momentum from their dramatic win against Rutgers into a dominant showing against Syracuse in the Sweet 16. The Orange went from shooting an average of 50 percent from three to just 22 against the Cougars. Their lockdown defense, along with a balanced showing offensively, has them primed for a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1984. Oregon State should not be overlooked, and this game could be closer than seeds indicate. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuild of Houston should take the next step, however, and the Cougars should keep their season alive.
The pick: Houston
1 Baylor vs. 3 Arkansas (9:57 PM, CBS)
These two programs, like Houston, have endured long rebuilds and are beginning to return to prominence. Scott Drew has been phenomenal in putting the pieces back together in Waco, and his team is every bit a number one seed. They knocked off a very good but shorthanded Villanova team in the Sweet 16, and the Bears appear to be back to the way they were pre-pause. If they want to beat Arkansas they will need to shoot better than 16 percent from three, which was their mark against Villanova. Eric Musselman is trying to bring the Razorbacks back to the Final Four for the first time since the 1994-95 season. His squad features one of the best offenses in the country, complimented with a defense that ranks in the top 10 in efficiency. The one thing that might hurt them in a game like this is depth, something Baylor prides itself on. This game could go either way, and either team will be a worthy representative from this region.
The pick: Baylor
TUESDAY, MARCH 30
1 Gonzaga vs. 6 USC (7:15 PM, TBS)
Another fantastic matchup in the Elite 8 features a West Coast showdown between two premier teams. Gonzaga has continued to roll through teams every game, so nothing has changed since the regular season. Their undefeated run has been incredibly impressive, but so has the run USC has been on this season. The Trojans, like Gonzaga, have won all three of their tournament games by double-figures. USC demolished Kansas in the second round, and held down a potent Oregon offense in the Sweet 16. Their defense is legit, currently ranking fourth in the nation in efficiency, and it will be one of the toughest Gonzaga has faced all season. It is hard to imagine Gonzaga, with all of their talent and depth, losing to anyone in the country. There is a very strong chance USC gives them a big scare though. Despite playing Kansas, West Virginia, and Iowa this season, the Trojans will be the toughest opponent the Bulldogs have faced.
The pick: Gonzaga
1 Michigan vs. 11 UCLA (9:57 PM, TBS)
The Conference of Champions continues to dominate this tournament, and UCLA knocked off an Alabama team that many had cutting down the nets in a week. Don’t be fooled by the Bruins’ 11 seed, they are much better. Also don’t forget that they were ranked for a decent portion of the season, and have a roster filled with talent. Both of these offenses can light it up. Michigan’s ranked in the top 10 of efficiency, and put together 76 points against a very good Florida State defense in the Sweet 16. UCLA was able to outpace a high-octane Alabama team by scoring 88 points. This has the potential to be the highest-scoring game of the round, and also one that might be closer than people think. Mick Cronin has always been able to turn up the defense, and if his team can do it in this game, they can shock the world. Michigan has been winning games convincingly even without Isaiah Livers, and they still seem to be destined for a clash against Gonzaga.
The pick: Michigan
(Cover Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)