The 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament got off to a blazing start during the past few days, featuring a number of exciting finishes and multiple double-digit seeds pulling off upsets. The second round should have a plethora of good games to choose from, read up on all of the matchups here:
SUNDAY, MARCH 21
1 Illinois vs. 8 Loyola-Chicago (12:10 PM, CBS)
The Illini were incredibly efficient Friday afternoon, and looked sharp from the opening tip to the final whistle. This matchup against Loyola-Chicago will be a dramatic step up, but they should still have the edge in almost every category. The clash of big men will be what to look out for, as Kofi Cockburn and Cameron Krutwig will be battling all game long. The Ramblers have been so good in March the past few years, but Illinois should pull away late.
The pick: Illinois
1 Baylor vs. 9 Wisconsin (2:40 PM, CBS)
Things are still coming together for the Bears after being on a pause for a few weeks in February. They started out slow against Hartford, but were able to kick things into gear in the second half. Wisconsin provides some intrigue in this game. They have a huge veteran presence, and the depth necessary to keep up with a team like Baylor. The Bears should advance, but it wouldn’t be surprising if this game is closer than people expect.
The pick: Baylor
3 West Virginia vs. 11 Syracuse (5:15 PM, CBS)
This has the potential to be a very exciting matchup. West Virginia is usually known for stingy defense, but this season they won with a high-powered offense. That was on display in the first round, as they put up 84 points on Morehead State. Miles McBride has been on a tear this season, and he will be tested against the Syracuse zone after his 30-point performance in round one. The Orange, like West Virginia, have benefited from a solid offense during the 2020-21 season. Their ability to shoot the three (56% against San Diego State) will make things interesting.
The pick: West Virginia
3 Arkansas vs. 6 Texas Tech (6:10, TNT)
A clash of two completely different styles headlines this game. Arkansas has a high-octane offense that dropped 85 points in their tournament opener, while Texas Tech features a defense that held Utah State to 53 points. The Razorbacks looked out of sorts at times, but settled in as the game progressed. They will need to be on their game right from the tip, because Texas Tech can put teams away early with their defense creating opportunities on the other end.
The pick: Texas Tech
2 Houston vs. 10 Rutgers (7:10 PM, TBS)
The rebuild of Rutgers basketball seems to be officially complete, as they played in and won their first tournament game in decades. They won’t be happy with just that, however, and have the talent and toughness needed to knock off a team like Houston. The Cougars on paper are the better team, and should carry their momentum from the first round over into this game. In terms of metrics, Houston is one of the better teams in the field, being top-15 in all three efficiency categories. Rutgers will need to put up some points in order to win this one.
The pick: Houston
7 Florida vs. 15 Oral Roberts (7:45 PM, TRUTV)
Oral Roberts took the world by storm Friday with their upset of Ohio State, and let’s be clear, they have a legit chance to win again against Florida. Max Abmas is a player most did not know about until a few days ago, but he has been tearing up teams all season long. The amount of pressure he puts on opposing defenses cannot be understated. Florida struggled at times against Virginia Tech, and at some points allowed the Hokies back into the game. Scottie Lewis had a huge game off the bench with 15 points, and like I said a few days ago, when he has a big game they have a great chance of winning.
The pick: Florida
5 Villanova vs. 13 North Texas (8:45 PM, TNT)
The Wildcats were able to tune out the noise about being a popular upset pick and took care of business in the first round. North Texas provides an entirely different look than Winthrop. They drain the shot clock, get high-percentage looks, and shoot efficiently from every spot on the floor. Villanova’s lack of depth will make them have to grind out these long possessions from North Texas, and could lead to some tired legs. The Mean Green are the sneaky pick here.
The pick: North Texas
4 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon State (9:40 PM, TBS)
Oregon State has put together a tremendous run this month, and they controlled every aspect of their game against Tennessee. They shot close to 50 percent from both the field and three, while holding Tennessee to under 20 percent from beyond the arc. The Cowboys, however, are on another level talent-wise compared to the Volunteers. To be fair, they also shot 20 percent from three in their first round game, but they shot 40 from the field and were able to close out a tough Liberty team. Oklahoma State is better than a four seed, and their tournament run should continue into the second weekend.
The pick: Oklahoma State
MONDAY, MARCH 22
2 Iowa vs. 7 Oregon (12:10 PM, CBS)
This game is slightly harder to predict not having seen Oregon play a game. Iowa looked really good against Grand Canyon, shooting typical Iowa percentages: 54 from the field and 46 from three. If you looking stellar shooting, threes, and high-scoring games, this is the one for you. Oregon, like Iowa, is one of the best shooting teams in the country, and can hit you from a number of different players. These teams are similar in a lot of ways, but Iowa’s advantage is in the paint with Luka Garza. Despite that, Oregon’s ability to shoot lights out might edge out Iowa’s ability to shoot lights out.
The pick: Oregon
1 Gonzaga vs. 8 Oklahoma (2:40 PM, CBS)
Without De’Vion Harmon, Oklahoma was able to hold off a very strong Missouri team in the final minutes of their first round game. They won’t have him for this game either, and that will make a huge difference. Gonzaga has been the best team all season long, and came two points short of 100 in their game against Norfolk State. Mark Few’s pursuit of a title will roll on.
The pick: Gonzaga
11 UCLA vs. 14 Abilene Christian (5:15 PM, TBS)
The Wildcats shocked the world Saturday night by knocking off a very strong Texas team. Their specialty is forcing turnovers, and it was on full display in that game as Texas had 23. The one not-so-great thing was that they shot just under 30 percent from the field, and 17 from three. That can’t happen against UCLA, a team with a high-powered offense and a coach who is known for defense. The Bruins are this year’s example of the success of the play-in teams, and are looking to extend their run even further. They have multiple ways to hurt a team offensively, and tighten up on defense when they need to. In a year when the traditional powers are bowing out early, expect UCLA to be in the second weekend.
The pick: UCLA
5 Creighton vs. 13 Ohio (6:10 PM, TNT)
The Bobcats took advantage of a Virginia team that just came off of a pause, and showed the country that they are a threat any time they are in the tournament. Jason Preston is the real deal, coming up just short of a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. They definitely won’t make this easy for Creighton, a team that played a close one against UC Santa Barbara. The Bluejays shot just 28 percent from three in that game, and that number will need to be (and should be) higher in this game in order to avoid the upset.
The pick: Creighton
1 Michigan vs. 8 LSU (7:10 PM, CBS)
This won’t be a blowout. The absence of Isaiah Livers will be visible in this game, as Michigan will have to deal with a very tough LSU team. Let’s not be so quick to write off the Tigers. When looking at overall talent, they are right up there. They also can score at a high level, with a season average of 82 points per game. Michigan’s offense is high-caliber as well, scoring 82 against Texas Southern even without Livers. This game will be much closer than Michigan fans would prefer, but their Wolverines should hang on.
The pick: Michigan
4 Florida State vs. 5 Colorado (7:45 PM, TBS)
This game appears to be a toss-up. Florida State struggled at times against UNC Greensboro, but ultimately closed out a really good mid-major program. Colorado, on the other hand, torched Georgetown and had one of the better team performances of the first round. This is shaping up to be one of the best games of the second round. Colorado has been a top 20 team statistically pretty much all season, and is one of the more complete teams when taking into account their offensive and defensive numbers. Florida State’s size might be overwhelming, however.
The pick: Florida State
2 Alabama vs. 10 Maryland (8:45 PM, TNT)
Don’t doubt the Terps! They are tough, deep, and balanced, and got multiple timely baskets against UConn to seal their victory in the first round. It also marked one of their better shooting performances this season, shooting 50 percent from both the field and three. Iona hung around with Alabama for longer than anyone expected, despite being outrebounded by almost 20. The Crimson Tide should be settled in now, but this game won’t be easy either. It would not be surprising if Maryland won this game, but Alabama’s high octane offense might prove to be too much.
The pick: Alabama
3 Kansas vs. 6 USC (9:40 PM, CBS)
The Jayhawks silenced the doubters following their COVID-19 pause by beating a very good Eastern Washington squad. They will be put to the test again in round two against a very good USC team. This game could end up being a defensive struggle, as both teams rank very high in adjusted defensive efficiency. USC held Drake to 29 percent from the field in the first round, while shooting 50 percent themselves. Their balance should give them the slightest of edges in this game.
The pick: USC
(Cover Photo: Dave Eggen/Inertia)