(7) Florida vs (10) Virginia Tech
Line: Florida -1
Time: Friday 12:15 PM
This first game tips off the round of 64 and is expected to bust 50% of the brackets, as the public opinion is split. Florida is a team that has had an up and down season, headlined by the tragic incident of Keyontae Johnson collapsing on the court in the middle of a game earlier this season. He has since recovered but Florida is still without their best player for the tournament. Sophomore guard Tre Mann has become the star player on the team with help from forward Colin Castleton and the improving NBA prospect Scottie Lewis. They will rely on their length, athleticism, and tough shot-making in this match-up.
Virginia Tech is being coached by ACC Coach of the Year Mike Young and has been ranked for most of the season. Their 10 seed ranking may be a product of playing the weak ACC this year and only having key wins over Virginia and Villanova. However, the Hokies are a tough-nosed team behind Keve Aluma’s 15.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG. They have had multiple pauses this season due to COVID but are a well-coached team with enough pieces to make a run. Virginia Tech will rely on their defense to get the win but if it comes down to free throws, Florida will have the massive advantage as they shoot 6% better as a team.
(3) Arkansas vs (14) Colgate
Line: Arkansas -9.5
Time: Friday 12:45 PM
This early afternoon match-up will feature two high-powered offenses facing off. Coach Eric Musselman has Arkansas as a three seed behind the play of some seniors, transfers, and star freshman Moses Moody. When firing on all cylinders, the Razorbacks are one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country. They also have the capability to defend at a high level and cause some serious problems for teams with their length and athleticism.
Colgate has played only 5 teams this year but posted a 14-1 record. Despite the serious lack of games played this season, they have all the makings of a team that can make a run in the big dance. They are led by senior guard Jordan Burns who shoots the ball well from 3 and is the leader of the team. His supporting cast of three guards that are all great shooters and two very capable bigs all make Colgate a match-up nightmare for some programs. Arkansas is looking to get back to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in over 20 years but Colgate will not go down without a fight.
(1) Illinois vs (16) Drexel
Line: Illinois -23
Time: Friday 1:15 PM
Arguably the hottest team in college basketball right now, Illinois will face off against mid-major opponent Drexel. Illinois has every component a college basketball program needs to reach the Final Four. They have a dominant big in Kofi Cockburn, one of the best players in the country in Ayo Dosunmo, and a bunch of quick, scrappy guards who get after it on both sides of the ball. They are one of the best teams in the country and are a final four or bust coming out of this region.
Their opponent Drexel will have to rely heavily on the 3-point ball to make this a close game. They are a great shooting team and will have to knock down a lot of shots combined with a great defensive scheme to keep this one close.
(6) Texas Tech vs (11) Utah State
Line: Texas Tech -4
Time: Friday: 1:45 PM
This game will be one the most interesting to watch in the round of 64 due to the conflicting play-styles. Texas Tech is one of the most athletic teams in the league. They are led by Georgetown transfer Mac McClung and Terrance Shannon Jr who shoulder most of the team’s offensive responsibility at the guard position. Almost everyone in their rotation can get a bucket when needed and they rely heavily on their defensive intensity to force turnovers. The main issue with this match-up is Tech plays Marcus Santos-Silva as their center and he is 6’7.
Utah State’s best player is their 7’0 junior Neemias Queta who averages 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game. He is the key to this game as Texas Tech has the better player in every position besides center. The Red Raiders’ game plan will be featured around stopping the big man and if that does not work, it will be a scrappy, close game in Indianapolis on Friday.
(2) Ohio State vs (15) Oral Roberts
Line: Ohio State -16
Time: Friday 3:00 PM
If you like an up-tempo game with a lot of 3-point attempts, then this will be the game for you. Ohio State is the heavy favorite in this game as they have one of the best rotations in college basketball. They have a future pro in EJ Liddell, two great playmaking guards in Duane Washington Jr. and CJ Walker, and one of the best shooters in the country, Justin Ahrens. Their only weakness is lack the of size inside but that is a problem for another round.
Oral Roberts has a tough task ahead of them, but they have two statistics that can help them keep this close. They are the 7th best 3-point shooting team and they are the best free-throw shooting team in the country. They also feature the nation’s top scorer in Max Abamas (24.2 ppg) who can become a household name in an upset. Look for Oral Roberts to launch 3’s and try to get to the line as they face this talented Buckeye squad.
(1) Baylor vs (16) Hartford
Line: Baylor -26
Time: Friday 3:30 PM
This game will have to have a lot of things go wrong for Hartford to keep it close. Baylor enters the tournament as the best 3-point shooting team in the country and is poised to make a run for the title. They feature arguably the best trio in the tournament with All-American guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell along with the smooth sharpshooter Macio Teague. They are an offensive powerhouse that have all the tools to be the best defensive team in the country as well.
Hartford was a four seed in their conference tournament, but made a run behind the hot performance of guard Austin Williams. It will take a lot for Hartford to stay in this game, but Baylor has been slightly less efficient since their COVID break and may overlook their opponent.
(8) Loyola Chicago vs (9) Georgia Tech
Line: Loyola Chicago -4.5
Time: Friday 4:00 PM
Loyola Chicago is back in the tournament with a few players from their 2018 Final Four run. Cameron Krutwig has turned into an All-American and the Ramblers are one of the best shooting teams in the tournament. They have a lot of veterans that play great team basketball and can defend almost any team in the country.
Georgia Tech is coming off an eye-opening performance in the ACC Championship where they showed off the countries best defense. They play an energetic 1-3-1 defense that forces 15 turnovers a game, headlined by ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Jose Alvarado. Unfortunately, it was announced that ACC Player of the Year, Moses Wright will miss the game due to COVID-related issues. This is a huge blow to this team that takes them from a possible Cinderella run to a team favored for a first-round exit.
(5) Tennessee vs (12) Oregon State
Line: Tennessee -8
Time: Friday 4:30 PM
Tennessee is a team that entered the season with a lot of praise and a roster full of NBA prospects. They have struggled at times this season with their shot selection, but they have proven that they can beat anyone in the country with wins over Kansas, Arkansas, and Florida. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson are two stand-out guards who pair well with senior forward, John Fulkerson. T
hey will be facing an Oregon State squad that was picked to finished last in the Pac-12 pre-season. They did not have a great year but got hot at the right time and knocked off the top-seeded Oregon to win their conference tournament. They play at a slow pace and will rely on their guards Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas to get them going on offense. This game has serious upset potential if Oregon State can get Tennessee to play at their pace.
(4) Oklahoma State vs (13) Liberty
Line: Oklahoma State -7.5
Time: Friday 6:25 PM
Oklahoma State is heading into this tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, despite their hard-fought loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship. The Cowboys are captained by the presumptive first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham. This dynamic freshman point guard is 6’7 with great vision, a smooth jump shot, and the ability to get a basket whenever he needs to. His supporting cast of Every Anderson, Kalib Boone, and Isaac Likekele give this team an athletic lineup that can be a match-up nightmare.
Liberty relies on their veteran backcourt for most of their scoring as Darius McGhee puts up 15.6 points per game on 42% from 3. Their tough out-of-conference schedule featuring Purdue and Missouri may help them in this game as they try to pull off the upset.
(8) UNC vs (9) Wisconsin
Line: UNC -1
Time: Friday 7:10 PM
These two storied programs meeting in the first round could lead to a scrappy game if the outside shots are not falling. The Tar Heels have an extremely talented roster that has not put all the pieces together, despite showing glimpses of greatness. Their one-two punch of Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks down low will give a lot of teams issues. Then their freshman trio of RJ Davis, Caleb Love, and Day’ron Sharpe are dangerous when they get going. If UNC is knocking down shots and working the ball inside, they can compete with most of the teams in this tournament.
Wisconsin enters the tournament with a lot of questions surrounding them. They have looked like two different teams at times this year and nobody is sure which one will show up. They are led by senior guard D’mitrik Trice and forward Micah Potter. They are a tough defensive group that struggles to get any momentum going when the 3-point shots are not falling. If both teams’ best versions of themselves show up for this game, it will be the best match-up in the first round.
(2) Houston vs (15) Cleveland State
Line: Houston -20
Time: Friday 7:15 PM
Houston will be looking to dominate this game from the tip. Not many people in the country know about this Houston squad and they are poised to show everyone who they are right away. Their leader is Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes who puts up 18 PPG followed by a three-guard tandem behind him. They love to get up and down the floor and run the score up as high as possible.
Cleveland State will be relying on their tough defense to keep this a close game. They are a senior-dominated team that is streaky from the outside as a unit but will try to string together stops and find different ways to score.
(4) Purdue vs (13) North Texas
Line: Purdue -7.5
Time: Friday 7:25 PM
Purdue is back in the tournament with another veteran-led squad looking to make a run. Their offense revolves around 6’10 forward Trevion Williams who can push around almost anyone in the country on the block. They pair him with freshman Jaden Ivey and sharpshooter Sasha Stefanovic for a balanced offensive attack. Look for the 7’4 freshman center Zach Edey off the bench to give the Boilermakers a consistent 40 minutes of tough match-ups in the post for the opposition.
North Texas will be looking to bring their defense to the big dance after winning four games in four days to win Conference USA. Their star player, Javion Hamlet will need to have it going in order to pull off the upset on Friday night.
(7) Clemson vs (10) Rutgers
Line: Rutgers -1.5
Time: Friday 9:20 PM
This game features two teams that had great starts to the year and were both top 25 programs. However, they both went on a skid as they struggled to win games on the road. Clemson has proven itself with some big wins over opponents such as Alabama and Florida State. They rely on their forward Aamir Simms to handle business on the interior and New Jersey guard, Al-Amir Dawes to handle the guard responsibilities.
Rutger’s major concern is their 1-7 record against the top 25 this season. They have struggled to take down the top teams in college basketball, but can make a run if they find a way to put it together. Ron Harper Jr., Geo Baker, and Myles Johnson will be the key names to look for to make it happen for the Scarlet Knights. If they can get their 3-point shots to fall at a decent clip they may be able to advance. This should be a back-and-forth game with good play from the guard and forward positions.
(6) San Diego State vs (11) Syracuse
Line: San Diego State -3
Time: Friday 9:40 PM
San Diego State has landed itself back in the big dance. They have the Mountain West Player of the Year, Matt Mitchell who does it all, and senior guard Jordan Schakel who compliments Mitchell’s play-style perfectly. They have earned the reputation of a team that loves to defend and plays with a lot of energy.
They will be playing Syracuse who will always grab people’s attention as a team that can go deep in the tournament, because they have done so many times before. The Orange have had their fair share of struggles this year, but will be relying on hot shooting from Buddy Boheim and Joe Girard III. They will need to be very active in their 2-3 zone and make sure to keep track of Shakel or he will burn them with open looks for outside.
(3) West Virginia vs (14) Morehead State
Line: West Virginia -13
Time: Friday 9:50 PM
Take the majority of things you know about West Virginia’s teams in the past and throw it out the window this year. This is not the typical defensive-oriented Bob Huggins squad that the country has grown so used to. This is an extremely well-rounded offense that will light it up for the outside with McBride, Sherman, and McNeil, but hurt you inside with Derek Culver. They have a group of players that can hurt you from every spot on the floor and can still ramp up the defense when the shots are falling. Huggins has this team ready to make a run in what is being considered the weakest region.
Morehead State will be looking to pull off the upset on the back of star freshman forward Johni Broome. They are going to have to bring the intensity on defense in order to have a chance in this one.
(5) Villanova vs (12) Winthrop
Time: Friday 9:57 PM
The last match-up of the day is one of the hottest upset picks in the bracket this year. The injury-riddled Villanova team is headed into the tournament surrounded with questions. They lost Colin Gillespie to an MCL tear and their second option Justin Moore is expected to play with a hurt ankle. The Wildcats still have Co-Big East Player of the Year in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels, and guard Caleb Daniels. There is still a lot of well-coached talent on this roster that can win them games but they have a tough matchup in Winthrop.
This veteran-heavy squad coasted its way through the Big South this year and is looking to be this year’s Cinderella team. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation who love to move the ball around and find open looks for their teammates. If they play their style of team basketball that has gotten them this far, it will be a very close game.