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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | March 18, 2021

March Madness predictions: Every 1st-round game picked in the 2021 NCAA bracket

The absurd odds of a perfect March Madness bracket

It's finally here. For the first time in almost two years, there's a new men's basketball NCAA tournament bracket and you can view it right here. NCAA.com analyzed the bracket and is here to help you make your picks by predicting every first-round matchup.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 16 seed Appalachian State/Norfolk State

Pick: Gonzaga

The Zags are 26-0. They will reach 27-0.

No. 8 seed Oklahoma vs. No.  9 seed Missouri

Pick: Missouri

Missouri's first five games of the season came against NCAA tournament teams and it won all five, including a game against future No. 1 seed Illinois. The Tigers have stumbled down the stretch but they have as much experience and continuity as almost any team in the country.

No. 5 seed Creighton vs. No. 12  seed UC Santa Barbara

Pick: Creighton

The Bluejays have a top-15 offense, thanks to their 56-percent 2-point shooting and 44 percent of their shot attempts coming from behind the arc. That's enough firepower to get by UC Santa Barbara.

No. 4 seed Virginia vs. No. 13 seed Ohio

Pick: Ohio

Virginia, the reigning national champion, is dealing with COVID-19 issues and it remains to be seen who has tested positive or who could be affected by contact tracing. Meanwhile, Ohio has won nine of its last 10 games, including a MAC tournament title, and the Bobcats lost by just 2 points when they played at Illinois in November. Keep an eye on junior Jason Preston, who's a 40-percent 3-point shooter who assists on 38 percent of the team's made baskets when he's on the floor.

No. 6 seed Southern California vs. No. 11 seed Wichita State/Drake

Pick: Southern California

USC plays stifling defense, holding opponents to 42 percent 2-point shooting and it blocks almost one out of every seven 2-point attempts that its opponents take. Freshman Evan Mobley (16.8 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game) might be one of the five most talented players in the NCAA tournament.

No. 3 seed Kansas vs. No. 14 seed Eastern Washington

Pick: Kansas

The Jayhawks turned their season around in February, having won eight of their last nine games. They experienced COVID-19 issues that knocked them out of the Big 12 tournament, but with a top-10 defense and a veteran backcourt of Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji, there's still a lot to like about Kansas.

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No. 7 seed Oregon vs. No. 10 seed VCU

Pick: Oregon

This will be a strength-on-strength matchup with Oregon's No. 16 offense facing VCU's No. 12 defense, but this is a Ducks team that won the Pac-12 regular season title and won 10 of its final 11 games in the regular season.

No. 2  seed Iowa vs. No. 15 seed Grand Canyon

Pick: Iowa

Iowa has the second-most efficient offense in the country, behind only undefeated, No. 1 Gonzaga. Grand Canyon will get an up-close and personal look of what that offense is capable of doing.

No. 1 seed Baylor vs. No. 16 seed Hartford

Pick: Baylor

This is Hartford's first-ever NCAA tournament appearance but the Hawks won't get their first NCAA tournament win.

No. 8 seed North Carolina vs.  No. 9 seed Wisconsin

Pick: North Carolina

The Tar Heels' NCAA tournament candidacy was up in the air at times this season but the Tar Heels finished 10-6 in the ACC in the regular season, then won a pair of games in the ACC tournament, and they're the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country, as they grab more than 41 percent of their missed shots.

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No. 5 seed Villanova vs. No. 12 seed Winthrop

Pick: Winthrop

Winthrop will be a trending upset pick, given both the Eagles' 23-1 record and the fact that Co-Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie of Villanova is done for the season with a knee injury. In Villanova's last 10 NCAA tournament appearances, the Wildcats have either lost in the first weekend or advanced to the Final Four.

No. 4 seed Purdue vs. No. 13 seed North Texas

Pick: Purdue

Purdue might got lost in the shuffle of the Big Ten's top teams but the Boilermakers actually finished one game ahead of Ohio State in the regular season standings and just half a game behind Iowa. Purdue ranks in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

No. 6 seed Texas Tech vs. No. 11 seed Utah State

Pick: Texas Tech

This game might be played in the 60s, as Utah State has the No. 8 defense in the country and Texas Tech, which is the reigning national runner-up, has a top-25 defense. But Texas Tech's Mac McClung has proven capable of scoring difference-making baskets in high-pressure situations, and the Red Raiders have the offensive rebounding and ability to get to the free throw line, which could be to their benefit in a defensive-minded game.

No. 3 seed Arkansas vs. No. 14 seed Colgate

Pick: Arkansas

Colgate has gained notoriety for its top-10 NET ranking, but Arkansas can play Colgate's style, given the Razorbacks' top-20 tempo and they have the defense (No. 14) to go along with their pace, whereas Colgate's defensive efficiency ranks No. 140 nationally.

No. 7 seed Florida vs. No. 10 seed Virginia Tech

Pick: Virginia Tech

The Hokies finished third in the ACC standings and Florida has lost three of its last four games. Its last win over an NCAA tournament team came in January.

No. 2 seed Ohio State vs. No. 15 seed Oral Roberts

Pick: Ohio State

Even in defeat, Ohio State showed its mettle as the Buckeyes took Illinois to overtime in the Big Ten tournament final. Their 1-2 punch of Duane Washington and E.J. Liddell is about as solid as it gets.

No.1 seed Illinois vs. No. 16 seed Drexel

Pick: Illinois

Illinois won a Big Ten-best 16 regular-season games, then the Illini won the Big Ten tournament on Sunday, just minutes before the start of the selection show. Illinois will enter the NCAA tournament having won its last seven games and it has won 14 of its last 15 games, as the Illini are playing as well as anyone in the country.

No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 seed Georgia Tech

Pick: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech has won its last eight games, including an ACC tournament title win over Florida State on Saturday and with senior big man Moses Wright, who was named ACC Player of the Year, the Yellow Jackets will have the best player on the floor, even though Loyola Chicago enters the NCAA tournament with the most efficient defense in the country.

No. 5 seed Tennessee vs. No. 12 seed Oregon State

Pick: Tennessee

Tennessee has the fourth-most efficient defense in the country, as of Selection Sunday, and the Volunteers have high-end talent in freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, plus  sophomore Josiah-Jordan James.

No. 4 seed Oklahoma State vs. No. 13 seed Liberty

Pick: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys, led by star freshman Cade Cunningham, reached a higher gear in February, winning five in a row in Big 12 play at one point and they advanced to the Big 12 tournament final, where they fell to Texas by 5 points.

No. 6 seed San Diego State vs. No. 11 seed Syracuse

Pick: Syracuse

Syracuse won its first game in the ACC tournament, then it fell to No. 1 seed Virginia by just 3 points on a buzzer beater, showing the Orange's potential. In Syracuse's last two trips to the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed, it went to the Sweet 16 and Final Four, respectively.

No. 3 seed West Virginia vs. No. 14 seed Morehead State

Pick: West Virginia

The Mountaineers are elite at offensive rebounding (35.6 percent offensive rebounding rate, which ranks 13th) and getting to the free throw line (39.4 percent free throw rate, which ranks 17th), so even if shots aren't falling for the 11th-most efficient offense in the country, West Virginia has the size and athleticism to take advantage of Morehead State.

No. 7 seed Clemson vs. No. 10 seed Rutgers

Pick: Rutgers

It's time to party like it's 1991. That's the last time Rutgers made the NCAA tournament, back when it played in the A-10, and the Scarlet Knights, led by veterans Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, have enough offense to go along with their top-20 defense to get by Clemson.

No. 2 seed Houston vs. No. 15 seed Cleveland State

Pick: Houston

Houston won three more AAC games in the regular season than any of its peers and the Cougars won the conference tournament on Sunday, beating Cincinnati by 37. They have a top-10 offense and a top-20 defense, which makes them a legitimate national title contender.

No. 1 seed Michigan vs. No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary's/Texas Southern

Pick: Michigan

After the release of the 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket, Michigan is ranked No. 2 on the advanced stats website kenpom.com, behind only Gonzaga, as the Wolverines are one of three teams — in addition to the Zags and Illinois — to have an offensive and defensive efficiency that's ranked in the top 10 nationally.

No. 8 seed LSU vs. No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure

Pick: LSU

LSU, which finished third in the SEC standings, nearly won the SEC tournament against soon-to-be No. 2 seed Alabama, as it fell 80-79. The Tigers have one of the most potent offenses in the country as they do almost everything on that end of the floor pretty well: 2-point shooting, 3-point shooting, free throwing shooting, taking care of the ball and offensive rebounding.

No. 5 seed Colorado vs. No. 12 seed Georgetown

Pick: Colorado

Georgetown could be a trendy first-round pick given the Hoyas' run during the Big East tournament, but this Colorado team just earned the best NCAA tournament seed in school history. The Buffaloes are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the history of the sport and they have an experienced core, led by point guard McKinley Wright IV and fellow upperclassman Evan Battey, D'Shawn Schwartz and Jeriah Horne.

No. 4 seed Florida State vs. No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro

Pick: Florida State

Florida State finished second in the ACC regular season standings and in the ACC tournament, plus the Seminoles have the tallest average height in the country, a top-10 offense and a unique talent in freshman Scottie Barnes, who's 6-9 but often initiates their offense.

No. 6 seed BYU vs. No. 11 seed Michigan State/UCLA

Pick: The winner of Michigan State/UCLA

BYU led Gonzaga at halftime of the WCC tournament final, so the Cougars have shown how good they can be at their best, but the Spartans beat Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan — three No. 1 or No. 2 seeds — in the last two weeks of the season, while UCLA, which started the season 12-2, arguably has more raw talent than BYU.

No. 3 seed Texas vs. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian

Pick: Texas

The Longhorns will enter the Big Dance on a five-game winning streak, including a Big 12 tournament title. They're a team that shoots a high percentage of 3s while limiting their opponent's 3-point attempts, and Texas' roster ranks in the top five nationally in minutes continuity, per kenpom.com, so this group has played a lot of basketball together.

No. 7 seed UConn vs. No. 10 seed Maryland

Pick: UConn

UConn is ranked No. 16 on kenpom.com, so even though the Huskies are a No. 7 seed, their team quality is arguably stronger than their resume. A significant reason why is because sophomore James Bouknight has played just 14 of the team's 22 games. UConn recently had a five-game winning streak in February and March.

No. 2  seed Alabama vs. No. 15 seed Iona

Pick: Alabama

The Crimson Tide has the second-most efficient offense in the country, so as much as Alabama's offense gets talked about (it attempts nearly 90 percent of its shots from 3 or at the rim), it's actually the team's defense that sets the tone. Alabama won the SEC regular-season title by 2.5 games, then it won the SEC tournament, so the Crimson Tide has proven it's likely in the NCAA tournament for the long haul.

 
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