Each team has a path to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16 while also playing high-profile national programs in their first game.
Here’s a quick rundown of each team’s first game, and their path to the Sweet 16.
UCLA versus Michigan State (play-in game) at 7PM. The country is already captivated by this matchup, the most high-profile play-in game in the decade-long format. This made for TV matchup will kickoff at 7pm to maximize the national audience, and the ONLY way UCLA wins is by holding their own on the boards, especially for offensive rebounding. UCLA’s backcourt must push the fast break at every opportunity available, as the faster the game, the more it benefits the Bruins.
Path to Sweet 16: If UCLA eliminates the Spartans, their confidence will be high as they face BYU in the second round then possibly Texas. Two skilled teams, but definitely beatable.
— San Diego State Men’s Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) March 16, 2021
San Diego State versus Syracuse at 6:40pm. Experts look at this as a possible blowout for the Aztecs, but veteran coach Jim Boeheim has the Orange playing well as the season ended. San Diego State needs to get up early and exploit Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone and coast in the second half. If they don’t do that, they could be in for a long night.
Path to Sweet 16: A victory over Syracuse positions the Aztecs into a very tough game against another veteran coach, Bob Huggins, and his West Virginia squad. Any victory against the Mountaineers will be hard fought.
UCSB versus Creighton Bulldogs at 12:30pm. UCSB is a popular pick for the traditional 12th seed upset against Creighton, a team that was ranked in the top-15 just a month ago that is now embattled in turmoil due to its coach’s offensive remarks. After a 30-point loss against Georgetown in the Big East Championship Creighton looked emotionally and physically exhausted. UCSB has a much easier path to victory than anyone could have predicted.
Path to Sweet 16: An anticipated victory over Creighton would bring a possible matchup against reigning champion Virginia, whose slow pace will give UCSB a shot to make the Sweet 16.
USC versus Drake/Wichita State at 1:30pm. Either one of these teams will give the strategy-challenged Trojans trouble. Look for the Trojans to go to the best player in the nation, super freshman forward Evan Mobley to bail them out and score as much as 30 or even 40, if necessary. The more the Mobley brothers score, the better it is for the Trojans. It’s that simple.
Path to Sweet 16: An opening round victory would probably lead to a second-round game against a Kansas team that lacks star power, scoring and inside defensive presence. And that combination may have the Trojans marching all the way to the Sweet 16.
Rodric Bradford covers sports in the San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix markets. He is a longtime reporter on the San Diego State athletic program, including covering the Aztecs’ 2018 run to the NCAA tournament. Rodric can be found on Twitter @j_rodric.