2021 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Predictions
The 2021 NCAA Tournament kicks off this week and the Midwest region has a lot of new faces atop the rankings. Illinois is back as the number one seed followed by Houston, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee in that order. Here are the matchups and predictions for the NCAA Tournament Midwest region:
Illinois comes into the NCAA Tournament winners of seven in a row and 14 of their last 15. The Big Ten champs defeated Ohio State in overtime to take home the conference championship. The top seed in the Midwest region looks poised to make a deep run.
Three separate COVID stoppages during the regular season caused a lot of stops and starts for Drexel. The Dragons only went 4-5 in conference play before reeling off three straight wins to clinch the automatic berth.
Don’t get too fancy with this pick. UMBC isn’t in the tournament and Virginia isn’t the number one seed. Illinois will win big in this one.
(8) Loyola Chicago vs (9) Georgia Tech
You may remember Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean from their Cinderella run in the 2018 tournament when they reached the final four as an 11 seed. But the Ramblers didn’t get much love from the committee. Despite being ranked 17th in the AP poll, the Ramblers come into the tourney as an eighth seed. They beat Drake two out of three times and lost to Wisconsin by 14. But they also only have one loss in their last 18 games. The key player to watch for is center Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks.
Georgia Tech is also scorching hot as of late having won their last nine games en route to an ACC championship. One of those wins came against Virginia who had to forfeit due to a positive COVID test. Georgia Tech has wins against Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech this season.
The Yellowjackets have four guys who average double digits in points versus the one for Loyola Chicago. I hate to pick against Sister Jean but the committee may have gotten the seeds right in this case. Georgia Tech wins by a bucket.
(5) Tennessee vs (12) Oregon State
Tennessee comes into the tournament playing close to .500 ball over the last two months. They did get two wins against Florida before losing a close game to Alabama in the SEC tournament. The Volunteers don’t seem to have a go-to guy late in games as they have eight players average between eight and 12 points per game. John Fulkerson is one of those guys and he is likely out for this matchup with facial fractures he suffered last week. That leaves Rick Barnes’ squad a little thin depth-wise.
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Oregon State was not an NCAA Tournament team but they managed to rally and win the PAC 12 conference tournament. Three of their five marquee wins came in the tournament after defeating UCLA, Oregon, and Colorado. Similar to Georgetown, the Beavers got hot at the right time and the confidence is there.
This looks to be sloppy offensively and the longer it stays close, the more Oregon State will believe they can pull off the upset. That belief can go a long way, especially with Oregon State feeling better about their game right now than Tennessee. Give me Oregon State to win a close, low-scoring game.
(4) Oklahoma State vs (13) Liberty
Oklahoma State has the best player in the country and the likely number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Cade Cunningham is the real deal averaging over 20 points per game, six rebounds, and shooting 41% from the three-point line. The Cowboys have come on strong as of late, winning eight of nine before losing to Texas in the Big 12 championship game.
Liberty has won 12 games in a row led by guard Darius McGhee who averages over 15 points per game. The Flames did have a couple of non-conference tests, losing by nine to Missouri and losing by 13 to Purdue
With no real notable wins, it’s hard to believe Liberty can pull off the upset especially with Cunningham on the other side. The Cowboys should win by double digits and can make a deep run in the tournament.
(6) San Diego State vs (11) Syracuse
San Diego State has a very similar resume to that of Loyola Chicago yet they are seeded two spots higher by the NCAA committee. The Aztecs are currently on a 14 game winning streak. They beat UCLA by 15 and went 1-2 against Utah State, both of whom are 11 seeds in the tournament. Now they get to face another 11 seed in Syracuse.
Syracuse will look to pull off a magical run similar to their last final four in 2016 when they were a 10 seed. The Orange have wins against mid-tier teams such as North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Clemson. They have three different scorers they rely on but defensively they give up 70 points per game.
Syracuse is always a tough out because of their zone defense. Despite that, they still managed to give up a lot of points this year and the Aztecs’ top three scorers are all very good three-point shooters. If San Diego State was seeded any lower they might lose. But they will be able to knock down long-range shots and move on to the second round of the tournament.
(3) West Virginia vs (14) Morehead State
West Virginia is a very good team that has seen its fair share of wins and losses. Eight of their nine losses were by five points or less. But they also had five wins by five points or less. Lots of close games against really good teams in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers are coming off two consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and this is a game that can get them on the right track.
Morehead State has lost one game since Jan. 2. The Eagles were also clobbered by Ohio State and Clemson earlier this season. They shoot the ball fairly decent but that won’t be enough to pull off the upset.
West Virginia has played a lot of close games but this shouldn’t be another one. The Mountaineers should win by 20 and advance to the second round of the tournament.
Clemson isn’t playing their best at the moment but they do have some premium quality wins over top teams throughout the NCAA including Alabama, Purdue, and Florida State. Forward, Aamir Simms is the Tigers’ go-to player. He leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks. They also have a variety of guys who can light it up from beyond the arc.
Rutgers also isn’t playing great at the moment. After an early-season win against Illinois, the Scarlet Knights lost six of their next seven and haven’t been the same since. They only have one quality win since Jan. 28 against Michigan State. Rutgers is a bit of a throwback team. They like to play in the paint and aren’t great at shooting the ball from deep.
Despite both teams not playing well, I’m confident Clemson can come out with the win and advance in the tournament. Their quality wins are a bit better and they shoot the ball much better from three.
(2) Houston vs (15) Cleveland State
Houston is out to prove they belong in the national championship conversation. The American Athletic Conference had a down year as a whole. But non-conference play gave the Cougars a very solid, defeating Texas Tech by 11. The Cougars average over 77 points per game this season.
Cleveland State punched their ticket by winning the Horizon Conference championship. The Vikings managed a close loss to Ohio State early in the year, only losing by six.
Cleveland State’s downfall will be their lack of long-distance shooting. They won’t be able to keep up with the elite guard play Houston will throw at them and Houston will win this one easily.
Round of 32
(1) Illinois vs (9) Georgia Tech
Illinois is very balanced offensively. They can beat you inside and outside. Led by guard Ayo Dosunmu who averages over 20 points per game. Right behind him is center Kofi Cockburn with 17 points per game. The Fighting Illini also shoot the ball extremely well from three at a 37% clip.
Georgia Tech has a number of scorers also with three players averaging 15 points per game or more. The Seminoles also have a few sharpshooters of their own.
Although Florida State and Clemson are very respectable opponents in the ACC, this matchup is on another scale. Illinois is a real contender to win it all and should dispatch the Yellowjackets by double digits.
(4) Oklahoma State vs (12) Oregon State
It’s a battle of OSU supremacy in the second round. Oklahoma State has the best player on the court in probably every matchup they face in Cade Cunningham. But guard Avery Anderson III has come on strong of late to really give the Cowboys a boost when teams double Cunningham.
Oregon State got hot at the end of the season and I think will carry over to their first-round upset over Tennessee. The Beavers will need to keep up offensively with the Cowboys and I’m not sure they can do that.
Number four seeds are 8-0 against 12 seeds since 2014. Let’s make it 9-0 with a solid win for Oklahoma State.
(3) West Virginia vs (6) San Diego State
West Virginia has four guys who average double-digit points. They are a battle-tested team who can play with anyone on any night.
San Diego State relies on forward Matt Mitchell and guard Jordan Schakel to carry the team offensively. But the Aztecs lack that big signature win. A win against West Virginia would open some eyes and make people think they are a final four team.
West Virginia played Gonzaga the closest of anyone this year and that is enough to put the Mountaineers in the sweet sixteen.
(2) Houston vs (7) Clemson
Houston’s top three scorers this year are all guards. Quentin Grimes leads the group with 18 points per game. Houston likes to play with pace and get shots up.
Clemson struggled down the stretch. They also only have one player who averages double digits in points. Clemson will have to get hot from long range to keep this one close.
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Give me Houston to reach the sweet sixteen in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
(1) Illinois vs (4) Oklahoma State
This has the making to be a great game with a lot of scoring. Illinois averages over 81 points per game while Oklahoma State averages 77. Illinois is a little bit deeper with their rotation but the Cowboys are never out of it when they have the best player on the court.
This will be a really tight game but in the end, Illinois has found a way to win these close games against really good teams. The Fighting Illini have six wins over top 10 teams this year. The Cowboys are ranked 11th but Illinois wins by one possession.
(3) West Virginia vs (2) Houston
Both teams display exceptional guard play. The difference may be in the post for West Virginia with forward Derek Culver who averages 14 points and nine rebounds per game.
This would be a huge win for Houston’s program as they haven’t been to the elite eight since they lost in the 1984 national championship game to Georgetown. But the lack of quality opponents for Houston may hurt them in this matchup. West Virginia played quality teams every night in the Big 12 and that should help narrowly advance to the elite eight.
(1) Illinois vs (3) West Virginia
Although Illinois lost to Baylor earlier this season, they still managed to put up maybe the most impressive resume with their quality wins against top-notch teams. West Virginia has plenty of quality wins as well but not to the extent of Illinois. The Mountaineers had close losses to Baylor and Gonzaga, implying that is a wall they just can’t get over.
The theme of the season for West Virginia is the five-point loss and this will be more of the same. Not only will Illinois advance to their first final four since 2005, but they will also beat Ohio State again to reach the NCAA national championship game.
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You can follow Tyler Samsel on Twitter @tylersamsel.