The 2021 NCAA Tournament tipped off on Friday and there’s little debating the day delivered plenty of excitement. Fans are hoping that carries over into Saturday in what figures to be a loaded day for the Big Ten with three teams in action, including top seeds Michigan and Iowa.
Let’s take a look at the schedule.
Game of the Day:
-No. 10 Maryland Terrapins vs. No. 7 Connecticut Huskies
- Time/TV: 7:10PM ET (CBS)
- KenPom Spread: UConn by 2
It’s been quite a year for Maryland. After winning the Big Ten regular season title last year, the team lost several key contributors and entered this season with some serious question marks. Most figured there would be some regression, but nobody was sure how much. Since then, Maryland put together the following resume in consequential order:
- 4-0 start to the season;
- 2-6 stretch where the team lost to three teams outside the top 25 on KenPom, yet beat Wisconsin;
- 4-2 with wins over Illinois and Purdue;
- 0-2 with a brutal loss to Penn State;
- 5-0 stretch highlighted by a blowout of Michigan State; and
- 1-3 finish, including brutal losses to Northwestern and Penn State.
Inconsistent play is a typical facet of a bubble team and that certainly fits the billing. Maryland has swung between borderline great and bad all season. The team puts together four or five great games, then backslides. It’s been the recipe and season. And a big part of it resulted from the inconsistent play of the frontcourt. While Jairus Hamilton and Galin Smith arrived with high hopes after transferring in, they just haven’t lived up to the hype.
But even with the issues, Maryland still found a way to earn a slot in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The team will now open up play on Saturday evening against a really talented (and arguably underseeded) UConn squad. The Huskies went 15-7 against a COVID-19 shortened slate and scored wins over some pretty solid teams, including Georgetown and USC. As a result of that success, UConn enters this matchup sitting 15th nationally on KenPom and are favored heading into tip.
The biggest challenge for Maryland is going to be stopping do-it-all guard James Bouknight. He’s one of the best players in the Big East and dominates UConn’s offensive possessions. Expect Darryl Morsell to get slotted with Bouknight. If he holds his own, Maryland’s probably going to come out of this on top. UConn also boasts a pretty tough defense, so Eric Ayala is really going to need to come out firing in this one.
- Pick: Maryland
-No. 1 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers
- Time/TV: 3:00PM ET (CBS)
- KenPom Spread: Michigan by 25
After putting together one of the most impressive regular seasons in program history, Michigan enters March with a one seed and astronomically high expectations. The loss of Isaiah Livers in the Big Ten Tournament is cause for concern, but Michigan is still more than talented enough to make some noise this weekend and beyond.
The team will open things up on Saturday afternoon against an underwhelming Texas Southern squad. The Tigers beat Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday in the “First Four” to make it to Saturday’s game and now sit at 17-8 overall and 218th on KenPom—215 spots lower than the Wolverines. Texas Southern has a marginally better defense than offense, but neither unit is particularly great, sitting well outside the top 200 on KenPom.
Obviously, Michigan enters this game as a substantial favorite and will come out on top if the team plays anywhere close to its potential. Chris Baldwin and Michael Weathers are the players to watch for Texas Southern. The Tigers are one of the worst outside shooting teams in the country (341st in three-point percentage), so it’s really going to be about defending the paint here. This is a game where Hunter Dickinson should shine.
- Pick: Michigan
-No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon Antelopes
- Time/TV: 6:25PM ET (TBS)
- KenPom Spread: Iowa by 14
While Iowa underachieved relative to its preseason expectations, it still put together an outstanding regular season, finishing 21-8 overall and 14-6 in conference play. Iowa now enters the NCAA Tournament as a two seed in Gonzaga’s region and with big hopes for the weeks ahead. It’s a chance for a special group of seniors to leave their mark.
The team will open up play on Saturday against a decent Grand Canyon squad. The Antelopes aren’t a great team, but went 17-6 overall, won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, and rank 107th on KenPom. Grand Canyon also went 1-1 against top 100 opponents this year, which is pretty solid for a 15 seed.
Grand Canyon is led by its defense, which ranks 74th nationally on KenPom. The team also boasts three players listed at 6-foot-10 or above down low, so this could be a little more challenging of a matchup for Luka Garza than Grand Canyon’s seeding might suggest. Big man Alessandro Lever is also a a really solid outside shooter (39.4 percent from three), so expect Garza to have to get out and defend the perimeter a bit.
For Iowa to win, the team’s outside shooting needs to be productive and the rejuvenated defense needs to slow down a pretty underwhelming Grand Canyon attack. This is also a big opportunity for Garza to live up to his billing.
- Pick: Iowa
This sponsored post was published according to our guiding principles.