The first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament took place on Friday and Saturday to the joyous cries of college basketball fans nationwide. But this weekend’s fun isn’t over yet, as the Round of 32 tips off on Sunday with a handful of Big Ten teams in action, including Illinois.
Let’s take a look at the schedule.
Game of the Day:
-No. 1 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No. 8 Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers
- Time/TV: 12:10PM ET (CBS)
- KenPom Spread: Illinois by 4
After Illinois and Loyola (Chicago) got seeded in the same region, this is the matchup many were hoping to see this weekend. Two quality teams meeting in the Round of 32 with some local drama added into the mix. Hard to complain about that.
Both Illinois and Loyola (Chicago) enter this game playing really well. Illinois earned a one seed after winning the Big Ten Tournament and has won 15 of its last 16 games, including its opening round game against Drexel on Thursday by 29 points. Loyola (Chicago) isn’t quite that hot, but has won seven in a row, including a double-digit win over Georgia Tech on Thursday. Both teams are also ranked among the top 10 on KenPom.
And now, something’s gotta give.
Most eyes will be on the frontcourt battle between Cameron Krutwig and Kofi Cockburn, but it’s the backcourt where things will be decided. Illinois has an unquestionable advantage there with Ayo Dosunmu against Braden Norris and Keith Clemons. But how much can Illinois exploit it? Norris and Clemons are elite outside shooters (both hit above 40 percent of their looks), so there’s a chance Loyola (Chicago) can minimize it.
This is going to be a competitive game and if Loyola (Chicago) hits from outside, it absolutely has a chance to pull off the upset. However, Illinois is really going to do damage in transition here. The Ramblers play brutally slow and Dosunmu is a terror in that phase of the game. Illinois has to push the advantage there to mitigate a deficit from three.
- Pick: Illinois
-No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 1 Baylor Bears
- Time/TV: 2:40PM ET (CBS)
- KenPom Spread: Baylor by 4
This season has largely been one of frustration for Badger fans. Despite lofty preseason expectations, Wisconsin entered the NCAA Tournament at just 17-12 overall and had lost four of its last five games. While the computers still liked the Badgers, many were starting to wonder if the computers had glitched.
But on Friday night, Wisconsin showed why the numbers still liked the team. The Badgers took North Carolina behind the wood shed and cruised to a 23-point win. It was the worst loss of the season for the Tar Heels and now sets Wisconsin up with a matchup against Baylor on Sunday.
Unlike Wisconsin, nobody’s had to wonder about Baylor’s computer numbers. The Bears have been utterly dominant all season, sitting at 23-2 overall and fourth on KenPom. Baylor dominated a brutal Big 12 slate and is led by superstar guard Jared Butler. He’s one of the best scorers, shooters, passers, and defenders in college basketball. He’s accompanied by Davion Mitchell in the backcourt, who also earned All-Big 12 honors.
Let’s be blunt about this: Baylor has no obvious weaknesses. You don’t reach 18-0 against a tough slate and 23-2 overall if you’re a problematic team. The Bears have a dynamic offense, more than enough defense to hang, experience, and elite star talent. If you were listing off typical aspects of Final Four teams, Baylor would have all of them.
With that said, Baylor also isn’t a perfect team either. The Bears lost two games after a COVID-19 pause and haven’t looked the same since. Butler and Mitchell underwhelmed in the most recent loss to Oklahoma State and the team’s defense showed some holes. Simply stated, there will be some things for Greg Gard and the Badgers to work with.
If Wisconsin is going to pull the upset here, it’s going to need arguably its best defensive performance of the season and somebody to get hot. Moreover, Baylor’s not a great defensive rebounding team. The Badgers have been an even worse offensive rebounding team, but that was against a brutal Big Ten slate. Perhaps that’s an area where Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers can do something. We will see.
- Pick: Baylor
-No. 10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. No. 2 Houston Cougars
- Time/TV: 7:10PM ET (TBS)
- KenPom Spread: Houston by 8
It took over 30 years, but Rutgers is finally back in the NCAA Tournament. And after quite an effort on Friday night against Clemson, the Scarlet Knights have found their way into the Round of 32. The team will now square off against a really strong Houston team. The Cougars are 25-3 overall and have won eight straight, including a win over Cleveland State on Friday to advance to the Round of 32.
Like Baylor above, Houston doesn’t really have any obvious weaknesses. The Cougars are a well balanced team with the team’s offense and defense ranking among the top 15 nationally. The team also has plenty of star power, led by forward Quentin Grimes. He’s an outstanding shooter that can create with or without the ball.
For Rutgers to pull off the upset, it’s going to come down to quality defense, rebounding, and somebody getting hot. That might sound pretty generic (it is), but it’s accurate here. The Scarlet Knights don’t have a loaded offense, so every possession is going to be a challenge. Somebody’s going to have to hit some jumpers or exploit a matchup because even a great Rutgers defense isn’t shutting down Houston’s offense completely. A lot of this will fall on Geo Baker and Jacob Young. Hit some shots and you have a chance.
- Pick: Houston