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March Madness 2021: First Four Previews and Predictions

March Madness
March Madness 2021: First Four Previews and Predictions (Anntaninna Biondo/The State News)

Welcome to the 2021 March Madness coverage presented by Vendetta Sports Media! For previews of the four regions, click below!

West Region | South Region | Midwest Region | East Region

March Madness 2021: First Four Previews/Predictions

No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s vs. No. 16 Texas Southern – 5:10 PM ET, truTV

Mount St. Mary’s found their way into this game after defeating the two top seeds en route to a Northeast Conference Tournament Championship. In those two games, guard Damian Chong Qui averaged over 17 points and four assists. The Mountaineers are a phenomenal defensive side, very much in the same vein of Tony Bennett’s patented style for his Virginia Cavaliers. The Mountaineers rank just ahead of UVA in Tempo, 356th of 357 Division I programs. Their ultimate goal is to limit opponent possessions and take efficient shots.

Texas Southern enters the game as the SWAC Tournament champions. They play a very different style from Mount St. Mary’s, coming into this game No. 41 overall in Tempo. The Tigers aren’t very good from beyond the arc, so they adjust by taking most of their attempts from 2-point range. They have some respectable defensive stats of their own. This game will likely come down to each team’s fortitude in the paint.

It seems like most people are taking the Mountaineers in this one, but I think Texas Southern will really push the pace and make Mount St. Mary’s uncomfortable. Getting in transition and trying to force Mount St. Mary’s turnovers will be keys for the Tigers to come out with a close victory.

  • Predicted Winner: Texas Southern

No. 11 Wichita State vs. No. 11 Drake – 6:27 PM ET, TBS

Wichita State comes into the tournament after winning the American Athletic Conference regular season. Their resume is highlighted by a victory over top-10 Houston and a close loss to Oklahoma State early in the season. The Shockers aren’t a great rebounding team, but they defend the perimeter fairly well and knock down shots at a solid rate.

Drake finished 25-4 and lost the Missouri Valley Conference championship game to Loyola-Chicago by double digits. Their main struggle this season has been injuries. The Bulldogs are extremely efficient on offense and solid on defense as well. Their athleticism and offensive rebounding generally make up for any missed shots. Unfortunately, they will be without their starting point guard Roman Penn following a season-ending foot injury earlier in the year. Leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill’s status is uncertain after he sat the last four weeks with a foot injury of his own.

While Joseph Yesufu has stepped into a larger role for Drake in terms of scoring output, Drake’s injuries will catch up with them. They have the rebounding to exploit Wichita State, one of the nation’s worst teams in allowing offensive rebounds, but the loss of important personnel will prove to be too high a hurdle.

  • Predicted Winner: Wichita State

No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 16 Appalachian State PM ET, truTV

Jeff Nadu tabbed the Oklahoma-Missouri game as the most meaningless game in the tournament on That’s Some Cheese 102. Of course, that’s not counting this play-in matchup where the winner gets the privilege of facing No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.

Really short analysis for this one. Norfolk State can really score the ball at all three levels. They hit threes with over 36% efficiency and know how to get to the free throw line. Appalachian State won their conference tournament but needed two overtime wins to get the job done. Give me the NSU Spartans in this one.

  • Predicted Winner: Norfolk State

No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA – 9:57 PM ET, TBS

This is the First Four game that most people actually care about. Michigan State received an at-large bid even after falling to Maryland in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Had they not beaten a top-five Michigan team the game before, they may not have found their way into the field. To be honest, the Spartans didn’t look too great this year. They struggled to find consistency in shooting and defensive effort – essentially a death sentence in the Big Ten. However, they’ve looked like a slightly better team in the past few weeks. Maybe they’ve turned a corner, or we can chalk it up to Tom Izzo becoming the Greek god of coaching in March.

UCLA has also had a tough year. They lost their best player, Chris Smith, to injury pretty early on and never quite regained their footing. It was relatively easy to pick up wins in the Pac-12 this year, but the Bruins finished with a pretty shallow resume and enter the NCAA Tournament having lost their last four games. Overall, they are good-not-great at shooting, rebounding, and defense. Had they not lost Smith, that might be different.

It’s March Madness, and Tom Izzo is Tom Izzo. I’m rolling with Sparty here, and I think they have a better shot at beating BYU than UCLA does.

  • Predicted Winner: Michigan State


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