NCAA Tournament 2021: 6 Potential Matchups We'd Love to See

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 17, 2021

Ayo Dosunmu (foreground)
Ayo Dosunmu (foreground)Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The selection committee doesn't always get its due for this, but it can be a clever bunch.

Hidden beneath those starchy exteriors lie savvy, knowledgeable people who operate with a sense of history and even—dare I say it—humor. The harder you look at the 2021 bracket, the more tasty potential matchups you see, like chocolate Easter eggs hidden in the grass.

A potential matchup can be fun or compelling for several reasons. It could be because of the teams, the individual players, a coaching matchup, historic programs or rivalries, or the sheer novelty factor. You don't think the committee knew what is was doing when it pitted UCLA and Michigan State—two blue-blood teams in notably down seasons—against each other in one of the play-in games?

Oh, it knew. And it knows about these six potential blockbusters too. For various reasons, these are the six matchups we'd most love to see, listed from lowest to highest. 


No. 6 San Diego State Aztecs vs. No. 2 Houston Cougars (Midwest Region)

San Diego State's Matt Mitchell (right)
San Diego State's Matt Mitchell (right)Denis Poroy/Associated Press

Records: San Diego State (23-4, 14-3 in Mountain West Conference); Houston (24-3, 14-3 in American Athletic Conference)

When they'd meet: Sweet 16

Any way you slice it, both of these teams are among the defensive elites.

The Cougars led the nation in opponent field-goal percentage (37.0 percent), while the Aztecs held the opposition to just 38.7 percent, which ranks sixth.

How about scoring? Houston held opponents to 57.9 points per game, which was good for second in the nation. Again SDSU was close behind, just six spots below at 60.6 points per contest.

But SDSU leads Houston in the KenPom.com defensive rankings, which put the Aztecs and No. 11 and Houston No. 18.

You get the idea. This will be an exquisite rock fight if it happens.


No. 14 Colgate Raiders vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (South Region)

Max Abmas of Oral Roberts
Max Abmas of Oral RobertsSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Records: Colgate (14-1, 11-1 in Patriot League); Oral Roberts (16-10, 10-5 Summit League)

When they'd meet: Sweet 16

Batten down the hatches. These two mid-majors have work to do before they meet in the Sweet 16, but if it happens, each side could put up 30 three-point attempts. Just two sharp-shooting mid-majors throwing bombs at each other from all over the court. Both teams could hit triple digits in scoring.

These aren't just any sharp-shooting mid-majors. They're kind of the best, at least this season. Colgate is third in the nation with a 40.2 percent three-point shooting average; Oral Roberts sits eighth at 39.0 percent.

Two players stand out. Oral Roberts has the nation's leading scorer in Max Abmas, who nets 24.4 points per contest. Abmas trails only Luka Garza in offensive win shares with 4.6.

Colgate has Jack Ferguson, who leads the nation in offensive rating (145.2) and sits second in true shooting percentage with an even 70.

So there would be a lot going on in this game, with the winner likely being crowned the belle of this season's March Madness ball. This time around, a shredded South Region might give us a riveting instant classic.


No. 1 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 12 Georgetown Hoyas (East Region)

Patrick Ewing cuts down the net.
Patrick Ewing cuts down the net.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press/Associated Press

Records: Michigan (20-4, 14-3 in Big Ten); Georgetown (13-12, 7-9 in Big East)

When they'd meet: Sweet 16

Just 11 days ago, Georgetown was sitting at 9-12 following a 16-point loss to UConn. Now the Hoyas are the Big East tourney champs and the early feel-good story of March Madness, and they've got their first Big Dance berth of Patrick Ewing's four-year coaching tenure. (For Madison Square Garden staff and others: Ewing also used to play for Georgetown and was actually a professional player for a number of years as well.)

This matchup is a tall order for Georgetown, as it would need to knock off No. 5 Colorado and then likely a tough No. 4 in Florida State. If the Hoyas can defy the odds two more times to reach the Sweet 16, they could well be greeted by a Juwan Howard-guided Michigan. Like Ewing, Howard is coaching at his alma mater after playing there and then enjoying a lengthy NBA career.

Howard and Ewing both went to their roots to get their big coaching opportunities, and both are making good on those chances. It would be quite a moment, especially for old people like me who remember them as players.


No. 1 Baylor Bears vs. No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (South Region)

Davion Mitchell
Davion MitchellEric Gay/Associated Press

Records: Baylor (22-2, 13-1 in Big 12); Ohio State (21-9, 12-8 in Big Ten)

When they'd meet: Elite Eight

Some people may equate these programs with defense, but that's not how it went this season.

According to KenPom, Baylor sits third in adjusted offense, while Ohio State is fourth. Only Iowa and Gonzaga outrank these two, and we'll get to them momentarily. 

The Buckeyes lost five of their last eight, but that's not so bad considering they play in college basketball's best conference and lost a razor-close overtime game to scorching-hot Illinois in the conference tourney final. They may continue to be without glue guy Kyle Young because of a concussion, but they still have a guard tandem in E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. that combines for 32.2 points per game.

Baylor has a dangerous three-headed backcourt in Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague, who together contribute 47.4 points per contest, among many other things.

This is your classic clash of the titans, strength against strength. Here's hoping this region stays chalk long enough for this to happen.


No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes (West Region)

Luka Garza
Luka GarzaMichael Conroy/Associated Press

Records: Gonzaga (26-0, 15-0 in West Coast Conference); Iowa (21-8, 14-6 in the Big Ten)

When they'd meet: Elite Eight

It's the TOY against the POY, baby.

Gonzaga ruled the West Coast Conference like its own ball pit. The Bulldogs were also the class of the regular season, and no one denies that.

Similarly, Luka Garza dominated the individual rankings and is likely to win most of the player of the year hardware.

If chalk prevails in the West Region, something will have to give between the best player and the best team. Gonzaga big Drew Timme would have his hands full with the physical Garza, but the latter could struggle trying to keep up with Timme. And this is just one small piece of the puzzle.

Garza and Gonzaga both have a touch of college basketball fairy dust on their games. When you've got the best against the best, you find some popcorn and enjoy.


No. 4 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. No. 1 Illinois Fighting Illini (Midwest Region)

Cade Cunningham (left)
Cade Cunningham (left)Jerry Larson/Associated Press

Records: Oklahoma State (20-8, 11-7 in Big 12); Illinois (23-6, 16-4 in Big Ten)

When they'd meet: Sweet 16

With all due respect to Garza, Cade Cunningham and Ayo Dosunmu are not only the two hottest players in the country, but they also are projected to shine in the NBA.

Like it or not, basketball is a game of stars. That means we all might remember this one 10 years from now if these two dynamos fulfill their lofty potential.

In the latest mock draft from Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, Cunningham is expected to go first overall, while Dosunmu was slated for No. 19. That was March 11. Since then, all Dosunmu has done is lead Illinois to a Big Ten tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the Dance, so you'd have to think he's in lottery territory. 

In a deep Big 12, Cunningham led the conference in scoring (20.2 ppg) and points produced per game (19.3). He was third in defensive rebounds (141) and free-throw percentage (85.4). And finally, he was fifth in both win shares (3.7), defensive win shares (1.5) and box plus/minus (8.2). In a nutshell, he does it all on both ends, is clutch and never seems to stop working.

Dosunmu is a sensation in Champaign and some kind of fun to watch. He does it all while working in the Big Ten, widely considered the nation's toughest conference. He led the league in points produced per game (21) and was second in points (20.7) and assists (5.3) per game, third in win shares (4.9) and fourth in usage percentage (30). 

These numbers don't tell the whole story of the performance and leadership both players display. But they do give a sense of the situation. These two are craftsmen at the top of the college game. Catch them before they're gone.


Stats via Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.