NCAA Bracket 2021: Updated Schedule and Predictions After First Four Games

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2021

UCLA's David Singleton, top, runs to celebrate with teammates following their 86-80 win over Michigan State in a First Four game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, early Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Robert Franklin/Associated Press

The First Four can serve as a springboard for at-large teams to go deep in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. 

Since the field was expanded to 68 teams in 2011, nine programs have won an additional contest in the Big Dance after success in the First Four. Three years ago, the Syracuse Orange benefited from a First Four victory to earn a Sweet 16 berth. 

The Drake Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins will attempt to replicate that type of run when they hit the round of 64 on Saturday.

Although history suggests at least one of those two teams will win, Drake and UCLA face tough matchups and the Bruins could be short-handed after Johnny Juzang suffered an ankle injury at the end of Thursday's win over the Michigan State Spartans. 

The No. 16 seeds that advanced on Thursday likely do not have a chance to land one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. The Texas Southern Tigers will square off with the Michigan Wolverines, while the Norfolk State Spartans face the Gonzaga Bulldogs. 




UCLA Pushes BYU but Loses

UCLA rebounded from its four-game losing streak and a brutal first half against the Michigan State Spartans to earn a date with the BYU Cougars. 

Mick Cronin's team should be able to ride the momentum earned from Thursday's 86-80 win to get off to a fast start. It should also benefit the Bruins that they have a game under their legs in the Indianapolis bubble. 

However, the Bruins may have trouble keeping pace with the Cougars for 40 minutes if Juzang is not fully fit. The transfer from Kentucky scored 23 points and knocked down a trio of three-point shots in the First Four win. 

UCLA has other scorers, like Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard, who can step up in his absence, but losing him for a game would be a massive blow. No official word was given on Juzang's status after the game, but he was helped off the court by his teammates. 

BYU played second fiddle to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference all season, but it has a well-rounded unit that can challenge UCLA. 

Alex Barcello and Brandon Averette both have point averages well into double digits, and Purdue transfer Matt Haarms could do damage in the paint against UCLA's already depleted frontcourt. 

The trio of double-digit scorers helped BYU record at least 79 points in five of its last six games, and they helped push Gonzaga for 30 minutes of the WCC tournament final. 

If the Cougars continue to score at that pace and Juzang is significantly hampered by his injury, they could breeze into the second round. 

Even if the 20-year-old is back at full strength, the Bruins may have trouble keeping pace with the Cougars. In the four games prior to Thursday, UCLA did not reach 80 points once. 


Drake Struggles With USC 

Drake needs to be much better on the offensive end to deal with USC on Saturday. 

On Thursday, the 11th-seeded Bulldogs managed just 20 first-half points and shot 37.7 percent from the field. 

Only two Drake players reached double figures and forward Darnell Brodie experienced foul trouble, which could be a bad sign of things to come in a matchup with Evan Mobley. 

Not only will the Bulldogs have to deal with the potential NBA draft lottery pick, but they also need to contain a bevy of shooters in the USC backcourt. 

Four other USC players shoot above 40 percent from the field, and each of the team's top six scorers are better than 30 percent from the field. 

If Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson are able to complement Mobley's paint play with an array of three-point shots, USC may have a chance to pull away early. 

Drake's three games against the Loyola Chicago Ramblers could be an indication to how much success it can achieve against a NCAA tournament team. 

The Missouri Valley Conference side failed to eclipse 65 points in three meetings with Loyola. Although USC is not as stout on the defensive end, it is concerning that it lacked consistency against its league's champion. 

USC cleared the 70-point barrier in two of its last three games, and it averages 74.8 points per game. 

If the Trojans score at their typical rate and Drake continues to falter versus its top-tier opponents, USC should pull off an easy victory.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.