March 18, 2021

Ranking Every Single First Round 2021 NCAA Tournament Game

The tricky thing about the First Round of the NCAA Tournament is that there are often four games on at the same time. Unlike the old days, each game is on a different network, allowing viewers to watch whatever game they want. But short of going to a bar or having four TVs in your living room, it’s impossible to watch every game no matter how hard you try.

Fortunately, we’ve done the leg work for you with regard to what games are worth watching and what games aren’t.

Without further delay, here is a ranking of all 32 First Round games in this year's March Madness.

32. Baylor vs Hartford

The Hawks are making their tournament debut, which is a nice story. However, there’s no way Hartford’s guards can keep up with the Baylor backcourt. 

31. Gonzaga vs Norfolk State/Appalachian State

This game should be over relatively quickly no matter who the Bulldogs end up playing.

Gonzaga should be able to cruise just like they did throughout most of their West Coast Conference schedule.

30. Michigan vs Mount St. Mary’s/Texas Southern

The only reason to watch this game is to see if Isaiah Livers will play and how the Wolverines look without him. But whether he plays or not won’t stop Michigan from rolling and turning this game into a blowout.

29. Illinois vs Drexel

If the Illini comes out firing on all cylinders, this game will be over in a heartbeat. But don’t discount the Dragons putting up a little resistance and giving Illinois a semi-test in the First Round.

28. Texas vs Abilene Christian

The Wildcats will be thrilled to get a chance to play the flagship program of the Lone Star State. But the odds are slim that Abilene Christian will pose a serious threat to Texas when all is said and done.

27. Houston vs Cleveland State

The Vikings aren’t that dissimilar from Houston. However, Cleveland State’s guards attack the basket rather than making perimeter shots, which could make it tough to hang with the Cougars for 40 minutes.

26. West Virginia vs Morehead State

Morehead State’s Johni Broome is a great post player and the Eagles have a few good guards who could make this game interesting. However, it’s unlikely Morehead State will repeat the same upset they had with Kenneth Faried in 2011.

25. Kansas vs Eastern Washington

Think of Eastern Washington as a poor man’s Gonzaga, especially since EWU is less than 20 miles from Gonzaga. There’s at least some chance the Eagles challenge a Kansas team that didn’t play last weekend.

24. USC vs Wichita State/Drake

Outside of USC freshman Evan Mobley, this game is missing star power. However, neither Wichita State or Drake is capable of upsetting the Trojans.

23. Purdue vs North Texas

The Boilermakers are a sleeper, so you’ll want to get a good look at them early in the tournament. But North Texas could give them a game if Javion Hamlet stays hot after his performance in the Conference USA Tournament.

22. Clemson vs Rutgers

This game will be ugly but competitive. Plus, if you haven’t seen him, Ron Harper Jr. is a player to watch.

21. Ohio State vs Oral Roberts

As good as the Buckeyes looked during the Big Ten Tournament, it’s not crazy to think Oral Roberts can beat them. The Golden Eagles average over 81 points per game and have two players who score at least 18 points per game.

Max Abmas can drain threes while Kevin Obanor is a beast in the middle. Keep a close eye on this game.

20. Iowa vs Grand Canyon

The Antelopes are new to the Big Dance and the Division I level, which could make them interesting to watch. They are also coached by former Valpo and Vandy coach Bryce Drew, who’s a March Madness hero in his own right. Even if Grand Canyon doesn’t make this a game, there’s something beautiful about the way Iowa passes the ball, so you’ll want to catch at least some of this game.

19. Florida State vs UNC Greensboro

The Seminoles could be on upset alert if their sloppiness from the ACC Tournament carries over. Even if it doesn’t, freshman Scottie Barnes is worth watching. 

18. Tennessee vs Oregon State

If you like left-handed players, you’ll love watching Tennessee. Also, the Beavers could be for real after winning the Pac-12 Tournament and pull off the old 12 over 5 upset against the Vols.

17. Oklahoma vs Missouri

This is an old-school Big 12 matchup, which adds an interesting subplot. However, neither side has much buzz heading into the tournament.

16. Oregon vs VCU

Watch this Oregon team closely because they have a chance to do some damage. Plus, even without Shaka Smart and his “havoc” defense, VCU still has some name recognition and conjures up fond memories of March Madness’s past.

15. San Diego State vs Syracuse

Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is back in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s son, Buddy, is the team’s leading scorer and has perhaps the best shooting stroke in the tournament.

Plus, like it or not, the Orange have a chance to make a deep run as a double-digit seed.

14. UConn vs Maryland

There’s no standout player in this game, but both teams have some name recognition. This is also another game that could go either way and should be close in the final minutes.

13. Texas Tech vs Utah State

Utah State seven-footer Neemias Queta is perhaps the best big man you may not have seen this season. He’ll create trouble for Texas Tech, giving the Aggies a good chance to pull off an upset.

12. Arkansas vs Colgate

For Arkansas, Moses Moody can flat-out score. But look out for this Colgate team, too.

The Raiders are one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and have a serious chance to pull off the upset, which they almost did as a 15 seed against Tennessee two years ago.

11. BYU vs Michigan State/UCLA

The Cougars are seriously good, leading Gonzaga by double digits during the WCC Tournament final. If they can survive this game, watch out for BYU. But the winner of Michigan State/UCLA will have some momentum from winning on Thursday and could be a threat.

10. Florida vs Virginia Tech

If you don’t have a rooting interest, the entertainment value for this game should be high based on the way these two teams play.

Also, either team could win by 20 points or it could come down to the wire, so there’s a lot of mystery around this matchup.

9. Creighton vs UC Santa Barbara

Will the real Creighton show up after getting embarrassed in the Big East Tournament final? If so, Marcus Zegarowski is a point guard you want to watch.

And who wouldn't be eager to root for a team called the Gauchos?

8. Villanova vs Winthrop

The Eagles are high-flying and fun to watch. More importantly, they have a serious chance to beat Villanova, who hasn’t looked the same without Collin Gillespie.

7. Alabama vs Iona

Aren’t you curious to see Rick Pitino back in the NCAA Tournament? Outside of that, Iona has an interesting team that could trouble Alabama if the Crimson Tide start slowly and can’t knock down shots.

6. North Carolina vs Wisconsin

It was nice of the committee to give us a game between two of the most frustratingly inconsistent teams in the country. Of course, if both play anywhere close to their best, this could be one of the most entertaining games of the First Round.

5. Virginia vs Ohio

Get ready for an epic clash of styles in this game. The Bobcats want to play “first to 80 points wins” while the Cavs want to keep the game in the 50s.

Ohio’s Jason Preston is one of those mid-major players you have to watch.

Plus, we know Virginia is always vulnerable to an upset.

4. Colorado vs Georgetown

Can the Hoyas stay hot after what they did at the Big East Tournament or will a few days of rest cool them down? We’re all dying to find out how Patrick Ewing’s team fares.

If that’s not enough, Colorado point guard McKinley Wright is vastly underrated and is worth checking out.

3. Loyola-Chicago vs Georgia Tech

By no means will this game be pretty to watch. But basketball isn’t meant to be a beauty pageant and this is one of the closest matchups of the First Round.

Both teams defend at a high level and the winner figures to give Illinois a tough game in the next round?

2. LSU vs St. Bonaventure

If you enjoy defense, stay away from LSU. But the Tigers have four players who can score in high doses. The Bonnies are good too and this game is more or less a 50-50 tossup.

1. Oklahoma State vs Liberty

This could be Cade Cunningham’s only NCAA Tournament game.

Granted, the Cowboys have Final Four potential, but the Flames have Cinderella potential, too.

Liberty won a First Round game two years ago, and despite a tough draw, they’re capable of doing it again.

Photo: Getty Images