Choosing a March Madness dream matchup we want to see in each round of the tournament.

Believe it or not, March Madness is back next week. While the NCAA Tournament won’t feel the same as most years, the 2021 rendition figures to provide plenty of quality matchups and intriguing storylines along the way.

Below we have identified a dream matchup we want to see in each round of the tournament from the First Four all the way to the Final Four.

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First Four

Drake vs. Michigan State

How about a matchup between a coach who has never been to March Madness vs. the coach who thrives this time of year? Drake raced out to an 18-0 start to the season but injuries to guards Roman Penn and Tank Hemphill caused a 7-4 sputter down the stretch. While Penn is done for the year, Hemphill is expected to return in time for March Madness if the Bulldogs are selected. Michigan State, on the other hand, was 8-7 and 2-7 in the Big Ten at one point but has recent wins over Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and an Indiana sweep.

First Round

Florida State vs. Toledo

Offense! A potential 5/12 or 4/13 matchup between Florida State and Toledo would pit two of the country’s top 15 offenses by efficiency measures against each other. The Rockets and Seminoles have near-identical 3-point shooting percentages at 38.6 and 38.5 percent, good for 14th and 15th, respectively, in the country. There’s no shortage of star power between these two teams: Toledo’s Marreon Jackson is the MAC’s player of the year at 17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, and FSU’s Scottie Barnes is a future lottery pick with one of the highest assist rates and steal rates in college basketball.

Second Round

Loyola Chicago vs. Michigan

Do the Ramblers have another Cinderella run in store? As has been said many times, this year’s Loyola Chicago team is even more efficient than the 2018 team that reached the Final Four. If Cameron Krutwig and Loyola wind up in an 8/9 matchup, the Ramblers could provide a major test against a top-seeded team thanks to its No. 1 defense. On the other hand, Michigan has proven itself as a legitimate national title contender with freshman big man Hunter Dickinson remaining forceful down low.

Sweet 16

Creighton vs. Iowa

First to 90 wins? Iowa has lived up to all of its preseason hype behind potential Naismith winner Luka Garza while Creighton has remained steady as a dark horse Final Four squad thanks to Marcus Zegarowski. These teams shoot it and take care of the ball: Iowa and Creighton are top 20 in effective field-goal percentage and turnover rate and are among the nation’s leaders in offensive efficiency. With both teams lagging behind defensively, this matchup would provide plenty of scoring fireworks.

Elite Eight

Oklahoma State vs. Illinois

I don’t think it could be any better than Cade Cunningham vs. Ayo Dosunmu in March. The supporting casts for both of these teams are tremendous, but it’s impossible to envision anything more fun than Cade vs. Ayo sizing each other up with a trip to the Final Four on the line. These high-major squads are enjoying breakout years, too. Oklahoma State hasn’t won a March Madness game since 2009 and Illinois hasn’t reached the tournament’s second weekend since 2005. Both of those streaks seem likely to snap this year.

National Semifinal

Gonzaga vs. Alabama

Matchups on matchups on matchups. Jahvon Quinerly vs. Jalen Suggs? John Petty vs. Corey Kispert? Herb Jones vs. Joel Ayayi? Sign me up for this one. In other storylines, Gonzaga’s Mark Few continues to search for his first March Madness title while the quickly rising Nate Oats is already developing a March track record, upsetting Arizona in 2018 as a No. 13 seed and again advancing to the second round in 2019. Something would have to give between the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide, which both rank among the nation’s leaders in tempo.

National Championship

Gonzaga vs. Baylor

It always had to be these two teams, right? Gonzaga and Baylor already had their Dec. 5 showdown canceled due to an unfortunate COVID-related issue shortly before tipoff. Three months later and not much has changed: Mark Few’s team will enter the tournament undefeated and Baylor’s only loss was 13-point road defeat at Kansas in its second game after a lengthy COVID pause. Whether you prefer Gonzaga or Baylor in your bracket, a title game between these two just feels right.

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor