Best potential future matchups in the 2021 NCAA Tournament originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Selection Sunday has finally come and gone, and now college basketball fans can spend all week pouring over their brackets and waffling back and forth on decisions that will have proved wrong within hours of tipoff.
Isn't March Madness the best?
Fans across the country love to look through the best opening round matchups to see what storylines and conspiracy theories the selection committee may have subscribed to. They also like to imagine the nation's best teams squaring off in Goliath vs. Goliath battles in the Final Four.
But some of the best matchups each March come in between round one and the Final Four. So with that in mind, here's a look through some of the more intriguing matchups that could be played in the Round of 32, Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight.
10. Maryland Terrapins vs. 12. Georgetown Hoyas
Okay, this one is by far the least likely potential matchup as it would take several shocking upsets to come to fruition. But it still has to be the first one mentioned for old-school local fans who would love to see this storied rivalry reignited.
There were rumors circling that Mark Turgeon and Patrick Ewing were discussing a nonconference matchup between these two programs prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, but they may have a chance to play anyway. Of course, it will require Maryland and Georgetown, both double-digit seeds, making Cinderella runs to the Elite Eight. But March is for dreaming, right?
3. Texas vs. 2. Alabama
Sticking in the East region, this would actually be a great on-court matchup between two excellent teams. It's also much likelier than the previous matchup, as both teams would meet each other in the Sweet Sixteen as long as nobody gets upset.
But the real intrigue for this matchup is in how funny it will look for traditional football powerhouses like Alabama and Texas to be squaring off in high-level basketball games. In fact, both of these could have been swapped out with other schools in the East region and had the same effect. Any combination of Alabama, Texas, LSU, Michigan, Florida State and even Michigan State could match up in any round of the tournament.
Those are some of the biggest brands in college athletics. It just so happens they are typically better known for a sport other than basketball.
1. Illinois vs. 4. Oklahoma State
This is the Sweet Sixteen everybody circled the moment the Midwest region was revealed on Sunday. Illinois is playing as well as any team in the country in recent weeks, undefeated Gonzaga included, and Oklahoma State is a quality team that probably deserved to be a seed line or two higher.
But this isn't a matchup about quality teams. It's a matchup about superstars.
Oklahoma State has Cade Cunningham, the freshman phenom who is a strong bet to be the top overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Illinois has Ayo Dosunmu, one of the favorites for national Player of the Year and college basketball's best closer. Dosunmu also wears a black facemask after a facial injury, and he looks like an honest-to-goodness superhero on the court.
Illinois also has Kofi Cockburn, the most physically-imposing big man in the sport. This game needs to happen, because fans won't find more star power in any other game before the Final Four in the entire field.
5. Creighton vs. 1. Gonzaga
Gonzaga is the best team in college basketball and hoping to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976. They are a juggernaut who mows down every team they face.
Creighton isn't nearly as good, but they do have an exciting, fast-paced offense that has been known to get hot out of nowhere. Bluejays guard Marcus Zegarowski is one of the most fun players to watch in the country when he gets cooking, and watching Creighton try to keep up with Gonzaga's high-octane offense would be worth the price of admission.
The Zags would still be heavily favored, but Creighton is one team in their region that can put up a fight simply by going shot-for-shot for 40 minutes. Plus, they're the only top-five seed in the West region that Gonzaga hasn't already beaten by double digits this season.
6. USC vs. 2. Iowa
Staying in the West, this matchup stands out for one reason: Luka Garza vs. Evan Mobley.
It's a potential Sweet Sixteen battle between the best big man in college basketball in Garza and the best big man NBA prospect in Mobley. USC freshman Mobley is the early favorite to be the second pick in the NBA Draft and looks like a future NBA All-Star, while Garza's limited athleticism kept him in college for all four years. But in those four years, he turned into the most prolific scorer in the country and one of the best offensive big men in recent memory.
Iowa would be favored in this game, but seeing a superstar freshman going up against the Player of the Year favorite at the same position would make for a riveting matchup.
5. Villanova vs. 8. North Carolina
This is another matchup that doesn't seem very likely at the moment. Villanova is dealing with the loss of their point guard Collin Gillespie and doesn't look like the same team without him. The Tar Heels have to overcome a senior-laden Wisconsin team just for the right to face Baylor, arguably the second-best team in the country.
But if both teams can make it to the Sweet Sixteen in the South region, fans will be treated to a rematch of one of the best championship games in recent college basketball history.
In 2016, UNC's Marcus Paige hit an unbelievable three-pointer with under five seconds left in the title game to tie the game at 74-74. It looked like they were going to overtime, until Villanova's Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating three to win the game in the craziest finish in championship game history.
A rematch between these two programs would look very different five years later, but it would be really fun to re-live 2016 in the week leading up to the game.