The Big 12 has seven teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Each has a path to the Sweet 16. Here, I assess which teams have the easiest paths and the hardest paths.
How does a No. 3 seed get a relatively easy road to the Sweet 16? Well, first you start with a game against No. 14 seed Eastern Washington, the Big Sky champion. Then you get paired against a second-round opponent pool that features No. 6 USC, No. 11 Wichita State or No. 11 Drake. This is an enviable road for the Jayhawks, assuming that David McCormack is healthy and ready to play. To me, this is the most favorable draw for the Big 12 in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
2. West Virginia
The Mountaineers drew a manageable path to the Sweet 16. First, they’ll take on Morehead State. After that it’s a potential second-round match up against either San Diego State or Syracuse. The Orange snuck into the tournament, while San Diego State is an above-average mid-major program that has the offense to stick with the Mountaineers. Given some of the other roads that Big 12 teams must travel to reach the second weekend, the Mountaineers have to be pretty happy with their draw.
When does a No. 1 seed NOT get the easiest road to the Sweet 16? When there’s a potential blue blood waiting for them in the second round. Baylor should have no trouble with Hartford in the first round. But after that it’s a potential second-round match up with the North Carolina Tar Heels or the Wisconsin Badgers out of the Big Ten. I like Baylor’s chances of getting out of their side of the bracket and into the Sweet 16. But I don’t like the potential match-up for the Bears in the second round. Anything can happen on two days’ rest, and North Carolina is a team that has been trending up the past few weeks. The Badgers are always tournament tough.
4. Oklahoma State
Don’t underestimate any of the three teams that the Cowboys might have to play to get to the Sweet 16. Liberty is a quality mid-major program that could give the Cowboys trouble. After that, Tennessee played a murderous schedule inside and outside of the SEC, and Oregon State is trending up after surprising everyone and winning the Pac 12 Tournament (I watched that Beavers game. They’re a pesky crew). The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the country. But the two teams opposite them in the second round have the potential to cool them off.
5. Texas Tech
All three of the Red Raiders’ potential opponents are high quality. Utah State could have won the Mountain West, had they not lost to San Diego State in the championship game. Many considered them to be a bubble team, but the Aggies got in. After that, the Red Raiders face a potential second-round match up against either Arkansas or Colgate. Either way, they’re going to be facing two of the highest scoring teams in the country, and that will put a premium on their ability to defend. It won’t be an easy road to get back to the Sweet 16 for the third straight tournament.
If I’m the Longhorns, I am not happy with this draw. The first-round game is against Abilene Christian, one of the better mid-major teams in the bracket and the Southland Conference champions. Texas should be able to win that game, but the opponent pool for the second round is not enviable — BYU, Michigan State, or UCLA. The Longhorns did not get a break there. If they get to the Sweet 16, it’s going to be a well-earned trip
Naturally, the Sooners have the toughest road to the Sweet 16. They open with Missouri, a former Big 12 rival in what is essential a pick ’em matchup. The Sooners are capable of beating the Tigers, but their projected next game would be daunting — Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are the No. 1 overall seed and haven’t lost this season. Most peg the Bulldogs as a Final Four team. If the Sooners were to beat Gonzaga, the Sooners will have pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets and busted a whole lot of brackets.
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