The NCAA tournament, back after a one-year absence, returns this week. J. Brady McCollough, The Times’ national college sports reporter, makes his picks for every game, including the First Four games Thursday and the national championship game April 5 in Indianapolis.
All games will be streamed live on March Madness Live. All times Pacific.
No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 16 Appalachian State
Thursday, 2:10 p.m.
Line: Appalachian State by 3.
Pick: The only other time Norfolk State made the Big Dance, in 2012, it upset No. 2 seed Missouri, so look for the Spartans to conjure some of that magic.
Norfolk State 65, Appalachian State 57
No. 11 Wichita State vs. No. 11 Drake
Thursday, 3:27 p.m.
Line: Wichita State by 2.5.
Pick: Drake’s offensive efficiency will be the difference.
Drake 74, Wichita State 71
No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Thursday, 5:40 p.m.
Line: Texas Southern by 2.5.
Pick: Mount St. Mary’s wants to play slow, Texas Southern wants to play fast. What gives?
Texas Southern 68, Mount St. Mary’s 59
No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA
Thursday, 6:57 p.m.
Line: Michigan State by 1.
Pick: What month is it? Oh, March. You don’t pick against Tom Izzo this shallow in the bracket.
Michigan State 64, UCLA 60
West regional — First round
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
Saturday, 6:20 p.m.
Pick: The Bulldogs will be hungry to send a message to the field.
Gonzaga 110, Norfolk State 68
No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 8 Oklahoma
Saturday, 4:25 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma by 2.
Pick: Old Big 12 rivalry goes the way of the Sooners who shoot the lights out.
Oklahoma 77, Missouri 71
No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Line: Creighton by 7.
Pick: Creighton just got humiliated by Georgetown, and the Gauchos will pull off the classic 12-over-5 upset.
UC Santa Barbara 71, Creighton 66
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio
Saturday, 4:15 p.m.
Line: Virginia by 9.
Pick: Virginia, possibly undermanned due to COVID protocols, will be a trendy upset pick, but they won’t bow out that easily.
Virginia 70, Ohio 58
No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Drake
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Pick: If Evan Mobley asserts himself early, this one shouldn’t be too stressful for the Trojans.
USC 74, Drake 62
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington
Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
Line: Kansas by 11.
Pick: Kansas has some COVID issues, but it also has the toughness to play through it.
Kansas 81, Eastern Washington 64
No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 VCU
Saturday, 6:57 p.m.
Line: Oregon by 6.
Pick: VCU is a top defensive team, but Oregon has too many weapons.
Oregon 69, VCU 62
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon
Saturday, 3:25 p.m.
Line: Iowa by 14.5.
Pick: Even the Grand Canyon can’t contain Luka Garza in the post.
Iowa 89, Grand Canyon 65
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Oklahoma
Pick: Oklahoma has beaten Alabama, Kansas and West Virginia (twice) this season, but Gonzaga is on another level.
Gonzaga 90, Oklahoma 76
No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
Pick: The Gauchos won’t take on full Cinderella status with the Cavaliers’ rugged defense in the way.
Virginia 72, UC Santa Barbara 56
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 USC
Pick: After going through the Big 12, Kansas is better prepared to grind out a win and make it to the second weekend than USC.
Kansas 67, USC 61
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 7 Oregon
Pick: In one of the most intriguing matchups of the second round, the Ducks come up just short against the Hawkeyes, who have been building toward this breakthrough.
Iowa 76, Oregon 74
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Virginia
Pick: Gonzaga beat Virginia 88-75 Dec. 26 and will authoritatively back up that result.
Gonzaga 87, Virginia 68
No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 3 Kansas
Pick: Kansas’ big men are no match for Luka Garza and the Jayhawks don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up.
Iowa 77, Kansas 70
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Iowa
Pick: These teams played in December with Gonzaga winning 99-88, so hold onto your pants. Iowa has since improved defensively, but the Zags have too many answers.
Gonzaga 92, Iowa 85
South Regional — First round
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford
Friday, 12:30 p.m.
Line: Baylor by 26.
Pick: The Bears have been waiting for this tournament to start for a year.
Baylor 88, Hartford 58
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
Friday, 4:10 p.m.
Line: North Carolina by 2.
Pick: North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks will abuse the Badgers’ big men.
North Carolina 73, Wisconsin 59
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop
Friday, 6:57 p.m.
Line: Villanova by 6.5.
Pick: Winthrop is 23-1 and Villanova doesn’t have Collin Gillespie, but the Wildcats still have championship pedigree.
Villanova 74, Winthrop 68
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 North Texas
Friday, 4:25 p.m.
Line: Purdue by 7.5.
Pick: North Texas will pull off the first big upset of the tournament by slowing the game down and making each possession count.
North Texas 61, Purdue 59
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State
Friday, 10:45 a.m.
Line: Texas Tech by 5.
Pick: Texas Tech’s Mac McClung will make just enough tough shots to win this defensive battle.
Texas Tech 63, Utah State 59
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate
Friday, 9:45 a.m.
Line: Arkansas by 9.5.
Pick: Colgate will be a popular pick, but Arkansas will excel playing a frenetic pace.
Arkansas 93, Colgate 81
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
Friday, 9:15 a.m.
Line: Florida by 1.
Pick: These teams are equally nondescript. Virginia Tech will muddy it up and dictate tempo.
Virginia Tech 59, Florida 54
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
Line: Ohio State by 16.5.
Pick: The Buckeyes found their mojo in the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State 85, Oral Roberts 64
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 8 North Carolina
Pick: Baylor will prove it has arrived as a March-ready program by handling Roy Williams’ volatile Tar Heels.
Baylor 84, North Carolina 75
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 13 North Texas
Pick: The Wildcats won’t truly miss Collin Gillespie until the second weekend.
Villanova 67, North Texas 53
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 6 Texas Tech
Pick: The Big 12 was an absolute brawl all season, and the Red Raiders have some recall from their Final Four trip two years ago.
Texas Tech 68, Arkansas 64
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
Pick: Ohio State can beat you so many ways, which will become clear once again against the overmatched Hokies.
Ohio State 70, Virginia Tech 56
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 5 Villanova
Pick: Just like Gonzaga has to take down a recent champion in Virginia, so too will Baylor on its Sweet 16 path.
Baylor 70, Villanova 60
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Texas Tech
Pick: This is one of my favorite games of the Sweet 16. Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. will be the best player on the floor.
Ohio State 68, Texas Tech 63
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Pick: Baylor’s defense is just a little better than Ohio State’s, and Baylor’s guards will get too many open looks.
Baylor 77, Ohio State 75
Midwest regional — first round
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel
Friday, 10:15 a.m.
Line: Illinois by 22.5.
Pick: The Fighting Illini are the hottest team in the country and will keep it going here.
Illinois 96, Drexel 59
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
Friday, 1 p.m.
Line: Loyola Chicago by 2.5.
Pick: Sister Jean and that Loyola Chicago defense over the Ramblin’ Wreck every time.
Loyola Chicago 58, Georgia Tech 52
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Oregon State
Friday, 1:30 p.m.
Line: Tennessee by 7.5.
Pick: The Beavers’ great story ends here with Tennessee’s ferocious defense.
Tennessee 67, Oregon State 58
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 13 Liberty
Friday, 3:25 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma State by 9.5.
Pick: The Cowboys should have been a higher seed and will play angry out of the gate.
Oklahoma State 79, Liberty 62
No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 Syracuse
Friday, 6:40 p.m.
Line: San Diego State by 2.5.
Pick: This is not a vintage Syracuse bracket buster, and San Diego State will meet the moment.
San Diego State 69, Syracuse 61
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Morehead State
Friday, 6:50 p.m.
Line: West Virginia by 12.5.
Pick: A Bob Huggins team that depends on offense over defense is wild, and we’ll see it for another round.
West Virginia 82, Morehead State 60
No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers
Friday, 6:20 p.m.
Line: Rutgers by 1.
Pick: Shield your eyes when watching this bloodbath. The country will be on Rutgers’ side.
Rutgers 56, Clemson 51
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Cleveland State
Friday, 4:15 p.m.
Line: Houston by 19.5.
Pick: Kelvin Sampson has built a real winner at Houston, one that won’t let him down with a no-show.
Houston 74, Cleveland State 61
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 8 Loyola Chicago
Pick: Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings say Loyola Chicago is the ninth-best team in the country, but the metrics love Illinois more.
Illinois 65, Loyola Chicago 54
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Tennessee
Pick: Both teams play good defense, but only one has Cade Cunningham.
Oklahoma State 63, Tennessee 56
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 6 San Diego State
Pick: No Southern California bias here, but go ahead and book the Aztecs for two weekends in Indy.
San Diego State 68, West Virginia 67
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 10 Rutgers
Pick: The country will want Rutgers in the Sweet 16, but Houston is a much more complete team.
Houston 70, Rutgers 59
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 4 Oklahoma State
Pick: Cade Cunningham won’t surprise Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier. Experience matters in March.
Illinois 71, Oklahoma State 66
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 6 San Diego State
Pick: Two defensive-minded teams will be hoping for an Elite Eight berth, but one has more legit scoring options.
Houston 68, San Diego State 55
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 2 Houston
Pick: Illinois will play tight with a Final Four berth on the line, and Houston will make the Fighting Illini pay — for 30 minutes.
Illinois 73, Houston 68
East Regional — First round
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Pick: The Wolverines will earn Juwan Howard his first NCAA Tournament win as a head coach.
Michigan 86, Texas Southern 65
No. 8 Louisiana State vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure
Saturday, 10:45 a.m.
Line: LSU by 1.5.
Pick: St. Bonaventure won the Atlantic 10 with defense and veteran guard play, and those qualities will frustrate a talented LSU squad.
St. Bonaventure 70, LSU 65
No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Georgetown
Saturday, 9:15 a.m.
Line: Colorado by 5.
Pick: Can Patrick Ewing’s box its juju from Madison Square Garden and take it to Indy? Sure, why not.
Georgetown 66, Colorado 63
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro
Saturday, 9:45 a.m.
Line: Florida State by 11.5.
Pick: Leonard Hamilton’s program has turned into a second weekend fixture, and this group is too gifted to fall victim to a big upset.
Florida State 78, UNC Greensboro 61
No. 6 Brigham Young vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Saturday, 6:40 p.m.
Pick: Michigan State has beaten two No. 1 seeds this season, but it has also lost a lot of games it shouldn’t have. Tough call.
Michigan State 73, BYU 70
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
Saturday, 6:50 p.m.
Line: Texas by 9.
Pick: Call it a gut feeling. Abilene Christian plays great defense, and now its fans will have bragging rights over Texas for the rest of eternity.
Abilene Christian 66, Texas 64
No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 Maryland
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
Line: UConn by 2.
Pick: UConn is back to the level where a great guard can take it to new heights in March, and James Bouknight qualifies.
UConn 65, Maryland 59
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 15 Iona
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Line: Alabama by 17.5.
Pick: Rick Pitino is back in the Big Dance somehow, but Alabama will send him packing.
Alabama 84, Iona 65
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure
Pick: Michigan will miss injured star Isaiah Livers more with each passing round, but not quite yet.
Michigan 68, St. Bonaventure 59
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Georgetown
Pick: My heart wants to pick Georgetown, but I’m going to trust my brain.
Florida State 74, Georgetown 64
No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
Pick: The Spartans got a gift from Texas, but can they cash it in as a favorite? Tom Izzo won’t let them feel the pressure.
Michigan State 64, Abilene Christian 55
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 7 Connecticut
Pick: Alabama is too deep and will find a way to push the tempo to its favor.
Alabama 74, UConn 69
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State
Pick: Michigan will hear so much noise all week it will feel like an underdog as a one seed and perform with an edge.
Michigan 67, Florida State 64
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 11 Michigan State
Pick: Tom Izzo will have his team on fire, but Alabama will control pace and wear out the Spartans.
Alabama 75, Michigan State 62
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama
Pick: Michigan will play through freshman big man Hunter Dickinson and keep the pace to its liking just enough.
Michigan 75, Alabama 73
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Michigan
Pick: Early last season, Michigan beat Gonzaga by 18 with Isaiah Livers. If Livers remains out with his foot injury, which seems likely, the Bulldogs will be too much to handle.
Gonzaga 80, Michigan 72
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 1 Illinois
Pick: Baylor beat Illinois in December 82-69, but the Fighting Illini have made up a lot of ground since. The rematch will be one for the ages.
Illinois 81, Baylor 77
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Illinois
Pick: Illinois’ three-guard lineup of Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo, combined with monstrous center Kofi Cockburn, will be enough to give the Big Ten its first national championship since 2000. It will also keep conference rival Indiana as the last team to go unbeaten, in 1976.
Illinois 86, Gonzaga 84