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NCAA tournament bracket picks: J. Brady McCollough’s prediction for every game

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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.

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First Four

UCLA coach Mick Cronin instructs guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. during a game against Oregon on March 3.
(Andy Nelson / Associated Press)

No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 16 Appalachian State
Thursday, 2:10 p.m.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: truTV
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

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No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA
Thursday, 6:57 p.m.
TV: TBS
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

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West regional — First round

USC's Evan Mobley controls the ball during a win over Utah in the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
Saturday, 6:20 p.m.
TV: TBS
Line: N/A
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.
TV: TNT
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.
TV: truTV
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

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No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio
Saturday, 4:15 p.m.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: TNT
Line: N/A
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.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: TNT
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.
TV: TBS
Line: Iowa by 14.5.
Pick: Even the Grand Canyon can’t contain Luka Garza in the post.
Iowa 89, Grand Canyon 65

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Second round

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson controls the ball against Texas on Feb. 23.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Oklahoma
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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

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Sweet 16

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery dunks against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament on Saturday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Virginia
March 27-28
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
March 27-28
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

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Elite Eight

Gonzaga guard Aaron Cook controls the ball during a win over Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament.
Gonzaga guard Aaron Cook controls the ball during a win over Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals on March 8.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Iowa
March 29-30
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

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South Regional — First round

Texas Tech's Mac McClung controls the ball against Iowa State on March 9.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford
Friday, 12:30 p.m.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: CBS
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.
TV: TNT
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.
TV: TNT
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

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No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State
Friday, 10:45 a.m.
TV: CBS
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.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: CBS
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
Friday, noon
TV: CBS
Line: Ohio State by 16.5.
Pick: The Buckeyes found their mojo in the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State 85, Oral Roberts 64

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Second round

Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scores in front of Georgetown center Qudus Wahab.
Villanova forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scores in front of Georgetown center Qudus Wahab during the Big East tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

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No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 8 North Carolina
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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

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Sweet 16

Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. controls the ball against Purdue in the Big Ten tournament on Friday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

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No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 5 Villanova
March 27-28
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
March 27-28
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

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Elite Eight

Baylor players celebrate after winning the Big 12 title on March 7.
(Jerry Larson / Associated Press)

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 2 Ohio State
March 29-30
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

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Midwest regional — first round

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins speaks with his players during a game against Baylor on March 2.
(Kathleen Batten / Associated Press)

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No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel
Friday, 10:15 a.m.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: TNT
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.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: CBS
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

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No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Morehead State
Friday, 6:50 p.m.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: TBS
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.
TV: truTV
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

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Second round

San Diego State players react against Utah State in the Mountain West tournament final on Saturday.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 8 Loyola Chicago
Sunday-Monday
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

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No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Tennessee
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
Pick: The country will want Rutgers in the Sweet 16, but Houston is a much more complete team.
Houston 70, Rutgers 59

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Sweet 16

Houston guard Marcus Sasser passes against Cincinnati during the American Athletic Conference tournament final on Sunday.
(Ron Jenkins / Associated Press)

No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 4 Oklahoma State
March 27-28
Pick: Cade Cunningham won’t surprise Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier. Experience matters in March.
Illinois 71, Oklahoma State 66

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No. 2 Houston vs. No. 6 San Diego State
March 27-28
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

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Elite Eight

Illinois guard Trent Frazier controls the ball against Rutgers during Big Ten tournament on Friday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 2 Houston
March 29-30
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

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East Regional — First round

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo speaks with his players during a game on March 7.
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Saturday, noon
TV: CBS
Line: N/A
Pick: The Wolverines will earn Juwan Howard his first NCAA Tournament win as a head coach.
Michigan 86, Texas Southern 65

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No. 8 Louisiana State vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure
Saturday, 10:45 a.m.
TV: TNT
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.
TV: CBS
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.
TV: truTV
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.
TV: CBS
Line: N/A
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.
TV: truTV
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

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No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 Maryland
Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
TV: CBS
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.
TV: TBS
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

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Second round

Florida State guard RayQuan Evans drives against North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Florida State guard RayQuan Evans drives against North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals on Friday.
(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
Pick: My heart wants to pick Georgetown, but I’m going to trust my brain.
Florida State 74, Georgetown 64

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No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
Sunday-Monday
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
Sunday-Monday
Pick: Alabama is too deep and will find a way to push the tempo to its favor.
Alabama 74, UConn 69

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Sweet 16

Alabama's Herbert Jones looks to shoot against Tennessee during the Southeastern Conference tournament on Saturday.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State
March 27-28
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
March 27-28
Pick: Tom Izzo will have his team on fire, but Alabama will control pace and wear out the Spartans.
Alabama 75, Michigan State 62

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Elite Eight

Rutgers center Cliff Omoruyi defends Michigan center Hunter Dickinson during a game on Feb. 18.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama
March 29-30
Pick: Michigan will play through freshman big man Hunter Dickinson and keep the pace to its liking just enough.
Michigan 75, Alabama 73

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Final Four

Lucas Oil Stadium will play host to the Final Four the NCAA tournament.
Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will play host to the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
(Amy Sancetta / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Michigan
April 3
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
April 3
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

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National Championship

Illinois guard Andre Curbelo celebrates after defeating Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship.
Illinois guard Andre Curbelo celebrates after defeating Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship game on Sunday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Illinois
April 5
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

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