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NCAA Tournament: Best Bets for Round 1 (Friday)

by March 17, 2021

After waiting with bated breath to make sure we could make it through this crazy season, the first full slate of NCAA tournament games is here. While there were always 16 first-round tournament games played on the first Friday of the tournament, they were usually the second set of first-round games. Instead of kicking off the tournament on Thursday, teams were given one extra day to quarantine in Indiana before playing.

Today’s action features eight games each from the South and Midwest regions.

Here are our picks for Friday’s first-round NCAA tournament action.

All odds via BettingPros consensus

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#14 Colgate vs. #3 Arkansas (-8.5): 12:45 PM ET

College basketball fans will be treated to what may amount to the most aesthetically pleasing basketball game early in today’s slate. Arkansas and Colgate play at lightning-fast tempos and are two of the most efficient and explosive offenses in the country. Therefore, even this high total may not be high enough in this game.

The Razorbacks led the SEC in scoring at 82.4 PPG. They rank 35th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and play at the country’s 17th-fastest tempo. Colgate plays at the 25th-fastest tempo, and I would not expect them to get away from what they do best just because they face an SEC team. The Raiders rank in the top-20 in two-point shooting percentage and the top five in the country in effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting, and turnover percentage.

The Raiders will have no answer for future lottery pick Moses Moody, who averages 17.0 PPG. If Arkansas can put up 82 PPG against SEC competition, they may put 100 on Colgate. Both teams were profitable to the over this year, and one can expect more fireworks when they meet head-to-head.

Pick: OVER 161.5

#9 Georgia Tech vs. #8 Loyola Chicago (-3): 4:00 PM ET

Loyola Chicago and Georgia Tech are two of the best defensive teams in the country. The Ramblers are tops in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and are also ranked in the top ten nationally in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Georgia Tech ranks in the top-30 in the nation in both turnover percentage and turnovers forced. They won the ACC Tournament championship over Florida State by flustering the Seminoles with changing defenses, going from a hybrid zone to man-to-man. They used at least four different defenses throughout the game, and Florida State could not solve it.

This is a better Ramblers defense than the squad that made the Final Four in 2018. They held 22 of their 28 opponents to less than 60 points, while Georgia Tech has held seven of their last ten opponents to fewer than 75 points.

The under is 5-2 in Loyola Chicago’s last seven games and is 5-5-2 when Georgia Tech is an underdog. Look for a defensive slugfest in this game.

Pick: UNDER 125.5

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#14 Morehead State vs. #3 West Virginia (-12.5): 9:50 PM ET

The West Virginia Mountaineers come in limping to the NCAA tournament, having lost three of their last four games. Granted, those three losses were to two of the best teams in the country (two to Oklahoma State, one to Baylor). Still, West Virginia has had trouble generating any consistency all season. They had no longer than a four-game winning streak and had another stretch earlier this season when they lost three of five games. It is hard to generate any consistency in the rugged Big 12, but it is fair to wonder what kind of toll that daily grind will take on the Mountaineers.

By contrast, Morehead State is one of the country’s hottest teams, having won 19 of their last 20 games. The Eagles held opponents to 30.7% from the three-point line this season, which ranks 33rd in the country. Morehead State was the Ohio Valley’s top-ranked team in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage allowed, and offensive rebounding percentage allowed. That last statistical category is the most crucial when playing a West Virginia team capable of dominating the glass.

Morehead State is used to thriving as an underdog, as they are 12-3 ATS in that role this season. The Eagles are more than capable of an outright upset, so 12.5 points are way too many to give a team of this caliber.

Pick: Morehead State +12.5

#12 Winthrop vs. #5 Villanova (-6.5): 9:57 PM ET

Villanova is 0-2 in the two games that have played without their senior point guard and leader, Collin Gillespie. Those two losses came by a combined three points to Providence and Georgetown, and now the Wildcats find themselves losers of three of the last four games. In addition to Gillespie’s injury, Villanova’s other point guard, sophomore Justin Moore, is still dealing with the effects of a sprained ankle. He was able to gut out 27 minutes in the Big East Tournament game against Georgetown but looked a step slow all game. Villanova has had to count on big minutes from Chris Arcidiacono (Ryan’s younger brother) in the last two games after never logging more than seven minutes in any previous game this season.

The 23-1 Winthrop Eagles are a very dangerous No. 12 seed out of the Big South Conference. The Eagles pound the offensive glass, as their 35.7% offensive rebounding rate ranks 12th in the country. They play at the 11th-fastest tempo in the country, which is something Jay Wright’s teams are not comfortable with. Look for Winthrop to turn this game into a track meet and wear down the suddenly thin Wildcats.

Winthrop was not an underdog much this year, but they were 3-0 ATS in those three games. When they are not winning national championships, Villanova has a history of early exits. This year may be another one.

Pick: Winthrop +6.5

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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