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NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Betting Primer (2021 March Madness)

by March 15, 2021

The Midwest Region is loaded with scalding hot teams, mid-majors that have been Cinderellas in prior tournaments, and the player destined to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Aside from Gonzaga, who did not lose a game all season, no one is playing better basketball than No. 1 seed Illinois. The Fighting Illini have won 14 of their last 15 games and did not miss a beat in the three games Ayo Dosunmu missed with a facial injury. Head coach Brad Underwood has his team in a prime position to get back to the school’s first national championship game since 2005.

To get there, Illinois will have to beat a dangerous opponent in the second round, provided they get by Drexel first. Loyola Chicago knows what it takes to make a Final Four run, and ACC champion Georgia Tech has been overlooked all season. Rutgers has had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92, which was also the last time they appeared in the NCAA tournament. However, the biggest buzz from this region surrounds Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Many think the Cowboys were drastically under-seeded as a No. 4 seed, and all eyes will be on Cunningham to see how far he can carry his team.

Here’s a detailed look at how the Midwest Region breaks down (odds courtesy BettingPros consensus):

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(1) Illinois Fighting Illini (23-6 SU, 18-10-1 ATS, 16-12-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +165

Strengths: One of two teams in the country that rank in the top seven in the country in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Both three-point and two-point shooting percentages rank in the top 25 nationally. Ranked second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage allowed.

Weaknesses: 69.1% free-throw shooting percentage ranks 235th in the country. Forced turnovers on 16.0% of possessions (ranks 319th in the country). Ranked 12th in Big Ten play committing turnovers on 18.1% of their possessions.

X-Factor: Andre Curbelo. We all know how good Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are and what they are capable of. Illinois needs another player to step up in crunch time, and the freshman Curbelo has shown an ability to do that of late. He stepped up in Dosunmu’s absence, and averaged 15.7 PPG over the last four games of the regular season. His ability to allow Dosunmu to play off the ball at times is crucial.

Prediction: Final Four

(2) Houston Cougars (24-3 SU, 18-8 ATS, 13-13 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +350

Strengths: Ranked in the top 16 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. Led the country in effective field goal percentage defense, and ranked second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (39.4%).

Weaknesses: Houston has not been challenged as much as other high seeds from major conferences. The Cougars played three Quad 1 games as opposed to 16 combined Quad 3 and 4 games. Were fortunate all year that their opponents could not make free throws, as their 65.2% free-throw percentage against was fifth-lowest in the country.

X-Factor: Quentin Grimes. The former five-star recruit at Kansas leads the team in scoring with 18 PPG. He is the only player who plays more than 20 MPG that shoots better than 40% from three-point range. When the Cougars need a bucket, they often look his way.

Prediction: Sweet 16

(3) West Virginia Mountaineers (18-9 SU, 13-14 ATS, 18-9 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +500

Strengths: Ranked 11th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and 13th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (35.6%). Led the Big 12 in free throw rate and was second in offensive efficiency. Second in the Big 12 in three-point shooting percentage (38.7% in league play).

Weaknesses: Ranked in the bottom third of the Big 12 in effective field goal percentage defense, two-point shooting percentage defense, offensive rebounding percentage allowed. 45.7% two-point shooting percentage ranked last in the league.

X-Factor: Bob Huggins. West Virginia’s head coach makes his 25th NCAA tournament appearance. He has not employed the same kind of “Press Virginia” defense that we have been used to over the last few years, but he should have some tricks up his sleeve come tournament time.

Prediction: Round of 32

(4) Oklahoma State Cowboys (20-8 SU, 17-10-1 ATS, 19-8-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +600

Strengths: Ranked 22nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Held opponents to 32.0% three-point shooting percentage in league play, which was best in the Big 12. Ranked second in the league in two-point shooting percentage and free throw rate. Played at the fastest tempo in the league.

Weaknesses: Commit turnovers on 21.5% of their possessions (ranks 298th in the country). Allow offensive rebounds on 30.2% of possessions (ranks 260th in the country). Showed inconsistency at times with two Quad 3 losses.

X-Factor: The obvious answer is Cade Cunningham, the best player in the country. However, I will say Avery Anderson’s play is just as important. Anderson averaged 19.5 PPG over the last four games. With teams doing everything they can to limit Cunnigham’s play-making abilities, role players like Anderson will have to step up.

Prediction: Sweet 16

(5) Tennessee Volunteers (18-8 SU, 13-12-1 ATS, 11-15 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +750

Strengths: Ranked in the top-25 nationally in the following defensive categories: adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, two-point shooting percentage, and block percentage.

Weaknesses: Ranked ninth or lower in the SEC in the following offensive categories: adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, three-point shooting percentage.

X-Factor: John Fulkerson. Fulkerson (9.5 pts, 5.5 rebs) does not fill up the stat sheet, but he is an important physical presence down low. He missed their SEC semifinal game against Alabama after taking an elbow to the head in their previous game. Without him, they lack frontcourt depth, so his health is something to monitor heading into the NCAA tournament.

Prediction: Round of 32

(6) San Diego State Aztecs (23-4 SU, 14-12 ATS, 13-12-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +900

Strengths: Ranked 11th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. 37.5% three-point shooting percentage ranks 28th in the country. Force turnovers on 22.4% of possessions (ranks 25th in the country). Ranked second in the Mountain West in both adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage.

Weaknesses: 49.7% two-point shooting percentage ranked eighth in league play. Played just four Quad 1 games compared to 14 games in Quads 3 and 4 combined.

X-Factor: Depth and experience. The Aztecs are one of the deepest and oldest teams in the country. They start four seniors and one junior, led by Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel. Schakel shoots better than 46% from three-point range, so defenses better know where he is at all times.

Prediction: Elite 8

(7) Clemson Tigers (16-7 SU, 11-11-1 ATS, 12-11 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +1600

Strengths: Ranked 20th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Rank in the top 50 in turnover percentage forced. Own non-conference wins over Purdue, Maryland, and Alabama.

Weaknesses: Ranked 10th or worse in the ACC in the following offensive categories: adjusted offensive efficiency, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, three-point shooting percentage, and two-point shooting percentage.

X-Factor: Aamir Simms. Simms (13.3 pts, 6.2 rebs) does it all for Clemson. In the last three games he has been held to single digits, the Tigers have lost by an average of 21.3 PPG.

Prediction: First-round loss

(8) Loyola Chicago Ramblers (24-4 SU, 16-9-1 ATS, 12-14 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +900

Strengths: Tops in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Ranked in the top ten nationally in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage allowed, and two-point shooting percentage.

Weaknesses: Played just four Quad 1 games (2-2 record) compared to 16 games from Quads 3 and 4 combined. Center Cameron Krutwig is the only player who averages in double figures, so they are not the most explosive offensive team and have little margin for error.

X-Factor: Sister Jean. While she does not impact what happens on the court, the players and the coaching staff will try and embody what her presence meant in their Final Four run of 2018. This team is every bit as good as that team offensively, and are light years better defensively.

Prediction: Round of 32

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(9) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-8 SU, 15-10 ATS, 14-9-2 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +1300

Strengths: Top 30 in the country in both turnover percentage and turnovers forced. Top three in ACC play in both three-point and two-point shooting percentage. Enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak.

Weaknesses: Ranked 12th or worse in ACC play in both offensive rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Allowed opponents to shoot 35.7% from three-point range in league play (ranked 10th).

X-Factor: Josh Pastner’s changing defenses. Sure, the Yellow Jackets have one of the best guards not talked about enough in Jose Alvarado (15.5 pts, 4.2 assists) and the ACC Player of the Year in Moses Wright (18.0 pts, 8.1 rebs). But Georgia Tech is a dangerous team because of how often they switch defenses and keep opponents uncomfortable with how many steals and deflections they get.

Prediction: First-round loss

(10) Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-11 SU, 13-12-1 ATS, 12-13-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +2700

Strengths: Ranked 18th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Ranked top-four in the Big Ten in both turnover percentage and turnovers forced. Block 14.1% of opponents shots (ranks 16th in the country). 

Weaknesses: Three-point shooting (31.1% ranks 289th in the country). Rutgers struggled with inconsistency, going through stretches of losing six of seven games and three of four games in the regular season.

X-Factor: Myles Johnson. The 6’11” Johnson is the most valuable player on the Scarlet Knights roster. He is their only player in the starting lineup over 6’6” and Rutgers loses valuable rim protection when he is out of the game. Johnson will be tasked with slowing down Clemson’s Aamir Simms in the first round.

Prediction: Round of 32

(11) Syracuse Orange (16-9 SU, 12-13 ATS, 13-12 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +3000

Strengths: Ranked in the top-31 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and turnover percentage. Shoot 78.4% (ranks 15th in the country) as a team from the free-throw line, which is significant in close games. Four players averaging in double figures.

Weaknesses: Allowed an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.8% (ranks 339th in the country). Ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency and free throw rate.

X-Factor: The 2-3 zone. It has been a staple of head coach Jim Boeheim his entire career, and the length of the zone is extremely difficult to prepare for. As the season went on, the zone was more active and got produced more steals and deflections.

Prediction: First-round loss

(12) Oregon State Beavers (17-12 SU, 19-9-1 ATS, 18-11 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +4200

Strengths: Was the PAC-12’s best three-point shooting defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 32.5% from beyond the arc in league play. Come in with hot-shooting, as they made 44% of their three-point attempts in the PAC-12 tournament. 6-1 in their last seven games.

Weaknesses: Ranks outside the top-230 nationally in the following categories: effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage allowed, two-point percentage, and two-point percentage defense.

X-Factor: Momentum. Oregon State was picked to finish last in the PAC-12 preseason poll, yet here they are representing the conference as their champion in the NCAA tournament. The Beavers come in with the belief that they can beat anyone anywhere.

Prediction: First-round loss

(13) Liberty Flames (23-5 SU, 16-8 ATS, 12-11-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +5000

Strengths: Rank top-20 nationally in the following categories: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, three-point shooting, two-point shooting, and free-throw percentage.

Weaknesses: Forced turnovers on 17.3% of possessions (ranks 267th in the country). Ranked last in the ASUN in free throw rate and second-to-last in offensive rebounding percentage.

X-Factor: Deliberation. Liberty is a methodical team that plays at a snail’s pace. They use a pack-line defense similar to Virginia and have one of the best defenders in the country in Elijah Cuffie. Their unusual style of play could pose problems for a fast-paced team.

Prediction: First-round loss

(14) Morehead State Eagles (23-7 SU, 19-9 ATS, 10-18 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +8000

Strengths: One of the hottest teams in the country, having won 19 of their last 20 games. Hold opponents to 30.7% from the three-point line (ranks 33rd in the country). Was the Ohio Valley’s top-ranked team in adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage allowed, and offensive rebounding percentage allowed.

Weaknesses: Ranked tenth or worse in their conference in turnover percentage and turnovers forced. Their 67.8% free-throw percentage in league-play was just tenth-best. 

X-Factor: Johni Broome. The 6’10” freshman averaged 13.9 PPG and 9.0 RPG. He must be a force on the glass against a Mountaineers team that is one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

Prediction: First-round loss

(15) Cleveland State Vikings (19-7 SU, 17-8-1 ATS, 13-12-1 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +8000

Strengths: Ranked in the top-two in the Horizon League in the following categories: adjusted defensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage allowed, turnovers forced, and three-point percentage defense. 

Weaknesses: Ranked 258th or worse nationally in the following categories: three–point shooting percentage, free-throw percentage, free-throw rate allowed, and offensive rebounding percentage allowed.

X-Factor: Tre Gomillion. The 6’4” junior was the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year and spearheads a disruptive defense that forces turnovers at a high rate. Gomillion will likely be tasked with shutting down Houston’s Quentin Grimes.

Prediction: First-round loss

(16) Drexel Dragons (12-7 SU, 12-5-2 ATS, 11-8 O/U)

Odds to make Final Four: +8000

Strengths: Rank in the top-46 nationally in the following categories: effective field goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage, two-point shooting percentage, and free-throw shooting percentage. Made 52% of their three-point attempts as a team during their recent four-game winning streak.

Weaknesses: Ranked seventh or worse in the CAA in the following categories: adjusted defensive efficiency, turnover percentage, turnovers forced, and three-point percentage defense.

X-Factor: The pandemic. Colgate and Iona are the only two NCAA tournament teams that have played less games than Drexel. After a long pause from December 19th-January 9th, the Dragons went just 7-4 to end the season.

Prediction: First-round loss

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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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