Skip to main content

NCAA Tournament Survivor Guide for Round 1 (Friday)

by March 16, 2021

So you thought survivor pools only applied to the NFL season, right? On the contrary, survivor contests are widely popular for the NCAA tournament. They offer an alternative way for those whose brackets habitually get busted early to stay involved in the action.

Much like the NFL version, NCAA tournament survivor pools require one to pick one team each round, and once you select a team, you cannot use them again. However, that is where the similarities end as the NCAA version’s strategies are vastly different.

One needs to keep in mind that you could lose your entry without ever making a losing pick but instead simply run out of teams from which to choose. In NFL survivor pools, all teams except the ones already chosen are available for selection. In NCAA tournament survivor pools, as teams get eliminated, the collection of teams shrinks. Thus, if you make it to the national championship unscathed, but the two teams are Gonzaga and Baylor, you are out if you have already used both teams. That is just one example of a different kind of thinking necessary to navigate these tricky contests.

Throughout the tournament, one has to make eight picks: two from the First Round (one for each day played), two from the Second Round (one for each day played), and one from the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, and National Championship.

Each round, we will provide our analysis broken down by the following categories: Best Picks, Favorites on Upset Alert, and Teams That Should be Saved for Later Use.

Here is a list of odds for all the favorites to win their Round 1 matchups on Friday (odds courtesy of BettingPros consensus).

FREE Bracket Optimizer: Create a winning bracket in seconds >>

Best Picks                                                                

Houston (-5000), West Virginia (-1000), Purdue (-375), Tennessee (-363)

The Houston Cougars rode a 24-3 record to a No. 2 seed in the tournament. However, they are widely viewed as the most vulnerable of the two seeds since their level of competition all year in the AAC was not the most difficult. Houston played just three Quad 1 games all year compared to 16 combined Quad 3 and 4 games. Thus, the expectation is they will not make as deep of a run as the other high seeds. With a tricky game in the Round of 32 looming from the winner of Clemson-Rutgers, take the sure thing with Houston now before they bow out.

The West Virginia Mountaineers come into the tournament limping, having lost three of their last four games. However, two of those games were to No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and one was to the No. 2 overall seed Baylor Bears. The Mountaineers are one of the most battle-tested teams in the country, having played 14 Quad 1 games. Their first-round opponent, Morehead State, is a solid defensive team. However, the Eagles struggled offensively all year, ranking sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference in adjusted offensive efficiency. West Virginia faces a dangerous opponent in the San Diego State-Syracuse winner in the next round, so it would be wise to pick them while you can.

The Purdue Boilermakers quietly finished the regular season fourth in the Big Ten, ahead of Ohio State, who had been in the conversation for a No. 1 seed. They face a North Texas team who upset Western Kentucky in the C-USA championship game, in large part because they held Hilltoppers big man Charles Bassey to 3-for-12 shooting. North Texas has the capability of doing the same to Purdue star Trevion Williams. Still, the difference is the Boilermakers surround him with much better shooters than Western Kentucky has surrounding Bassey. Purdue will wear North Texas down with a physical front line and a balanced offensive attack with six players averaging more than 8.0 PPG.

No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5 seeds frequently happens in the Big Dance, and many will be sure to pick Oregon State to upset Tennessee. However, the Volunteers started to play much better over the last week of the season. They beat a tournament-bound Florida team twice and had a 15-point lead on No. 2 seed Alabama before letting it slip away. Oregon State is on a miracle run after having won three straight games in the PAC-12 tournament. The Beavers were picked to finish last in the PAC-12 preseason poll but have defied expectations on the back of leading-scorer Ethan Thompson (15.3 PPG). However, Tennessee has a stable of solid defenders to limit Thompson, and Tennessee will play more like the team previously ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. 

Check out all of our 2021 March Madness coverage >>

Favorites on Upset Alert                                                                                                            

Arkansas (-500), Oklahoma State (-475), Villanova (-260), Texas Tech (-200), San Diego State (-167), Rutgers (-136), Loyola Chicago (-135), North Carolina (-127), Florida (-115)

Teams That Should be Saved for Later Use                                                                                     

Illinois (-10000), Baylor (-8000), Ohio State (-2000)

Illinois, Baylor, and Ohio State are all expected to make deep runs in this tournament. Keep them handy for the later rounds when they are still prohibitive favorites while fewer teams are available to choose.      

Win prizes playing our free March Madness Bracket Contest >>

Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our Sports Betting Strategy and Advice page is for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including 10 Sports Betting Tips for Beginners — or head to more advanced strategy — like Key Numbers When Betting Against the Spread — to learn more.

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

College Basketball