*Warning – Serious Zags Bias*
I’ve been a die hard Gonzaga fan my whole life thanks to my pops who is an alumni. He helped start the first student section at Gonzaga which was called The Snake Pit (terrible name with no reasoning). In 2003, I saw Blake Stepp go off for 27 against Maryland in DC. In 2005 when I was 11, I fell asleep in Disney’s ESPN Zone trying to stay up and watch Gonzaga vs Michigan State in the Old Spice Classic. The adrenaline kept me up for the first half, but the halftime show was the end of me, and I still get shit for it to this day.
Zags will win it all. I don’t need to spill the statistics here, this is an incredibly dominant team. The Achilles heel is post defense. Kofi Cockburn of Illinois and Hunter Dickinson of Michigan could give them trouble, but I don’t think it’s enough in the end to knock the Zags off.
This has to be the year. History will be made. Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs as lottery picks, unbelievable. Chet Holmgren potentially on the way as well? Hopefully I can just copy and paste this for next year too.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s move on to some interesting matchups in the first round, and some potential ones throughout. I’ll break down what I find interesting and give ya some betting tips. I’m not an analyst or a writer, just a guy who watches way too much college hoops, so TAIL OR FADE AT YOUR OWN RISK. We’re just having fun here. *Disclaimer* some of these lines will have changed by the time this article comes out, use your best judgement.
Oregon vs VCU
If you take the last 12 games of the season, you’ve got a top offense in terms of efficiency with Oregon going up against one of the best defenses in the country in VCU. I like the Ducks to advance here. The spread at -5.5 is too high for me to play but I don’t have enough faith in VCU to play the other side. Instead, I’m targeting VCU Team Total under 65.5. I’ve watched more VCU games than I should have this year, they really struggle to score the ball at times. Earlier this year I bet them as a live dog against the Bonnies when they were down 53-54 with 9 minutes left. The game ended 54-70 in favor of the Bonnies…… Only one scorer on VCU is averaging double digits.
Virginia vs Ohio
Jason Preston for Ohio is a beast, and the rest of the team can fill it up too. This is another clash of styles where Virginia obviously has the upper hand on defense. For bracket purposes, I am taking Ohio in this one. It will be a popular pick but I see an entertaining game and Ohio seizing the moment. Look to take the over on Preston 3pt prop, nothing available for me yet but I’m sure you’ll find a book offering something closer to game time. Pack-line defense for Virginia will force the three ball and Preston will have his fair share of looks, especially if they find themselves behind in this game. I currently hold an Ohio +10 ticket but it has since been bet down to +7 which I would stay away from. If it climbs back up to +9 I would recommend playing that.
Gonzaga advances to the Final Four out of this region, they’ve already beaten Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia this year with ease. If you’re crazy enough to think the Zags are going down, look to sprinkle Creighton at +1600 to make it out of this region. If they put all the tools together, which has been rare for them this season, they can scorch from 3 and beat anyone. If they get past the Zags, a matchup against Kansas or Iowa is favorable for Creighton in my opinion.
I think this region is going to be a bloodbath.
LSU vs St Bonaventure
The Bonnies got screwed with this seeding, but have an incredibly well-rounded team, with 5 junior starters. Their efficiency metrics on both sides of the ball are great. The Bonnies have 5 guys who average double digits. With LSU, you don’t really know what you are going to get. Early in the season defense was optional to say the least, but it seems like Will Wade has righted that ship a bit. Trendon Watford and Cameron Thomas are a stellar 1-2 punch on offense, among the elite scorers in the country. I’m going to take the seniority here with the Bonnies ML +105. I think they have more chemistry and ability to win close games down the stretch. For bracket purposes, I like the Bonnies to beat Michigan as well.
UConn vs Maryland / Alabama
UConn lost a nailbiter to Creighton in the Big East Semis but have been playing some incredible basketball. Their down part of the season was 100% due to James Bouknight’s injury. I think they matchup well with an inconsistent Maryland team. Maryland shoots the three ball well but UConn is incredibly solid on defense. I hold a UConn -2 ticket, it seems to have moved to -3.5 which I still would take.
For the same reasons I just mentioned, I have UConn beating Alabama in my bracket. UConn is going to try and slow this game to a halt. Alabama is definitely a more mature team now than earlier in the year, but I look at their loss against Clemson as an example. Clemson plays a similar grind you down style and it worked for them as they only allowed Alabama to score 56 points. Alabama is bottom of the barrel in terms of allowing offensive rebounds, and UConn is 6th in the nation in offensive rebounds according to KenPom. If UConn is able to get consistent second chance looks, this only furthers the success of slowing Alabama down.
Out of the region I think Texas holds the most well rounded team poised to advance to the Final Four. I like them at +600 That being said, you know Leonard Hamilton’s squad always comes to play come tournament time. I have them losing to Texas in the Elite 8 so if you lean Seminoles for a future bet I won’t argue with you there. Michigan without Isaiah Livers scares me.
North Carolina vs Wisconsin
Wisconsin played a game this year and Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter had a total of ZERO rebounds. The Heels are going to dominate on the glass in this game and I think they are trending in the right direction, whereas Wisco has fallen off. The Badgers have been inconsistent and bad on the road this year. Brad Davison is still a hell of a player, but I don’t see Reuvers and Potter stepping up to the plate in terms of physicality to make a difference in this one. Take the Heels at -1.5
Texas Tech vs Utah State
This is my favorite first round matchup and also a matchup that casual/NBA basketball fans will watch and want to throw up. This is a race to 60 points with 2 of the top 20 defenses in the country squaring up. Utah State does play a bit faster on offense than Texas Tech, but not by much. Utah State rebounds the ball extremely well and Neemias Queta is a certified grown man. I think Texas Tech has a better chance to win this game, but I’ll be rooting for Utah State and picking them in my bracket (hopefully to steal a point from the field in the first round). No pre-game betting angle on this one. If the game starts out high scoring, I will look to take the under on the live total.
I like Baylor to make it out of the South region, not a rocket science pick but I think they are the strongest team and I think they match up very well against Ohio State and Arkansas. Nova without Collin Gillespie and Purdue don’t stand a chance against Baylor. I don’t mind playing Baylor at +155 to win this region for a small bet.
Loyola-Chicago vs Georgia Tech
They put two of my favorite teams this year against each other in the first round, and as the 8/9 against Illinois. Major bummer. I would have had Loyola and Georgia Tech upsetting some teams in other scenarios for a Sweet 16 run. However I can’t take them against the Illini who are firing on all cylinders. That being said, this game should be awesome! Georgia Tech puts insane pressure on ball handlers and forces a ton of turnovers. Cameron Krutwig is the quintessential white big guy with slow-ish feet but smart moves and quick releases which allows him to score from multiple angles. Jose Alvarado is my favorite Senior this year behind Kispert, and I like him to lead the Jackets to a victory here. The consensus is that Loyola was disrespected with this seeding, but unfortunately I think this is a nightmare matchup for them, as they don’t have enough ball handlers to crack the pressure for 40 minutes and Georgia Tech will burn them in transition before they can set up their half court lockdown defense. *Moses Wright, Tech’s top scorer and big man, is now out for Georgia Tech due to COVID. The line has moved to -5.5 for Loyola which I do not feel comfortable playing. Loyola should win now, but will still be an entertaining game.*
Clemson vs Rutgers
Many of my friends have texts from me in December and January saying Rutgers is a legit top 10 team. Well…….not so much as it all played out. I don’t really know what happened. BUT Clemson has also fallen from grace just as much. I think Rutgers has the guard play to get past Clemson’s defensive pressure. Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr will come to play and get the job done as long as Myles Johnson doesn’t get in foul trouble early. Take the Knights -1.5
Illinois has the toughest path to the final four, just as they had the toughest end of the season out of anyone finishing with Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan on the road. Well they passed that test with flying colors and should have been awarded the Big 10 Title. They need to go through Oklahoma State and West Virginia/Houston. The way the Illini have been playing, I think they advance and the most popular title game pick in brackets will probably be Gonzaga vs Illinois even though Gonzaga and Baylor were considered to be the 2 above the rest for 90 percent of the season. For my bracket, I’m picking Houston to play the numbers game against the field. I have loved watching this Houston team grow over the years. They play aggressive defense, and are the best rebounding team in the country in my opinion. Just take a look at their practices. Sasser is heating up at the right time and I think they have what it takes for a deep run. Danny, please forgive me. Don’t love the futures odds to win this region so will not be playing anything.
Other Props I Like:
Creighton to make Sweet 16 +140
Texas to make Sweet 16 -115
Oklahoma State to make Sweet 16 +135
Florida State to make Sweet 16 -120
Which team to be eliminated first Baylor or Michigan – Michigan -140
Treasure this tournament, we are lucky to have it. Best of luck everyone!