March Madness Bracket 2021: Latest Picks and Odds Advice Before 1st-Round Day 1

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2021

March Madness Bracket 2021: Latest Picks and Odds Advice Before 1st-Round Day 1

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    It's been almost two calendar years since we could say this, so let's savor it: March Madness is back.

    Come Thursday night, the 2021 NCAA tournament will tip off with the First Four to start the climb toward crowning the king of men's college basketball. By Friday, we'll have 16 games to devour over Round 1's first full day.

    That's a ton of great basketball to enjoy—and a significant amount of action for the wagering world to tackle. The latter part is what has our attention here, as we've scanned the latest odds over at DraftKings sportsbook and found three bets to our liking.

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1st-Round Odds for Friday

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    No. 7 Florida (-1) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech

    No. 3 Arkansas (-8.5) vs. No. 14 Colgate

    No. 1 Illinois (-22.5) vs. No. 16 Drexel

    No. 6 Texas Tech (-5) vs. No. 11 Utah State

    No. 2 Ohio State (-16.5) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts

    No. 1 Baylor (-26) vs. No. 16 Hartford

    No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech

    No. 5 Tennessee (-7) vs. No. 12 Oregon State

    No. 4 Oklahoma State (-7.5) vs. No. 13 Liberty

    No. 8 North Carolina (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin

    No. 2 Houston (-20) vs. No. 15 Cleveland State

    No. 4 Purdue (-7.5) vs. No. 13 North Texas

    No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers, no line

    No. 6 San Diego State (-2.5) vs. No. 11 Syracuse

    No. 3 West Virginia (-12.5) vs. Morehead State

    No. 5 Villanova (-6.5) vs. Winthrop

No. 4 Oklahoma State (-8) vs. No. 13 Liberty

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    If Oklahoma State's shooters weren't frigid to start the Big 12 championship—misfiring on all of their first-half three-point attempts—the Cowboys could be celebrating a conference tournament title and perhaps holding onto a No. 2 seed.

    Instead, they fell five points shy of the Texas Longhorns (despite Cade Cunningham's 29-point effort) and wound up underseeded at No. 4. It's not just the draw of Cunningham, the No. 1 pick mocked by B/R's Jonathan Wasserman (and almost every other mock-drafter), though that's obviously a big part. The Cowboys can comfortably think they have the best player on the court every time they hit the hardwood.

    But this team has layers to it. Four players averaged between 11.7 and 9.2 points, and the Cowboys claimed the No. 22 spot in's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.

    Liberty won't be an easy out. The Flames are...well, flaming hot, having won 12 straight games—a streak that started in mid-January. Scoring guard Darius McGhee can light it up from anywhere, and he's one of many shot-makers on the roster.

    Saying that, Cunningham is a superstar at this level, and he's enough of a difference-maker to break this game open and give the Cowboys a double-digit victory.

No. 9 Wisconsin (+1.5) vs. No. 8 North Carolina

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Both teams opened this campaign with Top 20 preseason rankings, so the fact that they're meeting in an 8-9 matchup highlights how neither probably feels great about how things played out.

    But Wisconsin was largely weighed down by the absurd depth of the Big Ten. Yes, the Badgers dropped seven of their last 10 outings, but they were basically in the boss battle of a college basketball game. The worst team they lost to in that stretch was fourth-seeded Purdue. Otherwise, it was top-seeded Illinois (twice), top-seeded Michigan and second-seeded Iowa (three times).

    That's a long-winded warning to not write off this team, which KenPom still regards as the 10th-best in the country. Senior guard D'Mitrik Trice boasts takeover scoring ability, and senior forward Micah Potter just oozes efficiency out of his 50.6/37.5/85.7 shooting slash.

    The Tar Heels are big, athletic and relentless on the glass, especially on the offensive end. They're also young and struggle with shooting and turnovers.

    Look for Wisconsin's big edges in experience and ball control to be the difference in what should be a fun, close contest.

No. 11 Syracuse (+2.5) vs. No. 6 San Diego State

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Matchups can mean everything in March, and the Selection Committee did the Aztecs no favor here.

    "Notoriously weak on the defensive glass, Syracuse has drawn an opponent that is merely normal and not mighty on its own offensive boards," Seth Walder and John Gasaway wrote for "Conversely, the Aztecs really want to force you to commit turnovers, but one thing you can say about an inconsistent Orange team with a short bench is that it takes excellent care of the ball."

    In other words, it might be difficult for San Diego State to get to its advantages here. But with Syracuse, it's simple: Get the ball to Buddy Boeheim and let him go to work.

    Catch the junior scoring guard on the right night, and you might even see him make his old man, Orange coach Jim Boeheim, crack a smile. Boeheim is an offensive force. In two ACC tournament games, he needed just 33 field-goal attempts to tally 58 points, splashing 11 of his 20 long-range looks along the way.

    Overall, San Diego State might be the better team, but Syracuse looks better equipped to conquer this specific head-to-head collision.


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