March Madness 2021: Bracket Predictions, Odds, Tips for 1st-Round Day 1 Schedule

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2021

March Madness 2021: Bracket Predictions, Odds, Tips for 1st-Round Day 1 Schedule

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    One of the most excruciating waits in all of sports has to be from the moment the bracket is announced on Selection Sunday to when March Madness actually tips off at the end of the week. 

    The first round of action in the men's NCAA tournament is set to start on Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET when Florida and Virginia Tech will officially open the round of 64 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

    Days 1 and 2 of the first round are among the most fun in sports. With non-stop action from around noon until the 9:57 p.m. game comes to an end, it's a basketball fan's dream. 

    From opening statements by the tournament's biggest favorite to the chances of witnessing a buzzer-beating upset, the opening day is must-see TV. 

    Here's a look at the complete schedule for Day 1 of the NCAA tournament, including the latest odds and tips for taking an early lead in your bracket pool. 


Day 1 Schedule and Odds

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    No. 7 Florida (-1) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech, 12:15 p.m. on CBS

    No. 3 Arkansas (-9.5) vs. No. 14 Colgate, 12:45 p.m. on TruTV

    No. 1 Illinois (-22.5) vs. No. 16 Drexel, 1:15 p.m. on TBS

    No. 6 Texas Tech (-5) vs. No. 11 Utah State, 1:45 p.m. on TNT

    No. 2 Ohio State (-16) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts, 3 p.m. on CBS

    No. 1 Baylor (-26) vs. No. 16 Hartford, 3:30 p.m. on TruTV

    No. 8 Loyola-Chicago (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech, 4 p.m. on TBS

    No. 5 Tennessee (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Oregon State, 4:30 p.m. on TNT

    No. 4 Oklahoma State (-9) vs. No. 13 Liberty, 6:25 p.m. on TBS

    No. 8 North Carolina (-2) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin, 7:10 p.m. on CBS

    No. 2 Houston (-20) vs. No. 15 Cleveland State, 7:15 p.m. on TruTV

    No. 4 Purdue (-7.5) vs. No. 13 North Texas, 7:25 p.m. on TNT

    No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers (-1), 9:20 p.m. on TBS

    No. 6 San Diego State (-3) vs. No. 11 Syracuse, 9:40 p.m. on CBS

    No. 3 West Virginia (-12.5) vs. No. 14 Morehead State, 9:50 p.m. on TruTV

    No. 5 Villanova (-6) vs. No. 12 Winthrop, 9:57 p.m. on TNT

    All times ET. Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.

Chalk Up the Top 2 Seeds

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Picking upsets is fun, but if you're serious about winning your bracket, you'd do well to not even look at the matchups and just advance all the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds to the round of 32.

    It's pretty widely known that UMBC's win over Virginia in 2018 is the first and only time a 16-seed has beaten a top seed, but the No. 15 seed defeating a No. 2 is also incredibly rare. 

    According to the numbers compiled by Andy Wittry at, a 15 seed has beaten a No. 2 just eight times in the last 35 years. Of those eight teams, only one advanced to the Sweet 16. 

    So if you're trying to figure out where the inevitable upsets are going to be, it's safe to go ahead and eliminate Drexel, Oral Roberts, Hartford and Cleveland State from Friday's consideration. 

    Two seeds become a little more precarious when the tourney gets to the second round. According to Wittry, one of them will get eliminated on average 1.2 times a tournament by a No. 7 or No. 10 seed, so it's worth keeping an eye on who looks sharp and who may be walking on thin ice. 

    As for the No. 1 seeds, you aren't likely to find out much. They'll each be facing teams who won around 65 percent of their games in inferior conferences. 

Beware of Underdogs Who Can Shoot

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    The variability of outcomes in these games is what drives the madness that makes March fun.

    Some factors that can widen that range of outcomes are rebounding, tempo and shooting. Find a team with the ability to drain the three-ball and you've found a team that could wreak havoc on brackets. 

    Friday's action will see a few of those teams in action. 

    The Arkansas-Colgate matchup is one that is drawing attention early as a potentially high-scoring affair. The Raiders obviously have flaws as a No. 14 seed, but when it comes to their ability to light up a scoreboard, it isn't hard to believe they can cover those flaws for 40 minutes. 

    Colgate has the highest shooting percentage from three outside of Baylor. It has three players shooting above 40 percent and is second in the country in points per game. 

    Liberty is in that group as well. The 13th-seeded Flames will have to find a way to contain Cade Cunningham, but they have a lot of firepower to make things interesting. They are fourth in the nation in effective field-goal percentage.  

    Both are nearly double-digit underdogs, but their shooting alone might be enough to make bettors think twice about just penciling the favorites in. 

Ignore the Seeds in the Middle of the Bracket

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    This is a general piece of advice every year and it would seem like common sense, but there really isn't much difference between the eight and nine seeds or the seven and 10 seeds. That's especially true in the Day 1 matchups. 

    According to Daniel Wilco of, No. 8 seeds actually have a losing record to No. 9 seeds; in 140 games, they've won 68. The split between seventh and 10th seeds is a bit wider, but the average margin of victory for No. 7 seeds is just three points

    Friday's schedule boasts four of these games between closely seeded teams. Rutgers is the only lower-seeded team that is a favorite, but all of the games have a line of fewer than three points. 

    The bottom line is each of these games is a relative toss-up. In some cases, the lower seed is actually the better team when it comes to the metrics. For instance, ninth-seeded Wisconsin is 10th in overall efficiency by while No. 8 North Carolina is 28th. 

    Each of these games requires a deeper dive to make an educated pick. The seeding in these games shouldn't factor in too much.