NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2021: Odds, Picks for Sunday's Bracket

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 21, 2021

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2021: Odds, Picks for Sunday's Bracket

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    It's been nearly a week since the 64-team field for this year's NCAA women's basketball tournament was set. Now, it's time for the action to begin.

    On Sunday, 16 first-round matchups will take place. After that, there will be 16 more first-round contests on Monday, which will trim the field to 32 teams. The entire tourney will take place around the San Antonio area because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Among Sunday's slate are matchups featuring the No. 1 seeds: Stanford, UConn, South Carolina and NC State. Each is expected to win big to easily progress into the second round.

    Here's a look at Sunday's schedule, along with odds and picks for each game.

Sunday Schedule, Odds, Picks

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    No. 5 Iowa (-10.5) vs. No. 12 Central Michigan, noon ET, ESPN

    No. 7 Virginia Tech (-2.5) vs. No. 10 Marquette, noon ET, ESPNU

    No. 8 Oklahoma State (-7.5) vs. No. 9 Wake Forest, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 4 Kentucky (-8.5) vs. No. 13 Idaho State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 3 Tennessee (-13.5) vs. No. 14 Middle Tennessee, 2 p.m. ET, ABC

    No. 6 Michigan (-3) vs. No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 1 NC State (-20.5) vs. No. 16 North Carolina A&T, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 2 Baylor (-34.5) vs. No. 15 Jackson State, 4 p.m. ET, ABC

    No. 5 Georgia Tech vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (-4), 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

    No. 8 Syracuse (-4.5) vs. No. 9 South Dakota State, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 1 South Carolina (-32.5) vs. No. 16 Mercer, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 8 Oregon State (-5.5) vs. No. 9 Florida State, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 1 UConn (-41.5) vs. No. 16 High Point, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

    No. 4 West Virginia (-8.5) vs. No. 13 Lehigh, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU

    No. 8 South Florida (-2) vs. No. 9 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

    No. 1 Stanford (-44.5) vs. No. 16 Utah Valley, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN

    Picks in bold against the spread. Odds via Bovada.

Count on the No. 1 Seeds to Be Dominant to Start

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    It's an easy decision to pick all four No. 1 seeds to win in the first round of this year's tournament. And the four teams should win in dominant fashion too, likely by bigger margins than the large spreads they have as heavy favorites against No. 16 seeds.

    Stanford is the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney, has won 14 games in a row and should cruise past Utah Valley. South Carolina (against Mercer) and NC State (against North Carolina A&T) will also likely win handily to advance into the second round.

    UConn is likely to do the same against High Point, with freshman guard Paige Bueckers continuing her impressive campaign. However, it's worth noting that the Huskies will be without longtime coach Geno Auriemma, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss at least the first two rounds of the tournament. Still, this isn't likely to be a challenging matchup for UConn, even in Auriemma's absence.

    There are some strong No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in this year's field. But these No. 1 seeds aren't going to be tested early, so bet on all four first-round matchups to result in blowouts in which they win by numbers larger than the respective spreads.

Marquette Has Potential to Upset Virginia Tech

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    Marquette is 19-6, and it may be even better than that strong record indicates. Of the Golden Eagles' six losses, three came against UConn (including one in the Big East tournament championship game), and it's always a challenge to beat the Huskies.

    Entering the women's NCAA tournament, Marquette has won seven of its past nine games, with both losses coming against UConn. Its most recent loss to a team other than the Huskies came against DePaul on Feb. 7. Despite that, the Golden Eagles are a No. 10 seed and will take on No. 7-seeded Virginia Tech in the opening round.

    It's likely that Marquette is going to play a competitive game and could pull off the upset, as it's only a 2.5-point underdog for the matchup. The Golden Eagles are led by the talented trio of senior guard Selena Lott (14.6 points per game), redshirt senior forward Lauren Van Kleunen (13) and sophomore forward Camryn Taylor (11.8).

    Marquette is having a strong season, and expect that to continue with a win over Virginia Tech to open the tournament. The Hokies will give them a tough matchup—especially if they are hitting three-pointers at the high rate they are capable of—but the Golden Eagles will end up on top.

Florida Gulf Coast Will Score Big Upset over Michigan

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    Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

    Since joining the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2007, Florida Gulf Coast has had plenty of success, leading to a bunch of notable wins over the past decade-plus. However, that hasn't translated to March Madness success for the Eagles. They reached the tournament six times between 2012 and 2019 but have yet to make it past the second round (which they have reached twice).

    But Florida Gulf Coast could be set up to make a tournament run this year. Although it will be an underdog against No. 6-seeded Michigan, it's possible the Eagles will pull off the upset and build some momentum for the rest of the tourney.

    Whether Florida Gulf Coast is victorious could depend on how it fares from behind the arc. It leads the nation in three-point attempts this season (1,001), so it's going to shoot a lot from long range. If the Eagles are efficient (like when they went 14-of-32 in their Atlantic Sun tournament championship game win over Liberty), then they could take down the Wolverines.

    It's worth betting on Florida Gulf Coast, which is 26-2 and has won 25 straight games.