2021 NCAA Tournament First Round Bets: Day 1

Mar 19, 2021
2021 NCAA Tournament First Round Bets: Day 1

We got a small taste of what’s to come in the play-in games, but now we are ready for the real action. Matt Gajewski and I will be alternating days the entire tournament, writing a full article on our favorite bets of the day. On the days we aren’t writing, be sure to check our Twitter feeds (@ConnorAllenNFL and @Matt_Gajewski) or our subscriber-only Discord for our favorite bets of the day. I got off to a hot start in the tournament with Drake Moneyline miraculously cashing after they looked like the worst offensive team in the country for 75% of the game. Somehow they figured it out and put together a nice run to seal the deal.

Before we dive in, a few metrics I’ll cite are from KenPom.com that are important to understand:

  • Adjusted Efficiency Margin: How efficient a team is on offense and defense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.
  • Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: How efficient a team is on offense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.
  • Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: How efficient a team is on defense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.

This key provides a more in-depth explanation.

2021 NCAA Tournament First Round Bets: Day 1

Texas Tech (6) vs. Utah State (11)

Utah State +4 (-108 at DraftKings)

Utah State to Win (+155 Moneyline at DraftKings)

Texas Tech Team Total Under 67.5 (-114 at DraftKings)

Not only do I think Utah State can cover, but that they can also win outright and should stifle Texas Tech. The Aggies rank eighth in adjusted defense nationally, 15th in effective field goal rate allowed, fifth in offensive rebounding rate allowed and seventh in block rate. A lot of their rebounding success comes from 7-foot-0 center Neemias Queta. He presents a big issue for the Red Raiders, whose tallest contributor is Marcus Santos-Silva at 6-foot-7. Texas Tech ranks just 33rd in adjusted offense and 24th in adjusted defense.


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Texas Tech’s 17-10 record looks good on paper, but they were 9-8 in conference play and struggled when playing anyone in the top-50 of KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. All of their losses this season came against such opponents, dropping 10-of-15 games against teams in the top 50. Utah State ranks 40th but they have a strong defense. Texas Tech has routinely scored plenty against teams who play up-tempo and have weak defenses, but this should be a slow grind-it-out game. They have played against just four teams who rank in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency. In those games:

  • Houston (15th-ranked defense): 53 points scored on 35.1% shooting.
  • Abilene Christian (30th-ranked defense): 51 points scored on 27.9% shooting.
  • Kansas twice (6th-ranked defense): 57 points scored on 32.3% shooting in one game, and 61 points on 41.5% shooting in the other game.
  • Oklahoma State twice (22nd-ranked defense): 77 points scored (Overtime) on 40% shooting in one game, and 69 points on 42.4% shooting in the other game.

They scored under 67.5 points in all four games against non-Oklahoma State (41st in tempo) opponents with top-30 defenses. The most similar defense in terms of efficiency is Kansas, and Texas Tech scored just 57 and 61 points against them in two matchups this season.

Both Utah State and Texas Tech also play incredibly slow, with Utah State ranking 153rd in pace and Texas Tech ranking 316th in pace.

I grabbed this at +5 and let our subscribers in the Discord know about it. It’s now sitting at +4 and I’m still willing to play it at that price. I would play the team total down to 66 points and the Moneyline down to +150.

Risk: 1.1 units on Utah State +4 on DraftKings to win 1 unit.

Risk: 1 unit on Utah State Moneyline on DraftKings to win 1.55 units.

Risk: 1.14 units on Texas Tech Team Total Under 67.5 points on DraftKings to win 1 unit.

Arkansas (3) vs. Colgate (14)

Arkansas -8.0 (-111 on DraftKings)

Arkansas drew Colgate, a 14-seed who won 14-of-15 regular-season games. Normally that would be a scary sight for a tournament team but Colgate’s season was a bit different than most. They played just five teams the entire season. Their opponents were:

  • Army (190th in adjusted efficiency margin)
  • Boston University (254th in adjusted efficiency margin)
  • Holy Cross (29th in adjusted efficiency margin)
  • Bucknell (274th in adjusted efficiency margin)
  • Loyola Maryland (210th in adjusted efficiency margin)

The Raiders now square off against Arkansas, a battle-tested SEC team ranked 18th in adjusted efficiency margin. This is like skiing on a bunny hill all day and then randomly deciding to take on a black diamond. Arkansas ranks 35th in adjusted offense, 14th in adjusted defense and 19th in block rate. They play lightning-fast, ranking 17th in adjusted tempo. Colgate also has played fast this season ranking 25th, which could give Arkansas an even bigger advantage. Arkansas has already beaten a top-10 team in Alabama, which ranks ninth in adjusted tempo and is arguably one of the most talented teams in the country.

Colgate could be a decent team, but they lost to a pitiful Army team early in the season and haven’t really been tested against any skilled opponent this year. There is also a huge gap between being a “good” team and knocking off a top-20 team in the NCAA tournament. I’m frankly surprised the spread here is under 10 points, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arkansas win by 20.

Risk: 1.10 units on Arkansas -8.0 on DraftKings to win 1 unit.

Early First Round Bets: Day 2

Oregon (7) vs. VCU (10)

Risk: 1.1 units on Oregon -5 DraftKings (-108) to win 1 unit.

Be on the lookout for Matt Gajewski’s full Day 2 write-up of Round 1 games!

*All lines accurate at the time of publication.


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