16 Things to Consider Before Filling Out Your NCAA Tournament Bracket, According to Betting Experts

Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN analyst Greg Peterson offer their thoughts

March 18, 2021 5:59 am
Michael Jordan in this UNC Days
An NCAA bracket along with a look at ex-Tar Heel Michael Jordan sinking a shot to win the national championship.
Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty/InsideHook

With more states cleared for legal betting than ever before and anticipation at an all-time high due to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19, the Madness this March is going to be crazy.

And while the odds of nailing a perfect bracket are just one in 120.2 billion, millions of Americans are going to fill one out anyway. We’re guessing that if you are reading this, you are gonna be one of ’em.

That being the case, we consulted sports wagering experts Chris Altruda of PennBets.com, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN analyst Greg Peterson to get some pro tips about Cinderella teams, potential first-round upsets and how to prevent your bracket from busting early this year.

Here, in no particular order, are 16 sweet pieces of expert advice to consider for your bracket.

No. 1 — Drake Could Pull an Upset: “Drake may be the First Four team with the best chance to advance given a potential matchup versus No. 6 Southern Cal,” Altruda says. “The Bulldogs have an upperclassmen-led team and a highly efficient offense. They match up favorably with Wichita State in the First Four. Though Drake lacks NCAA Tournament experience, they have played together for years. Cohesion means something come March. They will not get run off the court.”

No. 2 — The Clemson Tigers Lack Claws: “Clemson as a No. 7 seed is a complete and utter joke,” Peterson says. “This is a team that I just have not been impressed by all season long. I felt like they should probably have been a double-digit seed, personally. There’s nothing about this team that really screams out the fact they warrant a No. 7 seed. They played well in the non-conference portion of the season, but really hit the skids in ACC play.”

No. 3 — The Hoyas Are Peaking at the Right Time: “I believe Georgetown could certainly pull the upset on Colorado,” Gable says. “They’ve been on fire since they came back from their COVID-19 pause. I think they’ve only lost two games and have just been playing so much better [Ed. note: Georgetown was 10-4 after returning from a four-game COVID-19 postponement). Their defensive intensity has picked up and they’ve also been playing much more under control. They’re not turning the ball over nearly as much as they did at the beginning of the season, which was really the Achilles heel that was holding them back. You saw that all click in the Big East tournament, when they blew out Creighton in the final.”

Kofi Cockburn of Illnois
Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn celebrates after a score.
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty

No. 4 — Kofi Cockburn Is Ready for Primetime: “I think Illinois has the chops to be able to make a run to the national title game. I really like what I saw out of them recently on the way to winning the Big Ten title,” Peterson says. “I think they’ve got the most unstoppable force in college basketball right now in Kofi Cockburn. He just cannot be moved off the post and there’s really nobody that matches up with him too well because he’s got so much size. He’s got such great footwork in the post, which is a little bit of a lost art in college basketball. He’s a little bit of a throwback to that more tried-and-true big man. I think he is really going to leave his imprint on college basketball.”

No. 5 — The Orange May Have the Aztecs Seeing Red: “I think Syracuse has a perfect draw to reach the regional final, which is somewhat stunning considering the Orange did precious little to warrant even inclusion in the field, let alone avoid the First Four,” Altruda says. “San Diego State may be a good team, but the Mountain West was not all that great and could be the team most overseeded. Syracuse has its flaws, but if it survives the Aztecs it would likely face a West Virginia team that is uncharacteristically reliant on perimeter offense compared to years past —  and the Orange’s length in their 2-3 zone could completely mess that up.”

No. 6 — Don’t Bank on BYU: “Whichever team winds up making it out of that Michigan State-UCLA game will certainly have a good chance to pull off an upset,” Peterson says. “They’ll be going up against a BYU team that, quite frankly, I do not feel should be a No. 6 seed. I don’t think much of their chances of being able to make a deep run because Matt Haarms has not been able to step up for them so far this year. Having to go up against a team like Michigan State that has a lot of versatility and a lot of size or a UCLA team that can put the clamps down on you on defense … I think either team is going to be able to knock out BYU.”

Gonzaga players celebrating
Gonzaga players celebrate during the championship game of the men’s West Coast Conference basketball tournament.
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty

No. 7— The Zags Are Worthy of the Top Overall Seed: “Gonzaga is still the team to beat because the Bulldogs can roll up 120 points on a given night if they’re shooting well. No team in this field has that type of offensive ceiling and the Zags also can turn the screws defensively,” Altruda says. “In some ways, they’re the offensive version of the 1989-90 UNLV team that won it all. Gonzaga’s offense speeds you up trying to be more efficient to keep up and then it snowballs out of control. It would be stunning if Gonzaga did not reach the Final Four, especially considering it owns wins over the Nos. 2, 3, and 4 seed in its own region.”

No. 8 — Bail on Baylor: “I don’t see them losing in the first round, but something just hasn’t been right with that program since they came back from their COVID-19 pause,” Gable says. “They seemed to right the ship for a game or two, but then they got bounced in the Big 12 tournament. They just have not been playing like they did pre-COVID. They were clicking on all cylinders prior to that, but they haven’t gotten that swagger back. I would say it’s either going to be Michigan or Baylor that gets eliminated first of the four No. 1 seeds.”

No. 9 — The Seminoles May Be Wearing Slippers: “I’m partial to Florida State [as a Cinderella team]. The Seminoles have a winnable region, a No. 1 seed (Michigan) without a key contributor and rarely beat themselves,” Altruda says. “They have an improved perimeter offense without relying on one outside shooter. They have plenty of second-weekend experience from 2018 and 2019 and they have size throughout the nine-man rotation coach Leonard Hamilton uses. They are long in size, long in defensive length and just plain long. FSU is the embodiment of the phrase ‘grown-ass men’ because its starting five has NBA-type size.”

Kevin Obanor of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Kevin Obanor of Oral Roberts scrambles for a loose ball.
Sam Wasson/Getty

No. 10 — Pass the Buck on the Buckeyes: “I could potentially see Oral Roberts, the 15th seed, being able to knock out Ohio State,” Peterson says. “Oral Roberts has the top-scoring duo in all of college basketball in Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor. They combine for over 42 points per game. They beat all of college basketball when it comes to free-throw shooting percentage. This is an Ohio State team that ranks towards the middle half of the country when it comes to points given up on a per-possession basis. They have not been doing a great job on defense. I think Oral Roberts is very viable against Ohio State.”

No. 11 — The Baders and Trojans Are True Wild Cards: “Wisconsin is a feast-or-famine team,” Altruda says. “They should beat North Carolina in the first round and could give Baylor all sorts of issues in the round of 32, or the Tar Heels could run them right out of Indiana in the 8-9 matchup. Southern Cal is another team with no middle ground. They could lose to the First Four survivor or reach the regional final and neither scenario would be surprising.”

No. 12 — Creighton Could Crater: “In their last two games, Creighton got blown out by Georgetown and failed to hit 60 points when they beat UConn,” Gable says. “There just isn’t much going right for that program. They had that controversy around their coach and his plantation comments, so you don’t really know where their heads are at. [Their first-round opponent] UC Santa Barbara is a very, very good program. Not many people know about them, but they won their conference tournament, the regular season and they have a legitimate NBA player on their squad. They’re going to give Creighton everything they can handle. I could certainly see Santa Barbara getting to the Sweet 16. I certainly think they have the ability to do it.”

The Colgate Raiders huddle
The Colgate Raiders huddle before a game against American.
Mitchell Layton/Getty

No. 13 — Colgate Could Remain in the Tube vs. Arkansas: “While everyone will be entertained when Arkansas plays Colgate since both teams play at breakneck, uptempo speed, the Razorbacks could conceivably win that game by 40 and/or score 110 points,” Altruda says. “The Red Raiders are a nice story out of the Patriot League, but they have not faced anyone near the caliber of Arkansas, which scored 80 or more points in five wins over teams in the field of 68.”

No. 14 — The Oregon Ducks Are Poised for Flight: “As a No. 7 seed, I think Oregon is a team that has the potential to reach the Elite Eight. They’re going to be healthy at just the right time,” Peterson says. “Will Richardson wound up shooting 45% from three-point range last season. He didn’t play until the middle of the Pac-12 tournament, so getting him back is big. We’ve seen it with coach Dana Altman time and time again. He seems to always get his teams peaking in March. They did it in 2016 without Chris Boucher and made the Final Four. In 2019, they had to win the Pac-12 tournament just to make the NCAA tournament. Then from there, they went to the Sweet 16 and very nearly took down the eventual national title winner in Virginia.”

No. 15 — Upsets Come Down to Matchups: “The challenge is to look for lower-seeded teams that do things at an elite level in areas where higher-seeded teams struggle,” Altruda says. “Is a team that is very efficient offensively facing a team that struggles to keep opponents off the glass? Does a team that turns the ball over at a high rate face a team that forces an above-average amount of turnovers defensively? Offense matters in NCAA tournament games, but a close second is extra possessions.”

No. 16 — Bide Your Time With Your Bracket: “A big thing to keep in mind this year is to take a little bit more time before filling out your bracket,” Peterson says. “Know exactly what time the deadline is to file it is, because there are going to be more last-second injuries and more guys that are going to be ruled out with COVID-19. So take the full amount of time before hitting send on that bracket. That way, you have as much information as humanly possible before you wind up filling it out.”

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