Finally! After Covid-19 forced the NCAA to cancel March Madness last year, we were deprived of one of the greatest events in all of sports. We did not get our annual 4 frantic days of researching stats, matchups and records, in hopes of getting an edge in our bracket pools. We missed the roller-coaster like days of Round 1 where we feel that our brackets are living and dying when we turn on our TV’s and see a high seed trailing late in the 2nd half. After a long wait, when Round 1 tips off today we will be subjected to that emotional torture that we seem to yearn for once again. So, from all of us at Rahl Reviews, we wish you luck in your pools and hope your brackets survive when the chaos of March Madness inevitably ensues!
^One of my Final Four picks
- BAYLOR BEARS (22-2)^
- HARTFORD HAWKS (15-8)*
Baylor -25.5 / 142
Baylor finished a superb season with only 2 losses on their record. One of which could be blamed on Covid disrupting their season. I do not expect them to add another loss until at least the Elite 8, if they add one at all. They are a clear title contender and are playing in a region full of teams who have been very inconsistent this season. Their tournament play will kick off against Hartford, in what could end up being a slower paced game. I cannot pick against Baylor here, but a lot of long possessions favor the underdog, so be weary of the spread.
Picks: Baylor -25.5 / Under 142
- OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (21-9)
- ORAL ROBERTS GOLDEN EAGLES (16-10)*
Ohio State -17 / 154.5
Ohio State will come into this game having won 3 of their last 4, with the loss being in the Big Ten title game. They have an eFG% of 53.1%, which is 53rd in the nation. They will face Morehead State, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Eagles won their conference despite averaging only 68.1 points per game, 237th in the country. The Buckeyes high-flying offense, led by Duane Washington Jr., should prove too much for the Eagles to handle.
Picks: Ohio State -17 / Under 154.5
- ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (22-6)
- COLGATE RAIDERS (14-1)*
Arkansas -9.5 / 158
I read somewhere that this game is projected to be the fastest paced matchup of the first round. I would say this is a big advantage for the Razorbacks, as Colgate has not seen a team as athletic and explosive as the Razorbacks yet this season. The 9.5-point spread coupled with the lofty total tells me that oddsmakers feel the same. While I do believe Arkansas pulls away in this game, both teams are responsible enough on defense to make this total tough to reach.
Picks: Arkansas -9.5 / Under 158
- PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (18-9)
- NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN (17-9)*
Purdue -8 / 126.5
Purdue closed their season out strong, winning their last 5 regular season games before falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. They will take on a North Texas team who shoots and defends well but are sometimes sloppy with the ball. North Texas also defends well, allowing only 60.6 points per game. They may be out of their depth with the red-hot Boilermakers, however. I expect Purdue to make the most out of their own possessions and pull away in this game.
Picks: Purdue -8 / Over 126.5
- VILLANOVA WILDCATS (16-6)
- WINTHROP EAGLES (23-1)*
Villanova -6.5 / 139.5
This game stands out as a trap for the Wildcats. Villanova did not finish off their season strong, losing 3 of their last 4, including getting bounced by Georgetown in their first game in the Big East tournament. They are to face the Big South Conference champion Winthrop Eagles, who boast a 1-loss record. Winthrop holds their opponents to an eFG% of 49%. This could spell trouble for the Wildcats. So far, bettors are sharing my opinion, as 57% of the money coming in on this game is backing the Eagles. Even if Villanova pulls out a win here, 6.5 points is a nice cushion to fall back on.
Picks: Winthrop +6.5 / Under 139.5
- TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (17-10)
- UTAH STATE AGGIES (20-8)
Texas Tech -4.5 / 132.5
I was surprised when I saw this game opened at 4.5. Sure, this Texas Tech team is not as strong as Chris Beard has had in recent years, but they are disciplined and have enough talent to run away from opponents. Not to mention Beard seems to get the best out of his teams in March. This line surely has a lot to do with Utah State’s defense. Allowing an eFG% of 45.6%, they are 15th in the nation in that category. My knee-jerk reaction was to take the Red Raiders in this spot, but after looking into it, I am going to put my faith in the oddsmakers and hope they are correct in their assessment.
Picks: Utah State +4.5 / Under 132.5
- FLORIDA GATORS (14-9)
- VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (15-6)
Florida -1 / 137.5
Florida is fortunate to be in this position at all after losing Keyontae Johnson early this season. You could make the argument that they are lucky to make the tournament after such a demoralizing loss. Yet here they are, as a 7-seed and 1 point favorite in Round 1. They will face the Hokies, who started the season exceptionally well, but eventually fell off a little bit during ACC play. I like Virginia Tech to win this contest for one reason – they have no problem waking up for big games. The Hokies are undefeated against ranked teams this season, going 4-0 in such games. I expect a good performance from the Hokies against a team whose undisputed leader will not be on the floor.
Picks: Virginia Tech +1 / Over 137.5
- NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (18-10)
- WISCONSIN BADGERS (17-12)
North Carolina -2 / 139
If you had told me prior to the season that North Carolina and Wisconsin would meet in the NCAA Tournament, I would have expected it to be a great Elite 8 matchup. Maybe even a Final Four game. I definitely did not expect it to be an 8/9 matchup in Round 1. At first glance, it would appear that these are two teams trending in opposite directions. The Badgers are 2-6 in their past 8 games, while the Tar Heels are 6-3 in their last 9. However, if you factor in who these teams have played in those spans, things do not look as extreme. Out of Wisconsin’s 6 losses, 4 of those were against Top-5 teams, and 3 of those were decided by 5 points or less. Their other 2 losses also came against Top-25 opponents. Out of North Carolina’s 6 wins, 5 of them were won at home, and only 2 of them came against teams who made it to the Big Dance. For that reason, I like the Badgers to squeeze out a win here.
Picks: Wisconsin +2 / Over 139
- ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (23-6)*^
- DREXEL DRAGONS (12-7)*
Illinois -22.5 / 145
If you recall, Illinois was one of my Final Four picks prior to the season. There is no reason for me to change my mind on that considering the Illini are currently playing their best basketball of the year, even with a banged-up Ayo Dosunmu. The Illini locked up a 1-seed by winning the Big Ten Championship over Ohio State. They will meet the Colonial Champion Drexel Dragons in Round 1. Drexel made a Cinderella run in their conference tournament after finishing 4-5 in conference play during the regular season. I would not expect that run to continue, however, as Illinois will be the Dragons’ first ranked opponent of the season.
Picks: Illinois -22.5 / Under 145
- HOUSTON COUGARS (24-3)*
- CLEVELAND STATE VIKINGS (19-7)*
Houston -19.5 / 135.5
I really do not have much to say here as far as analyzing this game goes. Houston has arguably the best defense in the country. They are #1 in opponent eFG% and #2 in scoring defense. They face a Cleveland State team whose offense ranks in the middle of the pack in those metrics. I look for the Cougars to open this one up early and coast to Round 2 by putting up some big offensive numbers.
Picks: Houston -19.5 / Over 135.5
- WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (18-9)
- MOREHEAD STATE EAGLES (23-7)*
West Virginia -12 / 138
The Mountaineers are one of my dark-horse picks to reach the Final Four, if you can call a 3-seed a dark-horse. Out of all four 3-seeds, I believe the Mountaineers have the easiest path to the Final Four – by far. They will have to get past Morehead State first, however. The Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference with their strong defense. That defense looked rather weak, however, in their games against opponents from major conferences in the regular season. They played 3 such games and lost all 3 by a combined 84 points. To make matters worse, they average over 15 turnovers per game. Look for Press Virginia to come out and feast in this matchup.
Picks: West Virginia -12 / Under 138
- OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (20-8)
- LIBERTY FLAMES (23-5)*
Oklahoma State -9.5 / 146
The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the country. They rode that momentum to the Big 12 title game, where they would fall to Texas. The late emergence of Avery Anderson has given the Cowboys a trio of guards (Cunningham, Likekele) who average over 41 points per game. They take on the Liberty Flames, a sharp shooting team who is 4th in the nation in eFG%. Oklahoma State phenom, Cade Cunningham, has shown the ability to rise to the occasion late in games. This may come in handy in what will most likely be his one and only March Madness appearance, as he will surely be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft this year. I like the Cowboys to advance in a high-scoring game, but Liberty should stay within striking distance throughout the contest.
Picks: Liberty +9.5 / Over 146
- TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (18-8)
- OREGON STATE BEAVERS (17-12)*
Tennessee -8.5 / 134.5
Oregon State managed to steal a bid to the tournament by getting hot and riding a win streak to the PAC-12 title game where they defeated Colorado. To win a conference like the PAC-12, you obviously have to beat a few good teams, but Tennessee is a different animal from what they saw in conference play. Tennessee’s opponents average only 62.3 points per game, good for 20th in the nation. The Vols do have the tendency to go cold from the field, which can get them in trouble, but even if that does happen, I do not believe the Beavers will be able to score enough points against this stingy defense to come out on top.
Picks: Tennessee -8.5 / Under 134.5
- SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS (23-4)*
- SYRACUSE ORANGE (16-9)
San Diego State -2 / 137.5
The Orange managed to get an at-large bid to the Big Dance and will face the Mountain West champions, San Diego State. Both teams run efficient offenses, with San Diego State shooting better from distance. Oddsmakers feel this may be a bit of a trap for the Aztecs, with the line opening at just 2. If a close game is expected, I have to side with the Orange for only one reason – Jim Boeheim. As experienced as any coach, Boeheim was able to milk out a Cinderella Final Four run as a 10-seed in 2016, and then a year later reached the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed. So, my advice is to go with the guy who has been there, done that, and can get his teams to play above expectations.
Picks: Syracuse +2 / Over 137.5
- CLEMSON TIGERS (16-7)
- RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (15-11)
Rutgers -1 / 127
I expect this game to be a sludge-fest. Neither Clemson, nor Rutgers average over 70 points per game. So, if you expect a low-scoring game, why not go with the team who has a better defense? That team would be Rutgers, in my opinion. Even in the daunting Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights only allowed opponents an eFG% of 47.7%. Although it is worth noting that the Tigers give up only 62 points per game, but I believe a lot of that has to do with the ACC having a down year. Not to mention Rutgers opened as the favorite, even though they are the higher seed. That alone is enough for me to like the Scarlet Knights in this spot.
Picks: Rutgers -1 / Under 127
- LOYOLA-CHICAGO RAMBLERS (24-4)*
- GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS (17-8)*
Loyola-Chicago -5.5 / 127.5
The Yellow Jackets shocked the college basketball world when they defeated Florida State to win the ACC. However, they suffered a huge blow when it was announced that their leading scorer and ACC Player of the Year, Moses Wright, would miss their opening game. Though the reason is not known, it is speculation that his absence is Covid related. They will face a red-hot Loyola-Chicago squad who has won 17 of their last 18 games. I am going to keep it simple here and take the Ramblers, as the loss of Wright so close to game-day may be too much to overcome, especially when you open as an underdog before even losing your leading scorer.
Picks: Loyola-Chicago -5.5 / Over 127.5