With the return of the NCAA Tournament, the Bleacher Fan crew, Jones, Sully and Tommy Buns are back with our picks for every game in the Round of 64. We took every game against the spread if it was available.
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No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 16 Norfolk State
Gonzaga is the No.1 overall seed here and this could be the year the perennial underdog program finally cuts down the nets. Despite being 26-0 this season, the Zags are only 12-12 ATS. However, they are a notoriously good tournament team and are 5-2 ATS in neutral site games and 5-0 ATS in games where they own the advantage in the rest department. While the spread isn’t available at the time of publishing since Norfolk State played Thursday, expect Gonzaga to come out and make an expected statement in Round 1 by covering a spread that will most likely be in the low to mid 20’s.
No. 6 USC vs No. 11 Drake
Drake came away with the win in the play-in game, but it still enters the tournament without its best player, Roman Penn. While Drake ranks top-20 in the nation in offensive efficiency, and top-30 in EFG%, Penn aided in that, and USC has the talent and scheme on the defensive side to cancel that, where the Trojans rank No. 19 in defensive efficiency, No. 11 in opponent EFG% and also dominate on the boards, ranking No. 18 in rebounding. Expect soon-to-be top-5 NBA Draft pick, Evan Mobley, to feast in this one.
No. 3 Kansas vs No. 14 Eastern Washington
The Jayhawks are now owners of the longest streak of tournament appearances. How will they handle their newfound crown? Probably with a shellacking of EW in the first round. Kansas will be without productive big man David McCormack, but that shouldn’t hamper Kansas terribly. Bill Self is 9-5 ATS in the first round in his career. While Kansas can struggle to put up points at times, Eastern Kentucky plays at a high tempo, which should afford both teams more possessions than usual. As long as Kansas can stay solid on the defensive end and not allow second-chance points, they should come away with the cover here. After all, they are No. 6 in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Pick: Kansas -10
No. 1 Michigan vs No. 16 Texas Southern
The Wolverines had a dominant regular season but were taken down by Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney. While they will be without Isaiah Livers, which hurts, they are 5-1 ATS in games with a rest advantage this year. However, Texas Southern is coming off a solid win in the play-in game, riding high, coming in against a well-rested Michigan team, but once who might be on too much rest. We don’t expect Michigan to be upset here by any means, but covering a spread that could be 20-plus points, not as likely.
Pick: Texas Southern
No. 3 Texas vs No. 14 Abilene Christian
Longhorns have legitimate Final Four potential in this bracket with what would be viewed as overrated No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in Michigan and Alabama. Both Texas and Abilene won their respective conference tournaments. Texas however is currently on a 5-0 ATS run. While Abilene has the potential to put some points up with their efficient 3-point shooting, Texas has a really talented roster with multiple first-round NBA Draft picks on it. A team with this much talent and riding this high, all to cover a single digit spread, I’ll take that.
Pick: Texas -9
No. 4 Purdue vs No. 13 North Texas
Expect this one to be a real slow game as both teams rank near the bottom in tempo. Therefore, efficiency will matter much more, and North Texas has some distinct advantages there. North Texas ranks No. 39 in EFG% and No. 32 in 3P%, not to mention on the other side of the ball ranking No. 20 in opponent EFG%. While Purdue has the rebounding advantage, if North Texas can remain as efficient as they’ve been on offense, rebounding will matter less and they can keep this one close.
Pick: North Texas +8
No. 6 Texas Tech vs No. 11 Utah State
This matchup has been a popular upset for pick, and there is merit behind it. I do like Texas Tech to ultimately move on, but Utah State should worry Red Raider fans. Utah State is a really solid defensive team, ranking No. 17 in opponents EFG%, and also could control the tempo in this one with their rebounding, against a Texas Tech team that plays slow and doesn’t;t rebound well. Tech is great at forcing turnovers, so as long as Utah State can do a decent job of taking care of the ball and prevent someone like Mac McClung from exploding, they should keep this one close.
Pick: Utah State +5
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs No. 9 Georgia Tech
Sister Jean makes her return at 101 years old. Throw the numbers out on this one folks. One, because they’re not that compelling on either side, but second, and most importantly, the Ramblers have god on their side.
Pick: Loyola Chicago -5.5
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs No. 13 Liberty
Cade Cuningham is the best player in college basketball (sorry Luka Garza, but it’s true). The presumptive No. 1 pick has lead this Cowboys team to an impressive year, and he’s got a chance to really make his name even bigger in the tournament. You could argue this OK State team could be a three seed, but at the end of the day, Liberty has no answer for Cunningham when he’s playing at or near his best. In a year like this, sometimes that’s all you need.
Pick: Oklahoma State -7.5
No. 3 West Virginia vs Morehead State
It feels like West Virginia is a 3 seed every year. It makes sense, they’re never the most talented, but Bob Huggins is one of the best coaches out there and has tournament experience matched by very few. This Morehead State team plays at a slow tempo, isn’t efficient and turns the ball over a lot. Those characteristics going up against a Bob Huggins coached team nicknamed “Press Virginia” Yeah, good luck gents.
Pick: West Virginia -13
No. 7 Clemson vs No. 10 Rutgers
Rutgers is the high seed here, but also the favorites, so that shows you what the bookmakers think about Clemson. This is Rutgers’ first tournament appearance in decades, so expect them to be juiced up in Round 1. In what amounts to be essentially a pick ’em, ride with the Scarlett Knights.
Pick: Rutgers -1.5
No. 1 Baylor vs No. 16 Hartford
Baylor is the best 3 point shooting team in the country and Hartford is ranked 9th in opponents 3 point percentage, that’s about the only factor here that makes this one interesting. Also the fact Hartford is the Bleacher Fan gang’s alma mater. Another thing to point out is neither team plays a fast game ranking 179 and 269 in tempo. 26 points is just too much here, even for a 1/16 matchup. Baylor advances, but Hartford covers.
Pick: Hartford +26
No. 7 Florida vs No. 10 Virginia Tech
This will probably be one of the best games of the first round. Both teams are so close in a lot of the major categories. One of the glaring differences is Florida ranks 271 in turnovers per game while VT is ranked 67. VT also ranks 25th in offensive rebounds allowed per game. They take care of the ball and they’re going to take care of the Gators.
Pick: Virginia Tech PK
No. 5 Tennessee vs No. 12 Oregon State
Oregon State is 10-1 ATS in their last 11 and they are red hot after winning the PAC-12 Championship. Tennessee is awful against the spread since the beginning of the year, especially as a favorite of more than 7 points, covering at just over a 30% clip. Both teams rank worse than 230 in tempo so this should be a slower-paced game. Gonna play the hot hand here.
Pick: Oregon state +8.5
No. 5 Creighton vs No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
Creighton ranks 15th in the country in effective field goal percentage and 49th in 3 point percentage. UCSB ranks 24th in offensive rebounds allowed, while Creighton comes in at 242. UCSB is also 18-1 straight up in their last 19 games. This is a tough one, but going with the dog here.
Pick: UCSB +7
No. 7 Oregon vs No. 10 VCU
Oregon is the better rebounding team ranking 33rd in offensive rebound per game while VCU is ranked 330th in offensive boards allowed. However, outside of rebounding VCU is elite defensively ranking 23rd in both effective field goal percentage and 3 point % on the defensive side and are ranked 4th in turnover forced per game. This has potential upset written all over it and will likely come down to the wire.
Pick: VCU +5
No. 5 Colorado vs No. 12 Georgetown
Georgetown is another team that is riding high after winning the Big East Championship when they beat another 5 seed, Creighton. Colorado is more experienced and matches up well size-wise with the Hoyas. Georgetown is the better rebounding team by a wide margin, but Colorado has them by an even wider margin in the turnovers per game category. BUT, sometimes you have to go with the hot team, especially in March.
Pick: Georgetown +6.5
No. 7 UConn vs No. 10 Maryland
I’m going to say it, I love UConn in this game. They are 7-2 straight up and ATS in their last 9. Pair that with them ranking 24th in offensive and 25th in defensive efficiency, they are a very solid team. Maryland is 6-5 straight up in their last 11 and rank worse than 250th in quite a few major categories. Huskies all day.
Pick: UConn -3
No. 2 Alabama vs No. 15 Iona
Iona is middle of the pack in pretty much every category, but they are top 25 in defensive effective field goal percentage and 3 point percentage, coming in at 19 and 24 respectively. Unfortunately, Alabama is even better ranking 11th and 7th as well as 10th in forced turnovers per game. Alabama also pushes the pace ranking 9th in tempo. The biggest factor here for me though is Rick Pitino making it back to the tourney, can’t count out one of the greatest college coaches ever. 17 points is just way too much for me.
Pick: Iona +17
No. 8 LSU vs No. 9 St. Bonaventure
The classic 8/9 matchup with a small spread. This should also be a very competitive game. St. Bonnie’s ranks 17th in defensive efficiency and takes care of the ball ranking 37th in turnovers per game. They also rank 59th in offensive rebounds per game and LSU is bottom of the barrel in offensive rebounds allowed ranking 344th. LSU is also reeling after a heartbreaker in the SEC Championship where they lost to Alabama.
Pick: St. Bonaventure +1.5
No. 8 Oklahoma vs No. 9 Missouri
Neither team has been great as of late. Oklahoma is 0-7 ATS in their last 7 and Mizzou is 2-7 in their last 9. Two really average teams here across the board, with neither really excelling at anything outside of Oklahoma ranking 32nd in turnovers per game. Despite all that they match up pretty well and this should be a good game. Going with the only trend that makes sense here and that is underdogs in 8/9 matchups are 26-10-3 in the last 10 years.
Pick: Missouri +1
No. 6 San Diego State vs No. 11 Syracuse
11 seeds are on a 25-15 run historically. SDS is a great 3 point shooting team ranking 26th in the country in 3-point percentage. Too bad they have to face the dreaded 2-3 zone of Syracuse. Syracuse is also 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games. It also feels like Cuse never loses in the round of 64. Gotta go with the gut here.
Pick: Syracuse +3
No. 15 Grand Canyon vs. No.2 Iowa
In March Madness, the public loves to hammer the heavy favorites. 14.5 points for a 2 seed does not seem like much, however, it does not mean it will be an easy cover. You talk to anyone about Iowa they say, “They got Garza bro”. Yes, of course, they do. You know who else knows that? Vegas. Iowa ended the season 5-12 ATS while Grand Canyon covets the 6th best defense in effective field % against and 16th best defensively in field goal %. That helps them match up very well against a great Iowa offense, who also is very subpar defensively. GCU +14.5, lets call it 80-69 Iowa.
Pick: Grand Canyon +14.5
No. 13 Ohio vs. No. 4 Virginia
Virginia just has name value; I mean after all they are the defending NCAA Champions technically since last year’s tourney never happened. But don’t let that fool you, Virginia has still yet to practice due to COVID protocols and we are not sure what player has it. Over a week without practicing against a very underrated Ohio team who is 9-1 ATS in their last 10. Ohio is the real deal and even nearly beat powerhouse Illinois 77-75 earlier this year. This is a recipe for disaster for Virginia, sprinkle some money on Ohio ML but +7.5 is a lock. Ohio wins a close one.
Pick: Ohio +7.5
No. 11 Michigan State vs No. 6 BYU
BYU just isn’t very good. I’m not sure how they are seeded 6th shouldn’t be better than an 8 seed realistically and fully expect MSU or UCLA to win this one regardless of the number. With the points or ML, either team has a clear coaching advantage. Nearly disrespectful they even had to win a play-in game.
No. 13 UNCG +10.5 vs No. 4 Florida State.
UNCG hasn’t been in the tourney since 2018 and even though they may have lost, they did cover and nearly beat a strong Gonzaga team 68-64. UNC Greensboro is one of the best rebounding teams in the country as well as 27th in the least turnovers per game in the country. Comparatively to FSU who is 253rd in turnovers per game, the Spartans should see more than a few extra opportunities. FSU will win the game as they have a much better offense and way more talent, but I expect Greensboro to keep it close and cover the 10.5 number.
Pick: UNCG +10.5
No. 8 UNC -1.5 vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
Honestly, might be one of the few gimmies of this first round. Here we have two teams going in completely different directions. North Carolina started off so poorly they were in jeopardy of not making the tourney and are now winners of 6 of their last 10 compared to Wisconsin who is having trouble staying afloat just 3-7 in their last 10 heading into the tournament. Is neither team great? No. I expect this to be a one-and-done for whoever wins. However, the big advantage is on the glass, UNC is the best rebounding team in the country while Wisconsin isn’t in the top 250.
Pick: UNC -1.5
No. 15 Oral Roberts vs. No. 2 Ohio State
It is very unlikely that big man Kyle Young plays for Ohio State in a game where they shouldn’t need him, but to cover the spread is different. After losing four in a row in February, Ohio State is cooking and nearly beat Illinois in the BIG 10 conference finals. I like Oral Roberts in this one with Ohio state possibly sleeping. Statistically State is not very impressive while Roberts is #1 in the country in free throw % and 9th in 3 point %. Take Oral Roberts to cover.
Pick: Oral Roberts +17
No 14 Colgate vs. No. 3 Arkansas
Arkansas is actually really good, but so too is Colgate. This is a much up of two good hot teams as Arkansas is 9-1 over last 10 and 8-2 ATS. Colgate themselves have won 10 straight and are top 25 in the following categories: effective field goal %, 3 point %, tempo, rebounds per game, turnovers per game, effective field goal % against and 3 point % against. Need I go any further? This is one of those mid majors that very might go on a run if they win this game. Call me crazy I think they can win this game; I’ve never been a believer in the SEC for basketball minus Kentucky teams.
Pick: Colgate +8.5
No. 5 Villanova vs. Winthrop
Ok so everyone loves Winthrop, a trendy dog is never a good one. Everyone will point to Collin Gillespie being out and that is in large part the reason Nova is all the way down to a 5 seed. With him they are at worst a 3 seed, but Winthrop is very overrated and is nowhere near as talented. Jay Wright is a pretty good coach last time I checked as well. Fad the public and take Nova -6.5 to an easy win.
Pick: Villanova -6.5
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel
Normally I love to fade big favorites, but Illinois might be playing better basketball than anyone in the country not named Gonzaga. I don’t care what the spread is I’m taking Illinois to dominate this game with Kofi Cockburn down low and the dazzling Ayo Dosunmu. This team is as talented as any in the country, and they are ranked top 7 in the KenPom rankings on both offense and defense. Illinois by a million.
Pick: Illinois -22
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Cleveland State
Houston is scary good and I’m not sure why they’re still being slept on. Maybe it’s because of the conference they play in or their lack of tourney success but I’m all in on Houston this year. It’s a shame they have Illinois in their bracket, but for this game I don’t see it being remotely close. Houston has won 5 of their last 7 games by 24 + points and beat Cincy by 37 in their conference championship game. Houston is a top ten rebounding team in the country and the #1 team in the country defensively in effective field goal % against. Houston wins by 30 plus.
Pick: Houston -20