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March Madness 2021: First Round (Friday)

Finally, the madness is back! It felt like forever since Conference Tournaments and then March Madness were cancelled to the Coronavirus, but it has only been a year. Thankfully, thanks to the scientists, doctors, and every other person who has helped with finding a vaccine and the NBA model of a bubble has allowed some sense of normallcy to return in the form of sports. We crowned a champion in every major American Sport and we finally have March Madness back. I will post my bracket at the end of this first article, but let’s get into the first round and first day of games!

*Quick disclaimer: these games are not part of the bracket officially, but I had the Mount, Drake, UCLA, and Norfolk St. in the First Four Games. I did attend the Mount and as for the other games, I believe the success Drake has had will show that they are no longer second fiddle to Wichita St. anymore and that they are a force to be reckoned with. Michigan St. has had a rough season pretty much the entire way and it is a little surprising to see them in the tournament at almost .500. However, they have an opportunity to keep dancing and they will drive them at the start. Unfortunately, UCLA will take over and end the dream run before it starts for the Spartans. Norfolk St. has not been here since it ruined my bracket and everyone else’s when they decided to beat Missouri as a 15 seed nine years ago. I believe they are the real deal when it comes to the First Four and could even provide perhaps 1/2 of a half for Gonzaga before they wake up. *

Florida vs. Virginia Tech

This is the first game of the day and what a game to kick off day 1. A #7 vs. #10 matchup where two teams have battled through inconsitency and Covid respectively. Florida lost their best player Keyontae Johnson early in the season after he collapsed on the court during a game against Florida St. Thankfully, he has recovered, but will not be with the team as a player. The Gators have lost a bit of leadership on the court because of this unfortunate event, and have had an inconsistent season so far. They have a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean here and start fresh in the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia Tech started off red hot, but dealt with Covid issues as they had a total of 7 games cancelled this season, including 5 of their last 8 games. Will there be rust? Possibly, and this is not the time have that, however; they could start out as strong as they did to begin the year and make a nice run in the Tournament.

The line has shifted over the last day or so and the Hokies are now favored by a point. Take the Hokies to win outright.

Colgate vs. Arkansas

This #14 vs. #3 matchup should be an easy win for the Hogs. Not too much to say about this game. Arkansas has had a fantastic season and I have them making a run in the Big Dance this year. Take the Hogs and the -8.5 cover.

Drexel vs. Illinois

#16 vs. #1. Arguably the best team in the country to some. Illinois and they cover.

Utah St. vs. Texas Tech

This game is an interesting #11 vs. #6 matchup. The Red Raiders have been up and down this year and Utah St. is underrated despite having another successful year. The spread is only -4 for TTU, and I can see Utah St. covering that. However, Texas Tech made it to the championship game last year. While I do not have them making it there this year, they still have a lot of core players from that team and I see them hanging on to win this game. Texas Tech to win, but maybe look at the Aggies to cover.

Oral Roberts vs. Ohio St.

#15 vs. #2. While not as improbable as a #16 over a #1, this upset is not happening. Buckeyes win and they cover -16.

Hartford vs. Baylor

#16 vs. #1. Baylor is a 25.5 point favorite. The only question will they cover or only win by 24. I think they are over the Covid issues they had and that rust is gone. I’ve got the Bears and have them covering that giant spread.

Loyola-Chicago vs. Georgia Tech

A very interesting #8 vs. #9 matchup. The Ramblers make their first appearance since that magical run a couple of years ago and Georgia Tech, although some teams had to drop out of the ACC Tournament, won the ACC Tournament this year. We cannot take that away from them. They are the ACC champions and they beat a Florida St. team that many have making a deep run in the tournament this year. The Yellow Jackets are great at forcing turnovers and capitalize on them well. However, they tend to let up on defense a little and if they face a team that can hold on to the ball, it will make it that much harder for them to win. I’ve got the Ramblers in a close one and I’d take them to cover at -5.5.

Oregon St. vs. Tennessee

Halfway through the day! Time to grab dinner and some drinks for the night cap for game #8. An intersting #12 vs. #5 matchup. Tennessee did not end the year the way they wanted to and Oregon St. did by stealing a bid in the tournament by winning the Pac-12 tournament. The Volunteers are favored by 8.5 and I have them winning this game, but I would not be surprised if Oregon St. made it a close game up unitl halftime. That is where their magic runs out and the Vols wake up to win and advance to the Round of 32. Take the Vols, but pass on the points.

Liberty vs. Oklahoma St.

A lot of people have this as the #13 vs. #4 upset. That or Ohio over Virginia. Oklahoma St. did not have a great year up unitl last month when they went on a tear. They beat Oklahoma twice, a team many thought would make the Sweet 16 at least two months ago, West Virginia twice, and even Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament. This team is hot at the right team, and even though Liberty is also playing well, Cade Cunningham is not about to let his team lose in the first round. Oklahoma St. will win this game and they will cover at -7.

Wisconsin vs. North Carolina

This was one of the more difficult games to pick. A #9 vs. #8 matchup, North Carolina was playing very well in the ACC Tournament and for the last 6-7 games of the season. They rebounded much better than they did all year. They looked to be coming into great form after being very inconsistent to bad for the majority of the year. Wisconsin also struggled in conference. However, they played much tougher opponents in the Big 10 overall this year. I am giving them the edge because of that. The Badgers are slight underdogs at +1.5 and +105 moneline. Take the Badgers to cover and win.

Cleveland St. vs. Houston

#15 vs. #2. The only question is, does Houston cover -20. Take the Cougars to win outright, and you can decide the spread.

North Texas vs. Purdue

An intriguing #13 vs. #4 game. North Texas has fantastic guard play from their senior Javion Hamlet, but the rebounding and guard play from Purdue will be the difference. Purdue always has fantastic big men to make a run. Purdue wins and covers at -7.

Rutgers vs. Clemson

Another difficult game to pick here. A #10 vs. #7 matchup with teams that had inconsistent seasons. Both of these teams started out red hot. Rutgers at one point was ranked in the top 10. They proceeded to lose 6 of their next 7 games to bring them back down to earth. Clemson would lose 4 of 5 in the middle of the season before getting back on track only to have terrible losses to end the year against Syracuse and a bad Miami team in the ACC Tournament. Rutgers needs to start this tournament the way they started the season. They have the talent to do so and because of that, I am picking Rutgers to win this game and they are a slight favorite at -2. Take the Scarlet Knights and the points.

Syracuse vs. San Diego St.

An #11 vs. #6 matchup that has more people increasingly wanting to take the Orange over the Aztecs. Buddy Boeheim, son of head coach Jim Boeheim is playing fantastic basketball and had the Orange make a nice run to end the season in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse is famous, as of late, for having an eh season to barley making the tournament, and then deciding to make the Final Four somehow when they have no business being there. Yes, they have a legendary coach and his son his playing well, but I am sticking with this upperclassmen led Aztec team to get the job done and advance. Take the Aztecs and take the -3.

Morehead St. vs. West Virginia

West Virginia has struggled to end the season and this is not the same “Press Virginia” we have seen in the past. However, they do seem more consistent and dangerous on both sides of the ball. I expect them to shake of the rust and win this game pretty easily and to cover at -13. Morehead St. has had a nice run, but there will be no shades of 2011 in 2021.

Winthrop vs. Villanova

The final game of the evening, and my upset pick. Villanova has lost their senior leader and point guard Collin Gillespie to injury late in the season and they have lost 3 of their last four games to end the season after that. Yes, Jay Wright is a fantastic coach and even one of the best, but he has a young team. Winthrop has a bit of an older team and I expect that senior led guard play to carry the day. The Eagles are +6.5 point underdogs and I expect them to win and cover to end what will be a fantastic day 1 of the NCAA Tournament.

As promised, here is my entire bracket for this year’s tournament. Let me know your thoughts and your picks!

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Follow me on Twitter: @CaseyMoninghoff


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