2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: South Region Betting Angles & Predictions
John E. Moore III/Getty Images. Pictured: Baylor Bears guard Davion Mitchell (45).
You’d think Baylor might be a bit envious of some of the other top seeds with the draw the Bears pulled on Sunday. In large part because no other Big 12 team can be seeded 2-4 in the same region as the top-seeded Bears, Baylor’s quarter of the bracket was flooded with some of the hottest teams in America.
After losing its final four regular-season games, Ohio State stormed to the Big Ten title game, battling Illinois into overtime. Purdue won its last five regular season contests before losing in overtime to Ohio State at the Big Ten Tournament. Arkansas has a claim as the hottest team in the nation, having lost just once since February began.
The Bears are still the rightful favorites to reach the Final Four out of the South Region, but no one could blame you for thinking one of those three could stay hot and knock off Baylor. My gut likes the Hogs to make a run to the Elite Eight and challenge Baylor for a trip to the final weekend of tournament play.
NCAA Tournament: South Region
(1) Baylor vs. (16) Hartford
Hartford is elated to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Hawks can’t be pleased to see Baylor as the first team they’ll face in tournament play. Hartford had the second-most efficient defense in the America East, thanks in large part to leading the conference in forced turnover rate.
Baylor’s experienced guards should have no problem controlling the ball and will find little resistance slashing into the paint against Hartford. Even if Baylor, which thrives behind the 3-point line, has an ice-cold shooting night, it’s impossible to imagine Hartford overcoming the athleticism advantage the Bears will hold. The Hawks only scored above one point per possession in 10 of their 23 games this season. It would be a shock if they came anywhere close to that mark against Baylor.
(8) North Carolina vs. (9) Wisconsin
Two Power-5 teams headed in opposite directions face off with North Carolina taking on Wisconsin. The Tar Heels won three of their last four games, losing a close 69-66 battle to Florida State in the ACC Tournament. Wisconsin sputtered at the end of the regular season, losing five of its last six games. In the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers barely escaped with a one-point win over Penn State before succumbing to Iowa by five points.
The Badgers are a veteran team, but haven’t played well for the majority of the second half of this season. Their size advantage inside will be negated by the trio of Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, and Day-Ron Sharpe. This will be a battle of pace between the up-tempo Tar Heels (45th in tempo per KenPom) and the sloth-like Badgers (326th per KenPom).
(5) Villanova vs. (12) Winthrop
It looks like it is going to be another year of 12 seeds running the first round. Villanova is sliding, due to injury, and Winthrop is just getting started.
Without leader and starting point guard Collin Gillespie for the remainder of the season, it’s hard to say whether or not the Wildcats can take down a stellar Winthrop team that was three points away from being undefeated.
Villanova has dropped its past two games to Providence and Georgetown. Those are not exactly powerhouse teams this year. Realistically, Villanova is overvalued by the committee this year, and it’s not worth a No. 5 seed, considering the current state of this team.
I underestimated the Eagles; they are the real deal. And their triple-threat senior leader, Chandler Vaudrin, gives this team life. He averages 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game and should be considered as one of the most valuable offensive pieces to any team this year. As a matter of fact, he just posted a triple-double against High Point on March 1.
Trust the No. 12 seed Eagles here. They are an extremely talented squad with a knack for closing out games, as their 23-1 record shows. Unfortunately for Villanova, everything has just gone wrong recently. It is incredibly difficult for a team to recover from losing its starting point guard in March.
(4) Purdue vs. (13) North Texas
Purdue is a bit of a sleeper in this tournament.
While it dropped the first game in the Big Ten Tournament to a very talented Ohio State team, Purdue went 5-0 straight up and against the spread in its final five regular season games. Matt Painter has his guys playing well at the right time.
Purdue has an awesome young core paired with veterans, and they all play well together. The Boilermakers were solid at everything this season, finishing fifth in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency.
Plus, the Boilermakers are led by a top-10 player in Trevion Williams. Williams averaged 15.6 points and nine rebounds per game while shooting over 45% from the field this season. He finished seventh in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings.
After dropping its final three regular-season games, North Texas made a miracle run in the C-USA Tournament. The Mean Green won four games in four days to earn their NCAA Tournament berth, upsetting Western Kentucky in a dramatic final.
The Mean Green probably peaked after that run. Therefore, I think this is a good spot to buy low on Purdue and sell high on North Texas.
(6) Texas Tech vs. (11) Utah State
Defense reigns supreme in this matchup between the Red Raiders and Aggies.
Texas Tech ranks 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency while Utah State is even better at eighth-best overall, per KenPom.
Both teams are superb on the boards, with the Aggies led by Mountain West Player of the Year big man Neemias Queta (15.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG). The Red Raiders need a strong offensive effort from guard Mac McClung (15.7 PPG), who is the bellwether of Texas Tech’s offense. As he goes, so do the Red Raiders’ chances.
Texas Tech will be the toughest defensive test the Aggies have faced, but they should find open looks against a Red Raiders defense that allowed Big 12 opponents to make 38.3% of shots from deep, the worst defensive mark in the conference.
This will be a slow, defensive battle, which is in complete contrast from the following matchup against either No. 3 Arkansas or No. 14 Colgate.
(3) Arkansas vs. (14) Colgate
Get your track shoes on for this battle between two of the fastest teams in college basketball. Despite not starting its season until January 2, Colgate earned its invitation with an 11-1 regular season and three-game destruction of the Patriot League Tournament. The Raiders are ranked 25th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, and are the third-best 3-point shooting team (40%) in the country.
Arkansas is one of the few teams that plays faster than the Colgate, ranking 17th overall in adjusted tempo. Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman guided the Razorbacks to a second-place SEC finish, ending the regular season with an eight-game winning streak. Arkansas? Battle-tested. Colgate? A dangerous unknown.
But either way? This game is coming in hot.
(7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia Tech
Many ACC fans didn’t like that Virginia Tech got the 3-seed in the conference tournament after several of its most difficult league games were cancelled during its COVID-19 pause. The NCAA Tournament committee, however, punished the Hokies for their weak strength of schedule, slotting them as a 10-seed with a very tough opening game against the Florida Gators.
Florida is a bad matchup for the Hokies because it can take away what Virginia Tech does best. The Hokies are a good outside shooting team and have a number of offensive options, but Florida defends the 3-point line very well, giving up just 30.5% from deep. The Gators also have a great interior defender in Colin Castleton, who averages over two blocks per game and can contain VT big man Keve Aluma in the post. The Action Network projects a spread of Florida -3.5, and I’d be very comfortable backing the Gators at that number.
(2) Ohio State vs. (15) Oral Roberts
Head coach Chris Holtmann has righted the Buckeyes ship, after Ohio State ended the season with four consecutive losses. The Buckeyes had an impressive Big Ten Tournament run, defeating Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan before losing in overtime to Illinois in the title game.
Their strong finish earned them a No. 2 seed and the right to face the nation’s leading-scorer in Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas (24.2 PPG), who teams up with junior forward Kevin Obanor (18.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG) for a formidable inside-outside duo. The Golden Eagles earned the automatic bid from the Summit League, and balanced an up-tempo style with an improving defense. Ohio State is the superior team, but with the status of forward Kyle Young (concussion) unknown, Abmas and Obanor should absolutely keep Holtmann’s focus throughout the week.