2021 NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks, Betting Predictions: Baylor vs. Hartford (March 19)
John E. Moore III/Getty Images. Pictured: Baylor Bears guard Davion Mitchell (45).
- Baylor is a massive favorite over Hartford in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
- The Bears haven't been the same since a COVID shutdown late in the season, and will look to get right in their March Madness opener. The winner will face the winner of North Carolina vs. Wisconsin.
- Get BJ Cunningham's Baylor vs. Hartford pick below.
Baylor vs. Hartford Odds
|Moneyline||-10000 / +1600|
|Time||Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET|
Baylor limped down the finish, losing its only two games of the season after its three-week COVID-19 pause in February.
The Bears lost to both Kansas in Lawrence and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament, showing that they are extremely vulnerable.
However, the Bears have quite a difficult path to get to the Final Four that includes five KenPom top-25 teams in their region. They should be able to cruise past Hartford in the first round, but their road to the Final Four is going to be a difficult one.
Hartford got hot at the right time, winning four straight games in the America East Tournament, including a monster upset over top-seed Vermont.
The Hawks did get a chance to play Connecticut and Villanova in non-conference play, so they’ve at least seen two top-tier programs. They love to bomb it from 3, and they’ll need to hit a lot of them if they are going to hang within the 26.5-point spread.
Tanner McGrath: While Baylor is still clearly the second-best team in the country, it hasn’t been the same since its COVID-19 layoff.
Baylor’s struggles this season have come exclusively on the defensive end. I wrote a more comprehensive article on the Bears’ defensive issues, but to summarize:
The Bears’ rotations simply aren’t there. They’re allowing higher percentage shots at every area of the court while simultaneously getting roasted by guards who can overpower the small Baylor backcourt.
However, Baylor is still explosive offensively. The Bears are first in the country in 3-point percentage (41.8%), third in the country in points per game (84.4) and third in the country in offensive efficiency (per KenPom).
Baylor is led by its three-guard lineup of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. All three average more than 14 points per game with efficiency and are insanely active on the defensive end.
In fact, both Butler and Mitchell are currently averaging two steals per game.
The pre-COVID Bears are an unstoppable force that could probably beat Gonzaga. However, the post-COVID Bears would probably struggle against North Carolina. It’s just about which team shows up for the tournament.
Bears fans should hope Scott Drew has used this time off wisely, because Baylor needs to get back on track.
Tanner McGrath: Hartford plays true “3-and-D” basketball.
The Hawks shoot 23.6 3s per game and then hustle back to the defensive end. On defense, Hartford allows just 63.3 points per game this season, good for 25th in the nation.
John Gallagher and the Hawks earned their first NCAA Tournament berth by shutting down UMass Lowell’s explosive offense in the America East Tournament Championship game. It held the River Hawks to just 50 points on 18-for-61 shooting and 7-for-34 from 3.
While Hartford’s defense is consistent and reliable, the offense is atrocious. Hartford averages just 65.9 points per game, has scored more than 75 points just three times in 23 attempts and ranks eighth in the America East in offensive efficiency.
Because while the Hawks shoot a lot of 3s, they make them at one of the worst rates in the nation. Hartford is shooting just 32.7% from deep this season, good for 225th in the country. More than 35% of the Hawks’ total points come from behind the arc, and they can’t seem to make shots from behind the arc.
Combine that with its inability to get to the line (ninth in the America East and 248th in the country in free-throw rate), and there just isn’t a consistent way for Hartford to score.
Matchup & Betting Analysis
BJ Cunningham: Call me crazy, but I think Hartford can cover this spread.
The Hawks are top-10 nationally guarding the 3-point shot, which is Baylor’s main weapon offensively. They are also in the top 100 in turnover and steal rate nationally and could give Baylor some fits.
Offensively, they jack up a ton of 3s and they’ll probably miss a ton of 3s, but they will go down swinging. Shooting 3s is how teams beat Baylor’s defense, as the Bears rank 179th in 3-point defense nationally, so if the Hawks can get hot, they’ll be able to hang with Baylor.
The Hawks also don’t allow their opponents to get to the free-throw line at a high level, which is an area Baylor struggles offensively.
Hartford is the highest-rated team of the 16 seeds, according to KenPom, so Baylor got the short end of the straw in the first round.
The Bears are most likely going to blow out Hartford, but the DNA of Hawks’ defense matches up well with Baylor.
Hartford also has a guard by the name of Traci Carter, an outstanding shut-down defender who will likely be guarding Jared Butler all game. Carter has the third-highest steal rate in the country, so if he can shut down Butler, it’ll no doubt give the Hawks a better chance to win.
The key for Hartford to stay in this game is 3-point shooting.
I have Baylor projected as a -21.04 favorite, so I think you’re getting good value on Hartford at +26.
Pick: Hartford +26 (down to +25).