2021 NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Illinois vs. Drexel (March 19)

2021 NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: Illinois vs. Drexel (March 19) article feature image
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Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Ayo Dosunmu (left) and Trent Frazier (right).

  • Illinois is a massive favorite over Drexel in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
  • The Illini have a massive advantage down low in this game, and shouldn't have much trouble advancing, but we like Drexel to keep it close early.
  • Our staff shares how they're betting this 1 vs. 16 matchup, including that first-half line -- get Shane McNichol's Illinois vs. Drexel pick below.

Illinois vs. Drexel Odds

Illinois Odds -22.5
Drexel Odds +22.5
Moneyline -10000 / +1900
Over/Under 143.5
Time Friday, 1:15 p.m. ET
TV TBS
Odds as of Thursday afternoon and via DraftKings.

Illinois comes into the NCAA Tournament fresh off a dramatic victory to seal the Big Ten Tournament title.

With Ayo Dosunmu back after a facial injury and with a mask now fixed to his face for the remainder of what could be a heroic tournament run, the Illini lineup is one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April.

Their first-round hurdle will come against a Drexel program that has not played in the Big Dance this century, finished sixth in the Colonial Athletic Association in the regular season, and has not beaten a top 150

For obvious reasons, the Illini are slated as massive favorites. Every year, one or more of the 16-seeds hangs around enough to scare their opponent — or at least for long enough to cover. Is Drexel poised to be that kind of team this March?

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Illinois Fighting Illini

Tanner McGrath: Who’s the hottest team in the country entering the NCAA Tournament?

The Illinois Fighting Illini are.

On Jan. 18, Illinois was 9-5 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play. Brad Underwood and Co. are now 23-6 overall, fresh off of a Big Ten Tournament Championship and leaped Michigan on the one-line.

Additionally, Illinois is 6-1 against the spread (ATS) in its last seven games and 11-4 ATS since that Jan. 18 date. The Fighting Illini are a wagon.

Earlier this season, I was very low on Illinois. Illinois relied too heavily on its all-star duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and when those two got shut down, the Illini could easily get burned.

However, the recent play of Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo have made Illinois an entirely different animal. Both players can shoulder a significant amount of ball-handling and scoring, which takes a lot of pressure off of Dosunmu and Cockburn.

The turning point was the blowout win over Michigan. Illinois went into the Crisler Center and beat an 18-1 Michigan team by 23 points without Dosunmu and with Cockburn scoring just 12 points.

All because Frazier and Curbelo combined for 39 points on 15-for-32 shooting. With those two playing at such a high level, it gives Illinois more paths to victory beyond hero ball from its two all-stars.

At this moment, Illinois should be considered as dangerous as Baylor and Gonzaga.

Drexel Dragons

Pat McMahon: Drexel won the wide-open CAA conference to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996.

The Dragons were a six-seed in their own conference tournament but finished the season strong and rolled to three straight victories in Harrisonburg last week to punch their ticket.

They play slow (340th in adjusted tempo) and are at their best when they can control the pace. They will need to shoot it well and keep Illinois out of transition — a tall task — in order to have any prayer against the Illini.

Drexel is a strong-shooting team and has a number of players who can stroke it.

It leads the CAA and ranks 21st nationally in field goal percentage (47.7%) and sits second in the conference in 3-point percentage (37.2%).

Guard Camren Wynter is the Dragons’ best player and leads the team in both scoring and assists and shoots a scintillating 42.5% from 3-point range. He’s been fantastic all season long but faces a huge step up in competition in this tournament.

The Dragons are far less reliable on defense, ranking a lowly 247th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. They particularly struggle inside the arc, giving up 50.4% from 2-point range. Drexel doesn’t have a ton of size, but it does do a nice job on the defensive glass.

The Dragons will need to scrap and claw for every rebound and play just about a perfect game in order to advance past the opening round.

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Illinois vs. Drexel Pick

Shane McNichol: Drexel’s frontline was able to survive in CAA play with high energy, but is not prepared for major conference size. In the Dragon’s only meeting with a power conference foe this season, Pitt bullied Drexel in the paint, shooting 84% inside the arc in that game.

Drexel center James Butler is hard-nosed player who can do some really nice things for a low-major team. Against a behemoth like Kofi Cockburn, he’s outmatched. If Illinois commits to running pick-and-roll — where Drexel’s bigs have struggled all season long — the Illini guards will have no trouble slashing for looks near the rim or opening up jump shots from the perimeter.

With the spread so high, there’s not much value in hoping Illinois can stay that far ahead once the game is out of reach. The better bet here is to hope it takes Illinois a while to find its advantages in the paint, and bet on Drexel to hang around early on.

How do you bet that? I like Drexel in the first half — even up to +7, which can be found as an alternate line at +205 at many books — and either a live bet on the Illini or their team total of over 82.5.

Pick: Drexel 1H Alternate Line +7  (+205) | Illinois Team Total Over 82.5.

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