A safe bet in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament?
It’s going to be tough no matter what, especially in a tournament played during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. This only adds to the unpredictability of the tournament’s first round.
That said, there are some trends among the 68 teams that bettors can take advantage of. Sporting News have found seven first round matches that are among the safest bets, if such a thing is possible.
Safe March Madness chooses against the spread
No.8 North Carolina (-1.5) vs No.9 Wisconsin
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Here’s a stat that matters: Roy Williams is 29-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s a draw game, but the Tar Heels are 6-2 CEP when favored since February, and the Badgers are 2-3-1 CEP as an underdog. The low spread makes this choice easier, but this first round trend is the one to follow.
Take: North Carolina Blankets
No.2 Houston (-20.5) vs. No.15 Cleveland State
Friday, 7:15 p.m.
The Vikings are 7-3 CEP as an underdog this season, and have scored at least 65 points in 12 straight games. The Cougars have won eight games with 20 or more points this season, but the line still looks high in a game where the Vikings can stay in the second half.
Take: Cleveland State
CHANGE ALERT: Top Sleeper Picks for March Madness
No.3 West Virginia (-12.5) vs No.14 Morehead State
Friday, 9:50 p.m.
Trust Bob Huggins in the first round? Well, the Mountaineers have made the Sweet 16 in three of the last four tournaments. Morehead State has been a super dog all season with a 12-3 ATS as an underdog. Look at the three losses. Ohio State, Kentucky and Belmont beat the Eagles by an average of 22 points per game, and Morehead State covered a 15 point loss to Virginia. Look for mountaineers to make a first round statement after an abridged presentation in the Big 12 tournament.
Take: West Virginia Blankets
No. 3 Kansas (-10.5) vs No. 14 East Washington
Saturday, 1:15 p.m.
How can this be a safe choice? The status of the Jayhawks tournament remains murky after the team pulled out of the Big 12 tournament last Friday. Still, Kansas are 6-4 ATS in games where they’ve been favored by double-digit numbers, and that’s the lower of those double-digit spreads. Kansas have won their last four opening games of the tournament averaging 28.5 points per game, and the closest margin is 16 points.
Take: Kansas blankets
No.5 Creighton (-7.5) vs. No.12 UCSB
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Gauchos are a trendy 5-12 upset pick, and for good reason. UCSB has lost just one game since January 1. The Gauchos are 1-1 ATS as an underdog, but they only have one loss of five points or more this season. Even if they lose, it feels like a tight finish. Take value with a team that could win outright.
N ° 2 Alabama (-17) against N ° 15 Iona
Saturday, 4 p.m.
The Crimson Tide are 4-2 ATS this season as a double-digit favorite, and Alabama have covered four of their last six wins. That said, the Gaels have covered five of their last six games and are 2-1 ATS as an underdog this season. Iona won’t win the game, but we’re counting on Rick Pitino’s side to keep it interesting. The line checked half a point, so there is a slight value here.
N ° 3 Texas (-8.5) against N ° 14 Abilene Christian
Saturday, 9:50 p.m.
Abilene Christian is another super dog who is 3-1 ATS as an underdog and will be put to the test to prove it in an as-is game. Despite a less than .500 ATS record, the Longhorns are on a five-game winning streak – and they’ve covered in every game. The line opens at 10 points, so take the value on Texas here.
Take: Texas blankets