It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's time to widdle down those pencils, crunch those numbers, and lower that productivity level at work so you can take all the time you need to fill out your 2021 March Madness Bracket. If there's one thing the people love, it's a good first round upset. Today, I, along with BBB Hosts Will Tondo and Jake Zimmer, break down our favorite upsets in the first round of March Madness, along with some longshots we think would be fun to pick...if you dare.
#13 Liberty (+375) over #4 Oklahoma State
No major athletic tournament rewards momentum than March Madness, and man, does Liberty currently have momentum. Currently on a 12-game win streak that included an ASUN Tourney win, the Flames have been building a solid resume as an emerging mid-major program. Over the past three years, the Flames have racked up an 82-16 record, which includes an upset win over Mississippi state in the first round of the 2019 Tournament. This first round win came out of a classic NCAA 12 vs. 5 matchup. The Big 12 runner-up OSU is definitely not an easy upset. The Cowboys enter March Madness as the 49th best scoring offense in the country led by projected 2021 first overall pick Cade Cunningham. It’s a huge ask for the Flames to knock these guys down, but I believe in them. I have a serious soft spot for scrappy players like Liberty’s Darius McGhee and Chris Parker. During Liberty’s current win streak, McGhee has scored at least 20-points in half of the 12 wins. If the Flames can get hot early, I think they’ll be able to move on to the second round.
#15 Iona (+1250) over #2 Alabama
Don’t sleep on Rick Pitino. Just don’t. Over the last few years, I feel like we’ve seen a lot more upsets from some of the lower seeds in the first round. While I think it will be a while before we see another UMBC-type team take down a 1-seed, Rick Pitino’s Gaels just might have enough juice in them to take down the Tide. If this was a Duke-Lehigh in 2012 scenario, I’d be a bit more hesitant to say that lightning will strike twice, but again, this is RICK PITINO we’re talking about. After some rough losses in the regular season following a LONG Covid pause, the Gaels cruised through top-seeds Sienna and Fairfield to take the MAAC Championship as a 9-seed. If the Gaels can get Asante Gist and Isaiah Ross hot right from tipoff while staying out of foul trouble, they’ll have a serious chance against the SEC Champs.
#12 Georgetown (+175) over #5 Colorado
When the Madison Square Garden security guards questioned the identity of the Knick Legend Patrick Ewing was, I knew the Hoyas were motivated to win the Big East. They poked the bear, and Georgetown went on a magical conference tourney run as an eight seed. It ended with an absolute routing against Creighton, 67-48 final score. Despite their record (13-12), they are full steam ahead since upsetting Villanova a few weeks prior. Georgetown is averaging 71.4 points per game, while holding opponents to only 70.7 ppg. The difference maker for the matchup is their rebounding, they ranked in 20th in the country with over 40 per game. With Ewing at the helm and the duo of Jahvon Blair and Qudus Webb, I am all for the Hoyas over the Buffaloes. Colorado is only a 5-point favorite, with a deep rotation and slow style of play. Even with that being said, I still feel that Georgetown has the slight advantage and Coach Ewing is ready to keep dancing and cause an uproar of an upset.
Psycho Pick: #14 Colgate (+370) over #3 Arkansas
Is it a psycho pick or just college basketball anarchy? Both Colgate and Arkansas have something in common. They get up and down the court and jack up a ton of 3s. These two teams might be the fastest teams in the country and they are sure to put on the show. Fully healthy, Arkansas is poised to make a deep run with head coach Eric Musselman and all-SEC freshman Moses Moody. The Razorbacks are an efficient team, filled with speed and consistency. Arkansas has been one of the best SEC teams in terms of continual increased productivity in the paint and ball security, especially once Justin Smith returned in January. Up until the SEC semi’s, they were on an impressive 9-game win streak. Arkansas should win this matchup, but they will need to be resilient in forcing turnovers and taking control of the tempo. The Colgate Raiders have the third best 3-point shooting in the country at 40% behind a flurry of shooters and lead by guard Jordan Burns. The 2021 Patriot League Champs finished the season 14-1 and haven’t lost a game since January 3rd against Army. This helped them earn a No.9 NET ranking. The combination of Burns, Nelly Cummings, Jack Ferguson and may be the secret formula for the upset. Don’t let the boys get hot.
#12 Winthrop Eagles (+210) over #5 Villanova Wildcats
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel wasted no time describing how America feels about this game: “It’d be an upset if Villanova beat Winthrop.”
A bleeding Villanova team is about to get exposed by a Winthrop group that has had great success. The Wildcats, who have been decimated by the injury bug over the past few weeks, is missing one of its best players in recent program history in Collin Gillespie. He’ll sit out for the remainder of the year with a torn MCL. With the status of two-way guard Justin Moore (ankle sprain) being unclear for the first round, the Wildcats certainly have some gaps heading into Friday night’s matchup with the red-hot #12 Winthrop Eagles. With its lone loss coming against UNC-Asheville as the second game of a back-to-back, Winthrop hasn’t won by less than 6 points since January 28th. The Eagles are having the best season in program history, by far; the Big South champs cruised to their conference title, beating each of their three opponents by an average of nearly 26 points. Two areas where Winthrop can catch Villanova off guard: rebounding and bench depth. The Eagles have some of the best-rebounding guards in the NCAA - among them is senior Chandler Vaurin, who’s averaged nearly a double-double despite a 6-7 frame. Winthrop’s bench is the highest-scoring in the nation: reserves have averaged 37.1 per game, and had 30 double-figure contributions through 22 games this year.
Psycho Pick: #13 North Texas Mean Green over #4 Purdue Boilermakers
We all like to dream, right? I’m not confident in UNT to run the table here (although I may have included this in a bracket), especially against a Purdue team that went 5-1 in its last six games and took Ohio State to overtime. North Texas is catching steam at the right time; despite some early losses to Arkansas, Mississippi State, and West Virginia, the Mean Green were never humiliated...never losing by more than 15. My hot take of the tournament? Purdue has been playing above their level, and it’ll finally catch up to them when North Texas, who is on a four-game winning streak, picks them off. UNT will have to weaponize their three-point ability (34th in the nation with 37.3% from downtown) and above-average defense from inside the arc (20th in the nation in 2PT defense) if they have a prayer, and you just might have to be a “psycho” to take this one.
What do you think? If you decide to go with one of our Psycho Picks, or have one that you think we missed, let us know on Twitter!