Photo Cred: elderresearch.com
Yes! Two years I’ve waited for this moment...March Madness is back!!
For those of you who follow me on Twitter (mbarrera1323), you know I am a College Basketball Junkie! Whether it’s Michigan or Washington State, I cannot get enough of the NCAA. With that said, this is by far my favorite sporting event, and it is my pleasure to breakdown this year's bracket for All About the Birds! I will be touching on a few teams here, as well as sprinkling in some of my gambling tidbits along the way. Over the last 4 weeks (since 2/16) I am 65% (66-35-2) on CBB bets. I certainly entered this tournament on a good note!
Let’s get to It.
If you watched any CBB this year, then you know that the top two teams in the country were Gonzaga and Baylor. The Zags enter the tourney as undefeated WCC champs. Additionally, Jalen Suggs is an elite guard with a certain future in the NBA. Baylor did stumble slightly out of their Covid shutdown, but the Bears shouldn’t be taken lightly. They play in arguably the toughest conference in the nation, and Jared Butler, similar to Suggs, is a joy to watch. What makes both teams special is their uncanny ability to “turn It on” when needed. There are arguments for who is the third/fourth best teams in the country, but Zags and the Bears are clearly top 2.
My Number 3 - Fighting Illini
If Luka Garza wasn’t dominating this year, I think there would be a stronger case that Ayo Dosunmu is the Big Ten player of the year. Ayo was really playing well up until his recent injury, but Illinois didn’t skip a beat. They beat Wisconsin and Michigan without him, and then handled OSU when he returned. Kofi Cockburn is also a monster inside, and the Fighting Illini are entering the Tourney playing very well. They’ve had a few moments of concern early on, but Illinois should certainly be a team to fear. I think they could make the Final Four, if not the Title game.
Every year we look for that next “Kemba Walker” to come in and steal the show. The first name that should come to mind is Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State. The projected #1 pick and Big12 player of the year led the Cowboys to an impressive season, as they fought punch for punch with their conference foes. They’ve also had a strong run in the Conference Tournament and knocked off top-seeded Baylor. Besides Cunningham, Issac Likekele is another elite talent for OK State who can compliment Cade on any given night. On a betting note, this team thrives as an underdog, as they are 75% ATS as dogs, but 63% overall. I cannot wait to see how far this group can go!
Tournament games are often times decided by a couple of points. When that’s the case, being efficient at the fundamentals is crucial. One in particular is Free Throw shooting. I have been a vocal supporter of the Colorado Buffs all year, and it’s no surprise I mention them now. CU is 2nd the nation in FT% at 82.2%, but they’re not just great from the line. Their Senior Guard McKinley IV is First Team All-Pac12, and Evan Battey can bully his way in the paint. I know the Pac12 isn’t an elite conference, but Colorado has performed well and are 15th in NET rankings. I’ll continue to back this squad, even after a tough loss in the Conference Title game.
Let’s get to the sports betting side of things. ATS or (Against the Spread) record is an important stat when figuring out how to bet. Some teams may be winning games outright, but not be covering. Same can be said with a losing team that can’t cover. Regardless, 1 team with a great ATS percentage is UConn (76.2%). Hurley’s Huskies are led by sophomore guard James Bouknight. He was out for a short while during the season (he always seems to be a little banged up), but his return gave UConn an immediate shot in the arm. Bouknight has a solid supporting cast around him, and the Huskies should keep It close with any squad.
Honorable mentions here for ATS leaders are St. Bonaventure and Abilene Christian, both of which are 72% or better. Prairie View A&M is also above 70% ATS, but their loss in the Conference Title game may leave them out of the dance. We'll wait and see on that one!
Giant Killer - Winthrop
The Winthrop Eagles were 23-1 and very clearly the best team in the Big South. That said, don’t be surprised if the Conference Champs make some noise next weekend. Players like Chandler Vaudrin can drop a triple double any night, and DJ Burns Jr. is a great post presence. This team has depth, they have scorers, and they can get hot from behind the arc. Matchups are key in a tournament setting, but Winthrop can beat you from anywhere on the floor. Watch out for the Eagles, especially against a tough opponent. They are 3-0 ATS when playing as an underdog this year.
New Norm - Loyola Chicago
God I love this Rambler squad. The MVC Champs are 10th in NET rankings and are arguably better on paper than their 2018 Final Four team. Senior big man Cameron Krutwig is a wrecking ball down low, and I’ve watched this defense suffocate their opponents at will. This team is well coached, has depth across the board, and will give any team a run for their money. Very curious to see how high the Ramblers are seeded!
Overrated - Wisconsin
I’ve watched the Big Ten all year, and one team I can’t stand is the Wisconsin Badgers. They’ve got a mediocre record vs Q-1 opponents, and they’ve struggled to really get anything going after being humiliated by Michigan earlier in the year. Lastly, they’ve been below average at covering the spread (44.4%), so taking them from a betting perspective is a no as well. Good luck if you back the Badgers, I know I’m done doing so.
Dark Horse - Missouri
Initially, I was going to make this West Virginia, but their recent losses give me concern that they’re running out of steam entering March. So let’s talk the Missouri Tigers. Mizzou has beaten Oregon, Wichita State, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama. That said, they’ve also had some questionable losses. They’re a team that could beat anybody, but also struggle vs a team that’s beneath them. As of 3/12, they are +6500 to win the title, so it’s worth a Future play if you think this team can put It together for a run. I don’t know how far the Tigers will go, but the Jeremiah Tilmon led team can compete with anyone.
Local Boys - Drexel and Nova
Ah yes, our Philly favorites will be represented this year. Let’s start with Nova, who is quite literally limping into the postseason. Losing their leader Gillespie has visibly affected the squads ability to compete for a title. Even before he went down, Nova wasn’t exactly having a spectacular year. Yes, they were winning, but this wasn’t a top level squad that Wright has had in the past. Tough to believe Nova makes It past the first weekend. Don’t just pick them blindly, you’ve been warned!
Onto the Drexel Dragons. Yup, you heard me correctly. The Drexel Dragons will be dancing this March! This offensive minded group reached the CAA conference title game, where they took down a streaking Elon squad. Drexel covers the spread fairly well (70.6%, and 71.4% as an underdog), and they shoot at a solid level from the charity stripe. They also went 58% from 3 in the conference title game, so this is certainly a team that can score. Will they be able to advance? Not sure, but it’s sure fun to see Drexel back in the dance after 2 decades! Keep an eye out for their matchup, if it’s a weak defensive squad, may be curious to check the lines.
Adam Mack’s Cinderella: Cleveland State
Fellow All About The Birds Writer Adam Mack is picking his alumni for this year's Cinderella, so let’s see what the Vikings are all about. To start, this group thrives off their physicality, grit, and attention to defense. Per Cleveland.com, the Vikings are 1st in defending the 3, 1st in turnovers forced, 2nd in points allowed, 2nd in overall defensive field goal percentage, and 2nd in steals (all in the Horizon League). Furthermore, history sits on Cleveland State's side. The Vikings have made the NCAA Tournament twice prior to this season. once in 1986, and then again in 2009. Fun Fact, they won their first round games in both appearances. Can the Vikings keep that streak alive and knock off a big name in the tourney? This group may be overlooked, but they're ready to prove doubters wrong.
My Cinderallas - Georgia Tech and Abilene Christian
Hard to say that the ACC Conference Champs are a Cinderella choice, but Georgia Tech just won their first conference tournament title since 1993! In a year where the ACC has been somewhat average, Georgia Tech quietly climbed the ranks into relevancy. The Yellow Jackets haven't lost since February 12th, when they fell to Clemson by 2. G Tech has now ripped off eight straight wins, with their most impressive win being last night vs title contender Florida State. I don't know how far this Yellow Jackets team can go, but getting hot in March is sometimes all it takes to advance.
Abilene Christian - Yeah, most of you probably don't know who they are, but the 23-4 Southland Champs are a force. Let's start from the betting side of things. This team is 73.9% ATS this year, and 75% ATS when playing as an underdog. How is this team doing so well? First off, the Wildcats can put up numbers, and are averaging 77 points per game. This is not their identity though, because the Wildcats are an elite defensive team. Per reporternews.com, this group is ranked 8th in the nation in scoring defense, as they only give up 60.7 points per game. ACU has also forced 20.64 turnovers a game, which is the most in the nation. Finally, Reggie Miller (their senior guard) has 51 steals, which places him 29th in the entire country. That's right, these aren't just conference numbers. The Wildcats are among the best in the country at playing D. I'm not sure where the committee will place ACU, but I feel bad for any offensive unit that has to go against this tenacious defense.
End of the Day
Strong guard play is a staple of March, and having a senior squad can certainly be crucial when handling the spotlight. That said, what makes this tournament so great is the unpredictability. So have fun with your selections, make a bunch of brackets, and enjoy every game as best you can!
I’ll be posting my bracket on Twitter!
- Mike Barrera