First Round March Madness Upset Picks

Alan Griffin Syracuse Orange

Syracuse’s Alan Griffin (0) celebrates after hitting a three-pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

  • Hoya Paranoia is back โ€” Georgetown is a solid underdog play in the NCAA first round
  • Look for VCU, Ohio and (of course) Syracuse to make a competitive showing
  • Check out the odds, analysis, and betting predictions, below

Georgetown (13-12) is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first since 2015 by winning four games in four days in the Big East tournament, and their only close call was a 72-71 victory over Villanova in the quarterfinals. The Hoyas have found a groove.

Atlantic 10 at-large invitee VCU (19-7) arrives from a conference that is consistently undervalued at tournament time.

Also undervalued is at-large Syracuse (16-9), which seems to sneak into the field only to create problems with its matchup zone defense.

NCAA First Round Upset Picks

Matchup Spread Moneyline Pick Units
Georgetown Hoyas vs Colorado Buffaloes COLO -4.5 +180 Hoyas 2
VCU Rams vs Oregon Ducks ORE -5.5 +350 Rams 2
Ohio Bobcats vs Virginia Cavaliers UVA -7 +194 Bobcats 1
Syracuse Orange vs San Diego State Aztecs SD -3 +136 Orange 1

Odds taken March 17 from DraftKings and FanDuel.

The Hoyasโ€™ Pause That Refreshed

It began as a tough year. East No. 12 seed Georgetown lost five transfers before the season started and suffered a five-game losing streak in late December and early January. Then came a three-week program pause for Covid-19 reasons.

After the break, coach Patrick Ewing inserted senior Chudier Bile into the starting lineup and moved leading scorer Jahvon Blair to sixth man, giving the Hoyas the tweak they needed. They are 10-4 since the stoppage, 11-3 ATS. They also are 10-2 straight up (and 9-3 ATS) in the last 12, the only losses to UConn.

Georgetown held five of its last eight opponents toย  up 60 points or fewer to five of its last eight opponents, and the Hoyas enter the NCAA Tournament with plenty of belief after a 73-48 drubbing of Creighton in the Big East title game in which they held the Bluejays to 28.8% percent shooting from the field. They have a plus-5.1 rebound margin this season.

Point guard McKinley Wright IV is Coloradoโ€™s principle threat, and Hoyasโ€™ defense-oriented freshman guard Dante Harris could get that assignment.

March Madness Final Four Odds Tracker

โ€˜Bonesโ€™ and the Rams

No. 10 seed VCU has one of the best players in the NCAA West Region โ€“ Nahโ€™Shon โ€˜Bones Hyland โ€“ although he will be overshadowed in the region by Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs and USC freshman Evan Mobley, both of whom are projected to be top-five picks in the NBA draft.

Hyland, a 6โ€™3 sophomore combo guard, was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year while averaging 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He leads the league in scoring and has made a league-best 67 three-pointers.

The Rams have won nine of their last 12, but in two of the losses Hyland (sprained right foot) did not play or played sparingly. Hyland had a 30-and-10 double-double when he returned for the first game of the A10 Tournament. VCU is 12th at KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency.

This is also a form play. A10 teams have won at least one game in 13 of the last 14 NCAA Tournaments and have won at least two games in ten of those years, often as a low seed. Oregon has a strong postseason record, but this does not appear to be a vintage Ducksโ€™ team.

March Madness Final Four Odds Tracker

Syracuse Likes This Spot

Midwest No. 11 seed Syracuse has been in and out of recent NCAA Tournaments, making the field three times in the last five seasons. But when it makes the dance, it can be hard to beat.

The Orange has won its first game in seven of its last eight NCAA appearances, the only loss coming against Baylor in 2019. Syracuse won three games as a No. 11 seed in 2018 and four games as No. 10 seed in 2016. Included are victories against higher seeds Virginia and Michigan State (2018) and Duke (2016).

Outside shooters Buddy Boeheim (17.1 points, 63 three-pointers) and Alan Griffin (14.7, 55 threes) and Syracuse counter its minus-2.0 rebound margin. The โ€˜Cuse is holding opponents to 42.5% from the field.

San Diego State is one of the best defensive teams in the field, holding foes to 38.7% shooting and 60.6 points, but its offense has been problematic.

Yes, Virginia, It Is a Challenge

Ohio has won and covered nine of its last 10 games, and it played No. 1 seed Illinois within two points in November loss in Champaign. Virginia has been streaky, losing three in a row before recovering to win three in a row until quitting the ACC tournament because of Covid-19 issues.

Ohio leading scorer James Preston had 31 pints against Illinois, and the Bobcats followed that gave with a 55-point victory over Horizon League champion and NCAA entrant Cleveland State. Ohio set an NCAA Division I record with a 40-0 scoring run that spanned both halves.

Ohio has five double-figure scorers and is No. 18 in Division I with 48.9 field goal percentage. Virginia will be playing its first game since a coronavirus stoppage.

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Jack Magruder

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