NCAA Tournament Second Round Picks Against the Spread

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn (21) looks at the basket as Drexel’s Camren Wynter (11) and Tim Perry Jr. defend during the first half of a first round NCAA college basketball tournament game Friday, March 19, 2021, at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • The Second Round of March Madness starts on Sunday, March 21, at 12:10 pm ET with Loyola Chicago vs Illinois
  • A handful of double-digit seeds have a very real chance to advance to the tournament’s second weekend
  • Which teams look like the best bets to cover the spread?

The 2021 NCAA Tournament’s Second Round will get underway on Sunday, March 21 when Illinois and Loyola Chicago get things started at 12:10 pm ET. For the first time in tournament history, the second round will extend into Monday, March 22.

The First Round gave us multiple double-digit seeds advancing, several Final Four favorites being pushed to the brink, and ultimately set us up for what should be a tremendous 16-game slate in round two.

NCAA Tournament ATS Picks

Matchup Spread Pick Units Risked
Loyola Chicago Ramblers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Illinois (-7) Illinois (-7) 1
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs. Florida Gators Florida (-8.5) Oral Roberts (+8.5) 1
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oregon State Beavers Oklahoma State (-6) Oklahoma State (-6) 1

Odds as of March 20 at FanDuel.

Pick #1: Illinois Over Loyola Chicago

By this point, you’ve probably heard some variation of “actually, this Loyola team is better than the one that went to the Final Four a few years ago.” If you haven’t, you probably will on Sunday. While that may be an accurate statement, it doesn’t change the fact that on their run, the 2017-18 Ramblers never had to play a team as good as this Illinois squad.

Loyola was terrific in its win over Georgia Tech, but you can’t overstate the significance of the Yellow Jackets playing that game without ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright. Tech raced out to an early lead, but the Ramblers were able to slowly and methodically exploit their opponent’s weakness in the middle on their way to an 11-point win.

Assuming they would have won, it actually would have benefitted Loyola to go up against Wright on Friday. The experience would have come in handy as they prepare for an Illinois team that has a monster inside in Kofi Cockburn. As good as Loyola’s Cameron Krutwig is — and he wasn’t great against Georgia Tech — you simply don’t see players with the size and skill of Cockburn in the Missouri Valley Conference. Of course you also don’t see a guard like National Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu either.

The computers love Loyola and there’s definitely an argument that the Ramblers were under-seeded, but 7 points feels like too small a number against a team as gifted as Illinois.

2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker

Pick #2: Oral Roberts Covers Versus Florida

Oral Roberts is just the ninth 15-seed in NCAA tournament history to win a First Round game. Only one of those previous eight 15-seeds — Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 –was able to win a second game and advance to the tournament’s second weekend. Even if the Golden Eagles aren’t able to spring a second upset in three days, there are plenty of reasons to believe they can keep this one within 8 points.

Here’s the biggest reason: Oral Roberts stunned No. 2 Ohio State on Friday, and it did so without playing anywhere near its best game.

While the threes they did connect on all seemed to be very timely, ORU went just 11-for-35 from beyond the arc against Ohio State, good for 31.4 percent. That’s solidly below their season average of 38.4 percent, which makes them the 13th-best three-point shooting team in the country. The Golden Eagles also missed four free-throws and shot below their season average of 82.4 percent from the free-throw line, which is the best in Division-I, and could wind up being the best in college basketball history.

Oral Roberts is capable of being better in round two than they were in round one. If that happens against a wildly inconsistent Florida team, it stands to reason that the Golden Eagles will be right there in the game’s closing moments.

Pick #3: Oklahoma State Over Oregon State

Oregon State is a fantastic March story. A little over a week ago they were staring down a 16-point deficit against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. A loss there would have been an unremarkable end to an unremarkable season. Instead, the Beavers rallied past the Bruins, claimed the Pac-12’s auto-bid, and on Friday upset Tennessee to claim the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 39 years.

Again, it’s a great story. It won’t help them against Cade Cunningham.

Four of Oregon State’s five starters scored in double figures on Friday, but the story of the afternoon was OSU’s defense. They held Tennessee to its second lowest point total of the season, and forced the Volunteers into a woeful 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from beyond the arc. Considering that Oregon State is 94th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, that performance may have been more about the Vols than the Beavers.

Oklahoma State wasn’t its sharpest self against Liberty, but that performance may have been a blessing in disguise. Any fear that the Cowboys might be looking ahead to a potential Sweet 16 showdown against Illinois should be out the window. They’ll have superior talent at virtually every position, and there’s no doubt they’ll have the most electric player on the floor. That should make for a comfortable enough Second Round win.

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Mike Rutherford

NCAAF NCAAB Sports Writer