Everybody wants to win their March Madness group of groups, but if you can’t take home the grand prize, the next most rewarding thing is to call in a surprise in the first round. Even if you pick 10 losers for the second round and only one advances, you can still gloat over that pick every March for the next decade. Obviously bragging rights increase as the seed increases, but even announcing a 7-10 upset at the NCAA Tournament feels like an achievement.
Simply put, it is more fun to spot annoyances. If you stare at your parentheses long enough, you can convince yourself that almost every game is a release. Of course, the highest seed is much more likely to win in the first round, but taking a chance with some bold picks is what March Madness is all about.
How do you decide which losers to pull the trigger on? There are a variety of ways, from looking at advanced statistics to listening to the experts and just guessing, but one underused method is looking at the Las Vegas odds.
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You often hear some variation of “Vegas knows something we don’t” when people talk about games. That generally refers to a point spread being smaller or larger than expected. If two seemingly disparate teams have only a three-point margin, that usually tells you that Vegas thinks the game will be relatively close. That doesn’t always happen, of course, the top-seeded Virginia was a 20.5-point favorite over the 16-seeded UMBC in 2018, but it’s still a useful tool when looking for unexpected options.
With that in mind, here are some of the most notable point spreads for double-digit seeds, starting with the only double-digit favorite, Rutgers.
MORE: Get Your NCAA Tournament Bracket Printable Here
Annoying March Madness 2021 predictions
Odds courtesy of FanDuel sports betting
No. 10 RUTGERS (-1) vs. No. 7 Clemson
A 10 seed beating a 7 seed isn’t really a huge surprise, but it still feels like one when you look at your group and see a double digit seed in the second round (or beyond). It’s no surprise that Rutgers is the favorite, as both teams are in the “mediocre” field, at least when it comes to tournament teams. The Scarlet Knights are ranked 34th in kenpom.com compared to Clemson at age 42, and TeamRankings has Rutgers a little higher in their power ratings.
Overall, this is pretty far-fetched, but given the likelihood of more people choosing the 7-seeded than the 10, it’s a rare situation where it’s worth going for the favorite. You can read more about this showdown here.
MORE: Analyze every matchup with TeamRankings prediction tool
No. 10 VIRGINIA TECH (+1) vs. No. 7 Florida
Here’s another 7-10 game that is virtual. Virginia Tech has played just three games since Feb. 6, two of which lost, so the Hokies cannot be said to be “hot” or “cold.” However, they are rested. Florida is 5-5 in its last 10 games, so it’s pretty tepid, too. Ultimately this seems like a game to forget, but since you’re trying to win your frame, you don’t want to go wrong.
Vegas sees this as nail biting, and despite both kenpom.com Y TeamRankings favoring Florida by fairly comfortable margins, this is a decent chance to steal a game from most of the people in your group.
No. 10 MARYLAND (+2.5) vs. No. 7 UConn
Kenpom.com it’s much higher at UConn than Maryland, so it’s a bit surprising that Vegas sees this as one of the closest first-round matchups. TeamRankings also breaks it down quite favorably for UConn, as you can see below. Once again, though, Vegas clearly sees something that we don’t.
As we said before, no 7-10 result would really be a shocking surprise, but this is another situation where most of the people in your group will probably use UConn by default, especially if they do some research. That gives you a chance to win a game in the majority of your group in a contest that will likely come down to a basket either way.
No. 11 STATE OF UTAH (+4.5) vs. No. 6 Texas Tech
The Aggies were one of the last teams in the tournament, but winning six of their last seven games helped them get into the dance. Vegas believes they will hold their own with Texas Tech, likely due to Utah State’s stellar defense (eighth in Adjusted Defense Metric from kenpom.com). Both teams fight shooting from deep, so this could be a true rock fight. In that kind of routine game, the defensive-minded loser always has a decent shot.
TeamRankings has overwhelmingly it all. “win odds“Factors in Texas Tech’s favor, but that’s not surprising for a 6-11 matchup. However, it’s clear even from their numbers that Utah State has superior defense. It could go either way, so even if you pick Texas Tech, you probably don’t want to pick the Red Raiders going beyond the second round.
No. 12 GEORGETOWN (+4.5) vs. No. 5 Colorado
Georgetown’s unlikely run to the tournament thanks to a Big East championship certainly surprised many, but now that the Hoyas are in and playing well, people are ready to jump on the bandwagon. The fact that they are playing against a Pac-12 team that is not a national power probably has bettors coming down this line, but either way, this will be a 12-5 surprise popular pick (not as popular as Winthrop, who it’s a 6.5-point underdog, over a beaten Villanova, but still popular).
Should be? Good, kenpom.com He doesn’t think the teams are particularly close, placing Colorado at 17th and Georgetown at 55. TeamRankings He seems to like Hoyas a little more, but not much. It’s more about going with the “hot” team, and Vegas at least hopes it’s around.
No. 13 LIBERTY (+7.5) vs. No. 4 State of Oklahoma
There are probably more people who predict Oklahoma State will reach the Final Four than it will lose in the first round, but make no mistake: Liberty will resist. The Flames finished tied for 10th in the nation in three-point percentage (38.8), and any losers who can fill it from deep can be a problem in the tournament.
The state of Oklahoma is the top team and he has a one-man wrecking team in rookie Cade Cunningham, but this game that has only a 7.5 point difference might surprise some people. If you’re in a large group and need to make a bold selection or two, this is a good opportunity to zigzag while everyone else zag.
No. 13 OHIO (+7.5) vs. No. 4 Virginia
This spread could be more over Virginia than Ohio. Most of the Virginia team is in quarantine after COVID tests came back positive on the show. At best, the Cavs will have a slightly reduced roster after a week of virtual practice; in the worst case, Virginia will withdraw from the tournament. An intermediate option, one or two stars after a week without practice, is also up for grabs. Either way, Ohio has an advantage.
Ohio has a legitimate offense that can put points on the board quickly (14 in points per game). If Virginia is understaffed, then a Bobcats win wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Vegas sees this as a relatively close 4-13 game, so stay on top of the news outside of Charlottesville and choose accordingly.
No. 14 ABILENE CHRISTIAN (+9) vs. Texas
A nine-point margin isn’t exactly tight, but just under 10 in a 3-14 game is remarkable. Abilene-Christian is known for having a strong defense (30 in kenpom.comtight defense metric), but it is also an efficient three-point shooting team (tied for 21 at 37.7). The 3 and D homeless are always dangerous in March. Texas isn’t particularly good at one thing, just generally solid and well-trained, so he really has nothing to “lean on” if things go wrong early.
Obviously choosing the Longhorns is the safer game, but it’s not crazy to choose the Wildcats if you are in a large group and need some differentiation.
No. 14 COLGATE (+9.5) vs. Arkansas
Colgate is all an offense, all the time. The Raiders were fourth in mean margin of victory this year (17.7) and third in three point percentage (40.2). The Hogs can chase him on defense and play with a solid rhythm on offense, so Colgate won’t be able to run over them like they’re a Patriot League team, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where the Raiders just never seem to fail. and achieve a surprise.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.