2021 NCAA Tournament Regional Best Bets

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East Region 

Best Bet: FSU +500

The Seminoles have been known for their defense under head coach Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton has turned Florida State into a consistent contender in the ACC among blue blood powers like Duke and North Carolina due to its defense. That helped FSU win the conference with a 26-5 record last season, and this team has made it to the Sweet 16 in each of its last two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Florida State ranks 33rd in effective field goal percentage on defense. Opponents have not done a bad job finding success on the perimeter against this team, but they do have a lot of trouble scoring inside the arc. The Seminoles rank 11th in two-point defense, and they rank in the top eight nationally in blocks per possession.

As is typical in FSU teams under Hamilton, the Seminoles have a ton of size. There is no regular contributor that is shorter than 6’4, giving them a huge advantage over their competition. That has helped make the Seminoles one of the best teams on the offensive glass, ranking 11th in offensive rebounding nationally.

However, the factor that makes the Seminoles a real contender this season is their improvement on offense. FSU hasn’t always had the best offensive teams under Hamilton, but this team ranks 10th in offensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy.

The Seminoles rank ninth nationally in three-point shooting (39.0%), and most of the guards are lighting it up from downtown. Senior guard M.J. Walker leads the team with 13.0 PPG. Walker is sinking 44.4% of his triples on the season, although he has a reputation as a streaky shooter.

Freshman Scottie Barnes is seen as a future lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Barnes is making less than 30% of his triples, but he is right at 50% from the floor and ranks third on the team with 11.0 PPG. He is also the best distributor on the roster with 4.2 APG, and his quick hands help him lead the Seminoles in steals too.

Raiquan Gray is averaging 12.0 PPG and leads the team with 6.5 RPG as the top option in the frontcourt. He is supplemented by Balsa Koprivica and Malik Osborne, but this FSU team plays a lot more three- and four-guard lineups than they did in the past under Hamilton.

This team has depth with nine different players averaging at least 14.4 MPG. FSU’s high intensity on defense tends to demand fresh legs, and that works well in the NCAA Tournament with the second game each weekend on one day of rest.

Of course, there are potential pitfalls. FSU turns the ball over a bit too much, and the Seminoles can get a little too overeager on defense and send their opponents to the foul line at a high rate. Additionally, although they tend to have a size advantage, they give up a lot of offensive rebounds.

In the regular season, FSU proved it could take down any team in its path. The Seminoles went 3-0 in a three-game stretch against Indiana, Florida, and Georgia Tech in mid-December, and they knocked off North Carolina, Louisville, and Clemson in consecutive games in mid-January.

They smashed Virginia at home in mid-February, but they did lose two of their last three games to end the regular season and fell to the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game.

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Midwest Region

Best Bet: Houston +500

Houston hasn’t had many great college basketball teams over the years despite having one of the best runs in college basketball during the mid-1980s. Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon led the Cougars to consecutive national championship appearances in 1983 and 1984.

Jimmy Valvano and North Carolina State kept Houston from going unbeaten and winning a national championship in the first season and Patrick Ewing and Georgetown stopped the Cougars in the second season.

The Cougars have only been to the Sweet Sixteen once since that point. Kelvin Sampson led Houston to the second weekend in the last NCAA Tournament before this team lost to Kentucky. This year’s team is even better than that squad though, and that has Houston on the brink of making its best postseason run in almost four decades.

This is arguably the best defensive team in the country. Houston led the nation in effective field goal percentage (42.9%) on defense, and they ranked in the top 15 nationally in four different categories. The Cougars allowed opponents to make just 28.5% of their threes (7th) and 43.0% of their two-pointers(5th). Additionally, they ranked ninth in blocks and 15th in steals.

Houston is efficient on offense too. The Cougars ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. They run one of the slowest paced offenses in the nation, yet they maximize their possessions by ranking second nationally in offensive rebound percentage. That’s especially impressive since Houston typically runs a four-guard offense.

Quentin Grimes had an excellent year for the Cougars. Grimes came into his own after the departure of both Caleb Mills and Nate Hinton from last season’s team to lead Houston in scoring with 18.0 PPG. His shooting stroke has improved dramatically as he is knocking down a career best 40.8% of his threes and 78.4% of his free throws, and he is pulling down 6.0 RPG.

Dejon Jerreau is having a nice season, averaging 11.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.4 APG as one of the best all-around performers on the roster.

Forward Justin Gorham is typically the tallest player on the court for this team at 6’7, but he plays above his height. He is one of the best performers nationally in terms of offensive rating, largely due to his offensive rebound percentage. Gorham is averaging 8.6 PPG and leads the team with 9.0 RPG.

If you’re looking for nits to pick with the Cougars, the biggest concern is the lack of size. Houston doesn’t have anyone taller than 6’8 on the roster, so bigger teams could take advantage. However, everyone on this team rebounds well.

Houston had two impressive wins in non-conference play, beating Boise State and Texas Tech by double digits in late November. The AAC wasn’t great, and the Cougars stumbled a few times, but they were clearly the best team in the conference.

Memphis was the only team that consistently gave Houston a run for its money with the Cougars winning by three points in the regular season finale and two points in the AAC Tournament semifinals.

The third time proved to be the charm for the Houston Cougars in the AAC Championship Game. After they lost the 2018 and 2019 AAC Tournament Finals to Cincinnati, the Cougars ran the Bearcats off the court with a 91-54 beatdown to punch their ticket to March Madness and earn a No. 2 seed.

South Region

Best Bets: Ohio State +600

Chris Holtmann has been very consistent during his four seasons at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won at least 20 games in each of those years, and they would have made it to the NCAA Tournament in all four seasons if last year’s March Madness wasn’t cancelled due to COVID. However, they have yet to make it out of the second round of the tournament since he took over.

This is a program that was one of the best in the country in the early 2010s with Thad Matta at the helm, so fans are anxiously awaiting a return to the Final Four.

Ohio State has one of the best offenses in the country. The Buckeyes rank fourth in offensive efficiency, and they don’t turn the ball over. They rank in the top 15 in turnover percentage, and this team does a great job of getting to the free throw line and converting those opportunities.

They aren’t great on defense, but they still made it work this season. The interior defense is good enough, although the perimeter defense has been lacking at times.

Opponents are making 34.1% of their triples against this defense, leading to the Buckeyes ranking in the bottom half nationally. Duane Washington Jr. leads the team with 16.3 PPG. He made 38.1% of his threes this season, and he rose to the occasion in the Big Ten Conference Tournament.

Washington put up 24 points against Michigan in the semifinal on Saturday before dropping 32 points against Illinois in the title game on Sunday. Forward E.J. Liddell is the second leading scorer on Ohio State. Liddell is averaging 15.9 PPG for the Buckeyes as a sophomore, and he leads the team with 6.4 RPG.

Former Cal forward Justice Sueing has stood out now that he has teammates to carry the load. Sueing had to do it on his own far too often in Berkeley, but he has been able to let the game come to him more in Columbus.

That has helped him knock down 49.5% of his field goals and 37.3% of his treys. Justin Ahrens is someone to watch out for in the NCAA Tournament. Ahrens only averages 18.2 MPG, but he is sinking 43.1% of his triples. He is the best perimeter shooter on this team, yet he had just five points in 58 minutes of action during the Big Ten Tournament.

The Buckeyes were a presumptive No. 1 seed in mid-February. The NCAA Selection Committee put Ohio State on the No. 1 line when they announced the top 16 teams in the country on February 12, as this team was 16-4 at that point. They had overcome a tough start to conference play and ran off seven straight victories before a disastrous end to the regular season.

Ohio State lost its last four regular season games. Three of those four defeats were at the hands of fellow top eight teams in Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois though, so they weren’t too harmful on the resume. Still, that had the Buckeyes in danger of dropping to a No. 3 seed prior to their run to the Big Ten Championship Game against Illinois.

West Region 

Best Bet: Gonzaga -175

It’s been 45 years since we last saw a team go undefeated on its way to winning a national championship. Several teams have entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten, but the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to not drop a game on their way to claiming a national title.

Gonzaga has a very good chance of ending that drought. The Bulldogs have been the No. 1 team since the start of the season, and they are 26-0 entering the NCAA Tournament. Mark Few took this program to its first Final Four back in 2017, and Gonzaga is the overall No. 1 seed and presumptive favorite heading into March Madness.

Good luck finding a flaw with this team. Gonzaga ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency and led the country in effective field goal percentage (61.0%). The Bulldogs made a higher percentage of their two-pointers (63.9%) than any other team in the country, and they knocked down 36.5% of their triples too. Those numbers are impressive enough even before considering they ran at the fourth-fastest pace in the nation and the fastest pace of any team in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs aren’t as great defensively, but they aren’t bad on this end either. They rank 10th in defensive efficiency, and they are solid fundamentally.

Gonzaga boxes out well and doesn’t send opponents to the free throw line often, limiting extra possessions and free scoring opportunities. Gonzaga has four players that could start for any team in the country.

Corey Kispert led the Bulldogs with 19.2 PPG on his way to being named WCC Player of the Year. Kispert is the senior leader of this team and its most reliable shooter from range, sinking 44.4% of his threes.

Drew Timme is one of the best forwards in the nation too. Timme is averaging 18.7 PPG and leads the Zags with 7.1 RPG. The sophomore is developing nicely and could be a Naismith Award winner if he stays in Spokane next season. Freshman Jalen Suggs is likely to be one and done. He is seen as a surefire lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Suggs has been tasked with running the offense despite his youth, and he leads the team with 4.5 APG. He is also averaging 14.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG while making over 50% of his field goals.

Joel Ayayi is overlooked, but he is a key part of this team’s success. Ayayi is the second-most efficient scorer on the roster, making 58.3% of his field goals and 39.7% of his threes. The junior guard does it all for the Bulldogs, averaging 11.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 3.0 APG. This might be the strongest Gonzaga team we’ve ever seen, so it’s difficult to find weaknesses.

Suggs can be a little shaky with the handle though, and the Bulldogs don’t rank in the top 100 in free throw shooting. Although the Bulldogs played in a “mid-major” conference, Gonzaga also played arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the country on its way to 26-0.

This team beat Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, and Iowa to start the season and also knocked off Virginia before starting conference play. The Bulldogs dominated the WCC once again, and only BYU gave this team trouble.

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