Bet These Two Underdogs in Saturday's First Round of the NCAA Men's Tournament

SI Gambling insider Frankie Taddeo breaks down two betting plays for Saturday's first round of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament.
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Have you signed up to become an SI PRO subscriber? Members are coming off a very profitable week from the NCAA conference championships.

Alabama (+220), Illinois (+375) and Georgia Tech (+2500) all delivered conference tournament championships in the SEC, Big Ten and ACC respectively. Notably, SI PRO members were alerted to the Georgia Tech odds as early as Sunday, March 7 before oddsmakers adjusted to +1000 and even lower in Las Vegas.

Members have already been alerted to early plays for the start of the NCAA men's tournament, including the First Four game between Michigan State and UCLA. In addition, SI PRO members have already be given three underdog plays and three totals to target for Friday's games. Join today and start beating the books with us!

2021 NCAA tournament Saturday betting preview

With the Field of 68 now set, SI Gambling is here to highlight two matchups for the first round on Saturday: No. 5 Creighton and No. 12 UC Santa Barbara and No. 4 Virginia taking on No. 13 Ohio.

Over the last two tournaments, the teams with a better seed have gone 43-21 straight-up (67%) but only 21-38-1 against the spread (36%) in the Round of 64. Over the last 10 tournaments, the No. 5 seed holds a 24-16 (60%) SU record over the No. 12 seed, while a No. 14 seed has upset a No. 3 seed SU in seven of the last 10 tournaments. In addition, at least one No. 11 seed has made it to Sweet 16 in 8 of the last 10 tournaments.

Several games involving those seeds have already received attention from sharp bettors in Las Vegas for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

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Let’s dive into the matchups!


No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara

Spread: UC Santa Barbara +7.5 (-110) | Creighton -7.5 (-110)

Total: 138.5– Over (-110) | Under 138.5 (-110)

Moneyline: UCSB +245 | Creighton -305

Game Info: Saturday, March 20, 2021 3:30 pm EST / 12:30 pm PST | truTV

Site: Lucas Oil Stadium Unity (South)

Editor's Note - Odds are subject to change.

The line has ticked down since its opening of in favor of No. 5 Creighton (20-8 SU; 13-15 ATS) as 8-point favorites in several shops in Las Vegas over No. 12 UC Santa Barbara (22-4 SU; 14-10 ATS) to a line now reflecting the Bluejays at -7.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook.

The Gauchos will be looking for their sixth consecutive win and their 18th victory in their last 19 games when they take on Creighton. UC Santa Barbara, champions of the Big West Conference, will need to rely upon leading scorer and Big West Tournament MVP JaQuori McLaughlin (16.2 points per game) and Amadou Sow (13.7 points per game, 7.6 rebounds) down low on the block. The Gauchos, who went 2-1 against the spread (ATS) in their three wins in the Big West Conference, have posted a healthy 12-7 ATS mark over the previously referenced 18-1 SU streak.

On the other side, Creighton heads into the NCAA tournament after being forced to deal with the off court distraction of seeing head coach Greg McDermott (suspended) and eventual reinstatement over insensitive remarks during a post-game speech. The Bluejays have posted a lucrative 6-3 ATS mark over their last nine games, after a dismal 1-6 ATS stretch over their seven games prior. Creighton’s star backcourt duo of Denzel Mahoney (12.5 points per game) and Marcus Zegarowksi (15.5 points per game / 4.3 assists) Creighton’s top front liner Christian Bishop (10.8 points per game / 5.9 assists) will be relied upon down low.

The 25-point loss (73-48) Creighton suffered at the hands of the Georgetown Hoyas in the Big East Championship game is still fresh in the minds of sharp bettors in Vegas as they are backing the Gauchos and grabbing the points in Saturday's First Round matchup. Although Creighton plays in the better conference (Big East) this is simply too many points. Grab the points with UC Santa Barbara.

Frankie Whispers FREE Play: UC Santa Barbara +7.5 (-110)

Men's March Madness Expert Picks and Predictions

No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Ohio

Spread: Ohio +7.5 (-110) | Virginia -7.5 (-110)

Total: 131– Over (-110) | Under 131 (-110)

Moneyline: Ohio +265 | UVA -335

Game Info: Saturday, March 20, 2021 7:10 pm EST / 4:10 pm PST | truTV

Site: Assembly Hall

Editor's Note - Odds are subject to change.

The line has dropped from the opening line of -10 to a spread of -7.5 points in favor of No. 4 Virginia (18-6 SU; 11-12-1 ATS) over No. 13 Ohio (16-7 SU; 14-8 ATS) at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Ohio has reeled off nine wins in their last 10 games, covering the line in all three of their Mid-American Conference tournament wins (3-0 ATS). The Bobcats rolled through the MAC tournament defeating all three opponents by a combined score of 256-212 (an average of 14.7 points per game). Ohio is led by junior guard Jason Preston (17.1 points per game / 6.7 rebounds) as well as senior forward Dwight Wilson III (14.9 points per game / 7.6 rebounds).

On the flip side, Virginia heads into the NCAA Tournament after being forced to withdraw from the ACC tournament after their 72-69 win over Syracuse in the quarterfinals - due to positive COVID-19 results. The Cavaliers have won three straight games - after suffering a three-game losing streak to close out the month of February. Virginia is a dreadful 1-5 ATS over that six-game span. Virginia has a balanced scoring attack led by senior forward transfer Sam Hauser (15.9 points per game/ 6.73 rebounds) who also led the ACC in three-point shooting percentage (43%). Despite winning the ACC regular season crown with 18 victories, Virginia has been a difficult team for bettors to back going 11-12-1 against the spread (ATS).

Initial thoughts are the edge here goes to the team (Virginia) who has played in a tougher conference (ACC) all season long, however the COVID-19 layoff has resulted in sharp money backing the Bobcats to keep this game within the number.

Frankie Whispers FREE Play: Ohio +7.5 (-110)

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NCAA men's tournament first round line movement

(These moves are being tracked from the opening lines supplied by Circa Sports)

First Round Totals - Saturday

No. 5 Creighton (-8) vs. No 12. UC Santa Barbara (140.5)

Total: The total has dropped 2 points now standing at 138.5

No. 3 Kansas (-11) vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington (140.5)

Total: The total has moved 7.5 points now standing at 147.5

No. 7 UConn (-4) vs. No. 10 Maryland (134.5)

Total: The total has dropped 4 points now standing at 130.5

No. 2 Alabama (-17) vs. No. 15 Iona (138.5)

Total: The total has moved 7.5 points now standing at 147.5


Is there an advantage or disadvantage to playing at Lucas Oil Stadium?

In 2021, NCAA men's tournament games are being played at Lucas Oil Stadium in nearly all rounds (except for the Sweet 16). These larger sites are “normally” reserved for only the Final Four and championship games.

Historically, these sites can cause issues with sight lines and depth perception for players not used to shooting in arenas designed for football. Often times it can lead to shooting woes, such as former Oklahoma Sooners star Buddy Hield's Final Four performance at NRG Stadium in Houston - 4 of 12 FG's / 1 of 8 from 3-point range - in Villanova's 95-51 win in 2016.

How are oddsmakers and bettors approaching first round game totals designated to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium?

No. 1 Baylor (-24.5) vs. No. 16 Hartford (142.5)

The total amount dropped two points to 140.5

No. 4 Purdue (-8) vs. No. 13 North Texas (126.5)

No change

No. 3 West Virginia (-10.5) vs. No. 14 Morehead State (140.5)

The total fell three points to 137.5

No. 8 Oklahoma (-2) vs. No. 9 Missouri (141.5)

The total fell one point to 140.5

No. 5 Creighton (-8) vs. No 12. UC Santa Barbara (140.5)

The total amount dropped 2.5 points to 138

No. 3 Texas (-9) vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian (140.5)

No change


Printable 2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket