The first round of the NCAA Tournament tips off on Friday, March 19, and our Midwest Region picks are in at BetRivers.com. Illinois earned the No. 1 seed thanks to a strong finish to the regular-season and excellent performance in the Big Ten Tournament, cutting down the nets before Selection Sunday. But in a region with No. 2 Houston, No. 3 West Virginia and No. 4 Oklahoma State — one of the hottest teams in the country — is the Midwest Region up for grabs?
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Longtime national college basketball writer Rob Dauster, the co-founder of The Field of 68 Network, previews his Midwest Region picks and breaks down the best bets to make along the way.
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Read below for a breakdown of the Midwest Region picks, preview and odds.
- Texas Southern, Appalachian State, and Wichita State all win in First Four. Was +523, Now +625
- Over 5.5 games go into OT in the entire NCAA Tournament. Was -110. Now +105
- Any team to win by 40+ points in the NCAA Tournament. Was +200. Now +235
- Baylor or Iowa to score the most points in the NCA Tournament. Was +150. Now +175
- Michigan State to win, Over 139.5 total game points vs. UCLA. Was +295. Now +340
- Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan all reach the Final Four. Was +656. Now +750
- Winthrop to beat Villanova or Oregon State to beat Tennessee. Was -134. Now -115
- St. Bonaventure to beat LSU. Was +107. Now +120
NCAA Tournament Predictions: Midwest Region Picks, Preview, Odds
#1 Illinois (23-6) vs. #16 Drexel (12-7)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 1:15 p.m. ET (TBS)
Moneyline: Illinois -10000 ML, Drexel +1900 ML
Spread: Illinois -22.5
Over/Under: 143.5 points
Click here for the full list of Illinois-Drexel odds.
Congratulations, Drexel. You make it to your first NCAA tournament in 25 years, and you get rewarded with … Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn! Good luck. The Illini have played three games against mid-major teams this seeason. They won two of them by 60 points. That was before a run down the stretch of the season where they on 14 of their last 15 games in the best league in the country. There is no chance that I’ll be on the Dragons here.
#8 Loyola-Chicago (24-4) vs. #9 Georgia Tech (17-8)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 4:00 p.m. ET (TBS)
Moneyline: Loyola-Chicago -245 ML, Georgia Tech +200
Spread: Loyola-Chicago -5.5
Over/Under: 125 points
Click here for the full list of Loyola-Georgia Tech odds.
This big news here is that Georgia Tech’s star center Moses Wright is out. He is the player on the Yellow Jacket roster that tested positive after the ACC tournament. He will be unavailable for this game, and perhaps longer. The big question now because who plays the minutes at the five, where Wright was really one of the only options that Josh Pastner had at his disposal. This is relevant because so much of what Loyola wants to run comes through their starting center, Cameron Krutwig.
I still think I like the Yellow Jackets here. They have really good guards and that zone that Pastner likes to throw on can be really difficult to play against. I expect this game to be played in the 50s or 60s — neither team is too interested in playing fast and Loyola has the nation’s best defense, according to KenPom — so I’m going to let this line continue to climb before I jump on GT.
#5 Tennessee (18-8) vs. #12 Oregon State (17-12)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 4:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
Moneyline: Tennessee -455 ML, Oregon State +340 ML
Spread: Tennessee -8.5
Over/Under: 131 points
Click here for the full list of Tennessee-Oregon State odds.
I think this is the toughest line to figure out in the entire first round. On the one hand, when Tennessee decides that they want to play, they are one of the stingiest defenses in American. They have athletes all over the court. They force turnovers, they get out in transition and they can put up a bundle of points in a hurry. But there is something about this team that is just off. They cannot handle adversity. They don’t have an alpha, a leader, someone that can takeover when things are going bad. And Oregon State? They’ve now covered in 15 of their last 18 games. I think I’m going to have to be on the Beavers here. But I’m not going to feel good about it.
#4 Oklahoma State (20-8) vs. #13 Liberty (23-5)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 6:25 p.m. ET (TBS)
Moneyline: Oklahoma State -455 ML, Liberty +275 ML
Spread: Oklahoma State -7.5
Over/Under: 140 points
Click here for the full list of Oklahoma State-Liberty odds.
So this may sound counterintuitive, but I think that Oklahoma State is the team that is going to reach the Final Four out of the Midwest region, but I also think that this is going to be a much more difficult matchup for the Pokes than people realize. The Flames play a Pack-Line defense and play it well, finishing as the most efficient defense in the ASUN. Pack-Lines defenses cut off driving lanes and forces opponents to shoot threes over the top, and that matches up perfectly with the way POSU wants to play.
Offensively, Ritchie McKay runs really good offense and has a team that does not turn the ball over and shoots 38.8 percent from three while taking more than 47 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Combine all of that with the fact that they want to control tempo — thus limiting the number of possessions and increasing the variance — and I think I like the Liberty side here. After all, Oklahoma State only wins close games.
#6 San Diego State (23-4) vs. #11 Syracuse (16-9)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 9:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
Moneyline: SDSU -152 ML, Syracuse +128 ML
Spread: SDSU -3
Over/Under: 139 points
Click here for the full list of Oklahoma State-Syracuse odds.
This is what Syracuse does. They spend the entire season stuck in second gear, somehow play their way onto the bubble, backdoor their way into the tournament and then go on some miracle run in the Big Dance. How? Because of their zone. Teams in the ACC are used to it. Teams that don’t see it twice a season are not. SDSU ranks in the 91st percentile against man-to-man offenses. They’ve only seen 200 possessions of zone this season and rank in the 79th percentile in offensive efficiency.
#3 West Virginia (18-9) vs. #14 Morehead State (23-7)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 9:50 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Moneyline: WVU -1115 ML, Morehead State +700 ML
Spread: WVU -13
Over/Under: 137.5 points
Click here for the full list of West Virginia-Morehead State odds.
This is a different West Virginia than you are used to. They still are aggressive defensively, but they are not as good at forcing turnovers as they have been in the past. They still attack the offensive glass, but they play four guards instead of two bigs. They still have Bob Huggins, but instead of being a nightmare to run offense against, they allow straight line drives and open jumpers at a high rate.
This is what the matchup comes down to for me: Morehead State’s strength is on the defensive side of the ball, but I just don’t think they have the horses to be able to slow down what has become one of the most potent offenses in college basketball. And while West Virginia struggles on the other end, they still do force turnovers, and Morehead State is 332nd nationally in turnover rate. So I’ll be on WVU here.
#7 Clemson (16-7) vs. #10 Rutgers (15-11)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 9:20 p.m. ET (TBS)
Moneyline: Rutgers -129 ML, Clemson +108 ML
Spread: Rutgers -2
Over/Under: 125.5 points
Click here for the full list of Clemson-Rutgers odds.
This is one of the least-appealing matchups of the tournament. Rutgers has gone 8-10 in 2021. Clemson has gone 7-6 since coming out of their pause. Fun! Here’s the thing about Rutgers. They can really guard you, they block shots and force turnovers and they have the best perimeter players in this matchup, especially if Ron Harper Jr. finds a way out of his funk. Plus, they spent the season playing in the most difficult league in the country. So I think the Scarlet Knights win here.
#2 Houston (24-3) #15 Cleveland State (19-7)
Date/Time/TV: Friday, March 19. 7:15 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Moneyline: Houston -3335 ML, Cleveland State +1400 ML
Spread: Houston -20
Over/Under: 134.5 points
Click here for the full list of Houston-Cleveland State odds.
When betting on games, there are three stats that I find to be the most useful: Rebounding rates, turnover rates and free throw shooting. When a great offensive rebounding team (Houston) goes up against a bad defensive rebounding team (Cleveland State), that’s notable. When a team that forces a lot of turnovers (Houston) goes up against a team that cannot throw the ball to someone in their color (Cleveland State), that’s notable. When a team that fouls a ton (Houston) goes up against a team that cannot hit free throws (Cleveland State), that’s notable.
When all three of those things match up, I feel really good about the bet. Cougars it is.