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Litwin’s Locks: 2021 March Madness edition

Outside of the McKale Center.
Maverick Arnold
The ticket office on the south side of McKale Center

Let me start by saying, I love March Madness. Since it’s the biggest gambling event of the year, I felt it was necessary to bring Litwin’s Locks out of mothballs. After missing out on the NCAA tournament in 2020, just holding the brackets in my hands feels great. 

It’s been so long, I feel like I’m learning how to read the brackets all over again. This year the First Four will take place on Thursday, March 18. The winners from those games will move on to the big dance, which will take place Friday through Monday. Friday and Saturday will be the round of 64 games, then Sunday and Monday will be the round of 32. In spite of the pandemic, or maybe because of it, I have watched more college basketball this season than ever before giving me an even greater sense of confidence in my picks.

If I were to pick every one of the 30+ games, this article would run for 10 pages. Instead, I have opted to pick “locks” in my favorite two or three games from each region. As I’ve said before, betting on sports is fun and exciting, but you must always gamble within your means. As you will see below, I am picking the teams I think will cover the spread.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the pageantry and excitement that is March Madness.

All spreads according to DraftKings Sportsbook @ 3 a.m. MST on March 21, 2021

West Region

No. 5 Creighton (-7) vs No. 12 UC Santa Barbara

Creighton is limping into the tournament after getting blown out by Georgetown in the Big East Championship. Creighton’s head coach Greg McDermott was suspended and reinstated after some racially insensitive post-game remarks about two weeks ago. Creighton at its best is a high percentage three-point shooting team. Guard Marcus Zegarowski can go for 20+ any night. That said, UC Santa Barbara is on a roll coming into this game. The team has a record of 22-4 and head coach Joe Pasternack is a Sean Miller disciple. Santa Barbara can score the basketball with anyone including a couple of transfers who started their careers at bigger programs. Pick: UC Santa Barbara +7

No. 3 Kansas (-10.5) vs No. 14 Eastern Washington

It has been an up-and-down season for Kansas. The team started the season highly ranked but found itself unranked by the middle of the season. After a couple of quality wins, it is back on its usual perch as a top seed in the tournament. While everyone in the tournament has been cleared to play, Kansas is currently battling some COVID-19 issues. I’m not sure how the time off has affected them. Kansas’s inconsistent play this year has me worried, and it will be getting an Eastern Washington team that can score. While I don’t think Eastern Washington has a chance to win, I do think they can keep it close, and that is all that matters for the spread. Pick: Eastern Washington +10.5

South Region

No. 8 North Carolina (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin

When I saw the bracket with this first-round game, I felt my heart beat stronger. I LOVE North Carolina. The players are more athletic, and the team has more ways to win the game. Wisconsin is the more experienced team and experience is important in March, but I don’t think Wisconsin has the size to hang with North Carolina. With a full week to prepare, North Carolina’s head coach Roy Williams will have his team ready. Again, love is not the basis for a sound bet, but I’m feeling it. Pick: North Carolina -1.5

No. 5 Villanova (-6) vs No. 12 Winthrop

No team is limping into this tournament like Villanova. Point guard and team leader Collin Gillespie tore his MCL in a game against Creighton two weeks ago. It’s not the same team without him, particularly playing a Winthrop squad that scores almost 80 points a game. Winthrop will be a popular upset pick and those almost never pan out, but I will take them with six points. Pick: Winthrop +6 

RELATED: He may not show it, but head coach Sean Miller is proud of his group of guys

No. 3 Arkansas (-8.5) vs. No. 14 Colgate

I don’t know a lot about Colgate, and I don’t plan on learning because they’re going to get blown out. Arkansas plays at a frenetic pace and a team that has not experienced it before is going to struggle. Plus, Arkansas’ guard Moses Moody is a bona fide hooper. Nothing more needs to be said. Pick: Arkansas -8.5

East Region

No. 7 Connecticut (-3) vs No. 10 Maryland

Another game I noticed when the bracket came out. A lot of March Madness comes down to players getting a clutch bucket, and Connecticut’s shooting guard James Bouknight is just such a player. Maryland had a fine season, but it was propped up by the quality of the Big Ten. I could see this spread coming down a little as we get closer to tip-off. Pick: Connecticut -3

No. 3 Texas (-9.5) vs No. 14 Abilene Christian

I was super impressed with Texas during their Big 12 Tournament run. Head coach Shaka Smart has an incredibly athletic team that can crash the boards on any team in the country. Forward Jericho Sims was a one-man wrecking crew in the Big 12 Tournament, and he has some slick post moves. Texas is plenty good to make a Final Four run and it will start with a blowout win against Abilene Christian. Pick: Texas -9.5

No. 2 Alabama (-16.5) vs No. 15 Iona

It seems unfair that Alabama has not only the best football team in America but also a top basketball team. Head coach Nate Oats has done an incredible job. Alabama can shoot the lights out of the ball and if their threes are falling, they will be a tough out in this tournament. On the other side, you have the greatest college basketball coach in the country, Rick Pitino. Say what you want about him as a person, but he is undeniably one of the best coaches to do it. I see no scenario in which Pitino gets blown out. Pick: Iona +16.5

Midwest Region

No. 6 San Diego State (-3) vs No. 11 Syracuse

I’m going to keep this one simple. Every time Syracuse is a high seed, it finds a way to win a few games in the tournament. This year will be no different. Syracuse’s iconic 2-3 zone is difficult to play against if you haven’t seen it before and it’s going to give San Diego State fits on offense. Pick: Syracuse +3

No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-3) vs No. 9 Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is fresh off an unexpected ACC Tournament win. Head coach Josh Pastner is electric with the face shield and the energy he brings. That said, Loyola is bringing their own source of energy. The star of their 2018 Final Four run, 101-year-old chaplain Sister Jean has received the go-ahead from the NCAA to be in attendance, and I can’t bet against her. Pick: Loyola Chicago -3

Remember, gambling is fun, but it won’t make you rich. If last year taught us anything, it taught us that nothing is guaranteed.

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