Best First-Round Bets & Final Four Futures For 2021 March Madness: ‘The Ticket’ w/Adam Kramer

Last Updated: Mar 17, 2021

In this edition of his weekly column The Ticket, Adam Kramer breaks down his Best First-Round March Madness Bets, as well as his futures bets for the 2021 NCAA Final Four and the 2021 NCAA Tournament championship.

Admit it. You haven’t been paying close attention to every single college basketball game played this season. You couldn’t tell me, without the support of your old pal The Internet, Colgate’s defensive tendencies or the quality of UNC Greensboro’s bench.

That’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. You are not alone.

In fact, as we gaze upon a freshly cut bracket and the start of March Madness — a statement that should draw dramatic, overwhelming applause considering the last 365 days — there are millions upon millions of college basketball fans preparing for an annual hardwood crash course.

I won’t tell you how to navigate your bracket or properly layout your Final Four.

Read our full 2021 March Madness Picks & Predictions Guide.

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Well, scratch that. I will absolutely tell you what I am doing here in a few moments. As always, take that advice and run with it or ignore it completely.

Part of the allure of filling out a bracket is the randomness and the upset hunting. No matter your knowledge level, take your best shot. Be a contrarian if you please. Pick chalk. Whatever method you choose, Godspeed.

If I could pass along one piece of advice, however, it would be this: the oddsmakers are your friend.

That might seem like a strange, obvious tidbit for an event that is so strongly based on wagering, but there’s a bit of difference. While odds on the opening round of games won’t necessarily carry you into or through the Elite 8, it can help you map out where you take your stand when it comes to pegging upsets.

I find this strategy extremely helpful while trying to pick trendy 12-seed vs. 4-seed updates. It also can come in handy when you try to map out 8-seed vs. 9-seed games. While oddsmakers ultimately don’t dictate how games will be played, these early odds can be extremely valuable in trying to handicap how close (or not close) a particular game is forecasted.

An example: In the Midwest Region, Syracuse, an 11-seed, opened up as only a 2-point underdog against 6th-seeded San Diego State. This will likely be a popular upset selection, and the initial odds say that might not be a bad idea.

This is just one example of many games that you can generate your own logic, based on what the odds say. Of course, we know that these games won’t go as expected. That’s the fun in all of this. It’s why we are thrilled it’s back.

Use these odds as a guide. Then, dive in as only you know-how.

At the Window: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It’s a March-Madness-heavy week, although here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the week that was. Finally, I was on the right side on a really ugly win.

The Good: Ohio State (+6) vs. Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament

I loved this game. More specifically, I loved this team throughout the tournament. That decision was largely good, and against Michigan, it worked out really well. Although the Buckeyes tried to give the game away, they prevailed 68-67. Thank goodness for no overtime—the place where six-point dogs go to die.

The Bad: A Brutal Eye Poke (and No Contest) Between Belal Muhammad and Leon Edwards

I was really excited about last Saturday’s main event fight between Muhammad and Edwards. Also, as I wrote about last week, I was on Muhammad, who closed as a big dog. Unfortunately, however, the fight was ruled a no-contest after an awful eye poke by Edwards. It was accidental, for certain, although still not easy to watch. Also, not a great way for a fun night of fights to end.

The Ugly: Ohio State Miraculously Covers Against Illinois in Big Ten Championship Game

The bad news? My 10/1 futures bet on the Buckeyes to win the B1G Title didn’t cash. The good news? My Ohio State (+6) bet in this game was a miraculous cover thanks to a miracle, meaningless 3-pointer at the end of the game that pulled the Buckeyes within three. I won on this bet, although it was a grotesque win. In fact, if you bet Illinois and were that close to covering or pushing after going to OT, you are still upset. Brutal. (But good for my wallet.)

Best First-Round March Madness Bets

What I’m Watching

Duh. Do I Even Need to Say It?

Look, I’m not going to dazzle you with a lineup of multiple sporting events this week even if the Honda Classic and UFC fight card will have plenty of action this week.

I will be watching college basketball — lots and lots of college basketball — and all four televisions in my basement, an iPad, and my laptop will be working.

One item of note for those who may be unaware: March Madness, due to COVID, has a much different schedule. The First Four games to fill the bracket will be played on Thursday rather than Tuesday and Wednesday. (Also, Michigan State-UCLA is quite a doozy.)

The tournament’s first rounds will then be played on Friday and Saturday, with second-round games taking place the following Monday.

Yes, it’s different. Yes, it’s a little weird. No, it doesn’t bother me. We are getting a tournament, and frankly, that is everything I could hope for.

Also, Saturday will be one of the greatest watching/wagering days of the year.

What I’m Betting: March Madness First Round

I am keeping this installment focused purely on March Madness games. Lines are likely to move some throughout the week, although I am posting what I’m seeing and shopping as of Monday morning. As part of this, I’ll include my Final Four and title pick as well.

Texas Tech (-4.5) vs. Utah State

I predict that Utah State will likely be a popular upset pick as an 11 seed. But you know what? I’m not buying it. Texas Tech should have beat Texas in the conference championship, and I could actually see the 6 seed making a little run in the South.

Best First-Round March Madness Bets & Final Four Futures: Adam says go against the grain and pick Mac McClung's Texas Tech over upset darlings Utah State.

Best First-Round March Madness Bets & Final Four Futures: Adam says go against the grain and pick Mac McClung’s Texas Tech over upset darlings Utah State. (Image: USA TODAY Sports)

North Carolina (-1.5) vs. Wisconsin

This is your classic 8 seed vs. 9 seed game. The only difference is it features a couple of programs far more familiar with lower seeding. It just feels like the Tar Heels are peaking at just the right time, and that will be the case here. While I will be betting plenty of B1G teams, the Badgers won’t be one of them.

Winthrop (+6) vs. Villanova

This game was bet down quickly, and it’s not hard to see why. I know I won’t be alone in picking Winthrop, but I don’t care. I like the 12 seed with the points and outright in the first round. While the competition was suspect, the record and point differential in most of Winthrop’s games were not.

Other March Madness First-Round Games I’m Betting

  • Oregon State (+7.5) vs. Tennessee
  • Missouri (+2) vs. Oklahoma
  • UC Santa Barbara (+6.5) vs. Creighton
  • Florida (-1) vs. Virginia Tech
  • Rutgers (-1) vs. Clemson

What I’m Betting: My Final Four

Give me:

  • Gonzaga out of the West
  • Alabama out of the East
  • Ohio State out of the South
  • and Illinois out of the Midwest.

That’s two 1-seeds and two 2-seeds. For as weird as this year has been, I actually expect a bit of a chalky tournament. It feels like the elite teams could take over.

On that thought …

What I’m Betting: My 2021 NCAA Tournament Champion

Who’s My National Champion Pick?

Illinois (+750) is my national champion.

I love the balance of this team around Ayo Dosunmu. Kofi Cockburn is a delight at center, and I’m not sure any team has a player that can counter what he brings.

I really like the draw in the Midwest, and I see the Illini matching up against just about anyone.

Not great value on the national championship, but give me the +750 and let’s cook.

Unibet is offering close to what Adam found, listing Illinois (+700).

Use Adam’s betting tips from “Best First-Round March Madness Bets" to place a wager at one of our partner sportsbooks.

To celebrate this year’s college showdown, our friends at Unibet are doubling up their original sports betting welcome offer — providing all new players $40 in free bets (no deposit needed) and $500 back as a second-chance bet if they don’t win their 1st cash bet. (Terms & Conditions apply.)

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Adam Kramer

Adam Kramer is an NFL, college football, and gambling analyst for The Game Day. While college football has long been his calling, he’s also covered sports such as boxing, horse racing, and baseball at The Game Day and in other places. He’s also written for Bleacher Report, VSiN, and various other outlets over the past decade-plus.

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