NCAA Tournament Survivor Guide For Round 1 (Thursday)

Mar 15, 2022 - 2:09 AM

So you thought survivor pools only applied to the NFL season, right? On the contrary, survivor contests are widely popular for the NCAA tournament. They offer an alternative way for those whose brackets habitually get busted early to stay involved in the action.
Much like the NFL version, NCAA tournament survivor pools require one to pick one team each round, and once you select a team, you cannot use them again. However, that is where the similarities end as the NCAA version’s strategies are vastly different.

One needs to keep in mind that you could lose your entry without ever making a losing pick but instead simply run out of teams from which to choose. All teams in NFL survivor pools are available for selection, except the ones already chosen. In NCAA tournament survivor pools, as teams get eliminated, the collection of teams shrinks. Thus, if you make it to the national championship unscathed, but the two teams are Gonzaga and Arizona, you are out if you have already used both teams. That is just one example of a different thinking process necessary to navigate these tricky contests.

Throughout the tournament, one has to make eight picks: two from the First Round (one for each day played), two from the Second Round (one for each day played), and one from the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, and National Championship.

Each round, we will provide our analysis broken down by the following categories: Best Picks, Favorites on Upset Alert, and Teams That Should be Saved for Later Use.

Here is a list of odds for all the favorites to win their Round 1 matchups on Thursday (odds courtesy of BettingPros consensus).

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Best Picks

UCLA (-1401), Iowa (-590), UConn (-300)

If you think the UCLA Bruins are capable of repeating last year’s Final Four run, they belong in the “teams that should be saved category.” However, the Bruins have potential landmines in the Round of 32 against Saint Mary’s and the Sweet 16 against Baylor, so their tournament lives may be short-lived. The Bruins are too battle-tested to be on “upset alert” against Akron, though the Zips enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak. One must be disciplined when facing Akron, as the Zips rank 351st out of 358 Division I teams in terms of adjusted tempo and are 331st in average possession length (19.1 seconds per possession). However, that plays right into Mick Cronin’s hands, as the Bruins coach has always been comfortable in defensive struggles. UCLA ranks in the top 15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They also take excellent care of the basketball, ranking fifth in the country with turnovers on just 13.4% of possessions. Turning opponents over and defending the 3-point line is not Akron’s forte, as they rank outside the top 225 in both metrics.

Perhaps no team in the country was more impressive in its conference tournament than the Iowa Hawkeyes, who rode a scorching-hot offense to the school’s first Big Ten Tournament championship since 2006. The Hawkeyes rank fourth in the nation in scoring and can beat anyone when they play their best basketball. Iowa faces a dangerous Richmond team because they are experienced, but one who also needed a miraculous run through the Atlantic 10 Tournament to even be in this position. Richmond ranked 11th defending the 3-point line in conference play, which is not a recipe for success when facing the sharp-shooting Hawkeyes. While Iowa is a potential Final Four sleeper, it is more likely they bow out to Kansas in the Sweet 16, making them a tremendous early-round play.

Many survivor pool contestants will cringe at the idea of picking a No. 5 seed to beat a No. 12 seed, given the frequency with which those upsets happen. However, the UConn Huskies were one of the most consistent Big East teams all season, only enduring one two-game losing streak all year. UConn has outstanding balance offensively with the guard-forward combination of R.J. Cole and Adama Sanogo. And while the New Mexico State Aggies’ size gave many teams in the WAC problems, the Huskies have exceptional length at all positions. Their size and toughness are also crucial reasons they lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (37.9%). The Huskies will have the crowd on its side playing in Buffalo and should avoid the dreaded 5-12 upset.

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Favorites on Upset Alert

Arkansas (-220), UNC (-155), Saint Mary’s (-150), Memphis (-141), Michigan (-141), San Diego State (-135), Providence (-132), Murray State (-125)

Teams That Should be Saved for Later Use

Gonzaga (-10000), Kansas (-10000), Baylor (-5000), Tennessee (-2500), Kentucky (-2500)

Gonzaga, Kansas, Baylor, Tennessee, and Kentucky are all Elite 8 contenders at the very least. So while no team from this list is in danger of a first-round upset, keep them handy for the later rounds when they are still prohibitive favorites while fewer teams are available to choose.


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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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