It’s the Year of the Dragon. Well, at least as far as March Madness is concerned.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams from Philadelphia’s Drexel University have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
The women’s team plays Monday at noon against Georgia in the Alamo Region of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
And the men’s team faces Illinois, one of the tournament’s top teams at 1:15 pm Friday. FanDuel Sportsbook has the Dragons as a 22.5-point underdog in the contest, but for schools like Drexel, it’s not always about winning. It’s pretty exciting just to be somewhere in the dance.
So although it’s unlikely that the Dragons will win the Midwest Region (FanDuel Sportsbook has those odds at 100-1), right now they’re in the thick of it. And they’re certain to savor their shining moments.
In this installment of PlayPennsylvania’s Clutch 3, we’ll preview Drexel’s Midwest region, along with a player, team, and game to watch.
Maybe the Dragons’ opponent Illinois will make it all the way through. But March always seems to bring a little madness, so there’s bound to be excitement somewhere.
Team to watch: No. 3 West Virginia
Pennsylvania’s neighbor West Virginia has bounced around near the top ten of the AP poll all season. But the Mountaineers have been somewhat inconsistent, finishing 5-7 against the country’s top 25 teams.
The NCAA Tournament gives West Virginia a chance to put a run together and head coach Bob Huggins certainly has experience working in his favor. Perhaps because of that, the Mountaineers are only +750 to make the Final Four. Crazier things have certainly happened.
Player to Watch: Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
Cunningham could be the No. 1 overall pick in the next NBA Draft. He’s averaging over 20 points per game for the Cowboys and recently carried them to a Big 12 Conference title.
Oklahoma State has some depth around him, but Cunningham will need a stellar tournament if the Cowboys are going to make a run. FanDuel has them at +600 to make the Final Four. No. 4 Oklahoma State starts the tournament with a first-round game against No. 13 Liberty Friday at 6:25 p.m.
Game to Watch: No. 7 Rutgers at No. 10 Clemson
Rutgers is a 10 seed in the team’s first-round game against No. 7 Clemson, but the Scarlet Knights are the favorite as far as PA sportsbooks are concerned. FanDuel has Rutgers as a 1.5-point favorite in the game, which will be broadcast at 9:20 p.m. Friday on TBS.
The Scarlet Knights will likely draw a lot of action in PA, especially since you’re not allowed to bet in-state college teams like Rutgers at NJ sportsbooks. Rutgers is 24-1 to make the Final Four.
A look at East and West Region bets
The East and West regions may not be quite as interesting to Pennsylvania bettors without a home-state team in those brackets, but here’s a quick look at some possible bets for those as well to get you fully prepared for the tournament action.
Team to Watch: No. 11 Michigan State
The Spartans will start the tournament with a play-in game against UCLA and a great promotion from FanDuel that has their point spread at +88.5 at press time. But Michigan State could be able to make some noise beyond that. BYU or UNC Greensboro would loom in a second-round game and the Spartans might even be favored in that contest.
In addition to an experienced coach in Tom Izzo, Michigan State has played some tough competition all season and owns wins against Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State. The Spartans are 55-1 to make the Final Four.
Player to Watch: Cameron Thomas, G, LSU
Thomas can light up the scoreboard. The freshman guard averages 22.6 points per game for the Tigers and is one of four players who average double figures for LSU. The Tigers made it to the SEC Tournament final and only lost by one point to the No. 2 seed in the East Region, Alabama.
Oddsmakers expect a close game in the first round for LSU, installing them as a 1.5-point favorite in the matchup with St. Bonaventure. That game tips off at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday.
Game to Watch: No. 7 UCONN vs. No. 10 Maryland
This contest could be another close one if oddsmakers are correct. Connecticut is a three-point favorite at press time according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Huskies have been playing well as of late, led by guard James Bouknight, who averages 19 points per game.
Maryland will counter with the guard tandem of Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, who both average above 14 points per game. The Terrapins will tip off their game with UCONN at 7:10 p.m. on Saturday.
Team to Watch: No. 13 Ohio
If you’re looking for an underdog that may have a little bit of life, the Ohio Bobcats have been getting a lot of love from the experts. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas predicted them to win their first-round game against Virginia, who had to withdraw from the ACC Tournament because of COVID issues and could have a few concerns that still remain.
The Bobcats are led by junior guard Jason Preston, who figures to be an NBA draft pick in the near future. They also nearly beat No. 1 seed Illinois in a road game earlier this season. Ohio is a 7-point underdog in the game Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. with a moneyline price of +290 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Player to Watch: Luka Garza, C, Iowa
Garza, a 6-foot, 11-inch center, is a matchup nightmare. He averages 23.7 points per game and the Hawkeyes have a lot of good three-point shooters around him, making the team pretty tough to defend. No. 2 Iowa is a 14.5-point favorite in its first round game with No. 15 Grand Canyon, which tips off at 6:25 p.m. on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are +350 to make the Final Four.
Game to Watch: Drake vs. Wichita State, No. 11 Play-In Game
One of the first games in the entire tournament could be a doozy. Drake and Wichita State face off in the First Four at 6:27 p.m. Thursday on TBS. FanDuel Sportsbook has Drake favored by a single point in the matchup of two Midwest teams. Both teams are -108 0n the moneyline and the game’s total is set at 140.5 points. If you’re looking for a good game to get your tournament sweat started on Thursday night, this could be it.
Let the NCAA tournament games begin (finally)
So there you have it. Philadelphia’s Drexel Dragons will take the court in the Midwest Region, but that’s only the beginning of what will be a jam-packed weekend of NCAA Tournament action.
We’ve waited two long years for it.
But thankfully, the games are about to begin.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Daniel Lin