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No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel preview, picks for first round of 2021 NCAA Tournament

The Illinois Fighting-Illini and Drexel Dragons meet at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

BJ Armstrong and Julian Edlow’s locks for the final four

Update March 19: Here are the updated bet splits for No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel as of March 19th at 7 a.m. from DraftKings Sportsbook:

Illinois: -23: 72% of action, 69% of bets
Drexel: +23: 28% of action, 31% of bets

Over 143.5: 59% of action, 64% of bets
Under 143.5: 41% of action, 36% of bets


Update March 18: Here are the updated bet splits for Illinois vs. Drexel as of March 18th at 1:30 p.m. from DraftKings Sportsbook:

Illinois: -22.5: 73% of handle, 72% of bets
Drexel: +22.5: 27% of handle, 28% of bets
Over: 143.5: 65% of handle, 67% of bets
Under: 143.5: 35% of handle, 33% of bets


The No. 1 seed Illinois Fighting Illini might be the best team in college basketball and will likely be one of the most popular championship picks in bracket contests and for good reason. They will be matched up with the 16th seed Drexel Dragons on Friday, March 19th, and they’ll be favored by a wide margin as you might imagine. The game will tip off at 1:15 p.m. ET from Indiana Farmers Coliseum and air on TBS.

No. 1 Illinois: 23-6 (16-4 BIG TEN): Automatic Bid

KenPom rating: 3 Overall, 7 Offense, 5 Defense
NET ranking: 3, (12-5 VS QUAD 1)
Leading scorer: Ayo Dosunmu
Key stat: Illinois has an average rebounding margin of 10.1, which is fourth in the country.

The Fighting Illini probably has the best duo in college basketball with junior guard Ayo Dosunmu running the show and sophomore big man Kofi Cockburn down low. There are not too many weaknesses for this bunch, but one flaw could be their free throw shooting at 69.1%, which is 11th in the Big Ten. Cockburn shoots the second most free throws in the conference but shoots just 54.4% from the line.

Watch for Illinois to go to their bench and give some of the reserve players more minutes. The Fighting Illini have a championship-caliber team, and risking any sort of injury to Dosunmu or Cockburn unnecessary in Round 1.

No. 16 Drexel: 12-7 (4-5 Colonial): Automatic Bid

KenPom rating: 146 Overall, 95 Offense, 247 Defense
NET ranking: 135 (0-0 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Camren Wynter
Key stat: Drexel’s average rebounding margin of 4.7 is the best in the Colonial.

Drexel is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years, and the Dragons like to slow things down and are a good shooting team, ranking No. 1 in field goal and free throw percentage in the Colonial this season. In addition, they are the top in the conference in assist:turnover ratio.

Watch for the Dragons to shoot more 3-pointers than usual because they’ll need that to stay in this one. They have good shooters with several players making around the 40% mark from deep.

March Madness Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point Spread: Illinois -22.5
Point Total: 144
Moneyline: Illinois -10000, Drexel +1900

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Illinois
Point total pick: Over 144
Pick to Win: Illinois

Illinois is likely way more than 22.5 points better than Drexel, but it’s a matter of how much head coach Brad Underwood wants to keep his stars in the game. The Illini should have no problem scoring at will especially with Cockburn, who is nearly impossible to stop, so we’ll go with them to cover and the over to hit. There are so few flaws with this Illinois team. Even when Dosunmu suffered a broken nose, he came back with the coolest mask you’ll ever see to protect himself. Ride with the Illini.