The 2021 NCAA Tournament tipped off Thursday evening with the appetizer that is First Four, but Friday is when we get the main course. We had some great games Thursday, but Friday brings the first of two straight days of 16-game slates. We’ll get some dominant wins, some wild upsets, and hopefully a buzzer-beater or two.
Everybody is finalizing their bracket picks and making a wager or two on games and futures bets. However, there’s another contest that is growing in popularity. March Madness Survivor pools give you a chance to make a pick each day on who will win a game outright while factoring in strategy of who you think will advance two or three rounds from now. You pick a team each day or round, and cannot use a team twice. It’s a little bit of a checkers strategy where you need to be thinking two or three moves ahead.
DraftKings Sportsbook is offering a free Survivor Pool game with the final survivor claiming a $1 million prize. For the first, second, and third rounds, you have to make a pick each day. For the Elite Eight, if you’re still around, you make a pick for the entire round. If you remain alive, you then pick one of the two Final Four games and then the National Championship Game. If you reach a point where you can no longer pick a new team, your entry is eliminated.
Who do you take these first two days? You don’t want to use a No. 1 seed yet given the likelihood they advance deep into the tournament. If you think one is particularly week, you could potentially justify it, but with 16 games each day to choose from, you might want to get a little more creative.
A potentially popular “sleeper” pick will be No. 8 Loyola Chicago. They face a ninth-seeded Georgia Tech squad that is missing ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright due to a positive COVID-19 test. The line has moved from Loyola -1.5 to -5.5. With Loyola likely to lose in the next round to No. 1 Illinois, it would not be the worst idea to grab them.
On the other hand, if you think that ends up a bit of a chalky pick in this game, No. 5 Tennessee could make some sense. They have a favorable matchup even if John Fulkerson is unable to go. More importantly for Survivor purposes, they then have to likely beat No. 4 Oklahoma State in the Round of 32 and then Illinois in the Sweet 16. It’s doable, but difficult enough that I don’t mind using them up now.
For the first two rounds of the Saturday/Monday slate, I’d likely want to try and use up some of the West region if at all possible. Gonzaga is the No. 1 out there and they’re an absolute monster. It’d be a pretty stunning upset to see them not come out of the region, but worst case, they’re at least getting to the Elite Eight. No. 3 Kansas is an intriguing consideration. No. 14 Eastern Washington is getting some Cinderella buzz, especially with Kansas missing Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna in the first round. I suspect this ends up a close one, but Kansas’ trip to Indiana might be short enough that it’s worth grabbing them now.
The safer pick just to get through however would probably be No. 6 BYU over No. 11 UCLA. Over at the KenPom ratings, the Cougars rank 27th on offense and 26th on defense. The Bruins ranks 18th on offense, but 95th on defense. Add in UCLA leading scorer Johnny Juzang dealing with a rolled ankle and this could be a rough day for the Bruins.
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