Slumping Villanova Is Favored And Surprising Drexel Is Big Underdog In NCAA Tourney

The two Philadelphia schools that made their way into March Madness are showing different trends ahead of Friday's games.
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This year’s March Madness will have two Pennsylvania teams, but the pair may be feeling opposite highs and lows heading into their opening round games Friday in Indiana.

Villanova is limping into a matchup with Winthrop having lost its past two games and five of its last 10 after starting the season 11-1. The Wildcats might be said to be limping literally, as well, in that their most recent struggles are tied to the knee injury that ended the season of star point guard Collin Gillespie on March 3.

Drexel, meanwhile, should be happy just to be part of the March dance after going 4-5 in regular season Colonial Athletic Association play. The Dragons peaked in the CAA tournament, and their title there entitled them to become a 16-seed playing Friday against Midwest No. 1 seed Illinois.

Villanova, seeded fifth in the South, is favored in its game despite the recent struggles, while oddsmakers assume it will take a miracle for Drexel to beat the Illini. But miracles do happen, as fans of University of Maryland Baltimore County would be happy to tell you, so here’s a rundown on how Pennsylvania’s 12 online sportsbooks size up the Philadelphia schools’ games on Friday.

‘Nova not the same national contender it once was

Villanova finished 16-6 overall, 11-4 in the Big East, but was hastily knocked out of the conference tournament when upset by Georgetown. That was after an unexpected challenge during the season of going 27 days between games due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Without Gillespie, the Wildcats are more reliant now on sophomore forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who has averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Teammates Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels have also averaged in double figures.

They may be considered to have a big asset, meanwhile, in the experience of coach Jay Wright. Now in his 20th season at Villanova, he has led his teams to eight straight NCAA appearances.

But 12th-seeded Winthrop is no cupcake opponent. The champion of both the Big South’s regular season and conference tournament, the Eagles went 21-1 on the year, a record surpassed only by undefeated Gonzaga. They are led by versatile senior forward Chandler Vaudrin, who averages 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game.

The legal betting sites all overlook Villanova’s recent slump enough to make it a 6-point favorite in the contest, which is the latest game on the schedule Friday, with a 9:57 p.m. ET tipoff.

The best moneyline return for betting ‘Nova to win would be the -260 offered by FanDuel and Caesars. The over/under for points total ranges from as low as 139.5 at BetMGM to 141 from FanDuel, Betfred, and the six Kambi-backed sites (DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, Parx).

Villanova had odds as short as 7/1 to be national champion before the season started, when it had a No. 3 AP ranking, but the outlook is far different now.

Those still backing the team can get 60/1 from Caesars and Betfred to win it all. (Gonzaga is the favorite, anywhere from +200 to +210.) A successful wager on the Wildcats reaching the Final Four would net 10/1 from the Kambi sites or BetMGM. On FOX Bet, you can get them at +150 just to reach the Sweet Sixteen by winning two games.

Drexel looks to repeat the surprise success of 1996

Drexel finished the season 12-7 overall in its first winning season in the five years of coach Zach Spiker. That was an achievement in itself, but it was the CAA title game win over Elon after entering the tourney as a conference No. 6 seed that enabled the Dragons to make their first March Madness appearance in a quarter-century.

Drexel is led by all-conference guard Camren Wynter (16.8 ppg) and 6-8 senior James Butler (12.9 ppg, 9.2 rbg).

Needless to say, Illinois is no Elon. While 22-6 overall, the Illini have won 14 of their past 15 games, including the Big Ten title game over Ohio State. The conference was considered the nation’s toughest this year, and Illinois helped it earned that status with the performances of national Player of the Year contender Ayo Dosunmu, a guard, and the team’s powerful center, 7-footer Kofi Cockburn.

The seeming mismatch has Drexel entering Friday afternoon’s game as an underdog by as many as 23 points from Caesars. Most sites favor Illinois by 22.5, while FOX Bet had the point spread at just 21.5 Monday morning. The o/u is set at 144.5 most places, but BetMGM listed just 143.5.

For Dragons fans looking for grounds for optimism, they might remember that that last NCAA tournament appearance in 1996 featured a win over Memphis, the only NCAA victory in school history. And for betting purposes, it’s worth noting that Drexel rewarded backers by going 12-5-2 against the spread this season.

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