With the madness that is March now in full swing, it’s time
to take a look through the brackets.
Today, I’ll offer a quick take on the 28 matchups already set for
Thursday and Friday. Games are listed in
the entire season losing close games on the road, falling in OT at UCLA and
Kentucky, while dropping games by three points or less at Tennessee, Arkansas,
Texas A&M, LSU and to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament. Larry Eustachy got the most he could out of Colorado State’s talent level this
year, but the Rams, too, lost nearly every step-up game on the highway.
As a #3 seed, Marquette
is only a 3.5 point favorite over #14 seed Davidson; the shortest 3-14 pointspread in recent memory. The betting markets clearly respect the
Wildcats five upperclassmen starters that started 30 of their 33 previous games
together this season.
Butler has won at
least the first two games of every single postseason tournament they’ve played
since 2010, including runs in the Horizon League and A-10 conference tourney’s,
two runs to the championship game in the Big Dance and last year’s run to the
CBI semi-finals. Bucknell’s fellow Patriot League member Lehigh knocked off #2 seed Duke
in the first round last year.
eleven juniors and seniors on the roster, and they’re loaded with size and good
shooters. But Michigan State will have an enormous crowd edge playing in suburban
Detroit and Tom Izzo has a pretty darn good history of avoiding first round upsets.
Everyone knows that Akron’s
point guard got kicked off the team just prior to their regular season
finale. Everyone knows that VCU’s defensive pressure is their bread
and butter, leading the nation in forcing turnovers. The ‘KISS’ strategy (keep it simple, stupid)
was on full display when the TV talking heads broke down this matchup when the
brackets were announced on Sunday Night.
So why have we seen some early wiseguy money come in support of the
Senior point guard Nate Wolters gets the headlines,
averaging more than 22 points and five assists per game, but he’s one of four
double digit scorers for South Dakota
State. They were good enough to
steal a game at New Mexico just before Christmas, but were bad enough to lose
by 24 at Minnesota. Michigan does
something that few Summit League teams are very good at – they play defense!
When Gonzaga faced
Southern in a non-conference tilt
three years ago, the Zags won the game 117-72 and won the rebounding battle
54-11. I know the Jaguars have improved
by leaps and bounds in the two years since head coach Roman Banks arrived in
Garland, but the Zags had a winning ATS record in the dozen games that they’ve
been favored by 15 points or more this year.
Pitt is on a 2-7
ATS run in the Big Dance dating back to 2008, and they’ve lost SU as a favorite
in each of their last four NCAA tournament appearances. Wichita
State has ‘Big East’ level size and depth, but lost five times down the
stretch by five points or less, repeatedly unable to pull out tight games away
Harvard lost and
failed to cover in their opening round matchup against Vanderbilt last year,
continuing a long and storied string of SU and ATS failures for the Ivy League’s
Bi g Dance entrant. Steve Alford’s New Mexico squad won the regular season
and tournament titles in the strongest mid-major conference in the country for
the second consecutive year.
Belmont is loaded
with strong three point shooters, including Ian Clark, Trevor Noack and JJ
Mann; a trio that combined for better than 40% shooting from beyond the arc
this year. But the Bruins lack of size
and consistent string of double digit defeats in the Big Dance gives Arizona a solid chance for redemption following
a disappointing 5-5 SU, 4-6 ATS mark in their last ten games.
Oregon gets a
friendly, close-to-home venue after winning the PAC-12 tournament title, and
Dana Altman’s track record in tournament situations cannot be understated. That being said, the Ducks weren’t the same
team after point guard Dominic Artiz got hurt mid-season – he scored only 20
ponits with 14 assists in six games since his return to the lineup. Oklahoma
State has a clear edge in the backcourt with Marcus Smart and Markel Brown combining
for more than 30 points and 10 boards between them.
St Louis was as
hot as any team in the country down the stretch: 15-1 SU and ATS in their last
16 games, the lone loss coming in OT at Xavier.
New Mexico State got a lucky
draw in the WAC tournament after conference leaders Denver and Louisiana Tech
both got upset as double digit favorites in their opening round matchups.
I remember the first meeting between Cal and UNLV very clearly,
because I had a Bears ticket at pick ‘em in my pocket. Trailing by one, UNLV’s Anthony Marshall
threw up a last gasp airball in the closing seconds, but Quintrell Thomas
grabbed it and scored on a short hook shot with a single second on the clock
for a one point Rebel win. The rematch
could be just as close.
three NBA draft picks on their roster (Michael Carter-Williams, James
Southerland and Brandon Triche), something that correlates extremely well with
extended Big Dance runs. Montana won the Big Sky regular season
and tournament titles for the second straight year, hoping to improve on their
performance from last year when they lost by 24 against Wisconsin in the
Duke will surely
remember their opening round loss to Lehigh as eleven point favorites from last
year, and they’ve only lost one game all season with a healthy Ryan Kelly in
the lineup. Albany lacks any sort of a signature win this year; a team with limited
interior size to complement their strong guard play.
particularly good down the stretch, losing seven of their last eleven in
straight up fashion while going 2-9 ATS.
Creighton, on the other hand,
snapped out of an ugly mid-season funk (1-9-1 ATS, losing SU six times during
that span) by reeling off five consecutive wins and covers on their way to a
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title.
Florida Gulf Coast
has only been a D-1 program for six years.
They lost on the road at VCU, Duke, St John’s and Iowa State all by double
digit margins, but pulled the upset at home over Miami and covered the spread
in all four of their lined games this season.
Georgetown has only two Big
Dance wins since 2007, consistent underachievers in March.
Lon Kruger knows Steve Fisher’s Aztecs well from his tenure
at UNLV, when his Rebels battled San
Diego State for years in a series of ‘down-to-the-wire’ classics. But Oklahoma
did not fare well down the stretch, including bad losses at Texas and Texas
Tech. That being said, San Diego State
lacks low post size and they struggled away from home against quality foes in
Mountain West play.
NC State has
future NBA talent with Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie, two of the five starters
who average at least a dozen points a game for the high scoring Wolfpack. Temple
has struggled with poor shot selection from leading scorers Khalif Wyatt
and Scootie Randall, and their three point defense has been problematic all
Iona has the nation’s
third leading scorer, MAAC Player of the Year Lamont Jones, and the nation’s
second highest scoring offense (80.7 ppg).
Unfortunately for the Gaels, they’re matched up against a defensive
minded, slowdown Ohio State team
playing a just short drive from Columbus.
Last year, Iowa State
entered the Big Dance with a strong 18-9-1 ATS mark and pulled off a double
digit win as an underdog in the first round against UConn. They were a strong pointspread team again
this year, facing off against a Notre
Dame team that is just 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS in their last five Big Dance
Kansas will enjoy
tremendous crowd support against Western
Kentucky at the Sprint Center in Kansas City; the same venue where the
Jayhawks just won another Big 12 Tournament title. Western Kentucky won their final three Sun
Belt Tournament games by three points or less; every bit as lucky as they were
Villanova was a
pointspread juggernaut all year, losing ATS only ten times in their thirty
lined games. But North Carolina was a pointspread juggernaut when it mattered most –
down the stretch – cashing seven of their last eight prior to the ACC
Ole Miss won SU
as an underdog against LSU, Missouri and Florida away from home over the past
two weeks; an ascending team right now. Wisconsin is as tough as nails
defensively, but their lack of consistent scoring options was on full display
in their Big 10 title game loss to Ohio State.
Florida has been
remarkably adept at blowing out lesser foes, closing out the regular season on
an 11-5 ATS run as double digit chalk. Northwestern State leads the nation in
scoring (82.4 ppg) and have ten players who average at least 15 minutes per
game, deep enough to avoid a second half meltdown.
UCLA looked like
a completely different team in the PAC-12 Championship Game, the first game
they’ve played all year without second leading scorer Jordan Adams
(ankle). Minnesota has the veteran talent to pull off the ‘upset’ as clearly
demonstrated by the pointspread -- the
#11 seed is favored over the #6 seed.
Miami enters the
Big Dance tied with Iowa, St Louis and James Madison as the best pointspread
teams in the country this year, all with 11 more covers than non-covers. Pacific
has only one double digit scorer, relying on a ten deep rotation to make up for
their lack of size in the paint; bad news against the dominant Hurricanes
always capable of knocking off superior foes when sharpshooters Brandon Paul or
DJ Richardson get hot from the perimeter.
Colorado pulled the upset
over UNLV in the Big Dance last year before getting blown out by Baylor; unable
to reach the Sweet 16.