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Best Bets: Previewing Friday’s conference tournament action

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OHIO STATE vs. No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE, 12:30 p.m. BTN

  • LINE: Michigan State (-11)
  • TOTAL: 135
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 73, Ohio State 62
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 74, Ohio State 63

Michigan State swept Ohio State in two games this season, winning by an average of 13.5 points, including an 86-77 win in Columbus. This game comes at a time when Michigan State is getting healthier — Kyle Aherns is still playing, Nick Ward is expected back on a limited basis — and when Ohio State lost six of their last eight regular season games. I’m not exactly sure what to make of the fact that the Buckeyes beat Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, but I’m not convinced that this means OSU is back to being the team that started the season 12-1 and climbed into the top 20 of the polls.

PICKS: I don’t have a great feel on this game and will probably stay away personally, but if I’m going to bet it’s going to be on Michigan State’s side. I just think this is a tough matchup for the Buckeyes given that Sparty has a pair of big guys that they can throw at Kaleb Wesson, and we all saw what happens to OSU when Wesson isn’t there. And don’t forget, Ohio State played yesterday at noon. Michigan State has not played since Saturday.

FLORIDA vs. No. 9 LSU, 1:00 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: LSU (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 135.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 69, Florida State 66.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 70, Florida 67

The big issue with this game is that the status of some key people will be up in the air. Will Wade will likely not be coaching the team due to the reports that have come out regarding his ties to the FBI investigation into college basketball. Naz Reid seems like he is going to be good to go after missing the Vanderbilt game. Javonte Smart is the question mark. There’s a chance that LSU does decide to hold him out. There’s a chance they decide to let him play. If he does play, this is the same guy that put 29 points, five boards and five assists on Tennessee. He can play.

Regardless of his status, however, I like Florida (+2.5) here, and the reasoning is pretty simple: These two teams played twice during the regular season, splitting after Florida took the SEC regular season champs to overtime in both games. I also think that it is important to note that the Tigers will be playing without their coach in a fairly meaningless tournament having just come off the celebration of their league title. Florida, on the other hand, is playing for a bid to the tournament.

PICKS: I think you have to be on the Florida side here.

MEMPHIS vs. UCF, 2:00 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: UCF (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: UCF 75, Memphis 72.5
  • KENPOM: UCF 74, Memphis 73

It’s difficult, once we reach the point in the season where it becomes tournament time, to find spot plays. This, however, feels like a spot play. UCF is going to be in the NCAA tournament when the committee releases the bracket on Selection Sunday. They’re playing for seeding, and while I don’t know if it’s actually better to be a No. 8 seed than a No. 10 seed, that’s about the range that we are looking at for the Knights barring a massive run in Memphis.

The Tigers, however, are playing for their tournament lives. If they don’t win the automatic bid, they will not be dancing, which brings me to the next point — this tournament is in Memphis. The Tigers are 15-2 at home this season. One of those 15 home wins came against UCF, and it wasn’t close — the final score was 77-57. The Tigers also played the Knights tough in Orlando.

Should I mention that Memphis has won seven of their last night games?

PICKS: I will be on the Memphis moneyline here, especially if the odds keep creeping up. The line opened at UCF (-2) and moved to UCF (-2.5).

NEBRASKA vs. No. 19 WISCONSIN, 2:55 p.m. BTN

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-7.5)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 67.25, Nebraska 59.75
  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 66, Nebraska 60

All the signs here point to betting Wisconsin, right? Nebraska fell off a cliff at the end of the season, losing four of their last five, 11 of their last 14 and, during 10 week stretch, 13 out of 17. They have played two games in the last two days and advance to take on a Wisconsin team that beat they by 11 points in Lincoln earlier this year. The Badgers enter the Big Ten tournament having won three in a row, five of their last six and 11 of their last 14 games.

These two teams could not have been heading in more opposite directions heading to Chicago.

And then Nebraska turned into the team of destiny.

They beat Rutgers. They beat Maryland. They are a No. 13 seed in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, and if they happen to find a way to get a win over Wisconsin of Friday, they will not be that far out of the bubble picture. They have everything to play for and they’re doing it for a coach that could end up getting fired by the time the season is said and done.

PICKS: I think I’d probably take Nebraska here simply because I don’t have a lot of faith in Wisconsin’s ability to run someone off the floor. They are methodical, they are defensive-minded and their best player can’t make free throws.

And, when you think about it, if the Huskers are going to win the Big Ten tournament, they probably will have to cover to do it. Back on that Tim Miles bandwagon!

XAVIER vs. No. 25 VILLANOVA, 6:30 p.m. FS1

  • LINE: Villanova (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Villanova 72, Xavier 65.5
  • KENPOM: Villanova 71, Xavier 65

Villanova won the Big East regular season title in the least memorable fashion. They lost five of their last eight games — all on the road — and took home the title because A) One of their three wins came against Marquette at home, and B) that Marquette win was the second in a four-game losing streak for the Golden Eagles.

Villanova is not the Villanova of the last five years. They are much younger, they are not as talented as they have been and they have not shot the ball well enough from three to justify just how many they have been taking. They were also beaten pretty soundly by Xavier on Feb. 24th, losing by 12 in a game where they couldn’t find a way to make anything down the stretch.

PICKS: I think I like the Xavier side here. The Musketeers have won seven of their last eight games. They have the versatility and the athleticism to be able to matchup with Villanova when they spread the floor. I know that it is blasphemy to pick Xavier when they play Villanova, but given how well Xavier has been playing and the fact that Villanova and Xavier both rank outside the top 300 in tempo, I have a feeling this one will be close.

No. 12 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 2 VIRGINIA, 7:00 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: Virginia (-9)
  • TOTAL: 125.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 67.25, Florida State 58.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia 68, Florida State 59

This is one of my favorite games of the slate on Thursday.

For starters, I love Virginia (-9). The Cavaliers play Pack-Line, a defense built entirely around the idea that you take away access to the paint. No dribble penetration. No post touches. Nothing on the offensive glass. Virginia is going to make you beat them with jumpers over the top of their defense or by running offense that gets their defense moving. Florida State is not a great three-point shooting team, instead relying on getting offense from dribble penetration, post touches and the offensive glass. They don’t run complicated offense.

Simply put, this is a terrible matchup for the Seminoles. The first time they played, UVA led 65-36 with 2:30 left on the clock and the walk-ons checking into the game.

I’m also tempted by the over here. Virginia’s ruthless and unforgiving efficiency on the offensive end of the floor cannot be overstated. They’ve playing just as slow as they usually do, yet in the last five games, they’ve scored at least 73 points in all five while notching more than 60 possessions in just one.

The reason why I’m somewhat hesitant on the over is that I think Florida State — a top 15 defense in their own right — has the roster makeup to be able to matchup with Virginia’s versatility. I don’t think they’re going to stop Virginia, but I can see them holding the Wahoos to the low-to-mid 60s. If that’s the case, there’s no way they can cover the nine points and hit the over.

PICKS: Bet Virginia (-9). If you really need the action, bet the over, too, but I haven’t decided whether or not I will be betting it.

ALABAMA vs. No. 4 KENTUCKY, 7:00 p.m. SECN

  • LINE: Kentucky (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 136.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 74, Alabama 62.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 74, Alabama 64

The line keeps climbing here. It opened at Kentucky (-10) and is already up to (-12) in some places, and I don’t love that. I think that the Crimson Tide actually match up fairly well with Kentucky, and there is more talent on that Alabama roster than you may realize.

That said, when Alabama beat Kentucky earlier this year, it came when the Wildcats still weren’t playing their best and on a night where Tevin Mack made six first half threes and P.J. Washington and Tyler Herro combined for 8-for-22 shooting. Plus, Kentucky will be getting Reid Travis back on Friday.

PICKS: I’m probably going to stay away from this game myself, but I do think that letting the spread continue to climb and then grabbing Alabama (+12.5) or so right at the tip is the play.

IOWA STATE vs. No. 15 KANSAS STATE, 7:00 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: Iowa State (-1.5)
  • TOTAL: 131
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 66.25, Kansas State 64.75
  • KENPOM: Iowa State 66, Kansas State 65

Just how much do you trust Iowa State?

Because when it comes down to it, the Cyclones are the most talented team in the Big 12, but they lost three in a row, five of their last six and six of their last eight in the regular season because all of that talent struggled to figure out how they have to play in order to play together. There were some fights, there were some shoving matches during games, and then there was an 83-66 win over a good Baylor team in the quarterfinals.

Kansas State won a share of the Big 12 regular season title, but they are not the same team without Dean Wade, who is resting his bad foot for the NCAA tournament. They are still really good defensively, and the return of Cartier Diarra certainly does help mitigate some of the loss of Wade offensively.

PICKS: So do you trust Iowa State? If you do, I think this is a great spot for them against a team that they beat by 14 points on the road less than a month ago. Personally, if I take Kansas State, I’ll be taking the moneyline, but I think the side you want to be on here is Iowa State’s

No. 5 DUKE vs. No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, 9:30 p.m. ESPN

  • LINE: Duke (-3)
  • TOTAL: 164
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 83.5, North Carolina 80.5
  • KENPOM: Duke 83, UNC 81

Remember all of the anticipation and buildup that there was for Duke-North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium a month ago?

Remember how excited we all were to see that game happen?

Zion Williamson eventually blew out his shoe and the Tar Heels ended up smacking around Duke in Cameron. Well, tonight, we finally get the matchup we have been waiting all season to see: A full strength Duke going up against a full strength North Carolina.

For my money, the easiest bet to make today is the over in this game — it’s still available at 162 in some spots. The process is pretty simple:

  • North Carolina plays at the fourth-fastest pace nationally. Their average length of possession is fifth-lowest in the country. They’re the No. 7 offense in America, according to KenPom.
  • Duke plays at the 15th-fastest pace nationally. Their average length of possession is 12th-lowest. They are the No. 6 offensive in America, according to KenPom, and all of those numbers took a dip in the six games that Zion Williamson was absent.
  • The first time they played, there were 87 possessions in a game where Duke’s game-plan included Williamson. The second time they played, there were 77 possessions in a game where UNC pulled away at the end and Duke did not have their best player.

I know the last two games both went under, and I’m actually happy about that. I think it kept the total lower.

PICKS: Other than the over, if you’re making me pick a side, I’d lean Duke. I’ve said all along that I think the Blue Devils are the best team in the country when they are at full strength, and I’m not about to back off that now.

MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 8 TENNESSEE, 9:30 p.m. SECN

  • LINE: Tennessee (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 76, Mississippi State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Tennessee 78, Mississippi State 73

This is another really simple read for me: Tennessee (-5.5). I just do not have all that much trust in Mississippi State as a basketball team, and despite the loss at Auburn last Saturday, I still think the Vols are one of the very best teams in the country. It’s worth noting here that the one time these two teams did play this season, Mississippi State lost 71-54 in Knoxville.

PICKS: Go Vols.

WEST VIRGINIA vs. No. 17 KANSAS, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2

  • LINE: Kansas (-10.5)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 78.75, West Virginia 68.25
  • KENPOM: Kansas 80, West Virginia 69

If we’re betting on Nebraska because they are the team of destiny, then we have to bet on West Virginia, too.

The Mountaineers have won two straight games to open Big 12 tournament play, becoming the first No. 10 seed to get to the semifinals in the history of the event. Bob Huggins has this group playing like Press Virginia again, and should I mention that they already own a win over the Jayhawks this season?

PICKS: The Team Of Destiny bet may not end up paying off, but when it comes down to it, I’m willing to wager on a pressing team playing against a backcourt of nothing but freshmen.

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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And the Anteaters go marching on.

Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.

Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.

Kansas State entered this game as the co-Big 12 champion, but they were playing without their star, Dean Wade, who is dealing with foot issues that cost him the Big 12 tournament as well. His absence hurt. He is the best shooter, the best passer and the best player for the Wildcats, and his absence contributed to Kansas State’s 38.6 percent shooting now and an 8-for-27 performance from three.

But that should not take any of the credit away from Irvine. Remember, Kansas State reached the Elite 8 last season with Wade playing.

The credit belongs to Russell Turner, his game plan and the way his team executed it. Turner is a former Standford assistant that had a shot at getting the Cal job when the Bears hired Wyking Jones. He’s won four of the last six Big West regular season titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament twice in his five year tenure. This is the kind of performance that will make him an in-demand coach during the carousel this season, and he should have been all along.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The truth is that this Irvine team is really, really good. They take away the paint, they are as good defensively as any high-major that you’ll find and they have the size to match up with anyone. They are going to be a tough out for whoever wins tonight’s Wisconsin-Oregon first round battle.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.

Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.

The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.

Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.

The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.

This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.

One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.

It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.

It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.

That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.

It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Saturday’s NCAA tournament games

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12:10 p.m.: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, CBS

  • LINE: LSU (-2)
  • TOTAL: 147
  • IMPLIED SCORE: LSU 74.5, Maryland 72.5
  • KENPOM: LSU 74, Maryland 73

If you love watching soon-to-be NBA big men do battle in the paint, this is the matchup for you. Naz Reid, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams facing off with Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith and Ricky Lindo. Buckle up!

I think I lean towards the Maryland side here. The Terps have the size and athleticism on the wings to be able to handle Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, their big men should be able to keep LSU’s frontcourt in check and Tremont Waters is a pest, I do think Anthony Cowan will be able to avoid the live-ball turnovers that are killers.

PICK: This is a toss-up and a fascinating matchup between two teams with very similar roster constructions. That said, my money here will be on Mark Turgeon, who isn’t exactly the best coach in the world but who should be able to find a way to get it done against Tony Benford, LSU’s interim head coach. This is where it’s worth nothing that LSU blew a big lead in the second half against Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals before nearly blowing a bigger lead to Yale in the first round. Thats the difference-maker for me.

2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, CBS

  • LINE: Kentucky (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 138.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72, Wofford 66.5
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Wofford 68

P.J. Washington will not be playing in this one, which is a problem for the Wildcats if this is a longterm injury but not necessarily one that I think will cost them against Wofford. The key here is going to be Kentucky’s ability to chase Wofford’s shooters around screens and how well they deal with Cameron Jackson in the paint. I think that Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will be able to keep Fletcher Magee, Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover from going absolutely bonkers. Jackson is not all that dissimilar from Grant Williams in terms of the way he does his job, and Travis did a good job keeping Williams in check when they played.

PICK: I do like the Kentucky side here, although I don’t feel great about it. We’ll see if that line continues to climb, and maybe that would change things.

5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan (-7)
  • TOTAL: 120
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 63.5, Florida 56.5
  • KENPOM: Michigan 63, Florida 56

I fully expect this to end up being one of the ugliest games of the tournament. Both teams have top 15 defenses, and Florida has guys that can guard the likes of Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. I think this game plays out as a possession-by-possession battle played in the 50s that ends up being a one or two possession game in the final minute.

PICK: I don’t know if Florida will win this game, but seven points is a lot of points in a game that should be as slow and low-scoring as this game will be.

6:10 p.m.: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, TNT

  • LINE: Florida State (-5)
  • TOTAL: 143
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Florida State 74, Murray State 69
  • KENPOM: Florida State 74, Murray State 69

This is so tough. On the one hand, Florida State should have the bodies to be able to keep Ja Morant in check. They have a roster full of length and athleticism on the perimeter and they are a top 15 defense nationally. They are going to do a lot of switching, but that shouldn’t matter as Leonard Hamilton has built a team that is designed to defend like that. The matchup, to me, screams Florida State, especially at just (-5).

But my heart?

My heart says that Ja Morant is about to go on a Stephen Curry-esque run. He’s going to be an NBA superstar, and while we saw what he can do as a creator on Thursday, we have not yet seen just how dangerous he can be as a scorer. I want the Ja Morant ride to last.

PICK: My head says Florida State (-5). My heart says go along for the Racer ride. So I’ll probably just take the over.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, TBS

  • LINE: Gonzaga (-12.5)
  • TOTAL: 148
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 80.25, Baylor 67.75
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 81, Baylor 69

I think Killian Tillie is the important piece in this matchup. He’s such a good shooter, an underrated passer and the piece that should allow Gonzaga’s offense to get unclogged against this Baylor zone. In three games back since returning from his second foot injury of the season, he’s averaging 10.3 points in just 15 minutes per game, shooting 6-for-7 from three and 80 percent from the floor.

PICK: The Bears getting 12.5 points is a lot of points for a team that is going to be able to get only the offensive glass. The biggest issue for Baylor this year is that they turn the ball over like crazy, and Gonzaga has not been all that good at forcing turnovers this season. I think I lean Gonzaga, but I won’t bet it myself unless the line moves towards the Zags.

7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, CBS

  • LINE: Michigan State (-10)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.75, Minnesota 65.75
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Minnesota 67

Minnesota was not great this season. They are playing a wing at the point guard spot because Isaiah Washington has been a mess. They only go five deep at this point, and they were able to run over Louisville because the one guy that can make threes on their roster made a bunch of threes.

Michigan State beat Minnesota by 24 points the one time that they played this season, but they are a team that relies almost entirely on Cassius Winston running ball-screens, and Minnesota has been pretty good defending ball-screens this season.

PICK: With the spread at (-10), I think I would lean towards taking Minnesota. That’s a lot of points. But I think my favorite bet in this game is actually the under. Michigan State looked gassed in the first round after playing three games in three days during their run to the Big Ten tournament title. Minnesota is basically running out a five-man rotation these days. Legs will catch up with them eventually.

8:40 p.m.: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, TNT

  • LINE: Purdue (-3.5)
  • TOTAL: 137
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Purdue 70.25, Villanova 66.75
  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Villanova 67

This is my favorite bet of the Saturday slate. The defense that Villanova runs is pretty simple: They switch everything, 1-through-5, because it forces you out of the offense that you want to run. They dare teams to beat them 1-on-1, betting that their players are good enough to defend a cross-match regardless of opponent.

The problem for Purdue here is that, like Saint Mary’s, so much of what they get offensively comes out of the sets and actions they run. Put another way, Matt Painter doesn’t have all that many guys on his roster that can efficiently create for themselves in isolation. That includes Carsen Edwards, who is a tough-shot taker but, in the last month, has not exactly been a tough-shot maker.

The other part of this that makes me lean towards Villanova is that Villanova shoots more than 53 percent of their field goal attempts from three, and Purdue has not made running teams off the three-point line a priority this year.

PICK: If you are going to give me the defending national champs plus the points, I’ll take it. Villanova, if you’re tracking at home, has won 24 straight neutral court games. They win in knockout settings.

9:40 p.m.: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, TBS

  • LINE: PK
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas 73.75, Auburn 73.75
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Kansas 74

This is tough because Auburn is just so up-and-down while Kansas has looked downright bad for the last month until they faced Northeastern and suddenly turned into Kansas again.

What Auburn wants to do is to is to turn defense into offense. They are going to gamble — for steals, for blocks, for leak-outs — and look to get quick threes in transition once they get possession. For 33 minutes, it worked against New Mexico State. Twice in the last two weeks it worked for 40 minutes against Tennessee. Kansas has been turnover prone this season, particularly their ball-handlers, but they have cleaned that up in recent weeks. Devon Dotson, for example, had a turnover rate higher than 20 percent entering the Big 12 tournament and has committed just three turnovers in the last four games.

PICK: The matchup is going to get won based on how well Kansas protects the ball and how well they defend in transition — they finished the year in the 51st percentile nationally. It’s worth nothing that the Jayhawks struggled with West Virginia once this season but handled them easily on two different occasions in the last three weeks.

I think I will probably stay away, personally, but when it comes down to it, I think Auburn is the better team with the better players.