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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.

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

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At noon the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 CINCINNATI vs. No. 10 IOWA, CBS

  • LINE: Cincinnati (-3)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Cincinnati 70.25, Iowa 67.25
  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 71, Iowa 70

My analysis of this game really isn’t that complicated: I do not think that Iowa is a very good or very tough basketball team. I think that Cincinnati is a pretty good basketball team that beat the hell out of Houston in the AAC title game and that is, definitively, as tough as a three dollar steak.

PICK: Give me the Bearcats.

12:40 p.m.: No. 8 OLE MISS vs. No. 9 OKLAHOMA, TruTV

  • LINE: Ole Miss (-1)
  • TOTAL: 142
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Ole Miss 71.5, Oklahoma 70.5
  • KENPOM: Oklahoma 72, Ole Miss 71

I don’t trust Oklahoma this year. That’s really what this comes down to. The Sooners went 7-11 in Big 12 play and all of the impressive wins they picked up in the non-conference look significantly less impressive now than they did at the time. Ole Miss isn’t exactly full of world-beaters, but I do think that Breein Tyree and Terence Davis are dudes.

PICK: I want to invest my money on the side that has the guards that are game-changers. If I bet this, it will be with Ole Miss.

1:30 p.m.: No. 3 TEXAS TECH vs. No. 14 NORTHERN KENTUCKY, TNT

  • LINE: Texas Tech (-14)
  • TOTAL: 136.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 75.25, Northern Kentucky 61.25
  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 74, Northern Kentucky 61

On the surface, I love Texas Tech here simply because I think that the Red Raiders are closer to being one of the five or six best teams in college basketball than a No. 3 seed. The problem is that the way the Red Raiders defend — by icing ball-screens — is going to leave Northern Kentucky’s best player, Drew McDonald, free for pick-and-pop threes the entire afternoon.

PICK: Personally, I will likely be staying away from this line, but I do think that Texas Tech is the side that you want to be on.

2:00 p.m.:  No. 4 KANSAS STATE vs. No. 13 UC IRVINE, TBS

  • LINE: Kansas State (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 118.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas State 61.5, UC Irvine 57
  • KENPOM: Kansas State 62, UC Irvine 56

This changes if Dean Wade plays, but since he is currently listed as doubtful for this matchup, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that actually leads the nation in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have a couple of big uglies in the paint that can make things difficult for a Kansas State team that will be without their best shooter and one of their best passers.

Beyond just the matchup, the Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13. With the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.

PICK: I really like the Irvine side here, but the money line right now is just +170, so I’ll probably take the points.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 TENNESSEE vs. No. 15 COLGATE, CBS

  • LINE: Tennessee (-17.5)
  • TOTAL: 147.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 82.5, Colgate 65
  • KENPOM: Tennessee 83, Colgate 68

I will be staying away fro this game. As good as Tennessee is, there have been too many times the season where we have see the Vols play a team that was objectively worse than them closer than they should. I also have no desire to bet a No. 2 seed projected to scored 83 points not to cover. I’ll pass.

3:10 p.m.: No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 16 GARDNER-WEBB, TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia (-22.5)
  • TOTAL: 130.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 76.5, Gardner-Webb 54
  • KENPOM: Virginia 77, Gardner-Webb 55

I think Virginia is going to come out with a point to prove. The Cavaliers have heard about how they lost to a No. 16 seed for a full year now. They are coming off of a loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals that reignited the “Can Virginia win in March?” debate. They are as talented as they have ever been under Tony Bennett, and I fully expect them to absolutely bury Gardner-Webb.

PICK: Not only will I be betting Virginia (-22.5) here, but I think that I am also going to be on the under. I think an angry Virginia team is going to hold GW under 50 points.

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4:00 p.m.: No. 6 BUFFALO vs. No. 11 ARIZONA STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Buffalo (-5)
  • TOTAL: 156
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Buffalo 80.5, Arizona State 75.5
  • KENPOM: Buffalo 82, Arizona State 75

I really like Buffalo here. The Bulls are a tough, veteran team that is going to get out and pressure Arizona State and try to force them to turn the ball over. Where the Sun Devils are inconsistent, Buffalo churned out a 30-win season that included going into West Virginia and Syracuse and getting Ws. Arizona State lost by 16 at Vanderbilt.

PICK: I’m taking the tougher team to win here even if it means betting against the more talented underdog. I just can’t see C.J. Massinburg letting the Bulls lose.

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 WISCONSIN vs. No. 12 OREGON, TBS

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-3)
  • TOTAL: 116.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 59.75, Oregon 56.75
  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 61, Oregon 56

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down the zone Oregon will run, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down.

Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1), then it bounced back up to Wisconsin (-3).

PICK: I’ll lean Oregon here, and I’ll probably wait to see just how high this line will climb. If I can get Oregon (+4.5) I’ll be ecstatic.

6:50 p.m.: No. 8 UTAH STATE vs. No. 9 WASHINGTON, TNT

  • LINE: Utah State (-3)
  • TOTAL: 135
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Utah State 69, Washington 66
  • KENPOM: Utah State 68, Washington 65

This goes along with the thinking that you should fade the Pac-12 in March. Think about this: The only reason that Washington has a win over an NCAA tournament team this season is because they lost to Oregon in the final of the Pac-12 tournament, giving the Ducks an automatic bid to the dance. Washington beat Oregon in January.

PICK: Utah State has one of the most underappreciated players in the country on their roster in Sam Merrill. Craig Smith is a magnificent coach that will be at a bigger program soon. Take the Aggies.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 DUKE vs. No. 16 NORTH DAKOTA STATE, CBS

  • LINE: Duke (-27)
  • TOTAL: 148.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 87.75, NDSU 60.75
  • KENPOM: Duke 87, NDSU 63

This spread is just so monstrous. I don’t think I really want to bet it, but if I do, it will be the Duke side. The Bison are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament, and asking them to try and slow down Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and the rest of the Dukies is going to be a big, big ask.

7:20 p.m.: No. 3 HOUSTON vs. No. 14 GEORGIA STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Houston (-11.5)
  • TOTAL: 141.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Houston 76.5, Georgia State 65
  • KENPOM: Houston 77, Georgia State 65

Georgia State is always going to be a dangerous mid-major because of the way they run and the talent they have, but I just have too much faith in this Houston team. They aren’t the best or most talented team in the country, but I do think that they are disciplined, well-coached and good enough defensively that they are not going to beat themselves.

PICK: I’ll take the Cougars (-11.5), but I won’t feel all that comfortable about it.

7:27 p.m.: No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 12 LIBERTY, 7:27 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Mississippi State (-6.5)
  • TOTAL: 133.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Mississippi State 70, Liberty 63.5
  • KENPOM: Mississippi State 71, Liberty 65

This is a tough game to get a feel for. For starters, Liberty was the second-best team in the Atlantic Sun this season, even if they did pick up a couple of wins against Lipscomb. They also run the Pack-Line defense, which is the kind of thing that can give the Bulldogs, who are without Nick Weatherspoon, some issues.

The problem here is that Mississippi State got dudes. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, Aric Holman, Lamar Peters. These are guys that, which someone inconsistent, can absolutely take a game over, especially against a mid-major program.

PICK: I’d lean Mississippi State here, especially at just (-6.5), but I also think that the under is in play.

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

9:20 p.m.: No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 16 IONA, 9:20 p.m. TNT

  • LINE: North Carolina (-23.5)
  • TOTAL: 166
  • IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 94.75, Iona 71.25
  • KENPOM: North Carolina 95, Iowa 70

I think that I am going to stay away from the line here. If I do bet it, I would be betting on the Tar Heels, mainly because this is a team that can put up 100 on anyone but also because I just don’t think that Iona has the horses to be able to keep up with UNC this year. I also think that I like the under. 166 is a huge number, and while Iona has the reputation for being a team that wants to run, run, run and push, push, push, they are not as breakneck offensively as they have been in the past.

PICK: I don’t love either bet here, but if I am going to have action on this game, it will be UNC (-23.5) and the under.

9:40 p.m.: No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m. CBS

  • LINE: VCU (-0.5)
  • TOTAL: 126.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: VCU 63.5, UCF 63
  • KENPOM: VCU 63, UCF 62

This best is simple for me: UCF is a great defensive team that has an elite shot-blocker in the paint and wants to funnel drivers into the lane. VCU cannot shoot threes very well, they want to drive and their best player — Marcus Evans — will, at the very least, be banged up for this one.

PICK: I like the UCF ML the play here if VCU is going to be favored. I also tend to lean towards the under. Both of these teams really, really defend, and while VCU is still going to try and force turnovers, they aren’t pressing as much as they have in the past.

9:50 p.m.: No. 6 IOWA STATE vs. No. 11 OHIO STATE, 9:50 p.m. TBS

  • LINE: Iowa State (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 140.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 73, Ohio State 67.5
  • KENPOM: Iowa State 72, Ohio State 68

This line actually appears to be coming down. It opened at Iowa State (-6) and now sits at (-5.5), which is a dream come true for someone like me, that has the Cyclones in the Elite 8 despite decidedly not being back on the Iowa State bandwagon.

Here’s the truth: Chris Holtmann is one of the top ten coaches in all of college basketball, but given the talent disparity between these two teams, if Iowa State shows up to play, they should be able to cover that spread regardless of how Holtmann decides to build his game-plan. The problem is that we can never really quite be sure if Iowa State is going to show up. The Cyclones looked like a top ten team in their run to the Big 12 tournament title. They looked like an NIT team when they lost six of their last eight games during the regular season.

PICK: I think Iowa State has this figured out. I think they win with ease on Friday night.

9:57 p.m.: No. 4 VIRGINIA TECH vs. No. 13 SAINT LOUIS, 9:57 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia Tech (-10.5)
  • TOTAL: 125.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia Tech 68, Saint Louis 57.5
  • KENPOM: Virginia Tech 69, Saint Louis 58

The key to betting this game is going to be how healthy you think Justin Robinson is. He is not their most talented player but he is their most important player. The Hokies were a top ten team with him healthy and went just 7-5 after he was injured on Jan. 30th. He matters because Saint Louis is a really, really talented and tough team that can absolutely lock up defensively. They have the athletes to be able to matchup with Virginia Tech’s four-out, one-in scheme and while they have not been great offensively this year, I do think that they have the talent — Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess, Tramaine Isabell — to be able to makes plays when they need to.

PICK: I will not be picking Saint Louis to win this game in my bracket, but at (+10.5), I do think they will cover. That is a big number for a good defensive team against a Virginia Tech that wants to play slow.

NCAA Tournament 2019: College basketball national title futures

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All futures courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

TEAM TITLE FINAL FOUR
 1. Duke 9/4 11/20
 1. Gonzaga 23/4 3/2
 1. North Carolina 15/2 2/1
 1. Virginia 7/1 6/4
 2. Kentucky 13/1 11/4
 2. Michigan 20/1 11/4
 2. Michigan State 17/1 4/1
 2. Tennessee 17/1 3/1
 3. Houston 40/1 5/1
 3. LSU 50/1 10/1
 3. Purdue 33/1 5/1
 3. Texas Tech 30/1 11/2
 4. Florida State 40/1 6/1
 4. Kansas 60/1 9/1
 4. Kansas State 60/1 10/1
 4. Virginia Tech 30/1 14/1
 5. Auburn 45/1 10/1
 5. Marquette 80/1 15/1
 5. Mississippi State 100/1 20/1
 5. Wisconsin 150/1 40/1
 6. Buffalo 100/1 15/1
 6. Iowa State 50/1 8/1
 6. Maryland 150/1 25/1
 6. Villanova 33/1 8/1
 7. Cincinnati 100/1 15/1
 7. Louisville 80/1 15/1
 7. Nevada 60/1 20/1
 7. Wofford 100/1 15/1
 8. Ole Miss 250/1 30/1
 8. Syracuse 150/1 40/1
 8. Utah State 150/1 20/1
 8. VCU 200/1 50/1
 9. Baylor 250/1 70/1
 9. Central Florida 200/1 50/1
 9. Oklahoma 200/1 50/1
 9. Washington 250/1 50/1
 10. Florida 200/1 70/1
 10. Iowa 200/1 50/1
 10. Minnesota 300/1 60/1
 10. Seton Hall 300/1 50/1
 11. Arizona State 300/1 100/1
 11. Belmont 350/1 40/1
 11. Saint Mary’s 250/1 40/1
 11. St. John’s 350/1 100/1
 11. Temple 500/1 70/1
 11. Ohio State 250/1 50/1
 12. New Mexico State 250/1 60/1
 12. Liberty 350/1 100/1
 12. Murray State 250/1 100/1
 12. Oregon 250/1 30/1
 13. Northeastern 350/1 80/1
 13. UC Irvine 350/1 70/1
 13. Saint Louis 500/1 80/1
 13. Vermont 500/1 100/1
 14. Yale 500/1 80/1
 14. Georgia State 500/1 80/1
 14. Northern Kentucky 500/1 100/1
 14. Old Dominion 500/1 80/1
 15. Bradley 500/1 100/1
 15. Montana 500/1 100/1
 15. Abilene Christian 1000/1 200/1
 15. Colgate 1000/1 200/1
 16. Iona 1000/1 200/1
 16. Gardner-Webb 1000/1 200/1
 16. Prairie View A&M 1000/1 200/1
 16. North Dakota State 1000/1 200/1
 16. NC Central 1000/1 200/1
 16. Fairleigh Dickinson 1000/1 200/1

NCAA tournament first round betting lines, odds and spreads

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Here are the betting lines, totals and spreads for every first round NCAA tournament matchup.

TUESDAY, 3/19

6:40 p.m.: No. 16 FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (-1.5) vs. No. 16 PRAIRIE VIEW A&M, 150

9:10 p.m.: No. 11 BELMONT (-3.5) vs. No. 11 TEMPLE, 155.5

WEDNESDAY, 3/20

6:40 p.m.: No. 16 NORTH DAKOTA STATE (-5) vs. No. 16 NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL, 134.5

9:10 p.m.: No. 11 ARIZONA STATE (-1) vs. No. 11 ST. JOHN’S, 152

THURSDAY, 3/21

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 LOUISVILLE (-5) vs. No. 10 MINNESOTA, 136

12:40 p.m.: No. 3 LSU (-7.5 vs. No. 14 YALE, 160.5

1:30 p.m.: No. 5 AUBURN (-7) vs. No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE, 142.5

2:00 p.m.: No. 4 FLORIDA STATE (-10.5) vs. No. 13 VERMONT, 133.5

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE (-18) vs. No. 15 BRADLEY, 133.5

4:00 p.m.: No. 4 KANSAS (-8.5) vs. No. 13 NORTHEASTERN, 145.5

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 MARQUETTE (-4) vs. No. 12 MURRAY STATE, 149.5

6:50 p.m.: No. 7 NEVADA (-2) vs. No. 10 FLORIDA, 133

7:10 p.m.: No. 2 KENTUCKY (-21.5) vs. No. 15 ABILENE CHRISTIAN, 132

7:20 p.m.: No. 6 VILLANOVA (-6) vs. No. 11 SAINT MARY’S, 130

9:20 p.m.: No. 2 MICHIGAN (-16) vs. No. 15 MONTANA, 131

9:40 p.m.: No. 7 WOFFORD (-3) vs. No. 10 SETON HALL, 142.5

9:50 p.m.: No. 3 PURDUE (-12) vs. No. 14 OLD DOMINION, 128.5

9:57 p.m.: No. 8 SYRACUSE (-2) vs. No. 9 BAYLOR, 132.5

FRIDAY, 3/22

12:15 p.m.: No. 7 CINCINNATI (-3.5) vs. No. 10 IOWA, 139

12:40 p.m.: No. 9 OLE MISS (-2) vs. No. 8 OKLAHOMA, 143.5

1:30 p.m.: No. 3 TEXAS TECH (-14) vs. No. 14 NORTHERN KENTUCKY

2:00 p.m.: No. 6 KANSAS STATE (-5.5) vs. No. 11 UC IRVINE, 119.5

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 TENNESSEE (-17.5) vs. No. 15 COLGATE, 151

3:10 p.m.: No. 1 VIRGINIA (-23.5) vs. No. 16 GARDNER-WEBB, 130.5

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 WISCONSIN (-1) vs. No. 12 OREGON

6:50 p.m.: No. 8 UTAH STATE (-3.5) vs. No. 9 WASHINGTON, 134

7:20 p.m.: No. 3 HOUSTON (-11.5) vs. No. 14 GEORGIA STATE, 142

7:27 p.m. No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE (-7.5) vs. No. 12 LIBERTY, 136.5

9:20 p.m.: No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-24) vs. No. 16 IONA, 167

9:40 p.m.: No. 8 VCU (-1) vs. No. 9 UCF, 127

9:50 p.m.: No. 6 IOWA STATE (-6) vs. No. 11 OHIO STATE, 140.5

No. 4 VIRGINIA TECH (-9.5) vs. No. 13 SAINT LOUIS, 125.5

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.

AAC tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

Jarron Cumberland continued his development as a junior, turning into one of the most dangerous scorers in the ACC and certainly the best player in college basketball that looks like he got lost on the way to football practice. There are a number of really, really terrific perimeter players in the AAC this year, but for the Bearcats to end the year with a chance to win a share of the AAC regular season despite all that they lost last season should tell you all you need to know about what Cumberland did.

AMERICAN COACH OF THE YEAR: Kelvin Sampson, Houston

Sampson is very much in the mix for National Coach of the Year after the way that he was able to make Houston great against after the loss of Rob Gray. The Cougars are a top 15 team in all the rankings — and a top five team in the NET — after going 29-2, winning the AAC regular season title outright and putting themselves in a position that a top two seed in the NCAA tournament is a real possibility.

FIRST TEAM ALL-AAC

  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati
  • COREY DAVIS JR., Houston
  • JEREMIAH MARTIN, Memphis
  • B.J. TAYLOR, UCF
  • SHIZZ ALSTON JR., Temple

SECOND TEAM ALL-AAC

  • ARMONI BROOKS, Houston
  • AUBREY DAWKINS, UCF
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State
  • QUINTON ROSE, Temple
  • DAQUAN JEFFRIES, Tulsa

AMERICAN TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 14-17
WHERE: Memphis
FINAL: March 17, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

FAVORITE: Houston (+100)

The Cougars are the best team in the conference, and, frankly, I’m not sure that it is all that close. They have myriad talented perimeter players that can take a game over, and I think that their frontcourt is actually somewhat underrated. Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks get all the attention, but Dejon Jarreau is certainly talented as well.

The one concern I have about this Houston team is that they are going to have a tough semifinal game regardless of who they play. If it’s UCF (+450), they’re drawing the second-best defense in the league, one of the oldest and most talented teams and the group that beat Houston on their home floor just two weeks ago. If it’s MEMPHIS (+900) … well, let’s talk about the Tigers.

SLEEPER: Memphis (+900)

I don’t think there is a single coach in the AAC that is happy about the fact that this tournament is going to be played in FedEx Forum, the Tigers’ home arena, this season. That’s because Memphis has been dangerous in their own building. They are 15-2 at home this season — the only losses were by five to Cincinnati and against Tennessee — and you know that place is going to be packed to the gills with out of control Tiger fans. Remember, things get so rowdy in that building that one fan pooped behind an ice cream stand during a game this season.

The Tigers are hot. They’ve won six of their last eight games, and the two losses in that stretch came by a combined nine points at UCF and Cincinnati. They have arguably the most dangerous scorer in the league in Jeremiah Martin — he scored 41 in a half this year, he scored 43 in another game and in his last seven games, he’s averaging 30.7 points — and they play a thrilling style that allows them to score in bunches.

Penny Hardaway knows how to play the heel. He knows how to get Memphis fans into a frenzy. His players leave everything on the floor. This is a dangerous team that is peaking at the right time and playing at home.

BEST VALUE: Memphis (+900)

They are very clearly the best value bet in this tournament, and at 9:1 odds, I think they’re one of my favorite conference tournament futures, period.

I also think that WICHITA STATE (+1700) is worth a look. The Shockers have won nine of their last 11 games, they have a wins over UCF, Baylor and Providence and Gregg Marshall is a guy that has had plenty of success in tournament settings.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

TEMPLE (NET: 50, SOS: 72): Temple benefitted from some excellent bid collusion by the AAC this week, as UCF jettisoned up into the top 30 thanks to wins at Houston and against Cincinnati, which means that the Owls beating UCF in Philly became a Q1 win. Temple has two of those — UCF and Houston (4) at home. With a 23-8 record and just one loss outside Q1 and Q2 — Penn (108) at home — they’re in a good spot. Even with a loss to Memphis (53) in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament, that’s only going to add another Q1 loss to their resume. It’ll be a sweat if a couple more teams go all Saint Mary’s on the bubble, but I’m starting to believe in the four-bid AAC.

UCF (NET: 28, SOS: 39): I’ve seen UCF on some bubble watch lists so I felt obligated to list them here, but for my money they are a lock after their win at Houston and against Cincinnati last week. They’re all the way up to a No. 8 seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket projection.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Not all that much, frankly. There are a couple of coaches in the league that are in a bit of a difficult spot currently, but I don’t think that we will see too much turnover. I don’t think that Houston is going to be able to climb much higher than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. I will say this, however: The AAC sure does look like it is going to be a four-bid conference, and if Memphis can find a way to get this automatic bid, they’ll get five. So much for all that talk about how the AAC is staring at being a one-bid league this season.

Now think about what happens when Memphis, UConn and Wichita State are all firing at the levels we’ve come to expect.

PREDICTION

I’ll ride with the Tigers. I think Penny finds a way to get it done as Jeremiah Martin becomes a conference tournament legend for the performance he puts together this week.