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Bernie Fratto (@BernieFratto): Ohio +7 in Round 1
Earlier in the year Ohio had Illinois on the ropes before losing by two points. This was not a fluke. Led by 6'4" guard Jason Preston (who had 31 pts vs the Illini), the Bobcats average 58% from inside the arc when he's on the floor. Coach Jeff Boal's squad has five players who average double figures, and they recently put up 101 points on Horizon League champion Cleveland State. And did I mention Virginia's COVID-19 issues? Grab the points, and don't be surprised if the Bobcats win this one outright... They're live...
Sleepy J (@SleepyJ_Pregame): Georgetown vs. Colorado Under 138
I believe that both of these teams take out the other's strengths here. Both Georgetown and Colorado have a great inside presence, and a rebounding edge will simply not show up for either team. Georgetown is coming off a game in which they shot the three-ball very well, and I’m worried they will go back to the well too much with that shot. Colorado's 3PT defense, on the other hand, is #154 in the nation, which is considered slightly above average. I don’t expect a sloppy game will be played here either, because neither team is elite with turning teams over. Georgetown is one of the worst in the nation at turning teams over (#305 in the nation) while Colorado is average at best (#184) - that in itself will slow this game down a good bit. One of the things that has also helped the Buffaloes this season is the free throw line. They shoot free throws at an elite level (#2 FT% in the nation), but Georgetown is very good at not putting teams on the line. On the surface of this game we can now negate the inside, the free throw line and 3PT line. We should have a clean game where both team’s pace is rather slow, Colorado ranking #307 and Georgetown ranking #126 in pace, the latter of which is slightly above average. But the slower team in these type of tournament games usually dictates the pace. That's why we play the UNDER 138 and cash in.
Justin "Smoove" Everett (@Smoove702): Oklahoma St. -7
Oklahoma State has the best player in college basketball & projected #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham. We’ve seen recent top picks in Zion Williamson and Ja Morant put up big performances in the NCAA Tournament, and with this being the biggest stage for him to solidify his draft position, I expect Cunningham to do the same. The Cowboys didn’t really need a tough out-of-conference schedule because of the Big 12 being so tough with Baylor, Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Their resume is pretty impressive as well, having beaten Baylor, Texas and Kansas while sweeping Oklahoma and West Virginia. Oklahoma State's defense ranks top 50 or better in opponent eFG% and defensive rating while having a top 50th strength of schedule. The defense doesn’t depend on creating a lot of turnovers, so they can also guard other teams into tough shots. The Cowboys have had a problem all year in allowing their opponents to get offensive rebounds, but Liberty isn’t a team that hits the offensive boards too well, so I don’t see this being an issue. I’m not impressed with Liberty's resume here either. The Flames ranked 310th in strength of schedule (174 is considered average), plus four out of their five losses I’d consider bad losses based off of not really playing anybody else. The only "quality loss" I'd consider would be to either Missouri or Purdue, and Oklahoma State is a better team than both.
Steve Rieder (@AvoidTheVig): Eastern Washington +10.5
After opening as +12 underdogs, the Eastern Washington Eagles have received significant money to drive down the line to +10.5. I hate taking the worse of the numbers here, but I also believe this line has yet to bottom out. Kansas is dealing with ongoing COVID-19 issues that caused them to withdraw from the Big 12 Tournament, and the Jayhawks are still only 4-6 on the road this season. Eastern Washington, on the other hand, won the Big Sky tournament and finished the season with a 16-7 overall record. The Eagles' 78 ppg and 79.9 FT% will keep them within striking distance in this matchup. Despite winning 13 of their last 14 games, the oddsmakers haven't caught up to this Eagles team - Eastern Washington is 12-6 ATS in conference play and have covered in 8 out of their last 10 games. I still expect Kansas to win outright, but they have no reason to push for margin. Kansas will look to get the win, get out and get healthy.
Dave Essler (@DaveEssler): USCB +7.5 AND Wisconsin +1.5
Creighton is the same old story - if they hit their three’s, they win. But in this matchup, not only is Santa Barbara a good perimeter defending team, but the Gauchos won’t let Creighton run. The Blue Jays are undersized at almost every position and don’t rebound well to begin with. They have no answer inside either talent-wise or length-wise for Miles Norris, nor do they have an answer outside for Sanni or McLaughlin, so in the end Santa Barbara has many ways to cover the +7.5 spread, and this is one of your 12-5’s in which the 12 seed might just win the game outright. Give me the Gauchos +7.5 here.
For my other best bet, this is almost an automatic Wisconsin advance in the #8/#9 matchup because teams that beat North Carolina for years have been the ugly ones that slow them down. This year wasn't much of an exception (see both Clemson and Virginia). You have to have guard play in these games and both Love and Walton are freshman that have not got it together yet for the Tar Heels. The Badgers have too much experience, they're too big, and unlike North Carolina, they don't turn the ball over. They might be on the undervalued list here despite playing in the Big Ten, and there's a reason why the committee put in a 10-10 team in conference play - the numbers bare that out. According to KenPom, Wisconsin has the 32nd most efficient offense and 13th most efficient defense while playing the ninth most difficult schedule in the nation, so I might have them beating Baylor too. But I'll take the +1.5 in the meantime.
Dan Rivera (@DanRivera228): Houston to make the Elite 8 (-134, DraftKings)
I'm much higher on Houston than most of the public, and I believe they offer some value to make a deep tournament run. The Cougars are ranked #9 in offensive efficiency and #16 in defensive efficiency on Ken Pom. They also run a slow tempo (#322 in the nation) and do it well, similar to North Dakota State, which I covered extensively through the year in our weekly Summit League recaps. Most of these NCAA tourney teams haven't seen a team run this slow of tempo this well all year, and Houston is an elite FT shooting team as well, averaging 74% from the line and 77.1 ppg, showing they can score when needed. Houston did lose all three of its games all on the road this season, but keep in mind that one of those games was to Wichita State when the state of Kansas essentially froze over and had no power for several days.
Another loss was when East Carolina scored its second most points of the year and couldn't miss. Houston's region is an absolute joke too, as they play Cleveland State in Round 1 (Cleveland State wasn't even the best Horizon League team for most of the year) and would then play either Rutgers or Clemson in the Round of 32. The Cougars could eventually face West Virginia or San Diego State in the Sweet 16, but Houston is still the better team of that bunch until the Elite 8, when they would most likely face a comparable foe in #1 seed Illinois. Lastly, four different models I've looked at has Houston as low as 47% to make the Elite 8 and all the way up to 64.5%. I would definitely put this number closer 60%, and in this case we have an implied odds of 57.26% here of the Cougars making a run to the Elite 8 at decent odds.
Greg Frank (G_Frank6): St. Bonaventure +1.5
The Bonnies flew under the radar all season, as the Atlantic 10 conference was a very disappointing league. In fact, the team that St. Bonaventure defeated in the conference championship game, VCU, is the only other Atlantic 10 team in the NCAA Tournament. But do not let this conference’s ineptitude impact your view of St. Bonaventure this season. KenPom has the Bonnies ahead of LSU in its power ratings, and I can see why here. The Bonnies come into Saturday afternoon's contest having covered seven of their last eight games against the spread and have also won six of their last seven games straight up.
LSU, on the other hand, is a whopping 125th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and while the Tigers are a great team when clicking offensively, there’s a reason they’re just a #8 seed. The Tigers also just played a highly emotional SEC title game against Alabama and covered in the 80-79 loss. Should LSU advance here, it would likely square off with Michigan in the Round of 32, the #1 seed that most believe is the most vulnerable in this year's NCAA Tournament. So you're telling me that LSU just played Alabama and could get Michigan next, and all that lies in between is "some team" from the Atlantic 10? LSU comes into this game having covered four straight ATS, sure, but if you look at the Tigers' schedule, the only thing they've been good at this year is being inconsistent. It has been a season loaded with ups and downs for LSU, which makes the Tigers the perfect team to buy low and sell high on. We’re selling high on them here, because we simply don’t trust them to win the game leading up to a potential tilt with Michigan.
Chris Dell (@MaddJournalist): UC Santa Barbara +7.5 AND to win outright (+260, FanDuel)
I'm going to keep this first point simple - UC Santa Barbara is the better basketball team than Creighton at this point of the year. The Gauchos are ranked one spot higher (31st) than Creighton in terms of "raw" offensive efficiency (raw = unadjusted for schedule/conference, and honestly it's a much more accurate measure come tournament time). How about the defense? Well, this is where we see a clear edge. UCSB ranks 29th in the nation in raw defensive efficiency compared to 74th for the Blue Jays, and that's exactly what the Gauchos need in order to slow down Creighton's elite 57% clip in assisted FG attempts. "Cal" Santa Barbara comes into the Big Dance on a five-game win streak in which its smallest margin of victory was eight points (the other four were by double digits and an average margin of 14 ppg), and UCSB most importantly ranks 26th in the country in experience (8th of all 68 tourney teams) in addition to top 10 in the nation on offense in avoiding steals and blocks from their opponents. Head coach Joe Pasternack might've come to UCSB from another small school in New Orleans, sure, but let's not forget he also spent six years with the University of Arizona (2011-2017), four of which were as an assistant head coach.
Senior and 6'4" guard JaQuori McLaughlin does it all for UCSB, hitting a team-best 40.4% of his three-point attempts this season and also averaging team highs in points (16.2), minutes (32.0) and assists (5.2), as well as second in free throw accuracy (84.2%). McLaughlin's presence for this upstart #12 seed embodies what we want to see in a mid-major underdog primed to make a run - experience, size, guard skills and versatility. Don't be surprised to see McLaughlin dominate this matchup and lead the Gauchos in a rout against a team that will have some distractions, to say the least, regarding coach Greg McDermott's recent "racially insensitive" comments and the subsequent suspension he served as of just 10 days ago. Come tourney time and the intense pressure of the Big Dance, any minor distraction can knock a team out of its groove and affect its continuity/confidence. This is more than just a minor distraction for the Blue Jays, and although some players have publicly voiced support for their head coach, the media won't let it go.
UCSB, on the other hand, has lost just one game since December 28th, and that was on the backend of a back-to-back road trip to UC Riverside. UCSB sports a more-than-healthy 17% offensive turnover rate to go along with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and with McLaughlin leading the way the Gauchos have also made an elite-level 58% of their shots in transition, as per Synergy Sports. Don't forget about Amadou Sow either, a 6'9" 235-pound big from Bamako, Mali, who ranks second behind McLaughlin in points (13.7), first in rebounds (7.6), first in shooting accuracy (57.1%), third in minutes (26.0) and third in free throws (82.2%). I didn't intend to write a small essay here, but this is all part of why I believe UCSB will not just cover the +7.5 easily - I expect them to win this game outright, and with margin. Take the +260 ML if you so dare, or at least sprinkle a little on it if you're buying the Gauchos to cover the spread. I also don't mind that our college hoops analyst Greg Frank picked UCSB as one of our top Cinderella candidates, or that Sleepy has them advancing as well. You can call it the public underdog play? I call it common sense.