We’ve got brackets to break down! I’ll offer a quick take on the 28 matchups already set for Thursday and Friday. Games are listed in rotation order.
The A-10 got a handful of mediocre teams like Dayton into the NCAA Tournament mix, but the Flyers will certainly be looking forward to a matchup against an Ohio State team that has repeatedly avoided them in non-conference play. The Buckeyes enter the tourney on an 0-6 ATS run; just 4-11 ATS in their last 15 tries as chalk.
Syracuse, too, was a point spread disaster area down the stretch, cashing only one winning bet in their last eight ballgames. But Western Michigan’s only win against an NCAA Tournament team came on the opening night of the season, back on Nov. 8, when they beat New Mexico State.
Phil Martelli’s St. Joseph’s team hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2004, when Jameer Nelson and Delonte West were his starting guards. UConn is a Top 10 team for free throw shooting percentage; always key in this ‘short favorite’ point spread range.
Villanova went 21-9 ATS this season, the third best point spread team in the tournament field – only Wichita State and Tulsa had better spread records. Wisconsin-Milwaukee earned their Big Dance bid the hard way, winning SU on the road at Green Bay and then at Wright State in the Horizon League Tournament.
Most 8/9 seed matchups are lined near pick ‘em, but Pitt is heavy chalk over the Buffaloes for a reason. The Panthers dominate the glass and are far better offensively this year than in recent seasons. Colorado has slowed its pace since Spencer Dinwiddie got hurt, entering the tourney on a run of six consecutive UNDERS.
Here in Vegas, Louisville is currently power rated as the No. 2 team in the country, ahead of both Florida and Arizona. Yet Rick Pitino’s squad finds themselves as a 4 seed in the toughest region. Manhattan has a star in George Beamon, but they haven’t seen anything comparable to the defense they’ll face here.
BYU was one of only two mid-majors to get an at large bid outside the A-10 conference. Without the injured Kyle Collinsworth, the Cougars need both Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino to get hot from the perimeter like they did in the overtime battle these two teams played before Christmas.
Oregon came on like a freight train down the stretch, but the Ducks lack the low post muscle to make a deep tourney run.
American University played four lined games this year, covering the spread on all four occasions including a closer than expected loss at Ohio State. But the Eagles limited offensive acumen make this bettor very concerned about their ability to put the biscuit in the basket against a Wisconsin team that plays elite level defense against lesser foes.
Texas acted its age (very young) down the stretch, notching only two SU wins and one ATS cover in their last eight games away from home. And the Longhorns beefy interior size won’t go unchecked against Arizona State’s massive big man Jordan Bachynski, who averages more than four blocks per game.
The early money showed for Wofford as double digit underdogs in its opener. The Terriers lost three November games by 19 or more, but haven’t lost a single game by more than 15 since, including road tests at VCU and St. Louis. Michigan went 5-0 ATS in the Big Dance on their way to the title game last year, before failing to cover in their championship game loss to Louisville.
Many of the TV talking heads picked Harvard to pull the upset in their opener. But Tommy Amaker’s squad was an underdog only twice all year, losing and failing to cover in step-up games against Colorado and UConn; the only tourney teams they faced. Cincinnati covered only four games away from home all year, but three of them were SU wins at Louisville, Memphis and at Madison Square Garden against Pitt.
The betting markets have installed 4 seed Michigan State as the second choice to win it all, behind only Florida; a clear indication of how dangerous this Spartans team can be now that they’re finally healthy. Delaware hung tough on the road at ‘Nova and Ohio State back in non-conference play, but the only tourney team they beat was Cal Poly SLO.
In my personal bracket, I’ll have the North Dakota State Bison surviving and advancing, the single best shooting team in the entire country this year. Lon Kruger got his Oklahoma squad to overachieve once again, but this short point spread tells us all we need to know about how competitive this game is likely to be.
In a world where quality mid-majors outside the A-10 have been effectively frozen out of the tournament, San Diego State’s top ten ranking and SU win at Kansas still wasn’t enough to earn them an elite seed. New Mexico State failed to win or cover for the second straight year in the Big Dance last season, losing by 20 to defensive minded St Louis.
Duke looked really gassed throughout the ACC Tournament. In the final five minutes of their last five games, the Blue Devils have been outscored 76-47 while allowing opponents to hit 24 of 39 shot attempts. Mercer beat Tennessee in the NIT last year, while fellow Atlantic Sun heavyweight Florida Gulf Coast pulled off two upsets to reach the Sweet 16.
Virginia remains the ultimate anonymous 1 seed – most of the TV talking heads can’t name a player on this team, and none of them picked the Cavs to reach the Final Four! I’ve got Coastal Carolina ranked as the No. 67 in the 68 team tournament (only Texas Southern is worse).
George Washington’s lack of quality depth doomed them in the second half of their A-10 semifinal against VCU, arguably the worst half they’ve played all season. Five years into his tenure, I’m still waiting for Josh Pastner to actually outcoach somebody for Memphis.
Stanford’s “A” game was good enough to beat UCLA, UConn, Arizona State and Oregon, while nearly upsetting Michigan and Arizona. But the Cardinal played literally dozens of times where their ‘A’ game was nowhere to be found. The Mountain West has gotten slapped around in every recent NCAA tournament, and despite New Mexico’s success this year, it was not a banner season for the conference.
Tarik Black pulled down 22 rebounds in Kansas’ two Big 12 tourney games without Joel Embiid in the lineup, although he certainly doesn’t have Embiid’s shot blocking prowess. Eastern Kentucky lost by 19 at NC State and by 25 at Wisconsin in their two toughest non-conference tests.
The TV talking heads already have Kentucky surviving and advancing, despite the Wildcats enormous inconsistency all year. Kansas State slumped down the stretch, but they won’t be intimidated or outclassed despite facing John Calipari’s roster loaded with NBA caliber talent.
Nebraska has been one of my favorite teams over the last two months; riding a moneymaking 13-3 ATS streak that speaks volumes about how undervalued they’ve been! Baylor has a great recent postseason track record. They won the NIT last year, reached the Elite Eight in 2012, and won three games in three days in the Big 12 tourney this year before coming up short in the championship game.
Creighton survived and thrived following their move from mid-major Missouri Valley to major conference competition, although this was not a banner year for the Big East. Louisiana-Lafayette doesn’t provide much of a first round test – mediocre Sun Belt entrants haven’t been making Big Dance noise in recent seasons.
North Carolina won 12 straight down the stretch, but they got zero hype from bracketologists after losing to Duke and Pitt in their last two games. Providence has no depth, as clearly evidenced by its six man rotation in the Big East tourney, with four starters playing all 40 minutes in their win over Creighton.
NC Central won at NC State in overtime back in November and Jeremy Ingram’s 37 point effort kept things relatively close in an 11-point loss at Wichita State. Iowa State just won a grueling battle for the Big 12 tourney title and could easily look past a opponent that’s won 20 straight games.
Stephen F. Austin won 31 games to get here – only Wichita State and Florida had more regular season victories. But the Lumberjacks only played two lined games all year (1-1 ATS), both in the Southland Conference Tournament. VCU forced only 12 turnovers and hit only 53 percent from the free throw line while losing the A-10 title game.
UCLA is a “live” longshot to make a run to the Final Four, as clearly evidenced by their domination in the PAC-12 tourney here in Vegas this past weekend, beating Arizona, Stanford and Oregon by a combined 48 points. Tulsa, however, was the single best point spread team in the country this year, riding a remarkable 17-3 ATS run in their last 20 ballgames.
Big Sky entrants have not been competitive in any recent Big Dance, and Weber State doesn’t look to be the exception to that rule. Arizona’s defense was positively suffocating in the first two rounds of the PAC-12 tourney, but their lack of depth is a concern because Sean Miller is unlikely to have his best players in the game when this point spread outcome is decided.
The WCC wasn’t particularly good this year and Gonzaga’s signature non-conference wins came against the likes of Arkansas and New Mexico State. In a year of notably bad seeding, seeing an Oklahoma State team that would be favored over 75 percent of the field as a 9 seed is downright eye-opening.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]