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#428447 - 03/19/19 05:02 PM Picks for every 2019 Tournament 1st Round game
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The American Gaming Association estimates that more than $8.5 billion will be wagered on the NCAA tournament this year. Forty million Americans will combine to fill out 149 million brackets this week, and 18 million adults will bet on the tournament with a bookmaker, the survey found.


Our college basketball experts -- Joe Fortenbaugh, Preston Johnson, Doug Kezirian and Jordan Schultz -- are here to help, giving their best bets for Friday's first-round games.


If you're looking for more analysis, be sure to check out PickCenter, which has projections on every NCAA tournament game.


Note: All odds are via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, as of March 18.


East Region


No. 8 VCU Rams vs. No. 9 UCF Knights (-1)

Total: 126.5
BPI line: VCU -1.6
Friday at 9:40 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

Johnson: My projection for the game line is exactly pick-em, with the total slightly higher at 128.4 but nothing extreme enough to warrant a play on the over at the moment. I think the matchup edge here lies in UCF's height and ability to crash the offensive glass against a VCU defense that ranks 200th in defensive rebound rate. UCF scores efficiently down low and draws the most fouls in the country out of the post (over 28 percent of these possessions). VCU's style is aggressive, so foul trouble could ultimately become an issue for the Rams.

Pick: Pass


No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7) vs. No. 12 Liberty Flames

Total: 137
BPI line: Mississippi State -7.2
Friday at 7:27 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: Liberty was the third-slowest team in pace offensively this season, and Mississippi State ranked outside the top 200. Both schools also rank in the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs' biggest weakness is on the defensive glass, where opponents generate a good portion of their points via second chances, but Liberty rarely crashes for offensive rebounds and plays the majority of its minutes with rotations in which its tallest player is 6-foot-8. My projection for the total is 132.2, so everything lines up for a bet on an ugly game with limited scoring. Grab the under.

Play: Under 136.5


No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies (-10.5) vs. No. 13 St. Louis Billikens

Total: 126
BPI line: Virginia Tech -13.3


Friday at 9:57 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Virginia Tech -10 with a total of 125.8 so there isn't any value worth betting here. It's worth noting that Justin Robinson is making his return from injury for the Hokies, and if he is anywhere near 100 percent healthy, Virginia Tech may be a team making a deeper run than most would anticipate. They rank among the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency despite playing a good portion of their games without Robinson.

Pick: Pass


No. 3 LSU Tigers (-8) vs. No. 14 Yale Bulldogs

Total: 160.5
BPI line: LSU -8.9
Thursday at 12:40 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

Johnson: I show some value on both LSU -7.5 and the under 160.5, but I'm not confident projecting to what extent suspending head coach Will Wade last week may impact this Tigers team. While the impact didn't seem to be felt at home against Vanderbilt (0-17 in SEC play to that point) to end the regular season, LSU did blow a double-digit lead in the second half of its only SEC tournament game against Florida. I don't think I will ultimately be getting involved one way or another, but if you were leaning to the LSU side or to the under, the numbers point to those both offering value.

Lean: LSU -8, under 160.5


Kezirian: This game highlights the beauty of the NCAA tournament. If these two teams played during the regular season, the Tigers would likely run the Bulldogs off the court. However, March Madness can induce favorites to play tight down the stretch and eke out wins. Underdogs often play loose, and that's what I think happens here. Yale loves to push the pace and will have plenty of confidence facing a team that is surrounded by hoopla with an interim coach.

ATS pick: Yale +8

Fortenbaugh: This is most definitely a fade of an LSU program that has been on uncertain footing ever since now-suspended head coach Will Wade found himself ensnared by the FBI in a wiretap scandal. No doubt that played a role in the Tigers' one-and-done disastrous performance in the SEC tournament. Yale enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak that saw the Bulldogs demolish Princeton twice by a combined 28 points, as well as Harvard in the Ivy League Final by 12.

ATS pick: Yale +8


No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (-5) vs. No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Total: 135.5
BPI line: Louisville -7
Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa
Johnson: I don't anticipate having any plays in this particular game, but I wanted to note that Louisville also ranked extremely poorly against zone defenses this season. Similar to Florida State-Vermont, if Minnesota implements any type of zone defense during the game and the Cardinals struggle, it may offer an opportunity to take advantage in-game.

Pick: Pass


No. 2 Michigan State Spartans (-18.5) vs. No. 15 Bradley Braves

Total: 133.5
BPI line: Michigan State -24.6
Thursday at 2:45 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

Johnson: Bradley struggles mightily offensively (246th in adjusted offensive efficiency) and certainly doesn't do anything special on the defensive side that makes me a believer they can keep this close. Michigan State guard Kyle Ahrens' injury in the Big Ten title game is worth noting for future rounds. He played nearly 19 minutes per game, so that will definitely take a toll on Sparty's depth.

Pick: Pass


West


No. 8 Syracuse Orange (-2) vs. No. 9 Baylor Bears

Total: 133.5
BPI line: Syracuse -0.4
Thursday at 9:57 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

Johnson: Everyone remembers the recent tournament runs Syracuse has made to the Final Four as a 10-seed and 4-seed in two of their past three tournament appearances, as the Orange 2-3 zone is difficult to prepare for. From what I've read, it seems like people are counting Baylor out, but I think this is actually a great matchup for the Bears. Baylor ranked extremely low at attacking man-to-man defenses this season (20th percentile or worse in pick and roll, isolation and off-ball offensive numbers), but it does very well against zones. The Bears overload zones and effectively use screening tactics that generate lobs for dunks, open 3-pointers and driving lanes when defenders are out of position.


My projection for this game is Syracuse -1.6, and I anticipate money to keep coming in on the Orange (a few -2.5s have popped up in the market), but I will likely be backing Baylor to some degree at +2.5 or better based on the sheer X's-and-O's edge we have in the specific matchup (plus getting nearly a full point of line value as well).

Lean: Baylor +2


No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles (-4.5) vs. No. 12 Murray State Racers

Total: 149.5
BPI line: Marquette -4.6
Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

Johnson: This line actually opened Marquette -5, but it isn't too much of a surprise to see the Ja Morant hype and a potential Cinderella Murray State team take early action. Outside of Morant, however, the Racers really don't have many weapons. They rank 41st in adjusted offensive and 81st in defensive efficiency this season; Marquette ranks in the top-35 in both. The Racers' strength is getting out in transition (99th percentile in offensive efficiency in these chances), but Marquette is one of the best teams in the field defending in transition.


My projections make the Golden Eagles a 6.7-point favorite, and while Morant certainly could take over a game and lead Murray State to an upset win, I have Marquette covering -4 or -4.5 often enough to make this an edge worth betting.

Play: Marquette -4.5 (might be worth it to wait for -4)


No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (-10.5) vs. No. 13 Vermont Catamounts

Total: 133.5
BPI line: Florida State -6.9
Thursday at 2 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

Johnson: Both the side and the total line up with my projections, so I don't envision making a play in this matchup. One factor to look for: the Seminoles were one of the worst offenses in the field against zone this season. Vermont doesn't generally play any zone, but I would be curious to see if the Catamounts decide to implement it at all and how FSU would respond. This may offer an opportunity to take advantage of in-game wagering options in this matchup.

Pick: Pass


No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (-14) vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse

Total: 137.5
BPI line: Texas Tech -15.4
Friday at 1:30 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Texas Tech -14.5 with a total of 134.6. While I show a small edge to the under at 137.5, I plan to maximize the value there by betting Northern Kentucky's team total under when the line becomes available. The Red Raiders were the best team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency this season, and there really aren't holes in their scheme or execution. NKU runs a lot of continuity ball screen offense to go with basic pick-and-roll attacks against man defenses, but the Norse have shown little aptitude against the zone. And Texas Tech's top-ranked defense is a 2-3 matchup zone. It's going to be extremely difficult for the Norse to generate points.


Pick: Northern Kentucky team total under, lean under 137.5


Kezirian: Texas Tech's calling card is defense, as the Red Raiders lead the nation in defensive efficiency. However, adding Northern Kentucky to the mix makes this an intriguing game. The Norse always push the pace and rank 143rd in defensive efficiency. Tech is not opposed to filling it up, as it averages 73 PPG, so with Northern Kentucky forcing the tempo, the Red Raiders should score at will. I like the over here.
Pick: over 137.5


No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack (-2) vs. No. 10 Florida Gators

Total: 132.5
BPI line: Nevada -1.6
Thursday at 6:50 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

Johnson: Despite what wound up being a disappointing season to this point for the Wolf Pack (remember those "will Nevada go undefeated" prop bets?), I am still fairly bullish on Eric Musselman's squad. Not only is he one of the best coaches at scheming and making opponent-dependent adjustments in-game, but I'm still a believer in the Martin brothers and Jordan Caroline. Remember what they all did just last season with only six healthy players? A one-point loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16 after upsetting 2-seed Cincinnati was an impressive run.


I make Nevada a 3.6-point favorite against the Gators, and I would be jumping in to back the Pack at -1.5 or better if it shows.

Pick: Pass


Schultz: Florida has played well down the stretch, but Nevada is very dangerous because of its combination of interior and perimeter play. Senior forward Jordan Caroline (18 double-doubles, ranking sixth nationally) is a load in the paint, as are senior wings Caleb and Cody Martin, both of whom can break you down off the bounce. The Wolfpack's calling card is the offensive end, where Musselman's team runs a bevy of pro sets and relies on a flurry of pick-and-rolls involving Caroline -- who can step away from the basket as well -- and the Martin twins. The Gators will struggle keeping Nevada at bay in the half court and won't have the necessary athletic advantage that most SEC teams boast over non-Power 5 schools.

ATS pick: Nevada -2


No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (-16) vs. No. 15 Montana Grizzlies

Total: 131.5
BPI line: Michigan -18
Thursday at 9:20 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

Johnson: My projections line up with the total and show a small edge on Montana at +16 (I make Michigan a 14.5-point favorite). While the Wolverines rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, their weakness is defending the post. Montana generates the majority of its offense from the post or on drives and dump-offs to big men waiting down low. I wouldn't be shocked if the Grizzlies keep this within the number, and at +16.5 or better it would be my buy point for a full play.


One thing of note for Michigan that could play a factor in future rounds: The Wolverines ranked 350th of 353 teams this season in percentage of minutes played by their bench. If foul trouble or injury is a concern at any point, the limited rotation takes a significant hit.


Pick: Lean Montana +16



Kezirian: Michigan is a trendy pick to make another tournament run but this is about the quality of the opponent. The Wolverines are 1-6 ATS this season when favored by at least 15 points. They have looked great in big games, but they tend to rely too heavily on the high emotion of those situations. I can see Michigan not shining in this spot and allowing Montana to hang around nearly the entire game. The Grizzlies rely on their veteran backcourt and won't be intimidated.
ATS pick: Montana +16


South


No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (-23.5) vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb Bulldogs

Total: 130.5
BPI line: Virginia -24.1
Friday at 3:10 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

Johnson: I make Virginia a bigger favorite at -25.4, but my threshold for what qualifies as a play increases as the size of the favorite increases. UVA also plays at the slowest pace in the country and limits the total amount of possessions played, which impacts my projected point spreads in its games more severely than the norm. If this line continues dropping (opened -24.5) then I will be getting involved on the Cavaliers side at anything under 23.



No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels (-2) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners

Total: 142.5
BPI line: Oklahoma -1.4
Friday at 12:40 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Ole Miss -1 with a total of 139.9. I do think, however, that a line closer to Rebels -2 is fair given their advantage schematically defending in zone. Ole Miss implemented a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone regularly this season, and I anticipate we see more of it against a Sooners team that struggled to generate points against zone defenses.




No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (-1) vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks

Total: 118
BPI line: Wisconsin -4.2
Friday at 4:30 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: The line movement in this game has been wild. The Badgers opened as 3-point favorites at South Point on Sunday afternoon before Oregon was bet to the favorite. The spread eventually settled in at Wisconsin as a small favorite on Monday. I understand why the public likes the Ducks -- they are the hot team that everybody watched dismantle Washington in the Pac-12 title game. But this is what I don't understand: We spent most of the season poking fun at the lack of legitimate talent in the Pac-12, only to fall in love with a team because it won a couple of games in a row in that very conference?


The Badgers should be a -4, and this one of my biggest edges of the first round. Give me the third-best defense in the country against an offense that finished the season ranked outside the top 100.


ATS pick: Wisconsin -1 or better

Fortenbaugh: This Oregon freight train has both won and covered the number in each of its past eight matchups, which includes a +69 scoring differential through four Pac-12 tournament wins. I'm not jumping in front of that money train. Additionally, let's not forget the fact that this game is being played in San Jose, California, which is a short flight within the same time zone for the Ducks as opposed to a five-hour flight across two time zones for the Badgers.

ATS pick: Oregon +1

Kezirian: I realize the Ducks are a trendy pick but I still like them. They have won and covered eight straight and shown flashes of being a top-notch team. Wisconsin will not play as poorly as it did in the second half of its most recent loss to Michigan State, but the Badgers also simply aren't that good. Oregon is much more athletic and has plenty of size to stymie Wisconsin's half-court sets that isolate its big men on the post. Over the past decade, Pac-12 teams are 9-2 when they are the lower-seeded team in the tournament; the conference is often overlooked.

ATS pick: Oregon +1


No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (-5) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters

Total: 119.5
BPI line: Kansas State -7.2
Friday at 2 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: Kansas State plays at the 11th-slowest pace in the country, and UC Irvine is in the bottom 80. My projection for the total is 116.1. The Wildcats rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and face an Irvine offense that finished 125th. Kansas State also ranks outside the top 100 offensively (and that was before the injury to Dean Wade). Wade is questionable for the game Friday, but as the Wildcats' most efficient scorer, the drop-off without him in the lineup is significant. This is still a play on the under even if Wade plays, but it will be an added bonus if he sits out.

Pick: under 119.5

Fortenbaugh: The Anteaters ride a 16-game winning streak into Friday's opening round, which includes a 10-1 ATS record over the program's past 11 contests. As for Kansas State, you have to figure the Wildcats are bummed over a 4-seed in San Jose that could have been a 3-seed in nearby Tulsa. Speaking of the 4-seed, the last time Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber found himself in this situation, his Kansas State squad was bounced in the opening round of the 2012 tournament by 13-seed La Salle 63-61.

ATS pick: UC Irvine +5.5

No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (-13) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs

Total: 129
BPI line: Purdue -15
Thursday at 9:50 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

Johnson: I make Purdue a 13.6-point favorite here, so at -12 there was a small edge on the Boilermakers, but this line has grown to 13. Old Dominion's weakness this season was on defense, as it ranks just 216th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Purdue ranks fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, so stops will be difficult to come by for the Monarchs. It's worth noting that many of the "luck" metrics used to indicate a team's record compared to what we would expect from a particular team show Old Dominion is much worse than its record appears to be.

Pick: Pass

Kezirian: I think Purdue is one of the shakiest teams in the tournament. The Boilermakers are 3-6 ATS in their past nine, and I just don't trust leading scorer Carsen Edwards. He shot 38.6 percent from the field this season, including 17-for-66 in the past three games. When he is cold, he continues to force shots, disrupting the offensive flow. I wish Purdue was facing a better team, but the Monarchs are good enough for me to fade the Boilermakers here.

ATS pick: Old Dominion +13

Schultz: Purdue is the most iffy of 3-seeds, having dropped two of its final three games, both against Minnesota. Old Dominion, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced backcourts in the tournament, thanks to guards B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, who both average nearly 17 PPG. More importantly, the Monarchs can really guard. The Conference USA champs surrender a minuscule 0.96 points per possession. They bound ball screens, eliminate straight-line drives and erase shots at the rim, which is why they rank in the top 15 in blocks among tournament teams.

ATS pick: Old Dominion +13





No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (-5.5) vs. No. 11 St. Mary's Gaels

Total: 130
BPI line: Villanova -2.7
Thursday at 7:20 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

Johnson: My projection for the total is 125.8, so a discrepancy of over 4 points between my number and the market is worth betting here. Both teams are bottom 30 in the country in pace, and Saint Mary's is 43rd defending the 3-point shot (31.8 percent) while giving up only 17 attempts (third fewest). Villanova attempts the fourth-most 3s in the country (30.1 per game), so it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats force the issue against a Gaels team that runs shooters off of the 3-point line.


On the other side of the court, we get Villanova's 2-3 matchup zone and 1-2-2 full court press (they implement this to slow down opponents and burn clock before they are able to get into their offensive sets). Saint Mary's played against a zone defense during only 78 possessions this season (a total of roughly one game of the 33 they played). I think this could ultimately be a red flag if they struggle to break down the Villanova zone, which bodes well for only our under. Everything lines up in this one.

Play: Under 130.5

Schultz: The Gaels' impressive victory over Gonzaga was no fluke. Randy Bennett's teams always defend and always take care of the ball, and junior Jordan Ford is an excellent late-shot-clock option and one of the best guards in the country that nobody knows. The first-team All-WCC performer averages over 21 PPG on a hyper-efficient 49.4 percent shooting from the floor and 42.3 percent from deep. Villanova has been too Jekyll-and-Hyde to trust, specifically on the defensive end, where the defending national champs rank just 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Fade the Wildcats on a line that is inflated based on public perception.

ATS pick: St. Mary's +5.5


No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats (-3.5) vs. No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes

Total: 137.5
BPI line: Cincinnati -2.5
Friday at 12:15 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

Johnson: I'm not sure if it is recency bias with the Bearcats' AAC tournament title over Houston, or Iowa's struggles down the stretch in the Big Ten, but my projection of Cincinnati -0.6 differs quite a bit from the current market. I have made recent adjustments to my numbers based on these results as well as the market's reaction from game to game, so there isn't anything that occurred as of late that isn't already accounted for in my projection. The Hawkeyes rank 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency and can score in a variety of ways against both man defense and zone (Cincinnati will utilize both). I'm trusting my numbers in what is nearly a three-point edge on Iowa and taking the +3.5.

ATS pick: Iowa +3.5


No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers (-17.5) vs. No. 15 Colgate Raiders

Total: 150
BPI line: Tennessee -18.6
Friday at 2:45 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

Johnson: I was looking forward to betting a potential over when I saw this matchup announced on Selection Sunday, but unfortunately, the total is inflated to the over. Tennessee rosters the third-most-efficient offense in the country and the Vols score at an even better rate against man defense. Meanwhile, Colgate's half-court man defense ranks in the 31st percentile against a strength of schedule that ranked outside of the top 250. Tennessee is going to score at will, but unless the game total drops a couple of points, I won't be getting involved. My projection for the spread is Tennessee -17.8.

Pick: Pass


Midwest


No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (-24.5) vs. No. 16 Iona Gaels

Total: 166
BPI line: UNC -29.3
Friday at 9:20 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

Johnson: My projections for this matchup are UNC -22.2 with a total of 165.6. The Tar Heels are one of just four teams that rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (Virginia, Duke, Michigan State). UNC gives up quite a few 3-pointers defensively, which plays right into what Iona likes to do anyway (the Gaels take more than 25 per game). This should be an incredibly fast-paced game, and it shouldn't come as any surprise that the Tar Heels will be able to score at will against the 275th-ranked defense in the country (Iona ranks even worse in zone defense, which it surprisingly plays more regularly). I wanted to find reasons to back Iona and play the over, but at the current numbers, there just isn't any value worth betting.

Pick: Pass


No. 8 Utah State Aggies (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Washington Huskies

Total: 135
BPI line: Utah State -1.8
Friday at 6:50 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Utah State -0.9 with a total of 132.4. I was hoping that the first-round matchup for the Huskies would suit their 2-3 zone well and that we would have an opportunity to back UW at a good number, but the Aggies are far from that. I even bet a little on +3.5 when it popped Sunday evening in Las Vegas because the number was so far from where my projections make it, but I think I will just wind up playing back on Utah State -2.5 to get out of it (maybe I get lucky and it lands on 3).


The Aggies have a great understanding of how to attack a 2-3 zone through the high post and overload personnel to get defenders out of position. Defensively, Utah State is in the 99th percentile protecting the rim and 98th percentile out of all opponent post plays. The Aggies also have the best defensive rebounding rate in the country. This Washington team has had severe issues scoring as of late, and I just don't see how they get it done against the Aggies.

Pick: Pass

Schultz: The Aggies are a trendy upset team ... and I don't know why. Washington has the best two players on the court -- Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle -- and the better coach in Mike Hopkins, fresh off his second straight Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. Thybulle -- who broke Gary Payton's conference record for steals -- is the third player in the past 20 years to average at least two steals and two blocks per game. The other two? Shane Battier and Nerlens Noel. The Huskies, winners of the Pac-12 regular-season title, will bother Utah State with their vaunted 2-3 matchup zone, a combination of length, quickness and size that the Aggies haven't seen all year.

Pick: Washington money line (+125)




No. 5 Auburn Tigers (-6.5) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies

Total: 143
BPI line: Auburn -8.8
Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

Johnson: While my projections for this matchup line up with the market (-6.6, 141.3), I do think there is some value on Auburn at 60-1 to win it all.

Pick: Pass

Schultz: This is a good spot for the Aggies, who haven't lost since Jan. 3 and have the size and depth -- 10 players play 10-plus minutes -- to not only cover the spread, but potentially pull off the upset. Auburn is a very streaky team that doesn't defend particularly well and doesn't have a ton of size. A burly and long New Mexico State roster will limit second-chance opportunities and bother the Tigers enough to limit clean 3-point looks, the staple of Bruce Pearl's team.

ATS pick: New Mexico State +6.5


No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks (-7) vs. No. 13 Northeastern Huskies

Total: 144.5
BPI line: Kansas -11.3
Thursday at 4 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

Johnson: My projection for the total in this matchup is 140.6. The last time Kansas didn't rank top-10 in adjusted offensive efficiency was in 2015. This year they rank only 34th, and it's their 15th-ranked defense that seems to be flying under the radar. Sure, the Jayhawks didn't win the Big 12 conference regular-season title for the first time since Regina George led the Queen Bees in "Mean Girls" to box office glory in 2004, but the job Bill Self has done after losing both Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick for the season has been impressive.


I ultimately anticipate this game to be slow with Kansas and Northeastern ranking 114th and 294th in pace, respectively. I have seen the total as high as 145.5 at some shops, so do your best to shop around for your best number, but anything at 144.5 or better is worth an under bet.

Play: Under 144.5

Kezirian: I realize Kansas has lost some of its luster, failing to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2004, but this is a bad matchup for Northeastern. The length of the Jayhawks will pose a big problem for Northeastern's shooters and Kansas should own the paint and exploit the Huskies' lack of size. Northeastern ranks 143rd in defensive efficiency, and I trust Bill Self in March. This should be a one-sided affair.

ATS pick: Kansas -7


No. 3 Houston Cougars (-12) vs. No. 14 Georgia State Panthers

Total: 141.5
BPI line: Houston -14.1
Friday at 7:20 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Johnson: My number came in higher than the current market, making Houston a 13.2-point favorite. However, tactically they give up a ton of 3-pointers to opponents and Georgia State ranks 17th in the country, shooting 38.4 percent from long range. I'm ultimately not surprised to see the spread a little lower than my raw projection.


One other note: Houston is among the luckiest teams in regard to opponents missing open 3s, and Georgia State has been fairly unlucky with opponents making an unusual amount of their open 3-point attempts. If regression decides to come crashing down on both squads this Friday, we may see a Panthers outright victory.

Pick: Pass

No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones (-5.5) vs. No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes

Total: 140
BPI line: Iowa State -6.1

Friday at 9:50 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Johnson: There isn't much here for me in this matchup. Both the side and total line up with my projections, and schematically there aren't any huge advantages for either school to exploit. The Cyclones seemingly underachieved preseason expectations for the majority of the season, but they put it together to win the Big 12 tournament crown. If Iowa State continues to play at that level, I would ultimately be surprised if it didn't make it out of the first weekend (look-ahead projection: Iowa State would be a pick-em against 3-seed Houston). The Cougars rank only in the 61st percentile offensively against man defense (ISU only plays man-to-man), so I would give the Cyclones the edge there.

Pick: pass

Schultz: Talk about two teams going in different directions. The red-hot Cyclones come off an impressive Big 12 championship run in Kansas City, which included handing Kansas its first loss all year at home or on a neutral floor. The Buckeyes, however, limp into the dance, having dropped five of their past seven, including an ugly 18-point blowout at Northwestern. Without a true go-to option, they rank 200th nationally in scoring, and 258th in PPG. This game ultimately comes down to perimeter play. Senior transfer Marial Shayok (18.6 PPG on 49.4 shooting) and the flashy Lindell Wigginton -- finally healthy after dealing with an ankle injury for much of the season -- will have no problems getting whatever they want in this one. Freshman Talen Horton-Tucker is a problem on the perimeter as well. The bottom line is that the Cyclones found themselves during the Big 12 tournament; the Buckeyes haven't found anything all season.

ATS pick: Iowa State -5.5


No. 7 Wofford Terriers (-3) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall Pirates

Total: 142.5
BPI line: Wofford -7.6
Thursday at 9:40 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

Johnson: The spread and total line up closely with my projections here. Take note, though: Wofford is no joke. Led by Fletcher McGee, the Terriers' offense features the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country (an absurd 41.6 percent from deep). McGee ranks 97th percentile in the pick-and-roll and is the second-most efficient player in college basketball among those that had 15-plus possessions of usage per game. The Terriers' defense still ranks above average despite often playing small, and they are a legitimate threat to make a run in the Midwest Region.

Pick: Pass


No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (-22.5) vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian Wildcats

Total: 132
BPI line: Kentucky -19.7
Thursday at 7:10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

Johnson: I personally line this game Kentucky -21.8, but a couple of different people I respect that make their own college basketball numbers have this spread three to four points lower. I may be missing something with Abilene Christian, or maybe I am overvaluing the Wildcats on my end, but since my projections line up with the current market I'll be staying away.

Pick: Pass


No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (-1) vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks

Total: 118
BPI line: Wisconsin -4.2
Friday at 4:30 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: The line movement in this game has been wild. The Badgers opened as 3-point favorites at South Point on Sunday afternoon before Oregon was bet to the favorite. The spread eventually settled in at Wisconsin as a small favorite on Monday. I understand why the public likes the Ducks -- they are the hot team that everybody watched dismantle Washington in the Pac-12 title game. But this is what I don't understand: We spent most of the season poking fun at the lack of legitimate talent in the Pac-12, only to fall in love with a team because it won a couple of games in a row in that very conference?

The Badgers should be a -4, and this one of my biggest edges of the first round. Give me the third-best defense in the country against an offense that finished the season ranked outside the top 100.

ATS pick: Wisconsin -1 or better

Fortenbaugh: This Oregon freight train has both won and covered the number in each of its past eight matchups, which includes a +69 scoring differential through four Pac-12 tournament wins. I'm not jumping in front of that money train. Additionally, let's not forget the fact that this game is being played in San Jose, California, which is a short flight within the same time zone for the Ducks as opposed to a five-hour flight across two time zones for the Badgers.

ATS pick: Oregon +1

Kezirian: I realize the Ducks are a trendy pick but I still like them. They have won and covered eight straight and shown flashes of being a top-notch team. Wisconsin will not play as poorly as it did in the second half of its most recent loss to Michigan State, but the Badgers also simply aren't that good. Oregon is much more athletic and has plenty of size to stymie Wisconsin's half-court sets that isolate its big men on the post. Over the past decade, Pac-12 teams are 9-2 when they are the lower-seeded team in the tournament; the conference is often overlooked.

ATS pick: Oregon +1


No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (-5) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters

Total: 119.5
BPI line: Kansas State -7.2
Friday at 2 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: Kansas State plays at the 11th-slowest pace in the country, and UC Irvine is in the bottom 80. My projection for the total is 116.1. The Wildcats rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and face an Irvine offense that finished 125th. Kansas State also ranks outside the top 100 offensively (and that was before the injury to Dean Wade). Wade is questionable for the game Friday, but as the Wildcats' most efficient scorer, the drop-off without him in the lineup is significant. This is still a play on the under even if Wade plays, but it will be an added bonus if he sits out.

Pick: under 119.5

Fortenbaugh: The Anteaters ride a 16-game winning streak into Friday's opening round, which includes a 10-1 ATS record over the program's past 11 contests. As for Kansas State, you have to figure the Wildcats are bummed over a 4-seed in San Jose that could have been a 3-seed in nearby Tulsa. Speaking of the 4-seed, the last time Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber found himself in this situation, his Kansas State squad was bounced in the opening round of the 2012 tournament by 13-seed La Salle 63-61.

ATS pick: UC Irvine +5.5


No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (-13) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs

Total: 129
BPI line: Purdue -15
Thursday at 9:50 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

Johnson: I make Purdue a 13.6-point favorite here, so at -12 there was a small edge on the Boilermakers, but this line has grown to 13. Old Dominion's weakness this season was on defense, as it ranks just 216th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Purdue ranks fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, so stops will be difficult to come by for the Monarchs. It's worth noting that many of the "luck" metrics used to indicate a team's record compared to what we would expect from a particular team show Old Dominion is much worse than its record appears to be.

Pick: Pass

Kezirian: I think Purdue is one of the shakiest teams in the tournament. The Boilermakers are 3-6 ATS in their past nine, and I just don't trust leading scorer Carsen Edwards. He shot 38.6 percent from the field this season, including 17-for-66 in the past three games. When he is cold, he continues to force shots, disrupting the offensive flow. I wish Purdue was facing a better team, but the Monarchs are good enough for me to fade the Boilermakers here.

ATS pick: Old Dominion +13

Schultz: Purdue is the most iffy of 3-seeds, having dropped two of its final three games, both against Minnesota. Old Dominion, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced backcourts in the tournament, thanks to guards B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, who both average nearly 17 PPG. More importantly, the Monarchs can really guard. The Conference USA champs surrender a minuscule 0.96 points per possession. They bound ball screens, eliminate straight-line drives and erase shots at the rim, which is why they rank in the top 15 in blocks among tournament teams.

ATS pick: Old Dominion +13
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#428448 - 03/19/19 05:05 PM Re: Picks for every 2019 Tournament 1st Round game [Re: FREAK]
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Giant Killers: Upset picks in 2019 NCAA tournament bracket


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Giant Killers is back for our 14th annual metrics-based forecast of big upsets in the NCAA tournament bracket. As usual, we're analyzing each Giant vs. Killer game in the first round. (Quick reminder: A Giant Killer is any team that defeats an opponent seeded at least five lines higher in any round.)


Our statistical model yields an upset probability for each game, based on both the Basketball Power Index of each team and on the stylistic factors that have most often led to tournament upsets in the past. As always, we've sorted our picks into four categories based on the likelihood of an upset: Best Bets, Worth a Long Look, Not Completely Crazy and, last and very likely least, Stay Away. (Hopefully, the titles are self-explanatory.)


Now, let's get to the good stuff. Here are the upsets in the making:

EAST REGION

Best Bets
No. 11 Belmont Bruins vs. No. 6 Maryland Terrapins
Upset chance: 32 percent
One of the last and possibly most surprising teams in the field could stay for a while. No, 32 percent isn't the near-coin-flip chance that Giant Killers gave Loyola-Chicago in the Ramblers' round-of-64 game against Miami a year ago, but "best bet" is an apt description for this upset in the making. No other GK game in the East offers as much potential for a "shocking" outcome.


It won't be easy. For starters, Maryland is a win away for Rick Byrd's team. The Bruins will first have to navigate the First Four in Dayton, where they'll find the high-volume scoring ways of Temple's Shizz Alston and Qunton Rose in their path. If BU can make it out of the Gem City, however, it's got a fighting chance against the Terrapins.


Dylan Windler has been torching opponents all season long with his versatility as a 6-foot-8 stretch 4. (In any "normal" season he would have been a shoo-in for Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, but in 2018-19 that nod understandably went to Murray State's Ja Morant.) Make no mistake, Maryland can and will force missed shots, but the Terps' habit of committing more turnovers than the opponent could certainly be a problem against high-scoring Belmont.


Worth a Long Look

No. 11 Temple Owls vs. No. 6 Maryland Terrapins
Upset chance: 24 percent
If you're reading your East Region preview of upsets top to bottom (and you really should), you know all about Maryland and its ability to force missed shots but also its propensity to operate at a turnover deficit relative to opponents. That brings us to Temple: Fran Dunphy's team can throw Alston and Rose at the Terrapin defense and fare quite well, thank you.


The Owls' offense doesn't look like anything exceptional on paper, but keep in mind these guys picked up their efficiency on the back half of the American conference season. Alston is one of the best free throw shooters in the nation, and Rose is a disruptive presence on defense who can force turnovers. Yes, rebounds will be a (big) concern for Temple at both ends of the floor, but if Dunphy's men rise to the occasion on the glass this can be a close game.



No. 12 Liberty Flames vs. No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Upset chance: 23 percent


Throughout much of 2018-19, Giant Killers has been waxing enthusiastic about the March upset potential of the Atlantic Sun. With two teams the quality of Liberty and Lipscomb, we here at Giant Killers HQ figured this was one league that would make some noise come March.


Mission accomplished. The No. 12 seed earned by the Flames represents the best bracket position the league has ever earned under its current name. Liberty works the clock and gets good and even excellent shots for Scottie James, Caleb Homesleyand their teammates. The matchup between the Flame defense and the MSU offense doesn't project to be nearly as favorable to the underdog, but if Ritchie McKay's men can just hold their own on that side of the ball this could become one of those 12-5 surprises.


Not Completely Crazy

No. 14 Yale Bulldogs vs. No. 3 LSU Tigers
Upset chance: 15 percent
An Ivy team beating the SEC regular-season champion? Well, it's not completely crazy. For starters, the Bulldogs have Miye Oni, a skilled 6-foot-6 junior who lit up the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season for 29 points on just 15 shots. Plus, that "SEC regular-season champion" thing, while earned on the floor, can be slightly deceiving as a description.


LSU went to overtime a whopping six times in league play, and emerged victorious on no fewer than five occasions. The Tigers weren't necessarily blowing away opponents every night. Yes, this one's a bit of a stretch, but if you're feeling the hoops gods talking to you on an upset with better than a 1-in-10 chance, by all means, give it a look.


Stay Away

No. 13 Saint Louis Billikens vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies
Upset chance: 7 percent
A crazy Atlantic 10 tournament ended with SLU pulling out a wild last-minute win against St. Bonaventure and earning the league's automatic bid. Give the Billikens credit, after winning a (relative) shootout against Richmond, Travis Ford's team shut down the offenses of Dayton, Davidson and the Bonnies in succession.


Alas, the GK model is not optimistic that Saint Louis will be able to do the same against the highly accurate Virginia Tech offense, particularly now that Justin Robinson is reportedly set to return to action after recovering from his foot injury.



No. 15 Bradley Braves vs. No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
Upset chance: 2 percent
The GK model might see a glimmer of a hope of an upset if Michigan State were playing a Missouri Valley opponent like Drake or, yes, Loyola Chicago. True, Brian Wardle's team can play some defense, but the Braves had a tough time making shots against MVC opponents. Doing so against the Spartans may also prove difficult.


No. 16 North Dakota State Bison or No. 16 North Carolina Central Eagles vs. No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
Upset chances: 2 percent or less
The North Dakota State team that beat Oklahoma in in the 2014 round of 64 could, hypothetically, keep things close against 2019 Duke for a while. In the present tense, however, neither the Bison nor the Eagles project to have much that will slow down RJ Barrett, Tre Jones and that other guy.

WEST REGION

Best Bets

No. 12 Murray State Racers vs. No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles
Upset chance: 34 percent
This game would be appointment viewing even if it weren't our top upset pick on the board. We'll all be treated to two prolific scorers -- Ja Morant and Markus Howard -- battling it out in a first-round showdown in Hartford.


With Morant leading the way, Murray State produces a ridiculously efficient offense when attempting 2-point shots from the field. It's not just flashy dunks from the future lottery pick: He's also an assists machine, setting up his teammates for those good looks. The problem for Murray State is that while he and Howard may be evenly matched as superstars, Howard has the better supporting cast. Sam Hauser may not quite be at Howard's and Morant's level but he's a big-time contributor to the Golden Eagles' efforts -- on both ends of the court.


Still, BPI considers Marquette's offense to only be about a half-point per game better than Murray State's. If Marquette's 3-pointers fall on the wrong side of variance, it's easy to imagine this upset coming to fruition.


Worth a Long Look

No. 13 Vermont Catamounts vs. No. 4 Florida State Seminoles
Upset chance: 28 percent
We've tracked the Catamounts for two years straight now as a strong Giant Killer candidate and we're finally here. Vermont is in the tourney, drew a favorable opponent in Florida State and is playing in the Northeast. Sign us up.


For starters, the model isn't going to be overly influenced by recent events, so the fact that Florida State just beat Virginia may scare some off of this upset pick -- fine by us. The model looks at the entire body of work and sees Florida State as vulnerable.


Vermont's offensive strength is its free throw efficiency, and that matches up perfectly against a Florida State team that sends its opponents to the line frequently. That the Catamounts are playing in Hartford is icing on the cake -- and something that is not included in the Giant Killers model, so their upset chance may be even higher.



No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. No. 6 Buffalo Bulls
Upset chance: 26 percent
With a gaudy 31-3 record, Buffalo appears primed to become a trendy sleeper pick in the West, but we're skeptical given our numbers.


Once our models provide a significant opponent adjustment (Buffalo had the 121st-best strength of schedule), we project Buffalo to be outside the top 20 in both offense and defense. And overall? BPI has the Bulls as just the 31st-best team in D-I. In other words, Arizona State is facing the quality equivalent of an 8-seed, which is why the Sun Devils have a decent shot here.


Let's be clear though: Arizona State is clearly the worse team here (and didn't exactly play in a stellar conference itself). The Sun Devils might have a slight edge on the boards, but there's no facet of the game that they would have a significant advantage. Plus, they don't have anyone as productive as Buffalo senior G CJ Massinburg.


Not Completely Crazy

No. 11 St. John's Red Storm vs. No. 6 Buffalo Bulls
Upset chance: 18 percent
St. John's has already pulled its first upset of March: getting into the tournament. For a team that ranked 53rd in strength of record, 70th in BPI and 73rd in NET to get in as an at large was ... interesting.


But the Johnnies are in, and they can be literally interesting should they get past Arizona State in the First Four. Why? It's all about Shamorie Ponds, the Red Storm's star guard out of Brooklyn who is averaging nearly 19.5 points and 5.2 assists per game this season.


Even with Ponds, this is still a fairly long shot. Even after adjusting for opponent Buffalo has just been substantially more efficient on both ends of the court and should hold a significant edge if this game takes place.



No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse vs. No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Upset chance: 11 percent
There are elements of the Norse that make them an appealing Giant Killer. Big man Drew McDonald can generate offense posting up near the rim and can knock down shots from beyond the arc -- like the game-winning shot he sunk in the final seconds of the Horizon League semifinal against Oakland to keep Northern Kentucky's tourney hopes alive.


Unfortunately for the Norse, they appear to have run into the wrong team. Texas Tech is a borderline No. 2/No. 3 seed in terms of overall BPI team quality. That's buoyed by having the second-best defense in the nation, led by star Jarrett Culver. Nothing is impossible but Northern Kentucky will have to overcome long odds to pull off this upset.


Stay Away

No. 15 Montana Grizzlies vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
Upset chance: 4 percent
It's a 2018 rematch! Michigan and Montana will square off in the first round again, a year after the Wolverines pulled away in the second half en route to a 61-47 win at the beginning of their run to the title game. Twelve months ago we gave Montana a 6 percent shot at the upset. This year it's even lower. Michigan's defense is capable of stifling even the best offenses ... and Montana is not that.



No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Upset chance: 1 percent
Some people didn't believe Gonzaga deserved a No. 1 seed. From a resume standpoint, that's accurate. But in terms of how good are the Bulldogs? They would earn a No. 1 seed among top teams this decade. They rank third in BPI among all teams in the past 10 years in BPI. So no, this will not be an upset.



No. 16 Prairie View A&M Panthers vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Upset chance: <1 percent
Same as above, but even more so. Prairie View A&M is even less likely to pull off the 16-1 upset than Fairleigh Dickinson.

SOUTH REGION

Worth a Long Look

No. 11 Saint Mary's Gaels vs. No. 6 Villanova Wildcats
Upset chance: 26 percent
We like Villanova as one of the best possible second-round Giant Killers because of their style: chuck 3s and play slow as heck (not Virginia slow, but still). Those two things combined increase the variance, which aids the underdog.


Which is good for Villanova. Except when it isn't the underdog. Then it helps its opponent.


And to make matters worse for the favorite? Saint Mary's also plays slow (and also hits 3s at a nice rate, but it doesn't shoot them as often). Mix in the fact that Villanova's barrage of 3-point attempts plays into the hands of one of Saint Mary's strengths -- stopping the 3 -- and we're looking at an awfully tempting upset selection.



No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters vs. No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats
Upset chance: 22 percent
In terms of how good a team is, Kansas State has to be one of the most mis-seeded out there. They may have a No. 4 in front of their name, but if we went strictly by BPI rating the Wildcats would be a No. 7 seed. Kansas State isn't complaining, but neither is UC Irvine, who gets a much easier first-round opponent than it could have reasonable expected (a few weeks ago we wrote UC Irvine ought to have about a 14 percent chance to win its first-round matchup).


To make matters even better for the Anteaters, the Wildcats play dreadfully slow (and UC Irvine is on the lethargic end, too), which helps increase the variance and move the needle toward UC Irvine.


Kansas State senior forward Dean Wade, who made the All-Big 12 first team, may or may not be able to play due to a foot injury. Should he be unable to go, the Anteaters become an even more attractive underdog.


Not Completely Crazy

No. 12 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers
Upset chance: 17 percent
It's impressive that the Ducks even got this far without Bol Bol, their star freshman center who was productive in nine games before he was knocked out for the season with a foot injury. It's worth keeping in mind that our models don't adjust for in-season injuries, so it's possible we're slightly overrating Oregon here because we count the games with Bol as much as all the others.


But this isn't Pac-12 play anymore. Washington had the best non-Oregon defense in the conference, but Wisconsin's defense is almost 3.5 points per game better than Washington's. So the Ducks will have to step it up, again.


If the game ends up close, however, watch out. Wisconsin has major free throw shooting woes, led by the fact that star Ethan Happ is shooting less than 50 percent from the stripe on the season.


Stay Away

No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs vs. No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
Upset chance: 8 percent
Purdue might be the quietest really good team in the country, and a surprise exit in the Big Ten tournament at the hands of Minnesota did nothing to change that.


But the reality is when we look at the numbers, Purdue has the fourth-best adjusted offensive efficiency in D-I. It led the Big Ten in second-chance points per game. And it has an experienced star in Carsen Edwards on its roster. Old Dominion has a solid defense, but it's hard to imagine the Monarchs slowing down the Purdue too much. If you're looking for an upset, look elsewhere.



No. 15 Colgate Raiders vs. No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers
Upset chance: 7 percent
We just told you to stay away from Old Dominion at 8 percent, so the same advice probably holds for Colgate at 7. But.


If you want to, just maybe, pick someone to topple a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the first round ... then Colgate is your team.


The Volunteers play an old-school, post-up style that results in a ton of 2-point buckets. Which works most of the time and led to them having the third-best offense in D-I. But the one thing that's better than an efficient stretch of 2-point buckets is an efficient stretch of 3-point buckets. And Colgate shoots the 3 well. We're just saying, if the Raiders get hot from beyond the arc, it could get interesting.



No. 16 Gardner-Webb Bulldogs vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
Upset chance: 3 percent
We were almost on to something last year, but then we chickened out: "History has to happen in these 1 vs. 16 games someday. (But you, fair reader, would do best to stay away.)"


Not that you needed extra ammo to pick a No. 1 seed, but we'll have you know that this year's Virginia team is, per our numbers, better than the one that lost to UMBC a year ago.


So despite what happened our advice remains the same: Stay away.

MIDWEST REGION

Worth a Long Look

No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies vs. No. 5 Auburn Tigers
Upset chance: 22 percent
If you subscribe to the momentum theory of filling out a bracket, you might want to take NMSU to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. The Aggies haven't lost a game since the first week in January. True, the WAC doesn't provide the most robust level of competition for Chris Jans' team, but one thing the GK model likes is efficiency. New Mexico State will work opponents deep into the shot clock before proving that this is one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the nation.


Super sub Ivan Aurrecoechea comes off the bench and supplies paint scoring in abundance. It may seem like a stretch if you just watched Auburn slice and dice a team as strong as Tennessee in the SEC tournament final, but the Aggies do have the confidence born of many wins.



No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones
Upset chance: 20 percent
The case for the upset here is easily summarized: Ohio State is not your everyday No. 11 seed. The Buckeyes were being projected for a higher line in the bracket before Kaleb Wesson was suspended for three games late in the season. Now that that 6-foot-9 sophomore is back, OSU can get back to doing what it does, putting shooters around Wesson and forcing opposing defenses to pick a poison.


To be sure, this is the "worth a long look" section, not "best bets," and the Cyclones' offense looked like a juggernaut in two of three games while carrying ISU to the Big 12 tournament title. Steve Prohm's team wins this matchup four out of five times. ... And that fifth game? That's where Wesson absolutely destroys an Iowa State team that's exceptionally weak on the glass at both ends of the floor.


Not Completely Crazy

No. 13 Northeastern Huskies vs. No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks
Upset chance: 19 percent
All season long, Bill Self's defense has been susceptible to opponents that will commit to shooting a high number of 3-pointers within the span of 40 minutes. In fact, that strategy handed Kansas' D the single worst game it's had in the KenPom era, when Texas Tech drained 16 shots from beyond the arc in a 29-point win in Lubbock this season.


So there's a chance, right? Northeastern is, after all, highly perimeter-oriented. Well, yes, but the GK model would feel better about the potential for an upset if Bill Coen's team didn't allow its opponents to make quite so many 2-pointers.



No. 14 Georgia State Panthers vs. No. 3 Houston Cougars
Upset chance: 12 percent
What Ron Hunter's team does best is make 3s. That gives the Panthers a not-completely-crazy chance going into a game against an opponent that has lost just three times all season.


Of course, even a 31-3 opponent does some things better than others, and one facet of the game UH does not choose to emphasize is forcing turnovers. Conversely, GSU is very good at taking care of the ball, and D'Marcus Simonds is a high-usage combo guard who will either get hot or find a teammate who is.


Stay Away


No. 15 Abilene Christian Wildcats vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
Upset chance: 3 percent
This has to be such a sweet moment for Joe Golding. The ACU coach was there at the rebirth, so to speak, when Abilene Christian rejoined Division I in 2013 after a 40-year absence. Now the 27-6 Wildcats are appearing in their first NCAA tournament.


The GK model says stay away from picking a shocker in a game against Kentucky, but ACU's already pulled off a big upset just to get this far. Well done.



No. 16 Iona Gaels vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Upset chance: 3 percent
Tim Cluess has brought high-potential teams to the tournament before, and his roster led by AJ English was a trendy pick to give Iowa State a game in the 2016 round of 64. That said, this is not one of the stronger Iona teams GK has seen come down the pike.


In particular, the thought of this Gael defense facing the bullet train that is Coby White and the 3-point jackhammer known as Cam Johnson does not encourage descriptions like "best bet" or "worth a long look." This is more of a "stay away" situation.
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#428449 - 03/19/19 05:06 PM Re: Picks for every 2019 Tournament 1st Round game [Re: FREAK]
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2019 NCAA tournament: 10 best title value bets

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Even though it appears to be an NCAA tournament top-heavy with talent among the 1-seeds (Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, UNC), there is always value out in the futures market.


Here is a look at 10 teams our college basketball experts feel offer betting value in this year's field.


Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook as of Monday morning. As always, shop around for the best price.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (+450)

Schultz: This is the most talented roster that Mark Few has had in Spokane, and it's not even close. Rui Hachimura (20.1 PPG on 60.9 percent shooting) is a matchup nightmare who can face up, post up and create off the bounce with his outstanding first step. San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke(16.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG) is a jumping jack who can score from the mid-post and perimeter, but also make a play off the bounce. And Killian Tillie -- finally healthy after enduring a foot injury -- has great touch around the basket and protects the rim with his length and timing. Zach Norvell (15.3 PPG) -- another pro -- is a burly left-handed shooting guard who can score with anyone and from just about anywhere.



Gonzaga executes the premier half-court offense in America, per KenPom, which includes scoring a nation-best 88.8 PPG. Not only do the Bulldogs not turn the ball over, but they will turn you over with a suffocating brand of man-to-man defense that does not gamble and understands its rotations. Keep in mind too, that the Zags already beat a full-strength Duke team to win the Maui Invitational.


Virginia Cavaliers (6-1)

Johnson: The least attractive title bet last year relative to its price seemed to be Virginia -- and then the Cavaliers lost to 16-seed UMBC by 20 points. They play at a painful-to-watch pace, but that snail's pace ranks second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. They are the only team in the tournament that ranks top-five in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and they make 3s at a 40.9 percent clip which ranks fourth best in the country. Opponents make 3s at just a 27.2 percent clip which is the best opponent 3-point rate we saw this year.


Virginia has elite talent, including projected lottery pick De'Andre Hunter, but has become this strange contrarian 1-seed to win it all despite being one of the best three teams in the country. Tennessee and Purdue on the other side of the South region don't scare me much (I would make Virginia at least a 3.5-point favorite over both) and +600 implies that they win the title 14.3 percent of the time, but my projections come in at 19.3 percent (true line +418). The UMBC redemption tour starts now.


Tennessee Volunteers (16-1)

Kezirian: I am willing to overlook the poor performance in the SEC title game, which was a classic flat spot, after the emotional win over Kentucky. The Vols have impressed me with their physicality and late-game poise, relying on upperclassmen. I think their athleticism is off the charts, and they have the right combination to win it all.


Florida State Seminoles (30-1)

Fortenbaugh: Dripping with starting-five experience, the Seminoles check all the boxes when it comes to identifying a tournament value play. FSU's ACC championship game loss to Duke on Saturday night marked just the second defeat sustained by the Noles in a 54-day stretch that included a win over Virginia, two victories over Virginia Tech and a road blowout of Syracuse. The Seminoles rank ninth in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency metric and landed in the Gonzaga quadrant, which features the weakest of the No. 1 seeds. Look out for senior guard Terance Mann from deep.


Auburn Tigers (60-1)

Johnson: Doug and I spoke on the Behind the Bets podcast before conference tournaments last week about embracing the variance of the 3-point shot. I had mentioned Auburn as a team to follow closely in their upcoming tournaments because such a high rate of their field goal attempts come from behind the 3-point line. The Tigers also knock them down at a 38.1-percent clip (27th in the nation) and score 33.9 points per game from long range (only The Citadel and Winthrop score more).


Auburn ranked top-12 in both the coaches poll and AP poll preseason. They have the talent to hang with any team in the country anyway, but when they are knocking down 3s, they are extremely tough to beat. The Tigers lead the entire country in turnover rate (24.8 percent), forcing them on nearly one of every four opponent possessions. Give me this squad in a navigable Midwest region all day.


Is it possible they take 40 3s against New Mexico State in Round 1 and only make eight of them in a loss? Absolutely. If they stay hot, however, expect to see some upsets -- and we will be sitting pretty with 60-1.


Virginia Tech Hokies (80-1)

Kezirian: It is nearly impossible to find value in a one-way betting option this late in the season but I think the Hokies offer an enticing situation. Virginia Tech welcomes back its best player, point guard Justin Robinson, who missed the last 12 games with an injured left foot. The Hokies have a decent draw as a 4-seed and could get hot, as they lead all major conference teams in 3-point shooting percentage.


Nevada Wolf Pack (100-1)

Schultz: I thought about Big 12 stalwarts Kansas State and Iowa State here, as well as ACC standouts Florida State and Virginia Tech. But if we're looking at long shots, why not consider Nevada, at 100-1. Fresh off an Elite Eight appearance last year, the Wolfpack feature an elite player in senior Jordan Caroline (his 18 double-doubles rank sixth nationally), as well as two terrific wings in Caleb (19.2 PPG) and Cody Martin (49.8 percent shooting). Maybe Nevada hasn't been quite the juggernaut we expected, but don't sleep on Eric Musselman's electric 29-4 team with the experience and talent to once again inflict some serious damage in March -- and in April.


Louisville Cardinals (100-1)

Kezirian: The ACC's three 1-seeds receive the headlines, but Louisville has played well in spots. The Cardinals led both Duke and Virginia in the second half -- they also blew those games, which is why they're a 7-seed and a title long shot. I just think there's a path to the Final Four, as they are more than capable of beating Michigan State.



Oregon Ducks (200-1)


Kezirian: The Pac-12 has its flaws, but the Ducks have demonstrated a high ceiling during their current eight-game win streak, which included a conference tournament title. They have plenty of size and Payton Pritchard can provide the shot-making ability needed for crunch time. Oregon is a 12-seed, but it could be favored in the first two rounds and maybe even the Sweet 16, if Virginia stumbles early.




Wofford Terriers (300-1)

Fortenbaugh: The Terriers ripped off 20 straight victories dating back to their Dec. 19 loss at Mississippi State and in the process earned a 7-seed for the Southern Conference's highest tournament placement since 1985. Wofford ranks second in the NCAA in 3-point percentage (.416) and an impressive 12th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency metric. Consider this a scratch-off lottery ticket with far more upside than what's being offered at your local gas station.



Washington Huskies (500-1)


Johnson: There isn't much to this, but Huskies' head coach Mike Hopkins was an assistant at Syracuse from 1995 until 2017. He took over the Washington basketball program and immediately made an impact installing the famous Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone (UW ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency this year). The difficulty for teams to prepare for the zone defense on a short turnaround is no secret, and we have seen Syracuse make deep runs in the tournament in recent years despite lacking elite talent (two Final Four trips in their past three tournament appearances as a 10-seed and a four-seed, for example). It's ultimately unlikely the Huskies are cutting down the nets in April, but as a potential long shot priced in this range, they are my favorite choice.
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