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THURSDAY MARCH MADNESS GAMES: PICKING THE SPREAD
By Matthew L. Lofton
To me, this is a better bet than picking the whole bracket. Do not get me wrong, picking the whole bracket is fun but it is a crap shoot. Anything can happen to change the fortunes of a team in a millisecond. For instance, Fab Melo was ruled ineligible and majorly hurts Syracuse’s rebounding ability. The Orange would normally be fine to make the Elite Eight, but Syracuse may meet a hard-nosed rebounding team in Kansas State in the round of 32.
First, I would stay away from games with large point spreads. For instance, Kentucky may get up by 20+ over Western Kentucky, but the Wildcats will probably pull its starters to conserve energy. There really is no rhyme or reason I can give to either choose UK -25 or WKU + 25. I think with the history of the NCAA tournament and Kentucky more willing to pull starters to rest, if I had to bet, I would take Western Kentucky getting 24.5 points. But with the over/under at 136, I do not think the Hilltoppers can score enough. Take the under.
Syracuse-UNC Asheville poses an interesting dilemma. As mentioned earlier, Fab Melo is ineligible. Melo; however, does not pose as much a scoring threat as much as rebounding. This is the second-straight year in the tournament for UNC-Asheville so it has the experience coupled with nothing to lose. But, even 16 seeds that hang around usually end up losing by numbers that look more comfortable. With both teams looking to get out and run, I would definitely consider the over on 147, but avoid the spread like the plague. If you must, put a value bet on UNC-Asheville getting 15.5. Will Syracuse be pushing without Melo? Stay on the sidelines until we see how Syracuse plays without him.
The last match-up that should be avoided, in my opinion, is Ohio State-Loyola (MD). If I had to make a pick, it would be take Loyola and the 17.5 points. I also do not see the Buckeyes jumping out as a juggernaut on offense in the tournament. With Ohio State’s Thad Matta conserving energy for its second round game, take the under on 131.
Murray State-Colorado State. Many people are thinking this could be a 6-11 upset. Colorado State is abysmal away from the elevation in the Rocky Mountain State. Combined with the fact most experts feel the Racers are under-seeded and the game is in Murray State’s home state, take Murray State -4.5. I think the Racer’s come out slow thanks to a 12-day layoff. Take the under on 136.5 points.
The Kansas State Wildcats get out and run Southern Miss out of the gym, easily covering the five-point spread and obliterating the 134-point mark.
Since the regular season ended, Louisville has stepped up its signature full-court press and Peyton Siva has looked like a new player. Coupled with embarrassing round of 64 games the past couple seasons, Louisville may start off slow thanks to over-pressing. The Cardinals are not an offensive juggernaut, but Davidson’s defense is awful. Take the under 139.5 and Louisville giving seven points.
Montana-Wisconsin may be the battle of ugly basketball. If you want offensive basketball, this is not your cup of tea. If you like 1-0 baseball games, this may be for you. Nothing but ugly. Even if you bet on it, you may have to avert your eyes. But for you bettors, Wisconsin is giving the Grizzlies nine points. Take Montana and the 9.5 points every day and twice on Sunday. Even though this game screams take the under, over/under is 118.5. The game will be ugly, but it will not be a prototypical Big Ten slugfest. Take the 118 over.
Sometimes when a team wins a game, especially as improbable and emotional as the absolute stunning comeback Brigham Young had on Tuesday over Iona, there is a let-down. And Marquette is only giving six? After the Golden Eagles lost in a turnover-filled dreadful Big East tournament game, Buzz Williams’ practices could not be pretty for Marquette. Marquette easily covers the minus six but combined score will be under 153.5.
I picked Long Beach State over New Mexico. Long Beach is well-coached by Dan Monson, architect of Gonzaga’s magical run to the Elite Eight in 1999. Long Beach State getting four, take the 49ers. But, senior leader Larry Anderson missed the last three games and may not be 100%. With New Mexico’s stingy defense, take the under on 137.
Harvard is coming in barely beating not very good teams and will be just two days shy of two weeks off. Vanderbilt comes into the game riding high off of a high from winning the SEC Tournament. Ivy League teams have a bad track record in the tournament, save Cornell in 2010. But Cornell was a senior-laden team with prior NCAA experience. Seeing as the Crimson are breaking a 66-year NCAA drought, Vanderbilt giving 5.5 points is a solid bet and you cannot run fast enough to take the over at 123.
There are some diamonds in the rough, like taking Marquette and Vanderbilt, but I cannot tell you enough to keep away from Wichita State-Virginia Commonwealth. I picked Wichita State, but the Rams press may stymie the Shockers. On the other hand, Wichita State is led by great guards. Take the Rams getting 6.5 points but the press leads to easy buckets, so take the over at 135.5.
I picked Gonzaga over West Virginia. It is basically a pick ‘em, The Zags are a great team, and the Mountaineers come into the game on the heel of tough after tough lost. Take Gonzaga giving a point and a half. Gonzaga in also a classic west coast team and West Virginia will oblige to getting out and running. I would go over on the 132.5.
Also in the south, Baylor-South Dakota State meets Thursday in the 3-14 match-up. A bit surprising, the Jack Rabbits are getting only getting 7.5 points. I think this could be a real value bet as the Bears are looking pretty good coming into the NCAA tournament. It is the first appearance for the Jackrabbits. Will Baylor continue its solid play? Perry Jones III and the rest of the front line for the Bears like to roam the perimeter and it could pose problems if Baylor does not go back to what it could potentially do best. I would take Baylor -8 and the over at 140. Both offenses are good and defense is not the highest priority.
UCONN-Iowa State will be an old-fashioned shootout, so take the over 136.5 points. I have the Cyclones winning, so take them getting 1.5 points. UCONN is passive on defense and a little two one-on-one on offense. Kemba Walker is not walking through that door and Shabazz Napier and Andre Drummond do not always make the rest of the team better. Iowa State is tired of hearing how UCONN is a shoe-in to meet UK in the next round. Iowa State plus two is a steal.
Offense will be a-plenty in New Mexico State-Indiana. But with the NCAA tournament and the line at 154.5, do you really see a 78-77 type score? They have potent offenses, but I cannot see that type of high-scoring play. Especially with Indiana’s Verdell Jones out and Will Sheehey re-aggravating an ankle injury, take the 154 under. The injuries will also help New Mexico State to cover the 6.5 spread.
UNLV covers the 5.5 it is giving Colorado. In the NCAA tournament, I do not put stock in arenas affecting outcomes. But, then there is “The Pit” in Albuquerque. The fact UNLV plays in the atmosphere every year, Colorado is behind the eight ball. But, Colorado held down the offenses in the PAC-12, so coupled with the arena, if you must, take the under 135.
Murray St -4.5 Murray St -4.5
Kansas St -5 Kansas St -5
Louisville -7 Davidson +7
Montana +9.5 Montana +9.5
Marquette -6 Marquette -6
UNC ASHEVILLE +15.5 Syracuse -15.5
Long Beach St +4 Long Beach St +4
Vandy -5.5 Vandy -5.5
WESTERN +24.5 Kentucky -24.5
VCU +6.5 Wichita St -6.5
Gonzaga -1.5 Gonzaga -1.5
Baylor -8 Baylor -8
Iowa State +1.5 UCONN -1.5
New Mexico State +6.5 Indiana -6.5
Loyal +17.5 Ohio St -17.5
UNLV -5.5 UNLV -5.5
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