June 14, 2021

Lynq Sports

bet on it

By the College Basketball Staff

WestEastSouthMidwest
#1 Gonzaga vs #16 Norfolk State#1 Michigan vs #16 Texas Southern#1 Baylor vs #16 Hartford#1 Illinois vs #16 Drexel
#8 Oklahoma vs #9 Missouri#8 LSU vs #9 St. Bonaventure#8 North Carolina vs #9 Wisconsin#8 Loyola (Chicago) vs #9 Georgia Tech
#5 Creighton vs #12 UC Santa Barbara#5 Colorado vs #12 Georgetown#5 Villanova vs #12 Winthrop#5 Tennessee vs #12 Oregon State
#4 Virginia vs #13 Ohio#4 Florida State vs #13 UNC Greensboro#4 Purdue vs #13 North Texas#4 Oklahoma State vs #13 Liberty
#6 USC vs #11 Drake#6 BYU vs #11 UCLA#6 Texas Tech vs #11 Utah State#6 San Diego State vs #11 Syracuse
#3 Kansas vs #14 Eastern Washington#3 Texas vs #14 Abilene Christian#3 Arkansas vs #14 Colgate#3 West Virginia vs #14 Morehead State
#7 Oregon vs #10 VCU#7 UConn vs #10 Maryland#7 Florida vs #10 Virginia Tech#7 Clemson vs #10 Rutgers
#2 Iowa vs #15 Grand Canyon#2 Alabama vs #15 Iona#2 Ohio State vs #15 Oral Roberts#2 Houston vs #15 Cleveland State

All games are in p.m. ET unless otherwise noted.
This piece will be updated regularly with more games as they are completed.

West

#1 Gonzaga vs #16 Norfolk State

Tip: Saturday, 9:20 on TBS | Spread: Gonzaga -33.5 | Total:154

Here they are, the 26-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs. The last team to have a “perfect” season was back in 1976, an Indiana Hoosiers team commanded by Robert Montgomery Knight. Ironic that the whole tournament this year is the state where the last perfect team hailed. Anyway, the Bulldogs slightly tested in the WCC Championship Game against BYU, if you can believe that. Coach Few’s team showed resilience and composure, chipping away at the Cougars lead at halftime. Gonzaga went on to win the game by 10 points after trailing by double-digits at half. Corey Kispert is the team’s leading scorer this season (19.2 ppg); however, I think this tournament will be a huge boost for Jalen Suggs’ draft stock. He is already a lock first round pick, probably a lock lottery pick too, but I think a solid showing in the NCAA Tournament will help secure a top-five draft position for the talented freshman. If you need some stats to thirst your quench, here are the most telling two: Gonzaga averages 91.2 points per game (1st in Division-I) and they are shooting 55.1% from the field this season (1st in Division-I).

Norfolk State barely, and I mean barely, made it into the Round of 64. After nearly blowing a 19-point lead in the second half, the Spartans were able to hold on and secure the one-point win over Appalachian State. Jalen Hawkins led the way for the Spartans offensively, scoring 24 points on 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc. The three-ball shot is the key to success for the Spartans this season. Norfolk State is shooting the ball 37.3% from beyond the arc this season (31st in Division-I). Joe Bryant (11.6 ppg this season) and Devante Carter (15.0 ppg) will need to be more impactful offensively, should the Spartans want a fighting chance with Gonzaga. The two combined for 14 points last night against the Mountaineers. Laying 33.5 points seems, shall we say, overtly risky, even if it is Gonzaga. Norfolk State has covered in eight out of their last 10 games this season. I will say a prayer and take Norfolk State +33.5 as my best bet.

The Picks: Norfolk State +35.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#8 Oklahoma vs #9 Missouri

Tip: Saturday, 7:25 on TNT | Spread: Oklahoma -1| Total: 140.5

This has been a really interesting season for both the Big 12 and the SEC and the teams that inhabit their ranks. In a regular season both of these team, Oklahoma and Missouri, would probably be good enough to win a majority of their conference games, get into their conference tournaments as one of the top two teams , and bounce into the tournament as a five or six seed at worst. Not this season. Despite really good shooting from Oklahoma and Lon Kruger’s best team since Buddy Hield was around, Oklahoma is an eight seed and were it not for an unreal stretch of games over top-10 teams, Oklahoma might have missed out altogether. They’re extremely talented with Brady Manek and Austin Reeves playing extremely well. However, star guard De’Vion Harmon has been ruled out for the first weekend of action, meaning Oklahoma will be down a massive piece.

Now obviously any team would benefit from their opposition losing a starter, but when the margins are this close, those things begin to matter more. Missouri is a wildly talented team put together by master recruiter Cuonzo Martin. I already felt there was a chance that Missouri could win this game without the Harmon news, but with it I feel good about it. The star guard combo of Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith will have an easier time scoring without Harmon and won’t be as troubled on defense or in the fouling situation. Depth is a real asset for the Tigers of Missouri and it’s becoming an increasing liability for Oklahoma, so take Missouri to cover the spread, and if you really like them, parley it with a win outright for a pretty nice number.

The Pick: Missouri +1

-Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)

#5 Creighton vs #12 UC Santa Barbara

Tip: Saturday, 3:30 on truTV | Spread: Creighton -7 | Total: 137.5

The Creighton Bluejays are one of the strangest teams in the NCAA Tournament. No doubt about that. There’s no consistency for Greg McDermott and the Jays. They either come out firing on all cylinders or lay an absolute egg like the Big East Championship. In a rather weak year for the Big East, Creighton finished the season at 20-8. Junior guard Marcus Zegarowski (15.5 ppg, 4.3 ast) and junior forward Christian Bishop (10.8 ppg, 5.9 reb) make up the dynamic duo for the Jays. When Creighton is on, Zegarowski can put up 30 and the Jays could win by 20. When the team is off, they could lose to a .500 team like Georgetown by damn near 30. 

Everybody loves a good Cinderella story. The 22-4 Big West Champs in Santa Barbara are on the hunt for their glass slipper. The Gauchos rank top 20 in offensive rating nationally, but can pose a threat on the defensive side with their quick guards and size in the front court. Leading Santa Barbara’s offensive is JaQuori McLaughlin. The senior guard is averaging 16.2 ppg and with 5.2 dimes. The Gauchos breezed through the Big West Tournament and are looking hot. 

I grew up in a Creighton household and was raised a Bluejay, so this is going to hurt me to say. Great basketball teams are consistent. Creighton has not been. UC Santa Barbara will take the underdog victory. That’s why I’m taking the Cinderella story in Santa Barbara at +7.0.

The Pick: UC Santa Barbara +7

-Carter Benson (@CarterDBenson)

#4 Virginia vs #13 Ohio

Tip: Saturday, 7:15 on truTV | Spread: Virginia -7.5 | Total: 130.5

UVA is coming off the dreaded COVID pause. I’ve pointed to this stat consistently throughout the season, but COVID pauses are, on average, harmful for teams. Add in the fact that UVA is expected to arrive in Indianapolis on Friday due to their COVID issues, leaving them less than 36 hours on the ground before tip off, and it’s easy to feel uncomfortable with this team.

While the ‘Hoos have one player on the All-ACC First Team (senior wing Sam Hauser) and another player on the All-ACC Second Team (senior big man Jay Huff), the best player on the floor could very well be Ohio junior guard and All-MAC First Team member Jason Preston (16.6 PPG, 7.2 APG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 STL, 40.3% 3PT FG%). Preston is one of five Bobcats to average double figures this season, and Ohio has the offensive firepower needed to hang with a team like UVA, which ranks 30th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings—far below what we’ve come to expect from a Tony Bennett led team. KenPom ranks Ohio’s offense 29th in the nation in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, and they’re shooting 56.4% on two-point attempts (11th in the country) and 36.6% on three-point attempts (56th in the country).

While UVA will enjoy a significant size advantage with Huff, Hauser, and junior wing Trey Murphy, I think they’ll show a bit of rust after their recent COVID pause that forced them to withdraw from the ACC Tournament. I like the ‘Hoos to win, but take Ohio and the points.

The Pick: Ohio +7.5

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#6 USC vs #11 Drake

Tip: Saturday, 4:30 on TNT | Spread: USC -6 | Total: 135.5

For the first time in 50 years, the Drake Bulldogs have won an NCAA Tournament game and it was an absolute sweat-fest against Wichita State. Drake had to battle back coming down the stretch taking the lead in the last couple minutes of the game and clung on to a 1-point lead for the win. Joe Yesufu led the Bulldogs in scoring with 21 points off of 38% from the field (pretty much) single-handedly advancing them to the round of 64 against USC because DJ Wilkins went cold from the floor. Wilkins and Garrett Sturtz combined for 2 of 12 from the field contributing to the low 53-52 score. If they want to survive and advance into the round of 32, their hopes lie with Junior big man, Darnell Brodie, who averages 7.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG. Brodie was one point away from a double-double against Wichita State and he’s going to need to do something nice on Saturday against the Mobley brothers to compete. 

USC’s last game was a loss to Colorado in the Pac12 tourney where they scored only 6 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. Since they went so cold in the first half, they were always clawing their way back into the game and even tied the game up with less than a minute left. The key for the Trojans to pick up this first win is going to be Ethan Anderson and Tahj Eaddy’s ability to keep Yesufu quiet because he’s going to try to weave through the defense and open up lanes for his teammates. With all that said, USC may not have the quickest tempo in the country, but they should very easily outpace Drake and prevent them from getting any easy buckets. I’m rocking with USC -3.5 1H. 

The Pick: USC -3.5 1H

Quin Pezoldt (@QuintenEverett16)

#3 Kansas vs #14 Eastern Washington

Tip: Saturday, 1:15 on TBS | Spread: Kansas -10.5 | Total: 146.0

It has been a season of highs and lows for the Rock Chalk Jayhawk Nation this year. From opening the season out 10-2, to falling in a rut losing five out of seven games in the Big 12 Conference, the rollercoaster trend continues. The Jayhawks were rolling, winning eight out nine games, but their dreams at winning the Big 12 Tournament came to a screeching halt following positive COVID-19 tests within the program. The Jayhawks will be without two of their stars, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson, in the first round matchup against Eastern Washington. Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett will be asked to step up and fill the scoring void. The Jayhawks are tough-nosed on defense this season, holding their opponent to 66.2 points per game (55th in Division-I) and 40.9% from the field (41st in Division-I). The Jayhawks have not been bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the First Round since 2006.  

Eastern Washington has been torching the net this season offensively. The Eagles are averaging 78.0 points per game (27th in Division-I) and they are shooting the ball 46.9% from the field (38th in Division-I). Tanner Groves, Kim Aiken Jr. and Jacob Davison have been dynamic scorers this season for the Eagles. Groves leads the way, averaging 16.4 points per game this season. The size and athleticism of Kansas should not impede the Eagles, as they have faced Pac-12 opponents this season (Washington State, Arizona and Oregon). Eastern Washington has been on a roll, winning 14 of their last 15 games this season. Both teams have had their fair share of unders hit recently. Combined, both teams have a 1-9 over/under record in their last five games. Look for that trend to continue. I am taking the U146 as my best bet.

The Pick: Under 146

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#7 Oregon vs #10 VCU

Tip: Saturday, 9:57 ET on TNT | Spread: Oregon -5.5 | Total: 138

Too bad this will be the last game of the night, because this will be one of the most interesting games of the Saturday slate. Starting with VCU, the Rams got off to a very good start on the season running out to a 16-3 record, then they stumbled a little bit down the stretch going 3-3 in their last 6 finishing their season with a 9 point loss to the Bonnies. Part of the issue for the rams was the foot issue for one of their best players Nah’Shon Hyland about a month ago, while he has returned to action he has not been 100 % and has been struggling with his outside shot. Hyland averaged 19.5 PPG, but VCU only has one other player averaging in double figures. 

On the other side of this matchup, The Oregon Ducks are coming in hot and healthy. After various injuries and Covid events, the Ducks are at as full strength as they can be and have won 8 out their last 10 games. Other than the surprising loss to the Beavers in the PAC 12 tournament, the Ducks were the hottest team in the PAC 12 and played as good of basketball as anyone in the country. Dana Altman has done a terrific job this season and looks to make another run in this year’s tournament. Oregon made a surprising run to the Final 4 in 2017 as a 3 seed, and made a surprising sweet 16 run as a 12 seed in 2019. I have a feeling the Ducks can make a similar run this year, starting with a hard fought but comfortable win over VCU. 

The Pick: Oregon -5.5

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

#2 Iowa vs #15 Grand Canyon

Tip: Saturday, 6:25 on TBS | Spread: Iowa -14.5 | Total: 145.5

It’s been an up and down year for the 21-8 Iowa Hawkeyes. Coach Fran McCaffery and his team have bounced around the top 25 all season. The Hawks finished the year strong and secured a #2 seed for the first time since their Elite Eight run in 1987. This Saturday, #15 Grand Canyon will be facing off against what is perhaps the most talented Iowa roster the tournament has seen to date. National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza (23.7 ppg, 8.8 reb) has solidified himself as one of the most dominant players in college basketball, while junior guard Joe Wieskamp (14.7 ppg, 6.6 reb) has seen his draft stock rise faster than GameStop in late January. The 17-6 Grand Canyon Antelopes are fresh off a WAC Championship and look like the strongest #15 seed in the tournament. The Antelopes are led by senior center and probable extra for the TV series Vikings, Asbjorn Midtgaard (14 ppg, 9.9 reb). Grand Canyon has a lot of depth in the C/PF position. Iowa’s recent loss of sophomore center Jack Nunge could take a toll on Garza’s stamina. This has been a weakness this season for the All-American.

Iowa is a team built for the NCAA Tournament. They rank fourth in offensive rating and first in turn over percentage out of teams national. These stats are arguably two of the most important for teams entering March. The Hawkeyes are also shooting 38.6 percent from deep. Iowa has one of the most effective and efficient offenses in the nation while scoring 83.8 ppg. Grand Canyon is averaging 75.6 pgg. The over at 145.5 looks like the best bet here. Both the Hawks and Grand Canyon have a high scoring offense. The Hawkeyes are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament, so points should be scored here. Spread at -14.5(105) is also looking nice. I can’t see the Antelopes being able to keep up with the dominant Iowa offense. Wieskamp and the other Iowa guards should tear up the Grand Canyon perimeter.

The Pick: Over 145.5 and Iowa -14.5

-Carter Benson (@CarterDBenson)

East

#1 Michigan vs #16 Texas Southern

Tip: Saturday, 3:00 on CBS | Spread: Michigan -26 | Total: 142.5

The Michigan Wolverines have earned a #1 seed this season, their first #1 seed since the “Fab Five” team back in 1993. They do not wear baggy shorts, tall black socks and black shoes; however, the Wolverines are right up there talent wise as that team.  One of the Fab Five members, Juwan Howard, has led the Wolverines back to this spot. Many questioned Howard’s ability to coach, but he is proving his nay-sayers wrong each game the Wolverines win. Now he has them in a spot to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Fab Five were led by underclassmen, so it only seems fitting that this year’s leading scorer is a freshman: Hunter Dickinson. The big man in the post is averaging 14.2 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. Fellow underclassmen and brother of current Washington Wizard Mo Wagner, Franz Wagner has been a pivotal scorer this season for the Wolverines as well. Wagner is averaging 12.8 points per game. The Wolverines are a tremendous shooting team, as they are shooting 48.3% from the field this season (15th in Division-I). It looks like the Wolverines will be without Isaiah Livers for Saturday’s game (13.1 ppg), but the Wolverines should still have no problem taking care of business.

Texas Southern opened the First Four slate last evening with an impressive comeback win over Mount St. Mary’s. John Walker III (12.3 ppg) led the way for the Tigers offense, scoring 19 points in the game. Their leading scorer, Michael Weathers (16.2 ppg), will need to be more involved offensively should the Tigers keep things close with Michigan. Weathers only had eight points last night at Assembly Hall. Texas Southern is composed of former top school transfers, so they have height and athleticism. As a result, the Tigers are one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, pulling down 40.9 rebounds per game this season (5th in Division-I). The Tigers have won 13 out of their last 14 games, covering in five straight contests. My lean is Texas Southern plus the points, but I will not touch the spread. Both teams have seen the under hit lately, six out of the last seven for Michigan and three out of the last four for Texas Southern, so I will take a flyer on the U142.5 as my best bet for this game.

The Pick: Under 142.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#8 LSU vs #9 St. Bonaventure

Tip: 1:45 ET on 3/20 | Spread: LSU -2| Total: 144.5

St. Bonaventure has three main scoring threats this season: Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes and Jalen Adaway. All three juniors have been dependable scorers this season for Coach Schmidt. Lofton, the main scorer, is averaging 14.6 points per game this season. The Bonnies won the Atlantic-10 Tournament, and they have won six out of their last seven games overall. There was a bit of a murmur going on about the A-10 “cannibalizing” on itself this season, which made folks skeptical if it was ultra-competitive or just very mediocre. The Bonnies look to be a competitive team, which can pose a threat in the NCAA Tournament. The Bonnies play a suffocating brand of defense this season (opponents only scoring 60.4 points per game this season; 3rd in Division-I), so teams will have to really work offensively to get good looks against St. Bonaventure.

After opening SEC play out 6-4, there was not a great deal of hype surrounding the LSU Tigers basketball program. LSU did not throw in the towel though, the Tigers finished conference play strong with an 11-6 record. With recent wins over Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas… The Tigers are clicking at the right time. They were literally one basket away from winning the SEC Tournament Championship Game against Alabama.  The Tigers are led by freshman phenom, Cameron Thomas, who is averaging 22.6 points per game this season. The Tigers look to run teams off the court, as they are averaging 82.1 points per game this season (6th in Division-I). The Tigers are shooting a blistering 53.0% from the field this season as well (54th in Division-I). I really believe the Tigers are firing on all cylinders right now, covering in their last four games. I think that trend continues on Saturday, so I will take LSU -2 in this one.

The Pick: LSU -2

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#5 Colorado vs #12 Georgetown

Tip: Saturday, 12:15 on CBS | Spread: Colorado -5 | Total: 138.5

Colorado enters the game with a sour taste in their mouth, after losing a nail biter game to Oregon State in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It was quite a shocking upset, considering Colorado had won the previous two outings against the Beavers by a combined score of 33 points. March is another brand of basketball however. The Buffs have been solid this season on both sides of the ball. McKinley Wright IV leads the way for Colorado, averaging 15.5 points per game this season. Colorado shoots the ball 45.4% from the field this season (79th in Division-I) and 82.2% from the free throw line (2nd in Division-I). Defensively, the Buffs are holding their opponent to 63.3 points per game (22nd in Division-I), and teams are only shooting 41.9% against Colorado (82nd in Division-I).  

Georgetown went on an improbable run, winning four games in four days at Madison Square Garden. Coach Ewing has the Hoyas in the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. At 13-12 with losses to Navy and Butler, there is reason to be skeptical of Georgetown. The Hoyas are scorching hot right now though, and it is always scary to play a team that is hot in the NCAA Tournament. Jahvon Blair has been the x-factor this season, averaging 15.8 points per game for Georgetown. The Hoyas, like Colorado, thrive on the defensive side of the basketball. The Hoyas are holding opponents to 41.5% from the field this season (66th in Division-I). Georgetown is fresh off a drubbing of Creighton, a team that was held to an astonishing 48 points in the Big East Tournament Championship Game. Since both teams have a knack for “defense creating offense”, I am going to go the safe route here and take the U138.5 points for the game.

The Pick: Under 138.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#4 Florida State vs #13 UNC Greensboro

Tip: Saturday, 12:45 on truTV | Spread: Florida State -10.5 | Total: 145

UNCG is a solid team that has a great head coach in Wes Miller, but they simply do not have the talent to hang with FSU in this Round of 64 matchup. This team is solid, but not impressive, on both ends of the floor, with KenPom ranking UNCG’s offense 127th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and its defense 65th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. While the Spartans do a decent job of forcing turnovers—something that serves as Florida State’s achilles heel, as we were reminded in the ACC Tournament finals—they have only one player who averages double figures in senior guard Isaiah Miller (19.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.6 STL). The Seminoles should be able to lock the 6’0” Miller down on defense with their size, though.

A lot of armchair experts like UNCG as a trendy 13-seed to upset a 4-seed, but those folks are wrong. I expect Florida State to come out of the gates hot while looking to avenge their ACC Tournament championship game loss to Georgia Tech. The Seminoles were once again exposed for being a turnover-happy offense in that ACC Finals loss, and I expect them to take much better care of the ball against a team like UNCG, over which FSU owns a clear and obvious talent advantage.

The Pick: Florida State -10.5

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#6 BYU vs #11 UCLA

Tip: Saturday, 9:40 on CBS | Spread: BYU -3.5 | Total: 138

UCLA picked up the win over Michigan State in the First Four by a final score of 86-80. That earned them a trip to the field of 64 as an 11 seed where they’ll face off against 6th seeded BYU. Brigham Young is 20-6 on the season but it should be noted that three of their losses came at the hands of #1 Gonzaga. The Cougars rank 32rd in scoring, averaging 77.6 points per game to go along with their 24th ranked field goal percentage (48.2%). They’re also lethal from deep, cashing 37.8% of their attempts from beyond the arc. Alec Barcello leads the way offensively with 15.7 ppg and 4.6 apg. 

I’m going to ride the over 138 in this one for a unit. BYU isn’t the only potent offensive team that will be on the court on Saturday. The Bruins rank 66th in field goal percentage (46.2%) and 40th in 3-point efficiency (37.3%). UCLA has exceeded the Vegas total 16 times in 27 games this year (59.3%) while BYU is 12-12-1 (50%). UCLA also blew past this total in last night’s game as the game was 77-77 heading into overtime and they’ve cleared 138 points in 5/8 of their recent games. The Cougars have gone over the 138 mark eight times in their previous ten games. And one final thing, the Mick Cronin’s Bruins rank 204th in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.003 points per possession. All together, this total seems pretty low and I just saw on Twitter that Cronin is “hopeful” Jaime Jaquez Jr. will play in this one. He led the team in scoring in the opener with 27 points but suffered an ankle injury late. 

The Pick: Over 138

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

#3 Texas vs #14 Abilene Christian

Tip: Saturday, 9:50 on truTV | Spread: Texas -9 | Total: 139.5

The Big 12 Conference was stacked with so many talented teams this year, yet Texas had no trouble staying situated at the top of the standings for most of the season. The Longhorns won the first 10 out of 11 games to start the season, and then had a bit of a hiccup to start conference play. After falling to 5-4 in conference play, Texas finished the season strong, winning the Big 12 Conference Tournament. The Longhorns enter the NCAA Tournament riding a five game win streak. Andrew Jones, a cancer survivor who has won the fandom of many worldwide, leads the Texas team in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game this season.  Texas has been efficient on offense this season, shooting 45.4% from the floor (80th in Division-I). The Longhorns are a force on the boards as well, pulling down 38.7 rebounds per game this season (30th in Division-I). Texas can overwhelm their opponent purely on their size and athleticism.

Located about four hours driving north of Austin, the Abilene Christian Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three years. The Wildcats have only been a Division-I program since 2013, and they have only been eligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament since 2016-17. The Wildcats only have four losses all season, two in conference play (by a combined nine points) and two against NCAA Tournament teams in Arkansas (lost by 12 points) and Texas Tech (lost by seven points). The Wildcats are led by their big man in the post, Kolton Kohl, who is averaging 12.3 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. The Wildcats are tough on defense, holding opponents to 61.7 points per game (10th in Division-I). Offensively, the Wildcats are well tuned as well, shooting the ball 46% from the field this season (59th in Division-I). I believe that Texas will force Abilene Christian to play an up-tempo game, as a means to see if they can keep up with their speed and athleticism. The first team to reach 85 points should win this game. I think Abilene is capable of scoring 60-65 points in this game, so I will take the O139.5 as my best bet.

The Pick: Over 139.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#7 UConn vs #10 Maryland

Tip: Saturday, 7:10 on CBS | Spread: UConn -3| Total: 130.5

With the most losses of anyone in the field, Maryland (16-13) is limping into the tournament on the basis that they played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year. The Terrapins were struggling midway through the season and the thoughts of a tournament appearance seemed dismal. Mark Turgeon’s squad quickly turned things around, going 5-2 in the final seven games of the regular season and beating Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. As a whole, the Terrapins are one of the most inconsistent teams in the country. One night they’ll look like they’re built to make a deep run in the postseason, the next night they’ll lose Penn State at home.

In its first year back in the Big East, UConn made a big splash, finishing third in the league and nearly reaching the conference title game. Led by standout guard James Bouknight, whom many believed was snubbed for Big East POY honors, the Huskies (15-7) boast an experienced team that is built for March, ranking in the top 100 in the nation in offensive rating, total rebounding %, turnover % and free throw %. Joining Bouknight in the UConn backcourt are R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin, both of whom are legitimate scoring threats.

Maryland has good, consistent players in Eric Ayala and Donta Scott, who can both score and rebound enough to keep the Terrapins in any game. That said, it’s hard to guess which Maryland team is going to show up on Saturday. They have some decent wins on their record, but they also have some really bad losses. 

In March, betting on the team with an experienced, well-rounded backcourt is always the safe play, and that advantage clearly lies with UConn in this matchup, which is why I’m backing the Huskies to handle Maryland easily en route to the second round. 

The Pick: UConn -3

– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)

#2 Alabama vs #15 Iona

Tip: Saturday, 3:30 on TBS | Spread: Alabama -16.5 | Total: 147.5

The only people interested in this game will be the alumni, the player’s parents, and the sports bettors. Number two seeds are 132-8 since the origin of the tournament so I think it’s safe to say that BAMA rolls into the round of 32. But the question remains, by how many points will they win – aka will Alabama cover? 

Iona went 12-5 on the season but punched their ticket to the Big Dance by way of winning the MAAC. The #9 ranked (out of eleven) Gaels went 4-0 in the conference tournament, smoking #8 Quinnipiac 72-48, upsetting #1 Siena 55-52 and #5 Niagara 70-64, and besting #7 Fairfield in the Championship by a final of 60-51. That’s great and all and a big congratulations is in store for Rick Pitino.. But this will be a huge step up in competition – as reflected by the 16.5 points line. 

Alabama is a wagon this year, boasting a record of 24-6 and they are 18-0 when scoring at least 80 points. I don’t want to lay the points with Bama even though I know their offense has the capability to go off in any setting. They average 79.6 points per game which is ranked 18th in the country. I think the safest play in this one is the over at 147.5 (-110), which I’ll be playing for a unit. Ricky P will have the Gaels fired up and I like that they’ve proven they can wreak havoc. They have a good shot to cover the 16.5 which in turn means Alabama can’t get cozy and take their foot off of the gas. The Tide are 11th in PACE in college hoops (77.1 possessions per game) while Iona ranks 164th (71.4). Bama will control the pace of the game which means points will be scored! Take the over 147.5. 

The Pick: Over 147.5

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

South

#1 Baylor vs #16 Hartford

Tip: Friday, 3:30 on truTV | Spread: Baylor -26| Total: 140

The Oddsmakers don’t give the Hartford Hawks much of a chance in this opening round matchup. And who can blame them, they’re squaring off against arguably the best team in the nation in the Baylor Bears. Congrats to this Hawks team on making it to the Big Dance for the first time in program history. It will make a great story for them and they’ve created memories they can look fondly upon as the Bears pave their way towards raising a March Madness Banner. 

I’m backing Baylor -26 (-110) for a unit in the opener. This is a shit ton of points to lay but I’m actually quite confident we can hit the mark. The Bears are the #1 ranked 3-point shooting team in college hoops at 41.8%. That’s .9% better than the next best ranked team, which is a wide margin when factoring in 300+ teams. Hartford hits 32.7% in the same category, which ranks 221st in the country. On top of that, let’s look at rebounding. Baylor is a top 50 team when it comes to crashing the boards while the Hawks are 216th. Hartford’s inability to grab second-chance opportunities will be a key to stretching the lead for the Big 12 side. I like Baylor to cruise in the opening round. Oh, and while teams are obviously motivated in a “win or go home” setting, maybe Baylor needs to prove to themselves that they’re the real deal after being bounced in the conference tournament by Oklahoma State. 

The Pick: Baylor -26

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

#8 North Carolina vs #9 Wisconsin

Tip: Friday, 7:10 on CBS | Spread: North Carolina -1.5 | Total: 137.5

At 18-10, the North Carolina Tar Heels are in the NCAA Tournament. It is not great, by their standards at least, but it is a major improvement from the catastrophic 14-19 season last year. There is no ‘Cole Anthony level talent’ on this year’s team, but the Tar Heels are a much more balanced team this year than last. Caleb Love (10.5 ppg) is the touted freshman phenom on this year’s Tar Heels roster; however, Love is one of three main scorers for North Carolina this season. Armando Bacot (12.2 ppg) and Garrison Brooks (10.2 ppg) have also been key scorers alongside Love this season. The Tar Heels have been monsters on the glass this season, pulling down 43.1 rebounds per game this season (2nd in Division-I). Pulling down offensive rebounds (14.0 per game; 1st in Division-I) allows North Carolina to get multiple scoring opportunities in a given sequence. Not surprising given their size, North Carolina is one of the best blocking teams in the country as well with 4.7 blocks per game (20th in Division-I).

Wisconsin, like North Carolina, has had a bit of an up-and-down season in 2020-21. After starting the season out 8-1, things sort of fell apart a bit for the Badgers in Big Ten conference play. The Badgers closed out the conference slate winning only two of their least eight games. The Badgers edged out a win over Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Iowa. Wisconsin is a senior laden team, with all five of their starters in their final season: D’Mitrik Trice (13.7 ppg), Micah Potter (12.8 ppg), Brad Davison (9.4 ppg), Aleem Ford (8.7 ppg) and Nate Reuvers (9.2 ppg). As has been the brand of basketball for Wisconsin for what feels like decades now, the slower the tempo the better for the Badgers. Wisconsin is holding their opponents to 64.3 points per game this season (33rd in Division-I). It is hard to imagine a situation where the seniors of Wisconsin do not pick up one tournament win to keep their season alive. I am backing the veteran Wisconsin squad +1.5 for my best bet.

The Pick: Wisconsin +1.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#5 Villanova vs #12 Winthrop

Tip: Friday, 9:57 on TNT | Spread: Villanova -6.5 | Total: 150.5 

Upset alert!! 🚨🚨🚨 unfortunately for Villanova they were one of the best teams in the country and they had a legitimate shot at winning the Big East title and making the final 4. Sadly, with the injury to their best player Collin Gillespie, the outlook for the Wildcats is a lot grimmer. Still Jay Wright is a fantastic coach who will have his team ready to play. To make matters worse, Nova might have gotten matched up against arguably the toughest -2 in Winthrop. The Eagles have only lost 1 game all season (a 2 point loss to UNC Asheville) and are currently riding a 7 game win streak heading into the tournament. The Eagles are led by do it all big man Chandler Vaudrin who leads the team with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game. I think it will be a hard fought game but I think Winthrop will do enough to pull off the upset. Looking at the total, Winthrop has gone under the total in 7 of their last 10 games. Villanova has also been trending under as of late with the Wildcats hitting the under in 4 out of their last 6 games. I like the under straight up, Winthrop ATS, and maybe a sprinkle of Winthrop money line but we will continue to go the safer route for my best bet. Tease Winthrop up to +11.5 and the under up to 155.5.

The Pick: Teaser: Winthrop +11.5 & Under 155.5

*Pick for the MM Contest: Winthrop +6.5

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

#4 Purdue vs #13 North Texas

Tip: Friday, 7:25 on TNT | Spread: -7.5 | Total: 127 

My initial reaction is that this spread was a little low. Purdue is clearly the superior team and should really have the size advantage inside with Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. For the Mean Green, they only have 1 player that is at 6-10. The calling card for North Texas is their slow style of play and stingy defense. Purdue also excels on the defensive end of the floor so I think this game might be in for a defensive struggle kind of game. With that being said I think the scoring will be on the lower side which has me leaning to the under, but 127 is an awfully low number. North Texas has gone under in 10 of their last 13 games. Since it will be a low scoring affair, 7.5 points should be easy for Purdue to clear but they always make me nervous. Therefore for our best bet let’s go with a teaser. Tease Purdue down to -2.5 and tease the under up to 132.

The Pick: Teaser: Purdue -2.5 & Under 132

*Pick for the MM Contest: Purdue -7

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

#6 Texas Tech vs #11 Utah State

Tip: Friday, 1:45 on TNT | Spread: Texas Tech -4.5| Total: 132

After starting the season a meager 1-3, Utah State (20-8) rattled off 11 straight victories and brought momentum back on its side before eventually finishing second place in the MVC behind San Diego State, who earned the 6th seed in the Midwest region. Utah State has been playing solid basketball for the past few months largely due to the elevated play of big man Neemias Queta, who averaged a double-double with 15 PPG and 10 RPG on the season. Queta has helped the Aggies to become the nation’s leader in team total rebounding %. 

If you remember all the way back to the last time the NCAA Tournament was played in 2019, you might recall that Texas Tech reached the championship game. Chris Beard has continued that success for the Red Raiders (17-10), bringing in high-level recruits and transfers to fill the roster. One of those transfers, Mac McClung, made an immediate impact on the court, becoming the team’s leading scorer with 15 PPG. McClung and Terrence Shannon lead a conservative yet effective offensive attack for Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders had their fair share of tribulations in the gantlet that was the Big 12 this season, but that also means they’re battle tested. Texas Tech will hold a massive edge in this game in terms of tournament experience, while their ball protection and ability to knock down 3-pointers at an efficient rate could make it a long day for Utah State. Even though the Aggies are statistically the best rebounding team in the country, the Red Raiders don’t pale in comparison, so the advantage won’t be as lopsided as you might think.

I think Beard will have his squad rested and ready to go for another deep run in this tournament, so I’m riding with Texas Tech to cover -4.5 relatively easily. No upset alert from me in this 11 vs. 6 matchup. 

The Pick: Texas Tech -4.5

– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)

#3 Arkansas vs #14 Colgate

Tip: Friday, 12:45 on truTV | Spread: Arkansas -10 | Total: 162 

This will be a fun high flying matchup with 2 teams who love to run up and down the court. Arkansas is 17th in the country in fastest tempo and Colgate is 25th in fastest tempo. With that tempo comes out two pretty good offenses. Arkansas ranks 35th in offensive efficiency and Colgate ranks 44th in offensive efficiency. The monumental difference between these teams is defense. The Razorbacks sport the 13th best defense in the country while the Raiders rank 139th in the country. Colgate comes into this game with only 1 loss and that was by 2 points to Army. Arkansas has also been playing great down the stretch winning 12 of their last 14 games. The matchup to watch in the game will be Moses Moody from the Razorbacks vs Jordan Burns from the Raiders. Even with both teams running up and down the court I think that 162 number is looking awfully high. Colgate is averaging over 80 points per game but I doubt Arkansas will allow them to score over 80. That being said I think this game will fall likely into the 70s for both teams. Tease Colgate to +16 and tease the under up to 167 for 1 unit.

The Pick: Teaser: Colgate +16 & Under 167

Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

#7 Florida vs #10 Virginia Tech

Tip: Friday, 12:15 on CBS | Spread: Pick ‘Em | Total: 135

As the first game of the tournament (excluding the play-in games), we’re set for a treat between Virginia Tech and Florida. This game is a true toss up, with neither team having a clear edge and the line in Vegas reflecting that. There is no question that Florida is the more talented of these two teams. But, there’s a reason Virginia Tech Head Coach Mike Young won ACC Coach of the Year. He gets a lot out of his guys and he guided this team through some rough patches, including when sophomore wing Tyrece Radford missed a month due to legal issues.

Florida has been inconsistent all season long, while Virginia Tech has struggled mightily away from home. The big thing for me in this game is whether Florida can speed Virginia Tech up with turnovers or not. Florida commits its fair share of turnovers, but it also relies on forcing turnovers on defense to create fast break opportunities and run outs on offense. The Hokies, on the other hand, look to slow the game down (293rd in pace, according to KenPom) and avoid turning the ball over (88th in offensive turnover rate). They’re also content to focus on defending and protecting the glass without prioritizing turnovers on defense. I think the Hokies slow pace of play wins out in this game, and I think they turn this matchup into a slow, grind it out affair.

The Pick: Under 135.0

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#2 Ohio State vs #15 Oral Roberts

Tip: Friday, 3:00 on CBS | Spread: -16| Total: 157

First thoughts: both of these numbers seem too high for the spread and the total. Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the country, but their Achilles heel all season has been their defense. According to Ken Pom, Ohio State’s defense is ranked 79th in the country. What makes them elite though is their offense that puts up 77 PPG and ranks 4th in the country in offensive efficiency. Oral Roberts is even worse than the Buckeyes at defense coming in at an appalling 285th in defensive efficiency. The Golden Eagle offense is much better coming in at 74th in the country. I was able to watch their conference championship game vs NDSU and ORU absolutely lit it up from deep. They will need a similar effort if they want to have any chance of pulling the massive upset, especially on the defensive end of the floor. I think OSU should win this one handily but it might be one of those scenarios where the Buckeyes jump out to a big lead then coast the rest of the game and chew clock, jeopardizing the over. 157 is a huge number so let’s play a little on the conservative side with a teaser. Tease Oral Roberts to +21 and the under up to 162 (-110).

The Pick: Teaser: Oral Roberts +21 & Under 162

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

Midwest

#1 Illinois vs #16 Drexel

Tip: Friday, 1:15 on TBS | Spread: Illinois -23 | Total: 143.5

What a magical season this has been for the Fighting Illini. Many went into the year with high expectations, as lofty as the 2005 team that made it to the NCAA Championship Game, and the Illini have lived up to said expectations. The “rough” patch this season came back in mid-December, following a loss to Missouri. After that loss, the Illini went on a 5-4 endeavor. Since January 19th, the Illini have only lost once in their last 15 games. The Illini are led by their dynamic point guard, Ayo Dosunmu, who is averaging 20.7 points per game this season. You are going to be hard pressed to find a more efficient offensive unit in college basketball this season than Illinois. The Illini are averaging 81.4 points per game (10th in Division-I), while shooting the ball 49.9% from the field (6th in Division-I).

Drexel surprised many by taking the CAA Tournament title as a #6 seed in their conference. The Dragons are playing their best basketball now, winners of four in a row. The Dragons have played a top-level program in Pittsburgh this season, only losing by nine points against the ACC opponent. I am not saying that Pittsburgh is anywhere near the talent level that Illinois has, but at least Drexel will not be totally shell-shocked against the Illini. Like Illinois, Drexel has been extremely efficient shooting the ball this season. The Dragons are shooting 47.7% from the field (21st in Division-I). Camren Wynter leads the way for the Dragons offense, averaging 16.8 points per game this season. James Butler has been a force in the post, averaging 12.9 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game. Kofi Cockburn may give him some fits Friday however. I believe both teams are playing their best brand of basketball right now. The over has hit in five out of the last six for Drexel, and Illinois has seen the over hit in six out of their last nine games. Expect a ton of points in this game, O143.5 is my best bet.

The Pick: Over 143.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#8 Loyola (Chicago) vs #9 Georgia Tech

Tip: Friday, 4:00 on TBS | Spread: Loyola (Chicago) -5.5 | Total: 124.5

The big news related to this game has been the recent announcement that Georgia Tech senior forward and ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright (17.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.6 BLK, 1.5 STL) will miss this game due to testing positive for COVID-19. While the rest of the Yellow Jackets will be able to take the floor against Loyola Chicago, Wright’s absence creates a massive hole inside the paint for Georgia Tech. Who will guard Loyola Chicago big man Cameron Krutwig? Will the Yellow Jackets have any rim protection?

For as good as Krutwig is, I don’t think this game was ever really about him, either before Wright’s announced absence or after it. Krutwig was always going to get his. Instead, it’s about whether Georgia Tech can get enough offensive production from guards Jose Alvarado (ACC Defensive Player of the Year) and Michael Devoe (ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player) while going against the #3 defense according to KenPom. It’s about whether Georgia Tech senior forward Jordan Usher can continue putting up 15.4 PPG, as he’s done over his past five games, against a top-tier defense according to the advanced analytics. Not having Wright will certainly hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chances of winning, and the line reflects that. But I think the Jackets have enough alternatives offensively to overcome what Krutwig can provide on offense in Wright’s absence. I think Alvarado, Devoe, Usher, and senior sixth man Bubba Parham have enough skill and experience to convert limited, but available, opportunities against this vaunted Loyola defense. And I don’t think Georgia Tech should be 5.5 point underdogs.

The Pick: Georgia Tech +5.5

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#5 Tennessee vs #12 Oregon State

Tip: Friday, 4:30 on TNT | Spread: Tennessee -8 | Total: 129.5

It is the battle of the oranges! Tennessee opened the season on a tear, winning 10 out of their first 11 games. A talented SEC this year caused quite a few roadblocks along the way, as the Volunteers compiled a 10-7 record in conference play. Coach Barnes has brought the Volunteers back to a program standard that was set by Bruce Pearl, as they have now made the tournament three times in the last four seasons. A tandem of freshman guards, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, lead the attack on offense this season. Springer is averaging 12.5 points per game, while Johnson is averaging 11.2 points per game this season. The Vols have been tough as nails defensively this season, limiting their opponent to 63.2 points per game (20th in Division-I) and an opponent field goal percentage of 39.9% (18th in Division-I). The Volunteers are blocking an impressive 4.9 shots per game this season as well (15th in Division-I).

Oregon State, I am confident in saying not many saw you all on the radar for the NCAA Tournament, even just a few weeks ago. Oregon State caught fire when it mattered most, as they won three games in three days, all of which are teams that made it into the NCAA Tournament. Ethan Thompson, a staple for the Beavers over the last four seasons, leads the team in scoring this season, averaging 15.3 points per game. Statistically, the Beavers are middle of the road in most categories, which can be good and bad. Good in that they have no glaring weaknesses, but bad in that, they are not overly strong at one segment of the game. Win or lose, the Beavers will do one thing though particularly well each game: take care of the ball. The Beavers only turn the ball over 11.4 times per game (54th in Division-I). The Beavers have covered the spread in 10 out of their last 11 games. Look for that trend to continue, take Oregon State +8.

The Pick: Oregon State +8

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#4 Oklahoma State vs #13 Liberty

Tip: Friday, 6:25 on TBS | Spread: Oklahoma St. -7.5| Total: 140.5

There’s an argument to be made that Oklahoma State is the most underseeded team in this tournament. Six wins over ranked opponents in the final three weeks of the season and a Big 12 championship appearance somehow only garnered the Cowboys a 4-seed, but I digress. One thing is for certain: Okie State is the real deal. Obviously, freshman guard Cade Cunningham has received all the notoriety this season, and rightfully so, considering he’ll probably be the No. 1 overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft. However, the emergence of role players such as Avery Anderson, Isaac Likekele and Kalib Boone in the past two months have elevated the Cowboys from a plucky, one-man show to a legitimate championship threat. 

While a lot of people are high on the Cowboys, they need not be caught overlooking Liberty (23-5) in the first round. The Flames absolutely eviscerated their conference schedule en route to an Atlantic Sun title. Junior Dharius McGee is the leader of an incredibly efficient Liberty offense that ranked top five in the nation in both total offensive rating and effective field goal %. The Flames play at one of the slowest paces in all of college basketball, often taking their time to set up half court plays in search of the best shot available. 

While Liberty is solid in statistical aspects of nearly all important categories, in some games, you have to just look at the guys who are going to be on the floor. The talent discrepancy between these two teams is substantial and Cunningham is the type of player who can completely take over a game whenever he wants to. I’m backing the Cowboys to blowout Liberty in this first round matchup with a big-time performance from Cunningham and Co.

The Pick: Oklahoma State -7.5

– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)

#6 San Diego State vs #11 Syracuse

Tip: Friday, 9:40 on CBS | Spread: San Diego State -3 | Total: 139

Syracuse is lucky to be in the Dance this season, but Head Coach Jim Boeheim is no stranger to taking his team to great heights as a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse’s 2016 team was a 10-seed and went all the way to the Final Four. As a 2018 11-seed faced with playing in a play-in game, Syracuse made it all the way to the Sweet-16. But, their opponent in the opening round of this year’s NCAA Tournament is a different animal. San Diego State is an excellent three-point shooting team (37.5%, which ranks 27th in the country) that also does a decent job of crashing the offensive boards (SDSU collects 29.9% of rebounds on its misses). Cuse’s zone makes them susceptible to both of those strengths within the Aztecs’ offensive approach.

Syracuse has an excellent pedigree, but don’t conflate the name with an advantage on the floor. This San Diego State team has won 14 straight headed into the Tournament, and they’re an excellent defensive team with a lot of length on the perimeter. Unless Syracuse juniors Buddy Boeheim and Alan Griffin go nuts from deep, expect SDSU to win comfortably.

The Pick: San Diego State -3

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#3 West Virginia vs #14 Morehead State

Tip: Friday, 9:50 on truTV | Spread: West Virginia -12.5 | Total: 138

West Virginia will look to get back on their winning ways Friday evening against the Ohio Valley Tournament Champs, Morehead State. The Mountaineers have only won four of their last eight games, which is not going into the tournament with a high degree of momentum. To West Virginia’s credit, even a .500 record in conference play can be quite the accomplishment, given how strong the Big 12 is this year. Miles McBride, Derek Culver and Taz Sherman are the three-headed monster this year for Coach Huggins’ squad. McBride leads the way on scoring this season, averaging 15.4 points per game. The Mountaineers have been wreaking havoc on the glass this year, averaging 11.9 offensive rebounds this season (4th in Division-I). West Virginia is making the most of their second chance scoring opportunities, the Mountaineers are averaging 77.3 points per game this season (35th in Division-I).

Morehead State had a rocky start to the 2020-21 campaign, opening the season with a 1-4 record. The Eagles caught fire in conference play, rattling off a 12 game win streak. The Eagles are soaring into the NCAA Tournament with a seven game win streak under their wing. Like West Virginia, the Eagles have great size and athleticism, a rarity among mid-major teams, as the Eagles are averaging 37.1 rebounds per game this season (72nd in Division-I). The Eagles have a strong defense that has taken teams out of rhythm. The Eagles are holding their opponent to 64.0 points per game (29th in Division-I) and 40.6% shooting from the field (34th in Division-I). The Eagles are led by Freshman of the Year in the OVC, Johni Broome, who is averaging 13.9 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. Broome and the Eagles could be in trouble with the size and athleticism West Virginia bodes. I will back West Virginia -12.5 for this game.

The Pick: West Virginia -12.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#7 Clemson vs #10 Rutgers

Tip: Friday, 9:20 on TBS | Spread: Rutgers +1.5 | Total: 120.5 

This game opened up with Clemson as a 1.5 point favorite now the money has come in and swung the line 180 degrees in favor of Rutgers -1.5. I don’t trust either of these teams fully and both have big question marks and inconsistencies. Both teams have had high points: Rutgers beating Illinois, Clemson beating Alabama. Both teams have had lows: Rutgers getting pumped by Nebraska, Clemson losing to Miami. Neither team is great offensively, both ranking outside the top 75 in offensive efficiency. Both teams are very good defensively ranking top 20 in defensive efficiency. With both teams pretty evenly matched I think this will be a close low scoring game, since Clemson is the dog and the total is going down, lets play on the more conservative side. Tease Clemson to +6.5 and the over down to 120.5.

The Pick: Teaser: Clemson +6.5 & Over 120.5

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

#2 Houston vs #15 Cleveland State

Tip: Friday, 7:15 on truTV | Spread: Houston -20.5 | Total: 134.5

The NCAA Tournament has not seen a Houston Cougar team with this much potential since Phi Slamma Jama in the 80s. The 24-3 Cougars blew through the regular season and ended the year as AAC champions. Led by junior guard Quentin Grimes (18 ppg, 6 reb), #2 Houston looks to be one of the most electric teams to watch out of the Midwest Region. The Cougars are one of the most versatile teams in the nation. High offensive outputs as one of the best defensive teams in the nation should prove to be too much for #15 Cleveland State on Friday. The Horizon League champs finished 19-7 on the season and have a nice core of veterans guards. Senior guard Torrey Patton leads Cleveland State in both scoring and rebounding (14.9 ppg, 8 reb). Unfortunately for the Vikings, the only way I see them defeating this Cougar team is in a mascot bracket. 

Houston at -20.5 (-110) seems like a stretch, but with the way the Cougars play defense, I just can’t see the Vikings scoring more than 55 points. The Cougars are ranked 6th nationally in offensive rating while also ranked 13th in steal percentage. Cleveland State doesn’t break the top 100 for any major statistic. Houston’s dual threat just seems like a blowout waiting to happen. Just because this game has high potential to be a blowout, make sure you don’t miss out. You’d be missing one of the most electric teams in the tournament make their mark as legit title contenders. 

The Pick: Houston -20.5

-Carter Benson (@CarterDBenson)