March Madness: First Round Picks for Friday, March 17th

by Cameron Dorrett
on March 17, 2017

If you survived Day 1 then all that means is you’re ready for Day 2. We’re back with 16 games after an incredible day of basketball that featured some classic 12 v 5 upsets and finished with the strong teams taking care of business. The best thing about betting during March Madness is that once your bracket busts you can just load up on individual games.

As always, we’re here to break down every single one and that means 16 previews for you to sink your teeth in. Buckle up, pour yourself a coffee and get ready for another jam packed day of Madness.

#10 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. #7 Michigan Wolverines

Spread

  • Oklahoma State (+2.5) vs. Michigan (-2.5)

The Wolverines and Cowboys have had to deal with a boatload of adversity this season but those problems go out the window when they tip off Friday in the Midwest Regional at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The number 7 seeded Wolverines finished the year with a 24-11 record and survived one of the scarier travel accidents in recent memory when their plane skidded off the runway trying to take off four the Big Ten Tournament.

Thankfully, no one was injured, and the scary experience had to have played a role in giving the Wolverines an extra boost of energy as they tore through the Big Ten tournament. Michigan eventually made it to Washington where they beat Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin to win their first tournament championship since1998.

While the Cowboys weren’t involved in any terrifying plane incidents they faced their fair share of struggles on the court this season and will be trying to remedy that in the tournament.  Brad Underwood is a first year coach for the Cowboys and started off with six straight losses before finding a deeper resolve to finish the season 9-9 in their conference with a strong 201-12 overall record. Oklahoma State enters with three straight losses and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2009 but with both teams being somewhat unpredictable seeds anything could happen when the ball tips on day 2 of the tournament.

Whoever wins will move on to play the winner of Louisville and Jacksonville State and while their likely opponent will be the Cardinals neither team can afford to look ahead to who they play next.

Key Matchup

Jawun Underwood against Derrick Walton Jr. Walton is averaging 15 points a game this season and has been the spark that has ignited the Wolverine’s late season surge. Michigan has won eight of their last ten and captured the Big Ten tournament thanks in large part to the play of Walton. He’s fresh off a tournament MVP in the Big Ten and will be ready to kick it up a notch on Friday.

He’ll have to contend with Underwood who knows how to fill it up for the Cowboys. He’s averaging 19 points a game with 6.2 assists and has been the Cowboy’s best playmaker all season long. If he can get his team out to a lead early it could be tough for the Wolverines to claw back.

Advice

The Cowboys are getting a few points on the spread and while both these teams felt tough to seed they’ll need to be ready in a huge and competitive first round matchup. The Wolverines are carrying a bit of destiny since their tough plane incident but the Cowboys will be well-rested and ready for a huge first round game. Take Oklahoma State on the spread.

Pick
Oklahoma State
71
Michigan
68

#14 New Mexico State vs. #3 Baylor Bears

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  • New Mexico State (+12.5) vs. Baylor (-12.5)

Bracket busters come and go every year and anyone looking for a team to provide a big upset in the first round may not need to look much further than this matchup between Baylor and New Mexico State. The Bears are a high seed and come in with an excellent record at 25-7 but may have watched their best basketball pass them by.

Baylor was amazing back in November and December when they beat up on Oregon, Louisville, Xavier and Michigan State and were all the way up to 15-0 after beating the Cowboys in early January. Their excellent play earned them the top rank in the country the following week but since then the Bears have tumbled down the standings. They’re just 10-7 overall and all the way down to a #3 seed in the tournament. That means that the selection committee valued two more teams in their region alone and at least six across the country.

Making matters more concerning for the Bears was their performance in the Big 12 tournament. Baylor lost to Kansas State in the quarter finals in a dismal performance and their quick exit from the conference tournament will serve as a strong motivator for a good NCAA Tournament. The Bears will try and rely on their experience to help them settle down and considering this is their fourth straight appearance in the Madness they know what it takes to remain composed in the early going.

With that being said the Bears have exited several tournaments in the very early going and will need to be ready for everything the Aggies throw at them. New Mexico State enters with a 28-5 record overall but have struggled in the big dance recently without a win in five of their last six trips to the NCAA Tournament. The last time the Aggies won a game was way back in 1993 when they grabbed a win over Nebraska in the opening round but since then it’s been nothing but disappointment.

The Aggies have had a similar run to the Bears this season. They started off as one of the hottest teams in the country thanks to a 22-2 run to open the season after a win against Chicago State in late February but rattled off three losses in four games against Utah Valley, Grand Canyon and CSU Bakersfield.

Yet unlike Baylor, New Mexico State seemed to figure it out in time when they locked up their WAC Conference Tournament Championship with a 70-60 revenge win over CSU Bakersfield. As tempting as it is to take a team like the Aggies to deliver the upset bettors and fans alike will need to remember that New Mexico hasn’t even played against a top 25 team all year long while Baylor battled in an incredible tough Big 12 conference all season long.

Key Matchup

Eli Chuha against Johnathan Motley. Motley is the Bears’ best player, and also their biggest threat inside. He averages 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds to lead the team in both categories and his ability to rack up the double doubles will be the key to Baylor having any success in this tournament. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Chuha who pulls down 9.0 boards of his own but Motley’s ability to shoot is going to be the key to separation in this game.

Advice

It comes down to whether or not you think a thriving team in a weak conference is better than a struggling team in a strong one. We think the talent gets separated in a hurry in the tournament and while Baylor has shown their struggles they’re still a significantly more talented team and will be able to make quick work of New Mexico State. Take the Bears on the spread.

Pick
Baylor
82
New Mexico State
66

#9 Seton Hall Pirates vs. #8 Arkansas Razorbacks

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  • Seton Hall (+1) vs. Arkansas (-1)

Two very hot teams clash in an incredibly close matchup on day 2 of the NCAA Tournament when the Seton Hall Pirates and Arkansas Razorbacks tip on Friday afternoon. Both teams have been excellent during the last month of the season and doing just enough to get into the Tournament at a decent seed.

Arkansas enters with a 25-9 record compared to Seton Hall’s 21-11 and both teams seem evenly matched at first glance. Arkansas enters with eight wins in their last ten games and made it wall the way to the SEC final where they were promptly dealt a loss at the hands of a very strong Kentucky Wildcats’ team but even getting there was an achievement the school should be proud of.

The Pirates on the other hand won five in a row before a tough two point loss to Villanova who come in as the tournament’s number one overall seed. The loss came in the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament and the Pirates may not be happy with the result but should come in with a ton of confidence from that game based on how they played.
The Pirates are also in back to back March Madness tournaments for the first time since a four year consecutive run back in the early 90’s and they’ll learn from their mistakes in last year’s tournament. Arkansas has experience too and some key players to lead their team including senior forward Moses Kingsley. Kingsley is only averaging 11.8 points a game but leads the team with 7.8 rebounds a night and a total of 87 blocked shots. That type of hard-nosed defense is going to be key to Arkansas coming out of Day 2 with a win.

Key Matchup

Khadeen Carrington against Dusty Hannahs. Carrington has been awesome for the Pirates all year long and is now up to averages of 16.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals. His steals and defense will be important against Hannahs who leads Arkansas with 14.6 points a game. Hannahs does little else for the Razorbacks other than score and it will be important for Carrington to try and lock him down.

Advice

This game is set to be close but with Seton Hall playing so tight against Villanova we like their chances a little bit more, especially considering they’re getting a point and half on the spread. Take the Pirates to cover given their recent track record against tougher opponents.

Pick
Seton Hall
72
Arkansas
68

#14 Iona Gaels vs. #3 Oregon Ducks

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  • Iona (+15) vs. Oregon (-15)

The Ducks will need a little more out of Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks if they want to have a successful run though the March Madness Tournament this year. That’s because this third seeded Oregon squad will be without their best shot-blocker and all-around stud big man Chris Boucher thanks to a season ending injury. It shouldn’t pose much of a problem against the 14th seeded Iona but Oregon could face more problems down the line and will need to make sure they don’t look too far ahead as they get ready to start their tournament.

The Ducks enter with a 29-5 record overall and tied the Arizona Wildcats for first place during the regular season of the Pac-12 but ultimately lost to them in the Final just a night after losing Boucher to a devastating ACL injury. They still played an impressive game without Boucher and have shown that they’re deep enough to make some noise this season.

Iona starts off the tournament with a 22-12 ready and earned their ticket to the big dance after a victory over Siena in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game. Iona was impressive during the tournament with three wins in three games to capture it all. They were led by Jordan Washington who was excellent in the final against Siena with 21 points and 10 boards in a huge overtime performance. Washington has been strong all season long with averages of 17.9 points and 7.4 boards a game and will need to be even better than that if he can give his team an upset over Oregon.

The Gaels are more than just Washington however and know how to score in a variety of ways including the three ball. Iona attempted 836 shots from deep this season which was the 20th most in college basketball. They also made a very respectable 39.7 percent of those shots and while they struggled earlier in the year they’ve now won 12 of their last 16 games.

Key Matchup

Dillon Brooks against Jordan Washington. Brooks has been excellent all year but with Boucher out there’s even more pressure on him to try and carry his Ducks team deep into the tournament and that starts with a big game against the Gaels. Brooks averaged 16.3 points a game and can take over at any moment but so can Washington. If Iona connects on their early threes Washington will have more space to operate and that could be troublesome for Oregon.

Advice

Oregon is going to miss the production and leadership of Boucher but still have enough talent on their squad to overcome almost anyone in the nation and certainly the low ranked Gaels. Take the Ducks on the spread as they lock in on defense and limit Iona’s three point shooting.

Pick
Oregon
78
Iona
61

#15 Jacksonville State Gamecocks vs #2 Louisville Cardinals

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  • Jacksonville State (+20) vs. Louisville (-20)

It might not matter with how mismatched these teams are but at least the Jacksonville State Gamecocks have a coach that his very familiar with the Louisville Cardinals and their head coach Rick Pitino. Ray Harper was an assistant at Western Kentucky for four years where he coached against Louisville three separate times before taking over as the head coach of the Gamecocks and knows a thing or two about how these Cardinals like to play basketball.

Jacksonville State has had a good season themselves with a 20-14 record overall and a championship under their belt after defeating Belmont and Tennessee-Martin in back to back days to capture the Ohio Valley Conference title. Malcolm Drumwright and Erik Durham lead the team in scoring with 12.6 and 11.1 points respectively to make up a balanced attack.

As strong as the Gamecocks look they’re not quite in the same league as the Cardinals. Louisville is back to dance after banning themselves from the tournament in 2016 thanks to some issues and while they’ve struggled in their last five games with just two wins they still enter with a 24-8 record overall and played the sixth-hardest schedule in the country this season. They’ve won three title in the tournament with their most recent coming in 2013 and have been to the Final Four an excellent ten separate times. Their coach Rick Pitino may be their most valuable asset with a 53-18 record in his 21 trips to the Madness.

Key Matchup

Donovan Mitchell against Malcom Drumwright. While Drumwright may be part of a balanced attack for his Gamecocks the Cardinals rely on a slightly different approach as the ball primarily runs through their leading scorer Donovan Mitchell. The six-foot-three sophomore is averaging 15.7 points a game while chipping in across the board in almost every conceivably stat category. With his sights set on the NBA it’s important that he has a big tournament and that will start with outshining Drumwright and the rest of Jacksonville State.

Advice

We’ve watched a bunch of close games already on Day 1 and while seeds as high as Louisville tend to come out with the win it’s not always by a blowout. Take Jacksonville State on the spread with the way they’re playing and hope they can keep it a bit closer than the 20 points people have predicted.

Pick
Louisville
82
Jacksonville State
66

#11 USC Trojans vs. #6 SMU Mustangs

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  • USC (+6) vs. SMU (-6)

It’s been a full year since SMU even had a chance to be in the tournament thanks to their one year ban but now that the Mustangs are back they have their sights set on making some serious noise The Mustangs are tanked 11th overall thanks to their 30-4 record this season and despite winning 25 games last year were banned from participating in the tournament due to NCAA infractions by former head coach Larry Brown during the recruiting process.

Despite that stain on their resume the Mustangs are still an excellent team and have won at least 25 games every single year since the 2013-2014 season. With that being said they’ve still never won a game in the March Madness tournament and will try and remedy that when they take on the Trojans on Friday. USC will be no pushover and pose a threat of their own. The Trojans enter with a 25-9 record and beat Providence on Wednesday as part of the First Four portion of the tournament to earn their right to play on Day 2. While it means that USC comes in without rust and a little bit of momentum it also means they’re going to be that much more tired and banged up than their opponents.

They do have a bit of history on their side thanks to their play-in game. Teams that are ranked 13 or better and have entered the tournament through that First Four game are 6-5 in their first game of the tournament and the Trojans hope that stat can grow even larger when they take the court on Friday. Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that USC already has a win against SMU, although it came way back in November it still proves to this Trojans squad that they can beat the Mustangs.

November was a long time ago however and the Mustangs have morphed into a different team since then. SMU has won 16 straight including a big 71-56 win over Cincinnati and those same Bears were the last team to beat the Mustangs all the way back in January. They’ve now won 26 of their last 27 games and will try and continue streaking as deep as they can into March.

Key Matchup

Chimezie Metu against Semi Ojeleye. Watching these two go toe to toe is worth tuning in for by its own as these are two of the best big men in the tournament. Metu averages 14.5 points with 7.9 rebounds to go along with 1.6 blocks and has the length and athleticism to defend bigger and more talented players like Ojeleye. The Mustangs’ big man has been incredible this year with 18.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and a three point shooting percentage of .428 and can score from anywhere on the floor. Giddy up.

Advice

USC beat SMU earlier in the year but this Mustangs team has looked borderline unstoppable since then and a six point spread just isn’t enough for us to think the Trojans can make it close. Take SMU on the spread and hope Ojeleye continues his regular season roll deep into March.

Pick
SMU
74
USC
66

#16 Texas Southern Tigers vs. #1 North Carolina Tar Heels

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  • Texas Southern (+26.5) vs. North Carolina (-26.5)

Perhaps our biggest mismatch of the tournament takes place on Friday but don’t tell that to the Tigers. Texas Southern may be outmatched but they’re still eager to take on the top team in their region. North Carolina is back as the number one seed after a heartbreaking loss in the championship last year to North Carolina and want some redemption this time around.

The Tar Heels enter with a 27-7 record overall and will try and emerge from the South Region against some stiff competition. Despite how many mountains they still have to climb they’re not about to overlook a Texas Southern team that has earned their way to the big dance.  The Tar Heels are the number 1 seed for the 16th time in their school’s history and are used to being in the spotlight. While the seeding is great they have bigger goals in mind than just entering the tournament as number one and anything other than a national championship will be a disappointment for North Carolina.

The Tar Heels struggled a bit during their final stretch of the season with a 2-2 record over their last four games including a loss to Duke in the semifinals of the ACC tournament but have all the tools necessary for another deep March run. North Carolina is led by the ACC Player of the Year in Justin Jackson who is averaging 18.9 points a game this season.

Texas Southern enjoyed a great year with a 23-11 record overall but played against much weaker competition in the Southwestern Atlantic conference. They won the regular season and conference tournament however and know what it feels like to win big games. The Tigers are still searching for their first win in the NCAA Tournament in their seven trips to the big dance and their chances against the Tar Heels are slim.

Texas Southern has a player of the year from their conference in Zach Lofton as well as the MVP of the SWAC tournament in Marvin Jones and while their competition may have been weaker this season they have played excellent basketball and nothing can be taken away from that.

Key Matchup

Justin Jackson against Zach Lofton. Lofton averages 17.0 points a game this season and chips in defensibly with 1.4 steals. He’s a decent shooter that can create his own shot but will be up against Jackson who creates his own shot better than almost anyone in the NCAA. Jackson is averaging 18.1 points a game while shooting 44 percent from the field and is one of the most athletic scorers in the country.

Advice

We haven’t seen too many blowouts this season and with North Carolina playing in the hostile environment of South Carolina they may feel a little extra motivation to get the job done. Still, winning by almost 30 points is tough no matter how good you are and we think the Tigers do enough to cover. Take Texas Southern on the spread.

Pick
North Carolina
82
Texas Southern
61

#11 Rhode Island Rams vs. #6 Creighton Blue Jays

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  • Rhode Island (-1) vs. Creighton (+1)

Yes, you read that spread right. Despite the difference of five between the two seeds this game amounts to a pick ‘em when the Rams and Blue Jays square off in round one on Day 2 of the tournament. Regardless of the spread it will still be an upset if the Blue Jays lose and Creighton will do all they can to avoid the embarrassment of a first round exit.

It won’t be easy when they take the court against the scalding hot Rams at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Creighton enters the game with a 25-9 record overall but have lost eight of their last 15 games since losing their starting point guard for the entirety of the season.  The Rams meanwhile are rolling and enter the season with a 24-9 record including eight straight wins and 12 of their 14. They’re back in the tournament for the first time since 1999 and ready to make some noise.

Creighton started off the season as one of the best teams in the country but after losing Watson for the season to a knee injury it’s been a roller coaster ride for the Blue Jays. The situation got even worse when it was announced just weeks later that on top of the injury Watson was also wanted by authorities on a suspicion of sexual assault.  He was averaging 12.9 points a game but it was his 8.5 assists that the Blue Jays have missed the most. Their ball movement has been sloppy since losing Watson and the NCAA Tournament is not the time to flirt with a dysfunctional offense.

Rhode Island has far less to worry about. The Rams are essentially playing with house money but want to try and collect. They lost four of their first ten games this year and were just 12-7 back in January but have completely tuned their season around since then and look like a true dark horse to make some noise in the tournament as an 11 seed. They won three games in three days to lock up their conference tournament championship and are hungry for more in their first tourney in 18 years.

Key Matchup

Marcus Foster against Jared Terrell. Foster has done the best he can in place for Watson with 18.3 points a game this season but will have to keep improving if Creighton wants to advance further than the first round. E.C. Matthews was just the tournament’s most outstanding player for the Rams but the Blue Jays will need to worry about Terrell who just dropped 20 points in the championship game.

Advice

With the game being a pick em you may want to lean towards the higher seed because the money is even, but don’t be fooled by the rankings. This Rhode Island team can flat-out play and they’ve been firing on all cylinders over the last several weeks. Take the Rams on the moneyline for the biggest bang for your buck in an upset.

Pick
Rhode Island
68
Creighton
65

#16 UC Davis Aggies vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks

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  • UC Davis (+23.5) vs. Kansas (-23.5)

The Jayhawks have been one of the most popular choices to capture it all this season and rightly so. Kansas has been playing some of the best basketball across the country despite losing Udoka Azubuike to start the season. The freshman was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and was supposed to provide some depth for this loaded Kansas team before tearing ligaments in his wrist.

Kansas responded by going 16-2 in the Big 12 this season to win the Big 12 regular season title yet again and add to their 28-4 record overall this season. They entered the tournament ranked 3rd in the country and number 1 in their region and have a talented and hungry team ready to make some noise in the postseason. First they’ll need to get by the University of California Davis who come in with a respectable 23-12 mark although in a much, much weaker conference.

UC Davis had to win their play-in game to get into the tournament but after defeating North Carolina Central 67-63 they’re at least warmed up and ready to go. A number 16 seed has never beaten a number 1 and we don’t expect it to happen on Friday, but it could be closer than many predict and Kansas won’t take them lightly.

After all, the last time the Jayhawks played a game of basketball they lost to TCU 82-85 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. While the loss isn’t a great sign Kansas was arguably missing their best player in Josh Jackson for the tournament after he was suspended for a game for crashing into someone else’s car and leaving the scene.

Regardless of whether Kansas moves on they’ll be in tough for their next game against either Michigan State or Miami. Both those teams present big problems for the Jayhawks and Kansas will need to stay focused on the game at hand if they want to ensure a first round victory.

Key Matchup

Josh Jackson against Brynton Lemar. Frank Mason III leads the Jayhawks in scoring but Jackson is their true x-factor with his athleticism and ability to create his own shot and get to the rim. Not a lot is known about Lemar and the rest of the Aggies thanks to the low coverage of the conference they play in by Lemar is averaging 16.1 points per game and knows how to score. If the Aggies want to hang around Lemar is going to need to score way more than his current averages.

Advice

If a team is going to cover these huge spreads, it’s going to be Kansas against the unknown UC Davis. The Jayhawks are determined to prove their doubters wrong and have more than enough skill to cover the 23.5 points. Take the Jayhawks on the spread.

Pick
Kansas
86
UNC Davis
54

#10 Wichita State Shockers vs. #7 Dayton Flyers

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  • Wichita State (-6) vs. Dayton (+6)

The Shockers and Flyers don’t belong to one of the Power 5 conferences but that doesn’t stop teams from coming after their coaches. Both Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller are two of the best coaches in all of college basketball not coaching in one of the big conferences and that’s good news for their respective teams.

Dayton enters as the higher seed with a 24-7 record but Wichita State is the team to fear with a 30-4 mark this season and champions of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Flyers have struggled recently with a two game losing streak after winning nine straight and while they have the second best defense in their conference and the second best filed goal percentage they’ve struggled putting it together during their last two important games.

The Flyers are led by a trio of seniors who are all itching to taste what life is like past the first round of the bracket. Charles Cooke averages 16.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, Kendal Pollard drops 14.1 and 5.1 rebounds and Scoochie Smith chips in with 13.5 points while running the offense with 4.5 assists a game.

The Shockers meanwhile know what it takes to win in this tournament and made it to the Final Four as recently as 2013. While it’s a different team than the one that made that trip in 2013 the Shockers are still rolling with 15 straight wins entering the tournament. They led their conference in scoring and margin of victory, beating teams by an average of 19.6 points. They’ve made it past the first weekend in three of their past four tournaments and have the experience necessary for another deep run.

Wichita State has a balanced attack with no one player really sticking out although Markis McDuffie has been excellent as of late for the Shockers. He leads the team with 11.8 points per game with 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals and will need to play above his expectations against a tough Dayton squad. The Shockers have three players who average double digit scoring and two others who score just under 10 a game and everyone will need to hit the gas pedal on Friday.

Key Matchup

Landry Shamet against Scoochie Smith. Besides having one of the best first names in college basketball Scoochie Smith also has some serious game. Him and Shamet are the two assists leaders for both teams and with defense being so intense during the tournament the passing has to be even smoother. Smith will find it tough to get open lanes against the Shockers’ defense and Shamet is a tough guard by himself.

Advice

Wichita State is much better than their number 10 seed and as the spread suggests they’re heavily favored by six points in this game. Expect the Shockers to keep rolling in their first game of the tournament and send the Flyers packing early. Take Wichita State on the spread.

Pick
Wichita State
76
Dayton
68

#15 Troy Trojans vs. #2 Duke Blue Devils

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  • Troy (+20) vs. Duke (-20)

Another mismatch highlights Day 2 action as round 1 continues when Duke and Troy tip off on Friday night. The Blue Devils are ready to make some noise after a grueling four games in four days during their conference tournament that culminated in a bit of a surprise win for Duke who had a lower seed than they expected entering the tournament.

Duke is 27-8 overall this season while Troy is just 22-14 and the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball of the season. Duke’s last three wins were also big comebacks and that can build a ton of character as they get set for a tournament as important as March Madness. They came back from double digits against the Cardinals and Tar Heels and erased an eight point hole in the final against the Fighting Irish of the ACC Tournament.

The Devils also have one of the best players in the country in Luke Kennard. The Blue Devil was an All-ACC player and was named the MVP of the ACC Conference Tournament. He finished the year with 20.1 points a game and now has his eyes set on a much bigger prize as Duke aims for their sixth straight national title.

Troy meanwhile is tired too after playing four games in five days to beat Texas State in the Sun Belt Conference tournament final. The Trojans were seeded a distant sixth in that tournament but found a way to put it all together when it mattered the most and come out with a huge victory. They played three games in three days at the end to cap it all off and while that fatigue would normally play a huge factor Duke has played even more frequently as of late.

Troy had a much easier schedule than Duke this year and played just one of the 64 teams in the tournament during the regular season when they battled Southern Carolina. The Blue Devils on the other hand have played 17 games against tournament opponents this season and know what it takes to go up against the best. The winner gets a date with either Marquette or South Carolina but can’t afford to look ahead to their next game just yet.

Key Matchup

Jayson Tatum against Jordon Varnado. The Trojans are led by Varnado who is having a great year with 16.5 points per game and 7.1 rebounds. He’s also great at protecting the rim with 1.4 blocks a game but will have his hands full against Tatum. The freshman is lighting it up this year with 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds of his own and is the most athletic player on this Blue Devils team.

Advice

Duke has the depth and coaching to beat any team in this tournament and especially a team like Troy but the Blue Devils are already fatigued and will take their foot of the pedal if they get out to an early lead. Take Troy to cover in what should still be a big Duke win.

Pick
Duke
78
Troy
64

#11 Kansas State Wildcats vs. #6 Cincinnati Bearcats

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  • Kansas State (+3.5) vs. Cincinnati (-3.5)

When it comes to close, grind-em out style games look no further than this Cincinnati and Kansas State game on Thursday night. The Bearcats had to travel across the nation for their round one game while it’s been an even tougher journey for the Wildcats. The Bearcats enter with a 29-5 record and the number 6 seed in their region but had to travel to California just to see who they were going to play in their round one game.

Cincinnati is in their seventh straight March Madness tournament and that sort of experience can go a long way no matter how much talent is available to a club. They’re back on the West Coast for the third time in three years so regardless of the long travel time they’re at least familiar with their surroundings.

Kansas State meanwhile had to win that play-in game just for a shot at the tournament and enter with a 21-13 record. They’re coming in on a high note having won four of their last five games including a big win over the Baylor Bears and a very close one point loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Wildcats had to do some traveling of their own including a 700 mile trip east to beat Wake Forest in the their First Four matchup on Tuesday. Now they’ll travel 2,300 miles back to take on Cincinnati in Sacramento and at some point, the travel has to catch up to you.

Key Matchup

Jacob Evans against Wesley Iwundu. Iwundu has led the ‘Cats all season long and was dominant again in the First Four game against Wake Forest. He dropped 24 points with seven assists and six rebounds to lead his team to a huge victory and has led the team in scoring all year long with 12.9 points a game. Jacob Evans leads the scoring for the Bearcats with 13.7 points a game but the defense of both these players will be key. Neither of these teams has one dominant scorer who is going to take over the game and they’ll need to lock each other down at every opportunity.

Advice

Kansas State’s traveling is a real concern and while the Bearcats had to come equally as far they’ve had more time to rest and prepare for their first game. They’ve been better all-around all season long and the 3.5 points is a small enough spread for them to cover. Take Cincinnati on the spread against a tired and desperate Kansas State team.

Pick
Cincinnati
64
Kansas State
60

#9 Michigan State Spartans vs. #8 Miami Hurricanes

Spread

  • Michigan State (+2.5) vs. Miami (-2.5)

When number 8 and 9 seeds clash it’s usually a recipe for a good game and that will certainly be the case when the Spartans and Hurricanes hit the court on Friday night in round 1 of the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

These games often come right down to the wire and whole the games are entertaining, picking a winner from a bettor’s perspective can often be a nightmare. While Miami and Michigan State are both happy to be in the interview they’re not exactly thrilled at the regular seasons they each had and will be trying to prove they’re capable of a deeper run than their seeding suggests.

The Hurricanes enter with a 21-11 record and are making their third entry into the Madness under current coach Jim Larranaga. In both entries into the tournament Miami has made it to the Sweet 16 but no further and will be trying to improve on that result but need to get by Michigan State first.

The Spartans enter with just 1 19-14 record and while many pundits claimed they didn’t even deserve to be in the tournament their strength of schedule and RPI was difficult enough that their performances this season got them in. The Spartans world was rocked last year when then number 15 seeded Middle Tennessee upset the Spartans in the first round and sent Tom Izzo and his team packing early. Izzo is in charge of a much younger team this time around and thinks his squad is just rounding into form at the perfect time.

Both teams have struggled recently however with three losses in their last four games and for Michigan State their latest loss was one of their biggest disappointments after falling to Minnesota in the quarter finals of the Big Ten tournament. Their three game losing streak came right after their best win of the season against Wisconsin and the Jekyll and Hyde routine continues for the Spartans as they try and find any sort of consistency to make some noise in this tournament.

Key Matchup

Davon Reed against Miles Bridges. Not a lot has been written about either of these teams thanks to their struggles this season but they have two great players in Reed and Bridges who will be thrilled to show their stuff on a national stage. Reed leads the Hurricanes with 15.0 points per game to go along with 1.3 steals on defense and he’ll need to be sharp on that side of the ball against Bridges. Bridges leads the Spartans with 16.7 points and also leads them in the rebounding department with 8.3 a game. His 1.6 blocks are tied for the team lead and he’ll be force al game for Reed and company to deal with.

Advice

The Spartans are sexy pick thanks to their coach but people who think Michigan State is going to advance may be overlooking just how strong this Miami team is. Take the Hurricanes on the spread and watch them lock down a young and inexperienced team.

Pick
Miami
72
Michigan State
67

#15 Northern Kentucky Norse vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats

Spread

  • Northern Kentucky (+20) vs. Kentucky (-20)

The only thing these two teams share is the state they come from. The Wildcats are absolutely rolling right now and as the number 2 seed are thrilled to get their tournament started after another SEC regular season championship. They’re rocking an 11 game winning streak after winning the SEC tournament as well and carry a 29-5 record into the Madness in their opening game against Northern Kentucky on Friday night.

The Wildcats like everything about their performance right now with their last win coming over Arkansas in the SEC championship. They love playing in Indianapolis and have won the entire tournament eight times in their history. They’ve made it to the Final Four a whopping 17 times and this s their 56th overall entry into the big dance. To say they have experience as a school is an understatement and the Wildcats will be itching for another deep run.

They’re led by standout star Malik Monk who is averaging 20.5 points a game but also have other scorers like De’Aaron Fox who drops 16.1 a game and Edrice Adebayo who contributes with 13.2 of his own. They also have the ninth best defense in the country and play exceptionally on both sides of the basketball.

The Norse don’t have the same track record as the Wildcats but they’re feeling good after winning the Horizon League tournament and are excited to be eligible for the Madness this season. Northern Kentucky is led by Drew McDonald who is popping off with 16.9 points and 7.6 rebounds a game but like the Wildcats the Norse have some other shooters as well. Lavone Holland II averages 12.9 points and Carson Williams chips in with 10.4 Holland also helps run the offense with 4.9 assists a game and will need to keep the ball humming against the swarming defense of Kentucky.

The Norse are coming in on a hot streak with six straight wins and ten of their last 11 games and while their opponents have been far more inferior than the teams the Wildcats have faced hey still have the confidence you need to try and complete an upset on day one of the tourney. They lead their conference in threes a game with 8.7 and if they can get hot from outside they could give Kentucky troubles early.

Key Matchup

Malik Monk against Drew McDonald. Monk is better than almost everyone in the NCAA, let alone Drew McDonald and it’s going to be the hardest matchup of McDonald’s career when he tries to go up against Kentucky’s stud. Monk is athletic all over the court and also connects on more than 40 percent of this threes while McDonald has to score and rebound for his team. With Monk just focused on scoring in this matchup he should get the better of his cross-state opponent.

Advice

Kentucky is here to make a statement and while covering a 20 point spread is a big statement to make the Wildcats are more than capable of doing it against a team that just feels happy to be here. Take Kentucky on the spread in what should be a blowout.

Pick
Kentucky
88
Northern Kentucky
64

#10 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. #7 South Carolina Gamecocks

Spread

  • Marquette (+1) vs. South Carolina (-1)

South Carolina is more than ready to take the stage on Friday night as they return to the tournament for the first time in 12 years. Making things even more exciting for the Gamecocks is the fact they won’t even have to leave their home state to kick things off. The seventh seeded Gamecocks will play against the tenth seeded Marquette squad on Friday night in the first round at Bon Secours Wellness Arena just miles away from them in Greenville S.C.

South Carolina enters the tournament with a 22-10 record overall and will be putting on their dancing shoes for the first time since 2004. It’s their 9th overall berth in the conference but with so many years combing between their two entries experience won’t exactly be a strength they can rely on.

Marquette comes in with a less impressive record at just 19-12 but they were in the tournament far more recently back in 2013. The only other time Marquette has entered the tournament as a number 10 seed was back in 1997 and they were outed in the first round by a strong Providence squad. This year the Golden Eagles have finished their regular season strong with four wins in their last four games but were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament.

Marquette has some marquee wins though including a big victory against Villanova back in January which just so happens to be the tournament’s number one overall seed. The Golden Eagles have relied on the three pointer this season and in doing so set a school record by pouring in 312 on the season. If they get hot from beyond the arc it could be a long night trying to defend them for the Gamecocks.

Key Matchup

Sindarius Thornwell against Jaquan Johnson. Johnson is probably the Eagles’ best defender and that means he’ll be tasked with trying to guard Thornwell who has been one of the best players in the country this season. He averages 21.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals a game for the Gamecocks while being asked to guard a variety of positions. Johnson can score as well but this will be the hardest matchup of his career in the most important game yet.

Advice

The Gamecocks only need to cover a point to beat the spread and while they did limp the finish line a bit they also had one of the stronger regular season in the conferences and deserve to be trusted, at least in the first round. Take South Carolina on the spread in what essentially amounts to a pick em game.

Pick
South Carolina
79
Marquette
72

#14 Kent State Golden Flashes vs. #3 UCLA Bruins

Spread

  • Kent State (+18) vs. UCLA (-18)

A lot of analysts and bettors alike are excited about the chances of the third seeded Bruins winning the entire tournament, or making it to the Final Four but they’ll need to deal with the Golden Flashes first. UCLA enters the tournament with a 19-4 record and lead the entire country in shooting, scoring, and assists. Their offense has been a thing of beauty to watch all season long and the team has even eclipsed the 100 point mark nine separate times this year, a feat that is incredible for a college club.

They’ll be big-time favorites in their first game against Kent State who enter with a 22-13 record of their own against much weaker opponents. The Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference tournament to earn their first trip to the big dance since 2008 and are eager to give the Bruins a run for their money.

As much as the Bruins know they need to take care of business in their first game they can’t help but think about the tough road ahead. UCLA needs to beat some serious college powerhouses to make it to the finals including Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas but need to worry about their regional four team bracket right now and that means a win against Kent State.

The Golden Flashes come in with a little hot streak of their own going having won nine of their last ten games after struggling to a 13-12 record earlier in the season. They entered their conference tournament as the sixth seed but beat all three of the top seeds to win the title and earn their right to take on UCLA in round one of the Madness.

Key Matchup

Jaylin Walker against Lonzo Ball. Walker was huge for the Golden Flashes in the Mid-American Conference tournament with a career high 30 points in the final to earn MVP honors and will be eager to showcase his skill on the national stage. It won’t be easy for him to outshine Ball who has been in the national spotlight all season long.

Ball could be the number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft and is averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game to deliver the whole package. His ability to see the floor is unrivaled across the country and he’ll be thrilled to get it going in the NCAA Tournament.

Advice

The Bruins can run even the best of teams out of the gym and Kent State doesn’t fall into that category. Take UCLA to cover the spread in what should be Lonzo Ball’s national coming out party.

Pick
UCLA
91
Kent State
82
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