Oklahoma vs Rhode Island – NCAA Tourney Pick for March 14th
The 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament finally arrives on Thursday, with a litany of games tipping off.
One of those games could deliver one of the more compelling contests of the first round, as Trae Young attempts to lead the 10th-seeded Oklahoma Sooners past the Rhode Island Rams.
The Sooners are the early underdogs here, as they free fell from a hot start early in the year, finishing just 18-13 and limping into the tourney. There is actually a very strong argument that they don’t belong in March Madness, but here they are.
With one of the country’s best point guards and overall scorers, Oklahoma still looks like a tough out and they’ll be looking to prove their worth against the Rams.
Rhode Island posted a far better record (25-7) and scored some impressive wins on the year, including one over the rival Davidson. On paper, they’re the obvious favorite, albeit by a very small margin.
This is one of the closest spreads of Thursday’s first-round games, making it a game bettors will want a little insight on.
I certainly don’t think you should blindly back the Sooners simply because they have such a big star on their team, but many could also make the mistake of assuming the team with the better record (Rhode Island) is the obvious play.
There is value to be had in this one, so let’s break it down from both sides to see where the best pick lies:
There are three things you can’t take away from the Sooners; Trae Young is a budding superstar, they are extremely battle-tested coming out of the competitive Big 12 and this team can flat out score.
Oklahoma went just 8-10 in the Big 12 and got ousted immediately in the conference tourney by Oklahoma State, but they still rank second in the country in points per game (Rhode Island is 88th).
Rhode Island does provide a counter for that, as they have shown to be capable offensively, but also rank inside the top 60 as a scoring defense.
You could go either way in this one. On one hand, Oklahoma struggled to close the year, but they had a way more difficult path to get where they are. The second half of their season was bad, but losses to the likes of Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas State and even Alabama are pretty forgivable.
On the flip side, Oklahoma was so hot earlier in the year that they got off to a sweltering 14-2 start that included wins over TCU, USC, Wichita State and Texas Tech. Even after their slide began, the Sooners also scored a massive win over the Kansas Jayhawks, who enter the tourney as a #1 seed.
Rhode Island can’t really say much of that. They played is an obviously weaker conference. They do have the far better record and enjoyed a nice 16-game winning streak in the middle of the year, but they own precious few landmark victories.
Losing to Virginia by 15 and Nevada by seven could be seen as moral wins, but a lot of the good things the Rams bring to the table have come via weak competition. That isn’t to say they can’t clown the struggling Sooners, but I wouldn’t be so quick to believe they’re the better team.
There is no denying Oklahoma’s weak defense and brutal slide, but they’re in the tourney and have one of the most explosive stars in the game. If Trae Young shows up and Oklahoma’s offense can support him, it’s tough to bet against the Sooners at their current price (+115 at Bovada).
Oklahoma isn’t worth betting on when it comes to the spread. They’re a pathetic 10-20 against the spread over their last 30 games and this game could admittedly be very close. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it be decided by one point, but I prefer the value associated with the Sooners in this spot.
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