After finishing the regular season 14-8-1 against the spread, it’s time to move on to the NCAA Tournament. Here are the first round picks versus the spread. Enjoy the games!
#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB
Iowa State is a trendy pick to make a deep run over the next couple of weeks. Yes, after winning the Big 12 Tournament, it’s well deserving. But, ISU has had to come back in each of their past five games, two (OU/Kansas) by large double digit margins. UAB can score, averaging nearly 70 points per game, and as the youngest team in the Tournament, they have come a long way from their nearly 30-point lost to Wisconsin early in the season. While UAB is young, their head coach Jerod Haase has been involved with 18 NCAA Tournaments as a player/assistant coach. I need to see Iowa State play a complete game start to finish to believe they are serious about a deep run.
The Pick: UAB +14
#3 Baylor vs. #14 Georgia State
Where does Georgia State struggle? On the boards, where they own a -0.6 margin. Meantime, Baylor is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, with a +8.3 margin. Also, Baylor’s length and zone defense has allowed them to boast one of the best defensive teams in the nation, allowing just 60 PPG and a field goal percentage of 40%. Georgia State scored a mere 38 points in their Sun Belt Championship victory. Yikes.
The Pick: Baylor -8.5
#11 Texas vs.#6 Butler
The Longhorns were able to get into the Big Dance without having to play in one of the first round/play-in games. Now, they get to face a Butler team that they match up very well against. The Longhorns lead the nation with 7.9 blocks per game, and have a rebounding margin of +8.3. Butler’s ‘big men’ Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz are 6’9’’ and 6’7’’ respectively, and 200 lbs, soaking wet. Good luck against Myles Turner (6’11’’, 240), Cameron Ridley (6’9’’, 285), and Jonathan Holmes (6’8’’, 240). I love Texas’ size to dominate, and Rick Barnes to win and possibly save his job.
The Pick: Texas -1.5
#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State
Kansas is one of the most vulnerable high seeds in the entire Tournament. They’re undersized, lack depth and consistency. Bill Self admitted as much, saying it would be a “successful season” if this team could reach an Elite 8. Meantime, the Jayhawks will need to slow down the power duo inside for New Mexico State, Remi Barry and Pascal Siakam. Both are 6’8’’ and over 230 lbs, and averaging 13+ points per game. KU will have a game on their hands.
The Pick: New Mexico State +10.5
#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Buffalo
It’s a classic 12-5 match up, and a lot of people are rolling with Buffalo. I couldn’t disagree more. Many are underestimating WVU because they have lost 3 of 4. But, two losses were to Baylor (bad matchup for WVU), one to Kansas in OT, and the Mountaineers have been missing two key pieces over the stretch. There are only a handful of coaches with more NCAA Tournament experience than Bob Huggins, while Juwan Staten and Gary Browne are expected to return to the lineup (injuries). Bobby Hurley makes his first appearance in the Big Dance, but it ends there.
The Pick: WVU -4.5
#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State
Two teams trending in opposite directions. Oregon made a run to the Pac-12 Tournament title game, and has won 7 of 8. Meantime, the Cowboys closed the season losing 6 of 7. Phil Forte is still searching for his shot, Travis Ford doesn’t win NCAA Tournament games, and the Cowboys are playing their worst basketball of the season.
The Pick: Oregon -1.5
#3 Oklahoma vs. #14 Albany
There are many who like the Sooners as a dark horse to make a Final Four run in the East bracket. But, Lon Kruger is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win in Norman. Last season, the Sooners were upset by North Dakota State in overtime as a 5 seed. Albany is no stranger to the NCAA’s, making their third straight appearance. Also, the Great Danes are playing with some magic. Peter Hooley, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Stony Brook to make the Big Dance, is playing for his mother, who passed away from cancer back in January.
Albany has not allowed a team to score 70 points in a game since early December, and do a great job controlling tempo. The Sooners are more talented, but they have not played many grind-it-out games this season. It will be closer than expected.
The Pick: Albany +13