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    Hman
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    Best bet for every 2019 NCAA tournament first-round game 🏀

    Best bet for every 2019 NCAA tournament first-round game


    ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)


    The American Gaming Association estimates that more than $8.5 billion will be wagered on the NCAA tournament this year. Forty million Americans will combine to fill out 149 million brackets this week, and 18 million adults will bet on the tournament with a bookmaker, the survey found.


    Our college basketball experts -- Joe Fortenbaugh, Preston Johnson, Doug Kezirian and Jordan Schultz -- are here to help, giving their best bets for Friday's first-round games.


    If you're looking for more analysis, be sure to check out PickCenter, which has projections on every NCAA tournament game.


    Note: All odds are via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, as of March 18.


    East Region


    No. 8 VCU Rams vs. No. 9 UCF Knights (-1)

    Total: 126.5
    BPI line: VCU -1.6
    Friday at 9:40 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

    Johnson: My projection for the game line is exactly pick-em, with the total slightly higher at 128.4 but nothing extreme enough to warrant a play on the over at the moment. I think the matchup edge here lies in UCF's height and ability to crash the offensive glass against a VCU defense that ranks 200th in defensive rebound rate. UCF scores efficiently down low and draws the most fouls in the country out of the post (over 28 percent of these possessions). VCU's style is aggressive, so foul trouble could ultimately become an issue for the Rams.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7) vs. No. 12 Liberty Flames

    Total: 137
    BPI line: Mississippi State -7.2
    Friday at 7:27 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: Liberty was the third-slowest team in pace offensively this season, and Mississippi State ranked outside the top 200. Both schools also rank in the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs' biggest weakness is on the defensive glass, where opponents generate a good portion of their points via second chances, but Liberty rarely crashes for offensive rebounds and plays the majority of its minutes with rotations in which its tallest player is 6-foot-8. My projection for the total is 132.2, so everything lines up for a bet on an ugly game with limited scoring. Grab the under.

    Play: Under 136.5


    No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies (-10.5) vs. No. 13 St. Louis Billikens

    Total: 126
    BPI line: Virginia Tech -13.3


    Friday at 9:57 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Virginia Tech -10 with a total of 125.8 so there isn't any value worth betting here. It's worth noting that Justin Robinson is making his return from injury for the Hokies, and if he is anywhere near 100 percent healthy, Virginia Tech may be a team making a deeper run than most would anticipate. They rank among the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency despite playing a good portion of their games without Robinson.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 3 LSU Tigers (-8) vs. No. 14 Yale Bulldogs

    Total: 160.5
    BPI line: LSU -8.9
    Thursday at 12:40 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

    Johnson: I show some value on both LSU -7.5 and the under 160.5, but I'm not confident projecting to what extent suspending head coach Will Wade last week may impact this Tigers team. While the impact didn't seem to be felt at home against Vanderbilt (0-17 in SEC play to that point) to end the regular season, LSU did blow a double-digit lead in the second half of its only SEC tournament game against Florida. I don't think I will ultimately be getting involved one way or another, but if you were leaning to the LSU side or to the under, the numbers point to those both offering value.

    Lean: LSU -8, under 160.5


    Kezirian: This game highlights the beauty of the NCAA tournament. If these two teams played during the regular season, the Tigers would likely run the Bulldogs off the court. However, March Madness can induce favorites to play tight down the stretch and eke out wins. Underdogs often play loose, and that's what I think happens here. Yale loves to push the pace and will have plenty of confidence facing a team that is surrounded by hoopla with an interim coach.

    ATS pick: Yale +8

    Fortenbaugh: This is most definitely a fade of an LSU program that has been on uncertain footing ever since now-suspended head coach Will Wade found himself ensnared by the FBI in a wiretap scandal. No doubt that played a role in the Tigers' one-and-done disastrous performance in the SEC tournament. Yale enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak that saw the Bulldogs demolish Princeton twice by a combined 28 points, as well as Harvard in the Ivy League Final by 12.

    ATS pick: Yale +8


    No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (-5) vs. No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers

    Total: 135.5
    BPI line: Louisville -7
    Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa
    Johnson: I don't anticipate having any plays in this particular game, but I wanted to note that Louisville also ranked extremely poorly against zone defenses this season. Similar to Florida State-Vermont, if Minnesota implements any type of zone defense during the game and the Cardinals struggle, it may offer an opportunity to take advantage in-game.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 2 Michigan State Spartans (-18.5) vs. No. 15 Bradley Braves

    Total: 133.5
    BPI line: Michigan State -24.6
    Thursday at 2:45 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

    Johnson: Bradley struggles mightily offensively (246th in adjusted offensive efficiency) and certainly doesn't do anything special on the defensive side that makes me a believer they can keep this close. Michigan State guard Kyle Ahrens' injury in the Big Ten title game is worth noting for future rounds. He played nearly 19 minutes per game, so that will definitely take a toll on Sparty's depth.

    Pick: Pass


    West


    No. 8 Syracuse Orange (-2) vs. No. 9 Baylor Bears

    Total: 133.5
    BPI line: Syracuse -0.4
    Thursday at 9:57 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

    Johnson: Everyone remembers the recent tournament runs Syracuse has made to the Final Four as a 10-seed and 4-seed in two of their past three tournament appearances, as the Orange 2-3 zone is difficult to prepare for. From what I've read, it seems like people are counting Baylor out, but I think this is actually a great matchup for the Bears. Baylor ranked extremely low at attacking man-to-man defenses this season (20th percentile or worse in pick and roll, isolation and off-ball offensive numbers), but it does very well against zones. The Bears overload zones and effectively use screening tactics that generate lobs for dunks, open 3-pointers and driving lanes when defenders are out of position.


    My projection for this game is Syracuse -1.6, and I anticipate money to keep coming in on the Orange (a few -2.5s have popped up in the market), but I will likely be backing Baylor to some degree at +2.5 or better based on the sheer X's-and-O's edge we have in the specific matchup (plus getting nearly a full point of line value as well).

    Lean: Baylor +2


    No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles (-4.5) vs. No. 12 Murray State Racers

    Total: 149.5
    BPI line: Marquette -4.6
    Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

    Johnson: This line actually opened Marquette -5, but it isn't too much of a surprise to see the Ja Morant hype and a potential Cinderella Murray State team take early action. Outside of Morant, however, the Racers really don't have many weapons. They rank 41st in adjusted offensive and 81st in defensive efficiency this season; Marquette ranks in the top-35 in both. The Racers' strength is getting out in transition (99th percentile in offensive efficiency in these chances), but Marquette is one of the best teams in the field defending in transition.


    My projections make the Golden Eagles a 6.7-point favorite, and while Morant certainly could take over a game and lead Murray State to an upset win, I have Marquette covering -4 or -4.5 often enough to make this an edge worth betting.

    Play: Marquette -4.5 (might be worth it to wait for -4)


    No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (-10.5) vs. No. 13 Vermont Catamounts

    Total: 133.5
    BPI line: Florida State -6.9
    Thursday at 2 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

    Johnson: Both the side and the total line up with my projections, so I don't envision making a play in this matchup. One factor to look for: the Seminoles were one of the worst offenses in the field against zone this season. Vermont doesn't generally play any zone, but I would be curious to see if the Catamounts decide to implement it at all and how FSU would respond. This may offer an opportunity to take advantage of in-game wagering options in this matchup.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (-14) vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse

    Total: 137.5
    BPI line: Texas Tech -15.4
    Friday at 1:30 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

    Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Texas Tech -14.5 with a total of 134.6. While I show a small edge to the under at 137.5, I plan to maximize the value there by betting Northern Kentucky's team total under when the line becomes available. The Red Raiders were the best team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency this season, and there really aren't holes in their scheme or execution. NKU runs a lot of continuity ball screen offense to go with basic pick-and-roll attacks against man defenses, but the Norse have shown little aptitude against the zone. And Texas Tech's top-ranked defense is a 2-3 matchup zone. It's going to be extremely difficult for the Norse to generate points.


    Pick: Northern Kentucky team total under, lean under 137.5


    Kezirian: Texas Tech's calling card is defense, as the Red Raiders lead the nation in defensive efficiency. However, adding Northern Kentucky to the mix makes this an intriguing game. The Norse always push the pace and rank 143rd in defensive efficiency. Tech is not opposed to filling it up, as it averages 73 PPG, so with Northern Kentucky forcing the tempo, the Red Raiders should score at will. I like the over here.
    Pick: over 137.5


    No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack (-2) vs. No. 10 Florida Gators

    Total: 132.5
    BPI line: Nevada -1.6
    Thursday at 6:50 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

    Johnson: Despite what wound up being a disappointing season to this point for the Wolf Pack (remember those "will Nevada go undefeated" prop bets?), I am still fairly bullish on Eric Musselman's squad. Not only is he one of the best coaches at scheming and making opponent-dependent adjustments in-game, but I'm still a believer in the Martin brothers and Jordan Caroline. Remember what they all did just last season with only six healthy players? A one-point loss to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16 after upsetting 2-seed Cincinnati was an impressive run.


    I make Nevada a 3.6-point favorite against the Gators, and I would be jumping in to back the Pack at -1.5 or better if it shows.

    Pick: Pass


    Schultz: Florida has played well down the stretch, but Nevada is very dangerous because of its combination of interior and perimeter play. Senior forward Jordan Caroline (18 double-doubles, ranking sixth nationally) is a load in the paint, as are senior wings Caleb and Cody Martin, both of whom can break you down off the bounce. The Wolfpack's calling card is the offensive end, where Musselman's team runs a bevy of pro sets and relies on a flurry of pick-and-rolls involving Caroline -- who can step away from the basket as well -- and the Martin twins. The Gators will struggle keeping Nevada at bay in the half court and won't have the necessary athletic advantage that most SEC teams boast over non-Power 5 schools.

    ATS pick: Nevada -2


    No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (-16) vs. No. 15 Montana Grizzlies

    Total: 131.5
    BPI line: Michigan -18
    Thursday at 9:20 p.m. in Des Moines, Iowa

    Johnson: My projections line up with the total and show a small edge on Montana at +16 (I make Michigan a 14.5-point favorite). While the Wolverines rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, their weakness is defending the post. Montana generates the majority of its offense from the post or on drives and dump-offs to big men waiting down low. I wouldn't be shocked if the Grizzlies keep this within the number, and at +16.5 or better it would be my buy point for a full play.


    One thing of note for Michigan that could play a factor in future rounds: The Wolverines ranked 350th of 353 teams this season in percentage of minutes played by their bench. If foul trouble or injury is a concern at any point, the limited rotation takes a significant hit.


    Pick: Lean Montana +16



    Kezirian: Michigan is a trendy pick to make another tournament run but this is about the quality of the opponent. The Wolverines are 1-6 ATS this season when favored by at least 15 points. They have looked great in big games, but they tend to rely too heavily on the high emotion of those situations. I can see Michigan not shining in this spot and allowing Montana to hang around nearly the entire game. The Grizzlies rely on their veteran backcourt and won't be intimidated.
    ATS pick: Montana +16


    South


    No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (-23.5) vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb Bulldogs

    Total: 130.5
    BPI line: Virginia -24.1
    Friday at 3:10 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

    Johnson: I make Virginia a bigger favorite at -25.4, but my threshold for what qualifies as a play increases as the size of the favorite increases. UVA also plays at the slowest pace in the country and limits the total amount of possessions played, which impacts my projected point spreads in its games more severely than the norm. If this line continues dropping (opened -24.5) then I will be getting involved on the Cavaliers side at anything under 23.



    No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels (-2) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners

    Total: 142.5
    BPI line: Oklahoma -1.4
    Friday at 12:40 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

    Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Ole Miss -1 with a total of 139.9. I do think, however, that a line closer to Rebels -2 is fair given their advantage schematically defending in zone. Ole Miss implemented a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone regularly this season, and I anticipate we see more of it against a Sooners team that struggled to generate points against zone defenses.




    No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (-1) vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks

    Total: 118
    BPI line: Wisconsin -4.2
    Friday at 4:30 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: The line movement in this game has been wild. The Badgers opened as 3-point favorites at South Point on Sunday afternoon before Oregon was bet to the favorite. The spread eventually settled in at Wisconsin as a small favorite on Monday. I understand why the public likes the Ducks -- they are the hot team that everybody watched dismantle Washington in the Pac-12 title game. But this is what I don't understand: We spent most of the season poking fun at the lack of legitimate talent in the Pac-12, only to fall in love with a team because it won a couple of games in a row in that very conference?


    The Badgers should be a -4, and this one of my biggest edges of the first round. Give me the third-best defense in the country against an offense that finished the season ranked outside the top 100.


    ATS pick: Wisconsin -1 or better

    Fortenbaugh: This Oregon freight train has both won and covered the number in each of its past eight matchups, which includes a +69 scoring differential through four Pac-12 tournament wins. I'm not jumping in front of that money train. Additionally, let's not forget the fact that this game is being played in San Jose, California, which is a short flight within the same time zone for the Ducks as opposed to a five-hour flight across two time zones for the Badgers.

    ATS pick: Oregon +1

    Kezirian: I realize the Ducks are a trendy pick but I still like them. They have won and covered eight straight and shown flashes of being a top-notch team. Wisconsin will not play as poorly as it did in the second half of its most recent loss to Michigan State, but the Badgers also simply aren't that good. Oregon is much more athletic and has plenty of size to stymie Wisconsin's half-court sets that isolate its big men on the post. Over the past decade, Pac-12 teams are 9-2 when they are the lower-seeded team in the tournament; the conference is often overlooked.

    ATS pick: Oregon +1


    No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (-5) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters

    Total: 119.5
    BPI line: Kansas State -7.2
    Friday at 2 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: Kansas State plays at the 11th-slowest pace in the country, and UC Irvine is in the bottom 80. My projection for the total is 116.1. The Wildcats rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and face an Irvine offense that finished 125th. Kansas State also ranks outside the top 100 offensively (and that was before the injury to Dean Wade). Wade is questionable for the game Friday, but as the Wildcats' most efficient scorer, the drop-off without him in the lineup is significant. This is still a play on the under even if Wade plays, but it will be an added bonus if he sits out.

    Pick: under 119.5

    Fortenbaugh: The Anteaters ride a 16-game winning streak into Friday's opening round, which includes a 10-1 ATS record over the program's past 11 contests. As for Kansas State, you have to figure the Wildcats are bummed over a 4-seed in San Jose that could have been a 3-seed in nearby Tulsa. Speaking of the 4-seed, the last time Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber found himself in this situation, his Kansas State squad was bounced in the opening round of the 2012 tournament by 13-seed La Salle 63-61.

    ATS pick: UC Irvine +5.5

    No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (-13) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs

    Total: 129
    BPI line: Purdue -15
    Thursday at 9:50 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

    Johnson: I make Purdue a 13.6-point favorite here, so at -12 there was a small edge on the Boilermakers, but this line has grown to 13. Old Dominion's weakness this season was on defense, as it ranks just 216th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Purdue ranks fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, so stops will be difficult to come by for the Monarchs. It's worth noting that many of the "luck" metrics used to indicate a team's record compared to what we would expect from a particular team show Old Dominion is much worse than its record appears to be.

    Pick: Pass

    Kezirian: I think Purdue is one of the shakiest teams in the tournament. The Boilermakers are 3-6 ATS in their past nine, and I just don't trust leading scorer Carsen Edwards. He shot 38.6 percent from the field this season, including 17-for-66 in the past three games. When he is cold, he continues to force shots, disrupting the offensive flow. I wish Purdue was facing a better team, but the Monarchs are good enough for me to fade the Boilermakers here.

    ATS pick: Old Dominion +13

    Schultz: Purdue is the most iffy of 3-seeds, having dropped two of its final three games, both against Minnesota. Old Dominion, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced backcourts in the tournament, thanks to guards B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, who both average nearly 17 PPG. More importantly, the Monarchs can really guard. The Conference USA champs surrender a minuscule 0.96 points per possession. They bound ball screens, eliminate straight-line drives and erase shots at the rim, which is why they rank in the top 15 in blocks among tournament teams.

    ATS pick: Old Dominion +13





    No. 6 Villanova Wildcats (-5.5) vs. No. 11 St. Mary's Gaels

    Total: 130
    BPI line: Villanova -2.7
    Thursday at 7:20 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

    Johnson: My projection for the total is 125.8, so a discrepancy of over 4 points between my number and the market is worth betting here. Both teams are bottom 30 in the country in pace, and Saint Mary's is 43rd defending the 3-point shot (31.8 percent) while giving up only 17 attempts (third fewest). Villanova attempts the fourth-most 3s in the country (30.1 per game), so it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats force the issue against a Gaels team that runs shooters off of the 3-point line.


    On the other side of the court, we get Villanova's 2-3 matchup zone and 1-2-2 full court press (they implement this to slow down opponents and burn clock before they are able to get into their offensive sets). Saint Mary's played against a zone defense during only 78 possessions this season (a total of roughly one game of the 33 they played). I think this could ultimately be a red flag if they struggle to break down the Villanova zone, which bodes well for only our under. Everything lines up in this one.

    Play: Under 130.5

    Schultz: The Gaels' impressive victory over Gonzaga was no fluke. Randy Bennett's teams always defend and always take care of the ball, and junior Jordan Ford is an excellent late-shot-clock option and one of the best guards in the country that nobody knows. The first-team All-WCC performer averages over 21 PPG on a hyper-efficient 49.4 percent shooting from the floor and 42.3 percent from deep. Villanova has been too Jekyll-and-Hyde to trust, specifically on the defensive end, where the defending national champs rank just 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Fade the Wildcats on a line that is inflated based on public perception.

    ATS pick: St. Mary's +5.5


    No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats (-3.5) vs. No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes

    Total: 137.5
    BPI line: Cincinnati -2.5
    Friday at 12:15 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

    Johnson: I'm not sure if it is recency bias with the Bearcats' AAC tournament title over Houston, or Iowa's struggles down the stretch in the Big Ten, but my projection of Cincinnati -0.6 differs quite a bit from the current market. I have made recent adjustments to my numbers based on these results as well as the market's reaction from game to game, so there isn't anything that occurred as of late that isn't already accounted for in my projection. The Hawkeyes rank 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency and can score in a variety of ways against both man defense and zone (Cincinnati will utilize both). I'm trusting my numbers in what is nearly a three-point edge on Iowa and taking the +3.5.

    ATS pick: Iowa +3.5


    No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers (-17.5) vs. No. 15 Colgate Raiders

    Total: 150
    BPI line: Tennessee -18.6
    Friday at 2:45 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

    Johnson: I was looking forward to betting a potential over when I saw this matchup announced on Selection Sunday, but unfortunately, the total is inflated to the over. Tennessee rosters the third-most-efficient offense in the country and the Vols score at an even better rate against man defense. Meanwhile, Colgate's half-court man defense ranks in the 31st percentile against a strength of schedule that ranked outside of the top 250. Tennessee is going to score at will, but unless the game total drops a couple of points, I won't be getting involved. My projection for the spread is Tennessee -17.8.

    Pick: Pass


    Midwest


    No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (-24.5) vs. No. 16 Iona Gaels

    Total: 166
    BPI line: UNC -29.3
    Friday at 9:20 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

    Johnson: My projections for this matchup are UNC -22.2 with a total of 165.6. The Tar Heels are one of just four teams that rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (Virginia, Duke, Michigan State). UNC gives up quite a few 3-pointers defensively, which plays right into what Iona likes to do anyway (the Gaels take more than 25 per game). This should be an incredibly fast-paced game, and it shouldn't come as any surprise that the Tar Heels will be able to score at will against the 275th-ranked defense in the country (Iona ranks even worse in zone defense, which it surprisingly plays more regularly). I wanted to find reasons to back Iona and play the over, but at the current numbers, there just isn't any value worth betting.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 8 Utah State Aggies (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Washington Huskies

    Total: 135
    BPI line: Utah State -1.8
    Friday at 6:50 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio

    Johnson: My projections for this matchup are Utah State -0.9 with a total of 132.4. I was hoping that the first-round matchup for the Huskies would suit their 2-3 zone well and that we would have an opportunity to back UW at a good number, but the Aggies are far from that. I even bet a little on +3.5 when it popped Sunday evening in Las Vegas because the number was so far from where my projections make it, but I think I will just wind up playing back on Utah State -2.5 to get out of it (maybe I get lucky and it lands on 3).


    The Aggies have a great understanding of how to attack a 2-3 zone through the high post and overload personnel to get defenders out of position. Defensively, Utah State is in the 99th percentile protecting the rim and 98th percentile out of all opponent post plays. The Aggies also have the best defensive rebounding rate in the country. This Washington team has had severe issues scoring as of late, and I just don't see how they get it done against the Aggies.

    Pick: Pass

    Schultz: The Aggies are a trendy upset team ... and I don't know why. Washington has the best two players on the court -- Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle -- and the better coach in Mike Hopkins, fresh off his second straight Pac-12 Coach of the Year award. Thybulle -- who broke Gary Payton's conference record for steals -- is the third player in the past 20 years to average at least two steals and two blocks per game. The other two? Shane Battier and Nerlens Noel. The Huskies, winners of the Pac-12 regular-season title, will bother Utah State with their vaunted 2-3 matchup zone, a combination of length, quickness and size that the Aggies haven't seen all year.

    Pick: Washington money line (+125)




    No. 5 Auburn Tigers (-6.5) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies

    Total: 143
    BPI line: Auburn -8.8
    Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

    Johnson: While my projections for this matchup line up with the market (-6.6, 141.3), I do think there is some value on Auburn at 60-1 to win it all.

    Pick: Pass

    Schultz: This is a good spot for the Aggies, who haven't lost since Jan. 3 and have the size and depth -- 10 players play 10-plus minutes -- to not only cover the spread, but potentially pull off the upset. Auburn is a very streaky team that doesn't defend particularly well and doesn't have a ton of size. A burly and long New Mexico State roster will limit second-chance opportunities and bother the Tigers enough to limit clean 3-point looks, the staple of Bruce Pearl's team.

    ATS pick: New Mexico State +6.5


    No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks (-7) vs. No. 13 Northeastern Huskies

    Total: 144.5
    BPI line: Kansas -11.3
    Thursday at 4 p.m. in Salt Lake City, Utah

    Johnson: My projection for the total in this matchup is 140.6. The last time Kansas didn't rank top-10 in adjusted offensive efficiency was in 2015. This year they rank only 34th, and it's their 15th-ranked defense that seems to be flying under the radar. Sure, the Jayhawks didn't win the Big 12 conference regular-season title for the first time since Regina George led the Queen Bees in "Mean Girls" to box office glory in 2004, but the job Bill Self has done after losing both Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick for the season has been impressive.


    I ultimately anticipate this game to be slow with Kansas and Northeastern ranking 114th and 294th in pace, respectively. I have seen the total as high as 145.5 at some shops, so do your best to shop around for your best number, but anything at 144.5 or better is worth an under bet.

    Play: Under 144.5

    Kezirian: I realize Kansas has lost some of its luster, failing to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2004, but this is a bad matchup for Northeastern. The length of the Jayhawks will pose a big problem for Northeastern's shooters and Kansas should own the paint and exploit the Huskies' lack of size. Northeastern ranks 143rd in defensive efficiency, and I trust Bill Self in March. This should be a one-sided affair.

    ATS pick: Kansas -7


    No. 3 Houston Cougars (-12) vs. No. 14 Georgia State Panthers

    Total: 141.5
    BPI line: Houston -14.1
    Friday at 7:20 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

    Johnson: My number came in higher than the current market, making Houston a 13.2-point favorite. However, tactically they give up a ton of 3-pointers to opponents and Georgia State ranks 17th in the country, shooting 38.4 percent from long range. I'm ultimately not surprised to see the spread a little lower than my raw projection.


    One other note: Houston is among the luckiest teams in regard to opponents missing open 3s, and Georgia State has been fairly unlucky with opponents making an unusual amount of their open 3-point attempts. If regression decides to come crashing down on both squads this Friday, we may see a Panthers outright victory.

    Pick: Pass

    No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones (-5.5) vs. No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes

    Total: 140
    BPI line: Iowa State -6.1

    Friday at 9:50 p.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma

    Johnson: There isn't much here for me in this matchup. Both the side and total line up with my projections, and schematically there aren't any huge advantages for either school to exploit. The Cyclones seemingly underachieved preseason expectations for the majority of the season, but they put it together to win the Big 12 tournament crown. If Iowa State continues to play at that level, I would ultimately be surprised if it didn't make it out of the first weekend (look-ahead projection: Iowa State would be a pick-em against 3-seed Houston). The Cougars rank only in the 61st percentile offensively against man defense (ISU only plays man-to-man), so I would give the Cyclones the edge there.

    Pick: pass

    Schultz: Talk about two teams going in different directions. The red-hot Cyclones come off an impressive Big 12 championship run in Kansas City, which included handing Kansas its first loss all year at home or on a neutral floor. The Buckeyes, however, limp into the dance, having dropped five of their past seven, including an ugly 18-point blowout at Northwestern. Without a true go-to option, they rank 200th nationally in scoring, and 258th in PPG. This game ultimately comes down to perimeter play. Senior transfer Marial Shayok (18.6 PPG on 49.4 shooting) and the flashy Lindell Wigginton -- finally healthy after dealing with an ankle injury for much of the season -- will have no problems getting whatever they want in this one. Freshman Talen Horton-Tucker is a problem on the perimeter as well. The bottom line is that the Cyclones found themselves during the Big 12 tournament; the Buckeyes haven't found anything all season.

    ATS pick: Iowa State -5.5


    No. 7 Wofford Terriers (-3) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall Pirates

    Total: 142.5
    BPI line: Wofford -7.6
    Thursday at 9:40 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

    Johnson: The spread and total line up closely with my projections here. Take note, though: Wofford is no joke. Led by Fletcher McGee, the Terriers' offense features the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country (an absurd 41.6 percent from deep). McGee ranks 97th percentile in the pick-and-roll and is the second-most efficient player in college basketball among those that had 15-plus possessions of usage per game. The Terriers' defense still ranks above average despite often playing small, and they are a legitimate threat to make a run in the Midwest Region.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (-22.5) vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian Wildcats

    Total: 132
    BPI line: Kentucky -19.7
    Thursday at 7:10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida

    Johnson: I personally line this game Kentucky -21.8, but a couple of different people I respect that make their own college basketball numbers have this spread three to four points lower. I may be missing something with Abilene Christian, or maybe I am overvaluing the Wildcats on my end, but since my projections line up with the current market I'll be staying away.

    Pick: Pass


    No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (-1) vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks

    Total: 118
    BPI line: Wisconsin -4.2
    Friday at 4:30 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: The line movement in this game has been wild. The Badgers opened as 3-point favorites at South Point on Sunday afternoon before Oregon was bet to the favorite. The spread eventually settled in at Wisconsin as a small favorite on Monday. I understand why the public likes the Ducks -- they are the hot team that everybody watched dismantle Washington in the Pac-12 title game. But this is what I don't understand: We spent most of the season poking fun at the lack of legitimate talent in the Pac-12, only to fall in love with a team because it won a couple of games in a row in that very conference?

    The Badgers should be a -4, and this one of my biggest edges of the first round. Give me the third-best defense in the country against an offense that finished the season ranked outside the top 100.

    ATS pick: Wisconsin -1 or better

    Fortenbaugh: This Oregon freight train has both won and covered the number in each of its past eight matchups, which includes a +69 scoring differential through four Pac-12 tournament wins. I'm not jumping in front of that money train. Additionally, let's not forget the fact that this game is being played in San Jose, California, which is a short flight within the same time zone for the Ducks as opposed to a five-hour flight across two time zones for the Badgers.

    ATS pick: Oregon +1

    Kezirian: I realize the Ducks are a trendy pick but I still like them. They have won and covered eight straight and shown flashes of being a top-notch team. Wisconsin will not play as poorly as it did in the second half of its most recent loss to Michigan State, but the Badgers also simply aren't that good. Oregon is much more athletic and has plenty of size to stymie Wisconsin's half-court sets that isolate its big men on the post. Over the past decade, Pac-12 teams are 9-2 when they are the lower-seeded team in the tournament; the conference is often overlooked.

    ATS pick: Oregon +1


    No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats (-5) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters

    Total: 119.5
    BPI line: Kansas State -7.2
    Friday at 2 p.m. in San Jose, California

    Johnson: Kansas State plays at the 11th-slowest pace in the country, and UC Irvine is in the bottom 80. My projection for the total is 116.1. The Wildcats rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and face an Irvine offense that finished 125th. Kansas State also ranks outside the top 100 offensively (and that was before the injury to Dean Wade). Wade is questionable for the game Friday, but as the Wildcats' most efficient scorer, the drop-off without him in the lineup is significant. This is still a play on the under even if Wade plays, but it will be an added bonus if he sits out.

    Pick: under 119.5

    Fortenbaugh: The Anteaters ride a 16-game winning streak into Friday's opening round, which includes a 10-1 ATS record over the program's past 11 contests. As for Kansas State, you have to figure the Wildcats are bummed over a 4-seed in San Jose that could have been a 3-seed in nearby Tulsa. Speaking of the 4-seed, the last time Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber found himself in this situation, his Kansas State squad was bounced in the opening round of the 2012 tournament by 13-seed La Salle 63-61.

    ATS pick: UC Irvine +5.5


    No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (-13) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs

    Total: 129
    BPI line: Purdue -15
    Thursday at 9:50 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut

    Johnson: I make Purdue a 13.6-point favorite here, so at -12 there was a small edge on the Boilermakers, but this line has grown to 13. Old Dominion's weakness this season was on defense, as it ranks just 216th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Purdue ranks fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, so stops will be difficult to come by for the Monarchs. It's worth noting that many of the "luck" metrics used to indicate a team's record compared to what we would expect from a particular team show Old Dominion is much worse than its record appears to be.

    Pick: Pass

    Kezirian: I think Purdue is one of the shakiest teams in the tournament. The Boilermakers are 3-6 ATS in their past nine, and I just don't trust leading scorer Carsen Edwards. He shot 38.6 percent from the field this season, including 17-for-66 in the past three games. When he is cold, he continues to force shots, disrupting the offensive flow. I wish Purdue was facing a better team, but the Monarchs are good enough for me to fade the Boilermakers here.

    ATS pick: Old Dominion +13

    Schultz: Purdue is the most iffy of 3-seeds, having dropped two of its final three games, both against Minnesota. Old Dominion, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced backcourts in the tournament, thanks to guards B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, who both average nearly 17 PPG. More importantly, the Monarchs can really guard. The Conference USA champs surrender a minuscule 0.96 points per possession. They bound ball screens, eliminate straight-line drives and erase shots at the rim, which is why they rank in the top 15 in blocks among tournament teams.

    ATS pick: Old Dominion +13
    Last edited by Hman; 03-19-19 at 03:52 PM.

  2. #2
    Hman
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    BigdaddyQH
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    mdunlap3
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