The Midwest Bracket is my pick for the deepest in this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, starting with unbeaten Wichita State as the No. 1 followed by Michigan, Duke and Louisville, last year's national champions, in the 2-3-4 4 slots.
Another factor making it the deepest is three of the four play-in games, including the clash of 12-seeds North Carolina State and Xavier. The second First Four contest on Tuesday's college basketball betting card has the Wolfpack and Musketeers scheduled for a start time about a quarter past 9 PM (ET) in Dayton on truTV.
Ultimately, the Wolfpack and Musketeers can be credited for booting the SMU Mustangs from the Big Dance, denying Larry Brown and the Ponies a shot at their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. Southern Methodist did end up with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, but that's little consolation to Brown and the Mustangs after a fine season.
A spread and total hasn't yet been released by the sports books, but SBR's live college basketball odds will have those numbers soon.
'Pack Dance 3rd-Straight Year
Mike Gottfried is taking North Carolina State (21-13 SU, 19-12 ATS) to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Wolfpack went dancing five straight years from 2002-2006. Their hopes appeared dead following Saturday's 75-67 setback in the ACC semis to Duke, but the Wolfpack's strength of schedule and a win over Syracuse in the conference quarterfinals were enough to lift them off the bubble.
As they have all season, NC State will turn to ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren to propel them into the Round of 64 where the winner of this contest meets 5th-seeded Saint Louis. Warren ranks third in the country with a 24.8 PPG average, and the 6-8 sophomore also tops the 'Pack pulling down 7.2 boards per game.
Warren scored at least 20 points in each of NC State's last 15 games, and has a personal string of 20+ efforts in 17 consecutive contests. He averaged a little more than 24 a game in the Wolfpack's three ACC Tournament tilts, with eight rebounds in each matchup.
Musketeers Back In Tournament After Missing Dance In '13
Xavier (21-12 SU, 18-13 ATS) might not be all that impressed with Warren after facing Doug McDermott and Creighton three times this season. Chris Mack's troops fell twice to the 3rd-seeded Bluejays, including an 86-78 setback in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament last Friday, that loss coming about two weeks after the Musketeers upset Creighton in Cincinnati near the end of the regular season schedule.
McDermott scored 32 in the tournament matchup vs. Xavier after games of 32 and 27 points in the two regular season meetings. The 6-8 senior leads the nation averaging almost 27 points per game.
The Wolfpack and Musketeers shared a couple of common opponents during the regular season, combining to meet Tennessee and Wake Forest six times. Xavier split two games with the Volunteers, the loss coming during a 3-game skid at the Battle 4 Atlantis over the Thanksgiving holidays, and beat the Demon Deacons in Cincinnati in the last game before the Big East schedule cranked up. The Musketeers were 2-1 ATS in the three contests, all of which finished short of the total.
North Carolina State split its two ACC battles with Wake Forest, each team winning on its home floor and the Wolfpack getting the cover in both games. They also pulled off a 65-58 upset of the Volunteers in Knoxville where Tennessee was 8 point chalk.
I'm expecting a very short spread in this one with the total around 140. Until the lines come out, I'm leaning towards the Wolfpack for my free NCAA Tournament pick.My pick: Lean NC State