NCAA Basketball Picks: Saturday Picks of the Day

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, March 15, 2014 11:57 AM UTC

Saturday, Mar. 15, 2014 11:57 AM UTC

A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could be in the offing for either Big Ten champion Michigan or ACC title-holder Virginia if both win Saturday's conference semifinal matchup against a capable foe and then Sunday's championship game.

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 24 Ohio State

Michigan won its first Big Ten outright regular-season title since 1986 and should it win the conference tournament as well it would certainly deserve the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament -- it's presumed that Florida, Wichita State and Arizona have the other three locked up. No. 3 Villanova's upset loss to Seton Hall in the Wildcats' Big East Tournament opener will kill their hopes.

U-M (15-13-1 ATS, 17-11-1 O/U at sportsbooks) has won six in a row but was pushed to the absolute limit by Illinois on Friday in Indianapolis, escaping with a 64-63 win (line was -7). Jordan Morgan hit the go-ahead layup with 7.9 seconds remaining, and the Illini's Tracy Abrams had a good luck at a short runner to win it but his shot hit the front of the rim. Michigan had crushed Illinois 84-53 in Champaign on March 4.

Without the injured Mitch McGary, rebounding is always going to be a problem for Michigan and it lost by seven on the boards to Illinois. The Wolverines can't afford any foul trouble to their few remaining big guys and that's what happened with Morgan on Friday. He was limited to 23 minutes because of it. Michigan generally lives and dies by the 3-pointer, and Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas was just 2-for-10 from long range.

Ohio State (15-17 ATS, 14-17-1 O/U) advanced with a 71-67 comeback win over Nebraska, the Buckeyes' third straight victory. OSU trailed by 18 points in the second half. LaQuinton Ross was brilliant for the Buckeyes with 26 points and 13 rebounds. He gave his team the lead for good at 65-63 on two free throws with 59 seconds left. Ohio State isn't going to win many other games shooting 22.2 percent from 3-point range. The Buckeyes will be able to stick Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Craft on Stauskas. Craft, the Big Ten's career steals leader, also won the award last year, becoming the sixth conference player to do so twice.

The bitter rivals met once this season, a 70-60 Michigan win in Columbus on Feb. 11 as a 3.5-point underdog for sports bettors. It was Michigan's first win at OSU since 2003. Stauskas had 15, while the Buckeyes were led by Ross' 24. OSU is looking for its fourth Big Ten Tournament title in the past five years. Michigan hasn't won it since the inaugural 1998 event and that was technically vacated.

NCAA basketball free pick: Ohio State +1.5 and over 129 on NCAA basketball odds. Something about tournament time brings out the best in OSU. The underdog has covered eight of the past 11 meetings.


No. 6 Virginia vs. Pittsburgh

Virginia was a very surprising regular-season champion of the ACC, certainly the most unlikely champion of the BCS conferences. It was UVa's first outright regular-season title since 1981 when a certain Ralph Sampson was dominating college basketball. Virginia hasn't won the ACC Tournament since 1976 and hasn't been in the championship game since 1994. This is the school's first trip to the semifinals since 1995, which had been the longest drought to reach that round in the ACC (not counting new members Syracuse, Pitt or Notre Dame).

The Cavaliers (17-10-1 ATS, 12-14 O/U) advanced with a 64-51 win over Florida State on Friday. UVa led the nation in scoring defense during the year (55.4 ppg) and that was on display against the Seminoles as they shot 30 percent from long range. However, only one member of Virginia's starting five had more than six points: Joe Harris with 20.

Virginia's only loss in the past 15 games was its regular-season finale at Maryland, somewhat of a trap game since it was the Terps' final home game as an ACC member and they were very fired up as was the sellout crowd. That said, pretty much all of Virginia's quality wins this season came at home; the only ranked team UVa beat away from home was Pittsburgh and the Panthers are no longer ranked.

Pitt (12-17-1 ATS, 19-10 O/U at sportsbooks) surprised North Carolina 80-75 on Friday, only the Heels' second loss since falling at Virginia on Jan. 20 -- but also second straight defeat. Talib Zanna had 19 points and a whopping 21 rebounds, but the Panthers nearly coughed up a 20-point second-half lead. Pitt had a stretch of the season where it went off the rails a bit, losing five of seven, but it has now won five of six. Carolina was the first ranked team Pitt beat all year.

UVa visited Pittsburgh on Feb. 2 and won 48-45 as a 4.5-point underdog for sports bettors. Malcolm Brogdon hit the winning 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining. Panthers freshman Jamel Artis missed an open layup with 10 seconds left after grabbing a rebound that would have given Pittsburgh the lead.

NCAA basketball free pick: Virginia -3.5 on NCAA basketball odds and under 121.5. The Panthers are going to be tired in their third game in three days (they routed Wake Forest on Thursday). Plus there's bound to be a mini-letdown after beating the Heels in Greensboro. UVa is 10-3 ATS in its past 13 after an ATS win.


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