NCAA Basketball Picks For Thursday: Northwestern To End Drought?

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, March 10, 2016 1:27 AM GMT

If you are an impartial observer in the Big Ten Tournament, don't you almost have to root for Northwestern to win it? The Wildcats have never been to the NCAA Tournament. Here are my top three picks Thursday with Heritage's NCAA Basketball odds.

Northwestern vs. Michigan (-2)
NU is the only current Power 5 school to never play in the Big Dance. The Wildcats (20-11) also have never won 21 games in a season but could with a minor upset here against Michigan in the Big Ten's quarterfinal round in Indianapolis. Northwestern is playing arguably its best ball of the season as it closed the regular season winning three straight games by double digits. It's the first time in 62 years the school won three Big Ten games in a row by at least 10. Northwestern's starting backcourt of senior Tre Demps and sophomore Bryant McIntosh were both named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. McIntosh has shattered the school's single-season assists record. Michigan (20-11) probably has to win this game and then upset Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana on Friday to have any shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. The Wolverines are currently projected among the next four teams out for the field of 68. U-M struggled down the stretch in losing four of its final five games. That lone win was the only meeting this season with Northwestern: 72-63 on Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor. The Wildcats led by as many as 13 in the first half. Michigan wouldn't lead for good until about four minutes remained in the game. It's the first time NU and U-M have played in the Big Ten Tournament in 11 years.

Michigan at -2 NCAA Basketball odds. Northwestern has covered only two of its past seven vs. teams with a winning record. Michigan has covered five of the past seven in this series.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Michigan -2
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

 

Eastern Michigan vs. Akron (-6)
Akron is quite clearly the best team in the Mid-American Conference and the top seed for the tournament in Cleveland as it faces No. 8 Eastern Michigan on Thursday afternoon. The Zips (24-7) won the MAC East title by two games over Ohio. If I told you there were five teams in the country with at least 21 wins for 11 straight seasons, would you get it right? They are Kansas, Duke, Gonzaga, Ohio State (although that streak could end for at 10 OSU this season) and, yes, Akron. The school's coach is Keith Dambrot, who coached local high school St. Vincent-St Mary to a state title thanks in large part to a freshman named LeBron James. Dambrot was named MAC Coach of the Year this week. Center Isaiah Johnson (13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds per game, both team bests) was selected All-MAC First Team and the MAC Sixth Man of the Year -- he made only eight starts. The Zips closed the regular season with three straight wins, all by at least 14 points. Eastern Michigan (18-14) played in Monday's first round and beat Toledo 69-60 -- EMU also closed the regular season with a 79-75 win at Toledo. In Monday's game, EMU blew a 20-point lead but the defense came up big at the end. The Eagles had a whopping 17 steals in the game, the fourth most in school history. James Thompson IV had 11 points and 12 rebounds. He was named the MAC Freshman of the Year this week. No Eastern played had done that since 1988. Eastern Michigan lost at Akron 92-88 on Jan. 19. The Zips were 13-for-26 from 3-point range. Johnson had 22 points and eight rebounds.

Akron is 3-0 vs. EMU in the MAC Tournament all-time and I believe that continues. Zips cover as well.  Eastern is just 1-10 ATS in its past 11 Thursday games. Akron is 10-3 ATS in its past 13 overall.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Akron -6
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

 

No. 22 Baylor vs. No. 23 Texas (+1)
Those are AP rankings; Texas is the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City and Baylor the No. 5. The winner almost surely will play top seed Kansas, also the nation's No. 1 team in the polls, on Friday. Any shot Texas has of winning this tournament or going far in the NCAA Tournament likely depends on the potential return of very good center Cameron Ridley. He hasn't played since breaking a bone in his foot in Dec. 28 practice but has been cleared for basketball activities. Will he play in this  game? Hard to say. But Coach Shaka Smart feels confident he will be back for the Big Dance at least. The senior is averaging 12.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. The Longhorns (20-11) could be scary dangerous with a healthy Ridley joining All-Big 12 First Team guard Isaiah Taylor and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Prince Ibeh. Texas has six wins over ranked teams this season, including over then-No. 3 North Carolina and then-No. 3 Oklahoma. Baylor (21-10) landed seniors Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers on the All-Big 12 Second Team. The Bears were 6-3 in Big 12 road games this season, tying for the conference's best away mark. BU and UT split two regular-season meetings. Texas won in Waco on Feb. 1, 67-59. Baylor won in Austin on  Feb. 20, 78-64. The Bears are 3-2 all-time in this tournament against Texas and have won the past three meetings (last in 2014).

Take Baylor with your NCAA Basketball picks. The Bears are 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Baylor -1 
Best Line Offered: at BetOnline