NCAA Tournament Picks For Friday: First Round Comes To Close

Matthew Jordan

Friday, March 18, 2016 12:53 PM GMT

We will have the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32 finalized by late Friday night. Will all four No.1 seeds make it to the second weekend? Here are my top three recommendations for Friday.

No. 13 Hawaii Vs. No. 4 California 
South Region game at 2 p.m. ET from Spokane, Wash. Hawaii (27-5) tied for the Big West regular-season title with UC Irvine. The Rainbow Warriors were the top seed in the conference tournament and beat Cal State Fullerton by 31, UC Santa Barbara by 12 and then Long Beach State by four in the title game. It's Hawaii's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002 and the school has never won a game in four Big Dance trips. And I can guarantee one thing: if Hawaii somehow won this year's national title, it won't repeat in 2017. That's because UH is already ineligible for the next postseason for violations under a former coach. First-year UH coach Eran Ganot was named Big West Coach of the Year and junior forward Stefan Jankovic the Player of the Year. Jankovic is only the school's second player of the  year all-time. He leads the team in scoring (15.7 ppg), rebounds (6.6 rpg)  and blocks (1.2 bpg). Hawaii had the privilege of playing just one road non-conference game all season as schools obviously like to go to the islands if they can. The Rainbow Warriors didn't play a Pac-12 team but lost by only three points at home to No. 3 Oklahoma on Dec. 23. Cal (23-10) finished tied for third in the Pac-12 and was knocked out in the tournament semifinals in OT by Utah. The Bears were unbeaten at home this season and have the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Jaylen Brown (15.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg). He's a likely Top-5 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Cal and Hawaii haven't played since 2006. Hawaii is 2-5 ATS in its past seven games. Cal has covered eight of its past 11. The 'under' is 5-0 in Cal's past five non-conference games.

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NCAA Basketball Picks: California -5 & 'Under' 141.5 
Best Line Offered: at TheGreek

 

No. 14 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 3 West Virginia 
East Region game at 7:10 p.m. ET from Brooklyn. Only one team made it through its conference without a league loss in the 2015-16 college basketball season. That's Stephen F. Austin (27-5), which finished 18-0 in the Southland. The Lumberjacks then rolled to the conference title with blowouts of Houston Baptists and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. They have won a national-best 20 straight games since a competitive loss at UAB, the Conference USA regular-season champion, on Dec. 22. SFA is in the tournament for the third straight year. It was a No. 12 seed in 2015 and lost to No. 5 Utah 57-50. In 2014,  it also was a No. 12 and upset No. 5 VCU in overtime before losing to No. 4 UCLA. Stephen F. Austin did play a Big 12 team this season and it didn't go well: a 97-55 loss at then No. 22 Baylor in the season opener. SFA is lead by senior swingman Thomas Walkup, the Southland Player of the Year for the second straight season. Walkup does it all, averaging 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.1 steals. He shoots nearly 60 percent from the field. West Virginia (26-8) finished second in the Big 12 standings and lost by 10 to national No. 1 Kansas in the tournament final. WVU has several wins over ranked teams this year. It can't shoot free throws or 3-pointers much but has that tremendous pressure defense that leads to easy baskets. The Mountaineers lead the nation in steals and force the second-most turnovers. SFA is 2-6 ATS in its past eight non-conference games. WVU is 9-2 against the NCAA tournament odds in its past 11 after a loss. The 'under' is 8-3 in WVU's past 11 neutral-site games.

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NCAA Basketball Picks: West Virginia -7 & 'Under' 145
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

 

No. 11 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Texas 
West Region game at 9:50 p.m. ET from Oklahoma City. See that miniscule total? It's the lowest of any first-round game. Northern Iowa (22-12) finished just fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference but was pretty clearly the MVC's best team by the end of the season as the Panthers won 12 of their final 13 games on the way to the tournament title. That includes two wins over regular-season champion Wichita State, which showed how good it is with a 20-point win over Vanderbilt in the First Four on Tuesday. UNI is in the Big Dance for the second straight season. Last year it was a No. 5 and thumped No. 12 Wyoming in the first round before losing to No. 4 Louisville. Northern Iowa plays at a snail's pace and scores just 68.0 points per game while allowing only 62.9. So perhaps this total makes sense now. Northern Iowa already beat one very good Big 12 team this season, upsetting then No. 5 Iowa State on Dec. 19. Texas (20-12) was fourth in the Big 12 but lost its conference tournament opener by 14 to Baylor. The big question here is how much center Cameron Ridley will play. He played just two minutes vs. Baylor after missing the previous 20 games due to a broken foot. Coach Shaka Smart thinks Ridley might get as many as 20 minutes here. The Panthers are 6-0 ATS in their past six vs. the Big 12. Texas is 1-5-1 ATS in its past seven neutral-site games. The 'under' is 4-0 in each team's past four games. Take Northern Iowa & Under for your NCAA tournament picks.

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NCAAB Free Picks: Northern Iowa +4.5 & 'Under' 124.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes