NCAA Tournament Picks: Hampton vs. Kentucky

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, March 19, 2015 11:26 AM GMT

A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament, and if Hampton pulls it off Thursday night against Kentucky it would be the biggest sports upset in history. UK is a 33-point favorite on 5Dimes NCAA basketball odds with a total of 134.5.

Hampton Hasn't Been Over .500 All Season
Hampton (17-17) is making its fourth NCAA Tournament odds appearance and first since 2011. The Pirates really weren't supposed to be here as they finished the regular season just sixth in the MEAC with a 12-17 overall mark and 8-8 in the conference. The Pirates swept through their conference tournament, however, knocking off Morgan State easily and then upsetting No. 3 seed  Maryland-Eastern Shore, No. 2 Norfolk State and No. 5 Delaware State, 82-61, in the tournament championship game to become the only team in this tournament with a losing record.

In Tuesday's First Four matchup against fellow No. 16 seed Manhattan in Dayton, the Pirates were nine-point underdogs at sportsbooks but upset the Metro Athletic Atlantic Conference champion Jaspers 74-64. Junior guard Reginald Johnson led Hampton with 15 points, while senior guard Quinton Chievous had 15 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. It was no fluke as the Pirates jumped to a 7-0 lead and never trailed. The Pirates became the eighth team to enter the NCAA Tournament with a losing record and win a game. They are the fourth squad to enter at below .500 and win a game by double-digits.

I've become a fan of Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr., as he clearly has a sense of humor. Following Tuesday's win, Joyner said he had "Jesus on speed dial" in terms of helping his team face Kentucky and pretended to call Jesus during the post-game press conference.

Hampton has played the past four games without junior guard Dwight Meikle, who leads the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). He's wearing a walking boot due to an ankle injury and will be game-time decision for Kentucky. Chievous might be too as he left the Manhattan game late with a sprained ankle.

The Pirates did face three teams from Power 5 Conferences during the regular season. They lost 90-56 at Iowa in the season opener, 65-47 at Syracuse on Nov. 23 and 73-55 at Illinois on Dec. 17. Hampton is a 1000/1 long shot to win the NCAA Tournament at Bovada and +250 long shot to win the Midwest Region. Hampton is 8-0 against the spread this season and 3-3-1 'over/under' on NCAA Tournament odds.

 

Kentucky's Pretty Good
As if Kentucky needs any help, this game is down the road from the Lexington campus in Louisville. Frankly, no matter where UK plays in this tournament, it's going to have the majority of fan support because Big Blue Nation travels so well.

What else is there to say about the Wildcats (34-0) as they attempt to become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to run the table? They have more size than any team in the field and are having a historic defensive season. Kentucky has had just seven games where it won by single digits: 72-64 at Georgia (March 3), 71-69 at LSU (Feb. 10), 68-61 at Florida (Feb. 7), 65-57 vs. Vanderbilt (Jan. 20), 70-64 in double OT at Texas A&M (Jan. 10), 89-86 in OT against Ole Miss (Jan. 6) and 58-50 at Louisville (Dec. 27) in the same gym the Cats will play Thursday.

Bovada has a handful of Kentucky props. It is +110 to win the NCAA Tournament and the field is -140. It is -150 to reach the championship game and +120 to come up short. The Cats are -300 to reach the Final Four and +240 to miss. UK is +500 to win all six games by double digits and -800 not to. That Kentucky trails at halftime of any game is -260, with no at +200. Kentucky is +700 to be the first top seed eliminated.

I think all those props are safe for Thursday's game. Last year, the biggest margin of victory by a No. 1 over a No. 16 was Wichita State's 64-37 victory over Cal Poly. No. 1 Arizona only beat Weber State by nine. Last time UK was a No. 1, it beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-66 in the first round of the 2012 Big Dance.

The winner of this game faces either No. 8 Cincinnati or No. 9 Purdue on Saturday. UK is 18-14-2 against the NCAA basketball betting spread this season and 14-20-0 on the 'over/under.'

NCAAB Free Picks: I'm taking the points and going 'under' the 134.5 total for my NCAA tournament pick. I expect the Cats to get up by 35-40 pretty quickly but then call off the dogs and empty the bench to prepare for the Round of 32. Hampton will score some late garbage points to lose by only 25-30.