NCAA Tournament Picks: Lock Stronger Utah & 'Over' Against Fresno State

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 1:14 PM GMT

Midwest Region No. 14 seed Fresno State is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade, and the Bulldogs' first-round reward Thursday in Denver is No. 3 Utah.

Bulldogs Carried By Harris
Fresno State (25-9) played two other Pac-12 Conference teams this season. On Nov. 30 the Bulldogs visited eventual Pac-12 regular season and tournament champion Oregon and lost 78-73. Certainly a very respectable loss. As was Fresno's 85-72 defeat at No. 13 Arizona on Dec. 9. Frankly, the Bulldogs had no qualify non-conference wins.

In Mountain West Conference play, FSU finished 13-5 and second to San Diego State. The Aztecs were expected to cruise to the conference tournament title as well but were upset in that game by Fresno on Saturday, 68-63 in Las Vegas. That made Fresno 2-1 vs. SDSU this season. Should the Aztecs have gotten an at-large NCAA berth over the likes of Michigan, Syracuse or Tulsa? Probably. It's Fresno's first trip to the Big Dance since 2001.

The Bulldogs will go only as far as Marvelle Harris will take them. He was  named the Mountain West Player of the Year after being the preseason selection as well. Harris is the first Fresno player to win conference player of the year honors and third player in program history (Courtney Alexander and Melvin Ely) to earn preseason and postseason conference player of the year honors. The senior guard averages 20.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He was also named tournament MVP after scoring 18 in the win over San Diego State. So pretty clearly Utah will focus its defense on Harris.

If Fresno is involved in a close game here, that bodes well. It was 6-0 this season in games decided by a single possession. Fresno State also enters the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game winning streak, which is the school's longest since winning 10 consecutive in February-March 1982. The school was only picked to finish fifth in the  Mountain West preseason poll. There's talk Coach Rodney Terry, who spent nine years as a Texas Longhorns assistant, could be in the  mix for the open TCU job.

FSU is 18-11 against the spread on NCAA basketball odds this season and 17-12 'over/under.'

 

Utes Just Glad To Be Rid Of Oregon
Utah (26-8) had quality non-conference wins over San Diego State (81-76 on Nov. 16), Texas Tech, Temple and then-No. 7 Duke during the regular season. The Utes finished 13-5 in the Pac-12, second in the regular-season standings behind Oregon. Utah beat Southern Cal 80-72 and California 82-78 in overtime in the Pac-12 Tournament to reach the final against the Ducks on a nine-game winning streak. But then the Utes played  maybe their worst game of the year in an 88-57 wipeout. Oregon also beat Utah twice during the regular season.

The Utes have a future NBA lottery pick in 7-foot sophomore center Jakob Poeltl, who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He averages 17.6 points on stellar 65.6 percent shooting along with 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.  He is Utah's first conference player of the year since Luke Nevill was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2009.

Utah led the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at 48.9 and ranked second in rebounding. But the Utes allow a Pac-12 worst 36.7 percent shooting from long range. Utah’s No. 3 seed is the program’s highest seeding since earning a No. 2 back in 1999. The Utes were also in the Big Dance last season. They were a No. 5 seed and beat No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 57-50 and No. 4 Georgetown 75-64 before falling to No. 1 and eventual  national champion Duke 63-57. Utah is 6-2 all-time as the No. 3 seed, which includes the school's run to the national title game in 1998.

Fresno State and Utah have played each other 14 times, with the Utes leading 10-4. They won the most recent matchup 90-77 in 2013. Utah and Fresno State have never met on a neutral court. The winner here plays either No. 6 Seton Hall or No. 11 Gonzaga on Saturday. The Utes are 16-15-1 ATS on NCAA basketball picks and 18-13-1 O/U.

 

Final Analysis
The Bulldogs just don't have an answer for Poeltl, so barring an injury to him or foul trouble, I'd give the points here. The Utes are 5-1 ATS in their past six as a favorite. Go 'over' the total. The 'over' is 5-0 in FSU's past five as a dog. 

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Utah -8.5 & Over 138.5
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

 

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