Who's ready for the madness to begin? We should be in for a treat when Cincinnati and Purdue do battle for a spot in the second round of the tournament. How are the NCAA basketball betting odds shaping up?
Despite being the lower seed, it's the Boilermakers that are the favorites on the NCAA Tournament odds board. They're laying two points here on the neutral court in the opening round of the Midwest Region.
We've got an interesting clash of styles here, as the Bearcats typically love to get involved in defensive battles, whereas the Boilermakers have been pushing the pace a bit more this season. However, it looks like odds makers are expecting a low-scoring game, as evidenced by the O/U of 118.5.
#8 Cincinnati Bearcats
We are eager to see how the Bearcats come out, attitude-wise, after a devastating loss in the American Athletic Conference tournament. It looked like we were heading to overtime in the quarterfinal matchup between Cincinnati and Connecticut, but Ryan Boatright had other ideas, hitting a three at the buzzer to break the Bearcats' hearts.
Considering Cincinnati had built up quite a bit of momentum heading into that tournament, winning five straight games, it made the loss all the more disappointing. Nonetheless, the Bearcats still did more than enough to earn a decent seed in the Big Dance, though it's not going to be easy whatsoever against the motivated Boilermakers. Notable wins this season came over San Diego State, SMU, Connecticut and Memphis.
Individually, we'll be watching Octavius Ellis closely, as he led the team by averaging 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. No other Bearcat averaged double-digit scoring, with Cincinnati instead primarily leaning on its defense to rack up wins. The Bearcats gave up the fifth-fewest points per game in the entire nation (55.3 PPG), so you can see why they had so much success.
#9 Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers survived against a tired Penn State team in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, but they were then demolished in the semi-finals by Wisconsin. Getting beat by 20 (71-51) is not a good sign of things to come, though it should be noted the Badgers appear to be one of the favorites to win the whole shebang this season.
Looking at the overall body of work, Purdue did some great things. With wins over Ohio State, Indiana (twice), Iowa and Michigan, the Boilermakers proved they belonged in another tough season in the Big Ten. There were a number of hiccups along the way too, but Purdue finished strong, winning six of its last eight regular season contests.
A.J. Hammons has been the go-to option for Purdue, averaging 11.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 2.9 BPG. Rapheal Davis has averaged in double figures too, while the Boilermakers also get decent contributions from Jon Octeus, Kendall Stephens and Vince Edwards.
NCAA Basketball Pick
This is one of the more difficult games to predict in the opening around, as we've been impressed with both teams and don't see a huge edge on either side.
But, when push comes to shove, we think Cincinnati is the NCAA tournament pick. We worry about the Bearcats' ability to put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis, something their opponents have shown they can do without issue this season, but that defensive pressure that they bring to the table is a huge difference maker. As they say, defense wins championships, and Cincinnati has shown consistently throughout the year that they're not going to make it easy for whoever they play. Ranking in the top in defensive scoring is an impressive feat.
Points aren't going to come easy here, but in the end we look for the Bearcats to survive this tough test and emerge victorious, while also cashing as the small underdogs in the odds. Back Cincinnati in the opening round.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Cincinnati Bearcats +2 at 5Dimes