Trio Of NCAA Basketball Picks To Start The Pac-12 Tournament Off Right

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 3:00 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2016 3:00 PM UTC

The first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas could be vital to the NCAA Tournament chances of Oregon State and Southern Cal. Here are my top three NCAA Basketball picks.

The Bruins are the No. 10 seed and the Trojans No. 7 with the winner facing No. 2 Utah in Thursday's quarterfinal round.  UCLA (15-16, 6-12) is having one of its worst seasons in decades on the NCAA basketball odds boards and it has head coach Steve Alford very much on the hot seat because it's not like his roster is lacking talent. This team was actually ranked earlier in the season and had wins over ranked Kentucky, Gonzaga and Arizona. But UCLA folded its tents to close the season in losing four straight games.

In Saturday's 86-82 defeat to Oregon State, Bruins second-leading scorer Bryce Alford, son of the head coach, took a hard shot to the jaw. It's thought Alford will play. He averaged 16.3 points and was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12. While UCLA's season would end with a loss, USC (20-11, 9-9) is on the NCAA Tournament bubble, currently projected among ESPN's last four byes. Thus a win here probably would be enough on its own to get USC a Big Dance berth for the first time since 2011.

The Trojans were in the mix for the Pac-12 regular-season title until they lost six of their final eight games. USC did sweep UCLA this season, however. It was 89-75 at UCLA on Jan. 13 to end a six-game losing streak in the series and then 80-61 at home on Feb. 4. USC's late-season fade started right after that latter win.

NCAAB Free Pick: USC. The Bruins are 0-4 ATS in their past five games. The favorite is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: USC -110
Best Line Offered: at Bookmaker


Arizona State vs. Oregon State
This is the latest game on the Thursday schedule in the country with  Oregon State the No. 6 seed and ASU at No. 11. The winner faces No. 3 Cal. Arizona State (15-16, 5-13) will see its season end with its next loss and finished ahead of only Washington State in the league standings. The Sun Devils' first-year coach is Bobby Hurley, the former Duke All-American point guard. He'll get this program on the right track. ASU closed the season losing five of its final six games. Oregon State (18-11, 9-9) is even more on the bubble than USC is. The Beavers are projected among the first four teams out for the Big Dance.

That program hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in 26 years, which is hard to fathom. OSU was a very good team in Corvallis this season but very shaky away from there. It closed the season winning three of four games, including an 86-82 victory at UCLA to finish things off. Gary Payton II is one of the Pac-12's top players and one of the few nationally to lead his team in scoring (15.9 ppg), rebounding (7.6 rpg), assists (5.3 apg) and steals (2.4 spg). Oregon State and Arizona State played once during the season, an 86-68 Sun Devils home win on Jan. 28. Payton II had just two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

NCAAB Free Pick: Oregon State. The Beavers are 14-6 ATS in their past 20 vs. teams with a losing record. The favorite is 4-0 ATS in the past four meetings.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Oregon State -2.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes


Auburn vs. Tennessee
This is the only first-round game in the SEC Tournament from Nashville with Tennessee at No. 12 and Auburn at No. 11. The winner takes on No. 5 Nashville, in what will basically be a home game, on Thursday. Both these schools enter the tournament without their best players. Tigers leading scorer Kareem Canty (18.3 ppg) hasn't played since Feb. 2 because of some off-court issues. He has left the team and plans to turn pro. Auburn (11-19, 5-13) is just 2-7 since he left. 

The Tigers enter on a three-game skid. Tennessee has been without SEC second-leading scorer Kevin Punter for the past five games and the Vols are 1-4 in them. Punter was averaging 22.2 points per game, the highest for a Tennessee player since Allan Houston's 22.3 points in 1992-93. Punter had surgery on a stress fracture in his right foot recently and the senior's college career is over.

The Vols have had third-leading scorer Robert Hubbs III for a total of six minutes the past three games with an injured right knee and he's questionable here. He did play Saturday in a loss to Ole Miss after missing the previous two outings but lasted only those six minutes. He averages 10.4 points. Auburn and Tennessee split two regular-season  meetings, each winning at home. I back Tennessee as my NCAA basketball pick. Auburn is 4-9 ATS in its past 13 games. UT has covered eight of the past 10 meetings. 

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Tennessee -3
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

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