NCAA Tournament Betting Picks: Our Staff’s 8 Favorite Bets for Thursday
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Murray State Racers guard Ja Morant (12), Seton Hall Pirates guard Myles Powell (13), LSU Tigers guard Tremont Waters (3).
The 2019 NCAA Tournament tips off just after 12 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Wow. That was a thrilling sentence to type, despite its seemingly straight-forward tone. This tournament can often leave you at a loss for words, after all.
Our staffers have been hard at work this week, refining their wagers to come up with one they’d recommend to the world. You’ll find those bets, with a brief explanation, below.
Let’s. Get. To it.
NCAA Tournament Betting Picks
Whether you’re after spreads, totals, a longshot moneyline or a parlay piece, hopefully you’ll find some useful.
We’ll kick things off with Yale-LSU, the second game of the day.
Danny Donahue: Yale-LSU
- Pick: LSU -7
- Time: 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV
I’m laying the points with LSU against Yale. Ivy League schools have become popular tourney picks in general, but LSU’s coaching situation (or lack thereof) makes this an even more trendy underdog.
Only 35% of bettors are taking the No. 3-seed at the time of writing, and in the first weekend, favorites of 10 points or less getting the minority of bets have gone 84-55-3 (60.4%) against the spread since 2005 according to our Bet Labs data. And cutting that bet percentage down to below 40% actually improves the ATS win percentage slightly to 63.3%.
Steve Petrella: Belmont-Maryland
- Pick: Belmont +3, ML (+145)
- Time: 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV
I don’t like trendy underdogs, and Belmont is getting 75% of the action at +3 in this one. I also don’t like straying too far from our power ratings, which have Maryland -5. But Mark Turgeon never has Maryland prepared.
The Terps have regressed down the stretch and Belmont’s offense is always ready under head coach Rick Byrd. The Bruins rank third nationally in effective FG% and showed that off in an 81-70 play-in game against Temple.
I don’t care that Maryland is one of the youngest and least experienced teams in the country and that Belmont is the opposite. To me, it’s about Turgeon’s inability to get his team ready. Especially when the opposition will make you pay on offense. Take Belmont as another No. 11 seed to win a play-in game then advance again.
- Pick: Northeastern +6.5 and ML (+285)
- Time: 4 p.m. ET, TNT
Northeastern runs one of the most beautiful and efficient offenses in the country. The Huskies score at a clip of 1.028 points per possession, per Synergy — one of the five best rates of the entire NCAA Tournament field.
It all starts with point guard Vasa Pusica, who runs the show for Bill Coen’s squad.
Pusica has excellent court vision and is one of the best facilitators you will watch this weekend. He’s also a more-than-capable scorer when he needs to be, as he showed in the CAA Tournament, hitting seven 3s in the final to lead the Huskies to the title.
However, it’s not just Pusica. Northeastern has a lineup filled with high-level shooters and capable passers. The Huskies take a ton of 3s and make a ton of 3’s since they generally get great looks as a result of terrific ball movement.
The Northeastern offense should give the Kansas defense fits, especially since the Jayhawks allow a ton of good looks from 3 with how Self plays ball screens. The Huskies have the perfect point guard and plenty of shooters to capitalize.
You should be able to grab a key +7 at some point, so I’d wait it out if you don’t see one as of this writing. I grabbed +8.5 on the open and will be sprinkling a little on the moneyline in addition to moving Northeastern on in my bracket.
I also think both offenses match up well with the opposing defenses, so I would look very hard at the over 143.
John Ewing: Marquette-Murray State
- Pick: Marquette -3.5
- Time: 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
Bettors love the Racers. More than 60% of spread tickets are on Murray State. And the line has moved from Marquette -5 to -3.5.
But here’s the thing — in the NCAA Tournament, it’s smart to fade public underdogs. Since 2005, dogs receiving a majority of spread tickets have gone 101-128-5 (44%) ATS.
The Action Network power ratings make this game Marquette -5. Recreational gamblers are taking the points but I’m going chalk and betting the Golden Eagles at a deflated price of -3.5.
Collin Wilson: Kentucky-Abilene Christian
- Pick: Abilene Christian +22.5
- Time: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
I would not be surprised to see Kentucky completely overlook this game in preparation for a dangerous Wofford team. The Terriers excel in 3-point shooting and are strategically different from ACU on offense.
Kentucky’s athleticism alone should make this an easy victory, but ACU does not turn the ball over, shoots well from deep and may be able to provide enough pressure to get some turnovers. I would wait for this number to steam out before tip-off before investing.
Eli Hershkovich: Villanova-Saint Mary’s
- Pick: Saint Mary’s +4.5
- Time: 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS
This line has shifted around 1.5 points, depending on where you’re shopping around, and the Gaels (19-14 ATS) are primed for a cover in this spot. The No. 6 seed Wildcats (20-14 ATS) attempt the third-most 3-pointers per game while Randy Bennett’s squad let up the 44th-lowest 3-point clip (31.8%) in the nation.
With Jay Wright’s shortened rotation wearing down to close out the Big East slate, expect No. 11 Saint Mary’s — which hasn’t played since March 11 — to come out with more energy at both ends. It has amassed the 12th-highest defensive rebounding rate (23.2%) in the nation, allowing it the control the pace with its ultra-sluggish tempo (62.6 possessions per 40 minutes). Villanova struggled on the boards in Big East play, too.
Ken Barkley: Wofford-Seton Hall
- Pick: Under 146
- Time: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
I am not legally allowed to write any more about the Old Dominion Monarchs. I’ve talked about them in too many places. Rather than harp against Purdue’s away-from-home persona anymore, let’s go somewhere completely different.
Wofford has an extremely appealing offensive profile — it nearly tops the nation in effective FG percentage and 3-point percentage. But the Terriers are also INCREDIBLY deliberate — 276th in tempo and 10th in their own conference.
Against a more athletic team that has good wing defenders, I think Wofford may have to work on every possession to get a shot they want. Although Seton Hall has played a little faster, its pace numbers are still pretty average, and they’ve really struggled to make shots a lot of this year.
I’m not sure there are going to be that many possessions in this game, and Wofford isn’t going to run at all — it’s going to move the ball in the half-court to the best 3-point shot possible. Seton Hall’s Quincy McKnight is a phenomenal defender who can trail Fletcher Magee (as long as McKnight is healthy, and there is some question about that), the type of defender Magee won’t see in conference play very much.
Barring a late-game meltdown of free throws in what should be a really close game, I like the under here in the mid 140’s.
Mike Randle: Wofford-Seton Hall
- Pick: Wofford -2
- Time: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
While most people don’t know how to pronounce the name (it’s WAH-ford), the Terriers are a legitimate Sweet 16 caliber team a lot of folks are excited about. They have won 20 games in a row and ran the table in a very strong Southern Conference.
Wofford has a top offense in the country, ranking 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Magee (20.5 ppg, 42.8% 3P) is a lethal scorer who has seven games of 26 or more points. Fellow guard Nathan Hoover (13.3 ppg, 45.7% 3P) is even more efficient from beyond the arc.
Seton Hall got here on the back of junior Myles Powell (22.9 ppg), who has three games of 31 or more points over his last five. But the rest of the team struggles to score, leading to an ordinary ranking of 152nd for 2-point percentage and 272nd for 3-point percentage. The Pirates ranked last in offensive turnovers in conference games, while Wofford was second in the SoCon in defensive turnovers forced.
Seton Hall’s problems have been masked by the incredible play of Powell. Wofford was second in their conference in defensive effective field goal percentage allowed and was top 30 in the nation in limiting opponents offensive rebounds. The Terriers are the better in every aspect and will comfortably cover the low spread.