NCAA Tournament Friday Mega Betting Guide: Full Breakdowns, Odds, Picks for Each Game

NCAA Tournament Friday Mega Betting Guide: Full Breakdowns, Odds, Picks for Each Game article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Wall-to-wall NCAA Tournament action for almost 12 hours. What else could you want as a bettor?

We’ve covered all 16 March Madness games on Friday and rolled them up into one post here. Whether you’re looking for a pick or some additional insight, hopefully you find something interesting.

#7 Cincinnati vs. #10 Iowa NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Iowa -4
  • Over/Under: 137
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 12:15 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio

>> All odds as of Friday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.

The Cincinnati Bearcats (14-20 against the spread) failed to cover in nine of their past 11 games, but did manage to cover in their most recent game, a 69-57 win over Houston in the AAC title game.

On the flip side, the Iowa Hawkeyes (13-20 ATS) dropped nine of their past 10 contests ATS, including their most recent game, a 74-53 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

Which team presents more value in this Round of 64 matchup? Let’s break it down.

Iowa’s Big Ten Wizardry

Even though the Hawkeyes weren’t successful ATS, they pulled off a flurry of unexpected outright victories.

It began with a 15-point comeback over Northwestern with 4:30 left, followed by an off-the-backboard 3-pointer via wing Joe Wieskamp (10.8 ppg) to knock off Rutgers.

Iowa’s run was capped off by Jordan Bohannan (11.3 ppg), who scored 12 of its final 16 points — all from behind the arc —  in an overtime win over Indiana in which Iowa trailed by three with 38 seconds left.

Iowa didn’t cover in any of those games, but luck was on their side.

Iowa’s Perimeter Shooting

Guided by Bohannan, the Hawkeyes boast the 89th-highest 3-point clip in the country (36.1%). Despite their perimeter scoring rate of 31.0% ranking just 204th nationally, the efficiency of their 3-point gunners opens up the rest of their offense.

Cincinnati’s biggest defensive issue stems from the perimeter. The Bearcats are allowing a 38.7% 3-point scoring rate, which is 14th-highest in the nation. Cincinnati is also yielding a 35.1% shooting percentage from 3, which is below average as well. If the Hawkeyes play their game, they’ll be able to make the Bearcats pay from beyond the arc.

However, Bearcats wing Jarron Cumberland (18.8 ppg) may have something to say about that. Cumberland is not only Cincinnati’s top scorer, but he’ll also likely be matched up against Wieskamp, who is Iowa’s best perimeter shooter (42.2% 3P). Expect Cumberland to hold Wieskamp in check.

Moreover, the Hawkeyes thrive off of getting to the free-throw line, generating the 10th-highest scoring rate in that department (42.3%). The Bearcats’ half-court defense is extremely sound at staying out of foul trouble, however, and they possess the tools to slow the Hawkeyes’ pace.

Bearcats Dominate the Glass

Cincinnati owns the fourth-highest offensive rebounding rate in the nation (37.4%), while Iowa is a below-average defensive rebounding team (29.0%). This will allow Cincy coach Mick Cronin’s squad to nab countless second-chance opportunities via the likes of Tre Scott (6.9 rpg) and Nysier Brooks (6.4 rpg).

The Bearcats boast the nation’s 16th-lowest Adjusted Tempo (63.2 possessions per 40 minutes, per KenPom), which isn’t a favorable pace for Iowa.

On top of that, Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey’s unit has been susceptible inside the arc, allowing the 105th-highest 2-point scoring rate in the country (51.0%).

Cumberland & Co. should have their way on the dribble drive and against Tyler Cook and Luka Garza down low.

Eli’s Pick: Cincinnati -3.5 (up to -4)

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Cincinnati -0.5
  • Total: 142.5
  • Proj Score: Cincinnati 71.5 | Iowa 71
  • Win Probability: Cincinnati 50.1% | Iowa 49.9%

#8 Ole Miss vs. #9 Oklahoma

  • Spread: Ole Miss -1
  • Over/Under: 142.5
  • Date: Friday, March 21
  • Time: 12:40 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.

Both of these programs have been extremely profitable against the spread this season: Ole Miss went 23-9 ATS while Oklahoma went 19-10-3.

But which team presents more value in this Round of 64 matchup? Let’s break down the most critical factors.

Success With Tighter Spreads

Ole Miss and Oklahoma have not only been covering machines — they’ve also been successful with tighter lines. According to our data at Bet Labs, the two teams have strung together a 17-9 (65.4%) ATS mark with a single-digit line.

Both coaches have their fair share of NCAA Tournament experience, with Kermit Davis doing so most recently at Middle Tennessee, so that will be a factor in what should be a close game. Remember that Davis led the Blue Raiders to an outright win over Michigan State as a No. 15 seed in 2016, so his squads aren’t afraid of the moment.

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree, Oklahoma guard Christian James

Rebels’ Perimeter Gunners

Davis’ attack is fairly diverse, but its 35th-ranked Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (112.8 points per 100 possessions) stems from its 3-point shooting, as the Rebels generate the 98th-highest 3-point clip (35.8%) in the nation.

The Rebels have four players who shoot at least 34.7% from behind the arc, guided by their leading scorer Breein Tyree (38.5%). Despite the Sooners’ 23rd-ranked Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (94.0 opponents’ points per possession), they’re still letting up the 32nd-highest 3-point scoring rate (37.1%).

If Ole Miss is able to control the tempo, its perimeter offense should own Oklahoma.
The Sooners have struggled on the glass at both ends of the court, too, and the Rebels have racked up the 102nd-highest offensive rebounding percentage (30.4%) in Division I. They’ll produce their share of second-chance looks from distance.

Will Sooners’ Interior Offense Excel?

For Oklahoma to succeed at the other end, it’ll need guard Christian James (14.4 ppg) to attack off the dribble while utilizing Kristian Doolittle in the low-post. Lon Kruger’s unit presents the 46th-highest 2-point scoring rate (54.3%) in the nation.

Nevertheless, its below-average 2-point clip (49.6%) doesn’t deliver much confidence. Ole Miss has yielded the 74th-lowest 2-point clip (47.8%) in the country, too. Doolittle should have a difficult time with the 6-foot-8 Bruce Stevens — the Rebels’ top interior defender.

The Sooners have struggled with turnovers at times, especially in attack mode, and they’ll square off against the 45th-highest opponents’ turnover rate (21.0%) in the country.

Look for the Rebels’ ballhawks — paced by Devontae Shuler and Terrence Davis — to generate enough havoc to stymie Oklahoma’s offense.

Eli’s Pick: Ole Miss -1, but I wouldn’t bet it past Ole Miss -2

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Mississippi PK
  • Total: 140
  • Proj Score: Mississippi 70 | Oklahoma 70
  • Win Probability: Mississippi 50% | Oklahoma 50%

#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Northern Kentucky

  • Spread: Texas Tech -13.5
  • Over/Under: 137
  • Date: Friday, March 21
  • Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.

Texas Tech (15-16-1 against the spread) is the top-rated defense according to KenPom with a season average of 59.3 points per game allowed. It was a bit shocking to see Iowa State throw up 73 in the regular-season finale before West Virginia bounced the Red Raiders from the Big 12 Tournament.

The Mountaineers scored 79 against the highly-touted defense. Could this be a case of fatigue?

The Red Raiders rank 287th in bench minutes, which could indicate tired legs for a squad that rolled through the Big 12 in the month of February. Enter Northern Kentucky (12-20 ATS), which avenged an earlier season loss to Wright State to win the Horizon League. The Norse have the offensive capability to give anyone in the nation a run.

Texas Tech Defense Is Elite, But…

The Red Raiders have the best defensive splits in the nation. They rank first in adjusted efficiency, second in effective field goal percentage, seventh in blocks, and 16th in perimeter defense. Northern Kentucky has played a strength of schedule ranked 256th, with losses to Central Florida and Cincinnati acting as the toughest defenses on its slate.

The big question is the offense after the Red Raiders’ previous two games. Texas Tech ranks in the top 75 in 3-point percentage, but relies on the deep ball for 29.8% of its point distribution, which ranks 240th in the nation. One issue for this Tech team is a Minutes Continuity rank of 277th and a previously mentioned light bench.

Have the Raiders started to wear down?

That leads to a 2-foul participation rank of 20th in the nation. If the Red Raiders get in foul trouble, Chris Beard refuses to utilize the bench. While that may not hurt during the Northern Kentucky game, it is not a formula for a six-game national championship run.

Mismatches when Northern Kentucky Has the Ball

Even with a lackluster schedule, the Norse have proven they can shoot the ball. Ranking 23rd in effective field goal percentage, Northern Kentucky is top 100 from 3-point territory and top 25 in 2-point percentage. Although Texas Tech is considered the best defense in the nation, it is a mid-range rebounding team.

Northern Kentucky ranks in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive rebounding. If the Norse are able to survive a suffocating defense at every square inch of the court, generating a clean shot will be a victory alone. Once Northern Kentucky is able to get clean shots up, chances are they are going to fall.

The advanced numbers suggest the Norse should have no issues on the glass. If Texas Tech is fatigued or gets into foul trouble early, the Norse absolutely have a shot to give the Red Raiders issues.

Finding Value

Texas Tech will certainly be rested after being bounced early in the Big 12 Tournament. As mentioned above, Northern Kentucky is an excellent shooting team and may have advantages in rebounding. The conflict with the Norse is what Texas Tech executes between inbounding the ball and the execution of the shot. The Red Raiders give teams no space and force opponents into mistakes.

While Northern Kentucky is no stranger to fast play as it ranks 85th in average possession length on offense, it is the inability to create space that is the issue. The Norse are 308th in blocks while on offense, which will be a factor against Texas Tech.

Northern Kentucky also has issues at the free throw line, with a rank of 302nd nationally. To get covers home in the NCAA Tournament, a team must be able to nail shots from the charity stripe.

THE PICK: Texas Tech -13.5

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Texas Tech -15.5
  • Total: 134
  • Proj Score: Texas Tech 75 | Northern Kentucky 59.5
  • Win Probability: Texas Tech 96.8% | Northern Kentucky 3.2%

#4 Kansas State vs. #13 UC Irvine

  • Spread: Kansas State -4.5
  • Over/Under: 118.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: San Jose, California

Last year, Kansas State came up just one game shy of its first Final Four appearance since 1964. This year, many are calling for a first-round upset as the Anteaters of UC Irvine have become a trendy pick to take out the Wildcats.

More than 70% of bettors and 75% of dollars are on Irvine as of Thursday night.

Let’s take a closer look at this matchup to gauge whether the Anteaters are worthy of the hype.

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Kansas State guard Barry Brown Jr., UC Irvine guard Max Hazzard

The Dean Wade Effect

Without Wade on the floor, Irvine’s defense should absolutely suffocate Kansas State’s offense.

Wade means so much to the Wildcat offense. He’s a matchup nightmare who can space the floor and find the open man with his plus passing skills.

Wade’s jump shot will be especially missed since the Anteaters give up zilch at the rim. Irvine always has a ton of size under head coach Russell Turner, who emphasizes protecting the interior.

Just take a look at Irvine’s national ranks in 2-point shooting defense over the past seven seasons.

Kansas State just doesn’t have the shooters to exploit a UCI defense that makes a living on forcing bad shots (No. 5 in effective field goal percentage).

Wade was not only its best shooter, but the attention he demanded opened up so much for the offense.

The Anteaters have the size, experience and depth to pull off this upset. And it doesn’t hurt that this game will be played in California.

The Pick

The Kansas State defense should also have plenty of success. The Wildcats rank fourth in Defensive Adjustment Efficiency (per KenPom) for a reason: They can defend at a very high level.

Kansas State is a snail, sitting at 342nd in the country in Adjusted Tempo. UC Irvine isn’t in any rush, either, ranking 296th in that same category.

Expect an old school rock fight in San Jose.

Neither team is great from the free throw line, either, but Kansas State will really struggle without Wade, who led the team in free-throw and 3-point shooting percentage.

With both defenses having the edge in a game in which neither team wants to push the ball, I think this is a dead-shot under game. First to 55 might win this.

THE PICKS: UC Irvine +4.5, Under 118.5

#2 Tennessee vs. #15 Colgate

  • Spread: Tennessee -17.5
  • Over/Under: 148
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • TV: CBS

Colgate (19-14 against the spread) has not lost a game since Feb. 2, riding an 11-game winning streak that included a victory and easy cover against Bucknell in the Patriot League championship game.

Colgate is pretty awful at creating pressure to force turnovers, but as Auburn displayed in the SEC Championship game, there is one skill that tends to be the ultimate equalizer against Tennessee:

Tennessee (17-15-1 ATS) comes to Columbus looking for redemption after an embarrassing SEC final against Auburn. The Volunteers lost three of their final seven games after putting together a fantastic resume with wins over Gonzaga, Louisville and Florida.

Tennessee is one of the top shooting teams in the country, which helped it collect a 9-1 Over record away from Knoxville this year.

Combine Tennessee and Colgate’s shooting prowess, and we should see plenty of points in this contest.

Tennessee’s Offense Won’t Have Problems

Grant Williams (19.0 ppg), Admiral Schofield (16.2 ppg), and Jordan Bone (13.5 ppg) should have a great opening round against the Raiders defense. Colgate has a mid-tier defense — the Raiders rank 162nd in opponent effective field goal percentage (50.6%) — and that’s come against a strength of schedule rank of 254th.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Colgate Raiders forward Will Rayman (10) and Tennessee Volunteers forward Grant Williams (2)

Colgate is also outside the top 200 in turnover percentage (18.9%) and ranks 327th in steal percentage (10.5%), which means Tennessee’s offensive weapons should have no issues when it comes to bringing the ball up or creating shots.

Finally, Tennessee ranks third in minutes continuity this season (82.9%), and while that may not even matter in this particular contest, it will help the Volunteers survive other closely contested ball games.

Colgate’s Offense Can Hang

This game will come down to how much effort Tennessee commits to playing defense. Colgate is a fantastic offensive team that ranks 12th in the country in 3-point percentage (39.1%), with 36.1% of its total points coming from deep.

The Raiders also rank top-60 in free throw percentage (74.3%), top 50 in 2-point percentage (53.9%), and their effective field goal percentage of 55.9% is ranked 14th in the nation.

Colgate can flat out shoot the ball no matter the range.

Another concern for Tennessee is Colgate’s rebounding. The Raiders are 103rd on the offensive glass and 113th in defensive rebounding. This has been an issue for the Volunteers all season. On the Action Colleges podcast, we’ve consistently stated that any team capable of exposing the Vols’ 266th-ranked defensive rebounding can hang with them.

The Pick

Colgate brings two skills to this game that can give Tennessee problems: excellent shooting and excellent rebounding.

Those tools should be enough for Colgate to cover, but the Raiders won’t create enough havoc defensively against an experienced and deeply talented Vols team to steal the outright victory.

Still, KenPom projects this game as a 15-point win for Tennessee, leaving a bit of value with Colgate at the current number.

Collin’s Pick: Colgate +17.5

Action Network Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Tennessee -18
  • Total: 146
  • Proj Score: Tennessee 82 | Colgate 64
  • Win Probability: Tennessee 97.2% | Colgate 2.8%

#1 Virginia vs. #16 Gardner Webb

  • Spread: Virginia -21.5
  • Over/Under: 129.5
  • Time: Friday, 3:10 p.m. ET
  • TV: TruTV
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.

Virginia suffered the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament last year as a No. 1 seed. Its opening-round matchup against UMBC was a grind that ended in a tie after the first half before the Terriers exploded for more than 50 points in the second half.

Until last season, a No. 16 seed had never beaten a No. 1 seed, much less the top overall seed in the tournament.

UMBC came into last years tournament with a formula — shoot a lot of 3s, and make them. It ranked top 50 in both categories. Combined with a minutes continuity of 24th, the Terriers shot 50% from beyond the arc against the Virginia defense.

This year, Gardner Webb will look to duplicate UMBC’s success.

Perimeter Favors Virginia on Both Ends

Virginia runs the slowest tempo in the country, but plays some of the most efficient basketball of any team. The Cavaliers don’t rank outside of the top 50 in many advanced stats, but rebounds especially should be in favor of the top seed. Gardner Webb ranks 330th in offensive rebound percentage, so Virginia will own the glass.

There may not be a better team in the nation with 3-pointers than the Cavaliers, either. Virginia ranks fourth in 3-point percentage, while its defense is the top-ranked perimeter unit in the country.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Gardner Webb Runnin Bulldogs guard David Efianayi (11), Virginia Cavaliers guard De’Andre Hunter (12).

Gardner Webb is just inside the top 40 in 3-point percentage, but ranks outside the top 200 in distribution of points from deep. Despite their strong shooting, the Runnin’ Bulldogs don’t shoot a ton of them.

Mismatches when Gardner Webb Has the Ball

As mentioned previously, Gardner Webb can shoot the 3, but that’s not a weapon it can readily rely on. While that was UMBC’s secret sauce, it should not be an issue for Virginia in this game. One area Gardner Webb may find some success is turnovers.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs rank 62nd in offensive turnovers while Virginia is 227th in defensive turnover percentage due to its pack-line defense that contains teams more often than it turns them over. Most Gardner Webb possessions should end in a shot.

With an effective field goal percentage rank of 27th in the nation, the underdog should have a fine day shooting.

The Pick

Gardner Webb plays a lot of zone on defense, a scheme that Virginia has manhandled against a few other ACC teams this season.

If the bigs are not successful in the paint for the Cavaliers, look for Kyle Guy and a host of others to show off that top-five ranking from deep. The point spread has been stable up until this writing, with more of the money being placed on Virginia.

Gardner Webb may be able to hit a couple of successful shots early, but the advanced stats say none of this can be sustained. Virginia has not forgotten UMBC, and I would not be surprised if this is a statement game.

Collin’s Pick: Virginia -21.5

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Virginia -26.5
  • Over/Under: 132.5
  • Score: Virginia 79.5 | Gardner-Webb 53
  • Win Probability: Virginia 99.3% | Gardner-Webb 0.7%

#6 Buffalo vs. #11 Arizona State

  • Spread: Buffalo -4.5 
  • Over/Under: 157
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Tulsa, OK

Buffalo (31-3) pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, defeating 4-seeded Arizona, 89-68. The Bulls continued that high level of play throughout this season, winning the MAC East Conference with a 16-2 record. They’re also 18-13-1 against the spread, including 9-7-1 on the road.

Arizona State (23-10) won its First Four game against St. John’s, 74-65. The Sun Devils finished second in the Pac-12 with a 12-6 conference record and are 16-13-1 ATS, including 6-6 on the road.

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg, ASU forward Zylan Cheatham

Running with the Bulls

Buffalo features the fifth-highest scoring offense in the country at 84.9 points per game. Despite having such a high-speed offense, the Bulls produce the 19th-best offensive turnover rate in the country. They also rank 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 17th in 2-point shooting percentage.

The Bulls are led by MAC Conference Player of the Year CJ Massinburg (18.3 ppg), who is shooting 39.6% from 3 on more than 200 attempts. Senior Nick Perkins (14.4 ppg) has thrived coming off the bench and is also deadly (38%) from beyond the arc.

Buffalo is also strong on the offensive glass, ranking 71st in offensive rebounding percentage.

Sun Devils Can Create Offense Opportunities

Arizona State features one of the most athletic starting lineups in the country.

Senior forward Zylan Cheatham (11.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.2 apg) does it all for the Sun Devils inside. He’ll need to have a big game with rebounding and hustle to give Arizona State extra chances against the strong rebounding of Buffalo.

The key to the Sun Devils offense is guard Luguentz Dort (16.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg). The 6-foot-4, 215-pound freshman has experienced a high amount of variance in his accuracy from 3. When he’s hot, he’s one of the most versatile scorers in the country, attacking the basket off the dribble with a strong frame. But his inconsistency can lead to poor shot selection, which hurts the Arizona State flow.

Sophomore Remy Martin (13.2 ppg, 31.5% 3-point shooting) and junior Rob Edwards (11.3 ppg, 39.2% 3-point shooting) will need to hit any open shots from deep, as Buffalo is 14th-best in the country at defending the 3.

The Bulls allow opponents to shoot only 29.8% from beyond the arc.

The Pick

While there’s always the threat of the First Four team getting hot, Buffalo is too balanced on offense to allow the inconsistent Sun Devils to keep this game close.

Expect the Bulls to pull away in the second half, comfortably covering the 4.5-point spread.

THE PICK: Buffalo -4.5, would bet up to Buffalo -6

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Buffalo -4.5
  • Total: 149.5
  • Proj Score: Buffalo 77 | ASU 72.5
  • Win Probability: Buffalo 66% | ASU 34%

#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Oregon

  • Spread: Wisconsin -2
  • Over/Under: 116.5
  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS

Just a few weeks ago, we were talking about a one-bid Pac 12 conference. That would have been the first time in the past 25 years that we saw a power conference send just one team to the dance.

That all changed when the Oregon Ducks went on a run to win four games in four days to clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22), guard Kobe King (23).

Wisconsin never had to worry about such a sweat, as the Badgers have been safely in all season long.

Despite the drastically different paths these two teams have taken, it seems like the Ducks have become the popular pick to keep it rolling on the West Coast, with 52% of the money taking Oregon.

Oregon’s Defense Presents Problems

Dana Altman-coached teams are always tough in a tournament setting because of how often he will switch up his defenses. The Ducks are one of the eight teams that run zone in over 30% of their possessions; they do so in just under half of all possessions.

Oregon is also one of only three tourney teams that has pressed in over 25% of its possessions, per Synergy. (Florida State and VCU are the two others). What makes Altman’s defense even more difficult to face is his strategy to press and then drop into a zone before morphing into man — all on the same possession.

What’s even more impressive is how successful Oregon’s defense has been in all three of those schemes based on its Points Per Possession national ranks:

  • Man: 91st percentile
  • Zone: 92nd percentile
  • Press: 85th percentile

Oregon has a tremendous defense no matter how you spin it and a lot of it has to do with Altman. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Ducks lost 7-foot-2 Bol Bol (21.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg) for the season in December.

However, if you dig a little deeper into the Synergy data, you will find that the Ducks struggle defending cutting motion, an area where Wisconsin excels. They are also vulnerable in the interior, which would make sense after losing a towering force like Bol.

Wisconsin is poised to exploit both, as the Badgers are an excellent cutting team and boast one of the best post-up offenses in the country — thanks to the craftiness of Ethan Happ. No single player on the Ducks can contain Happ on the block.

The Badgers also don’t turn it over, which will help against the Oregon pressure. And they also have shooters that can hurt the zone.

Don’t Forget About Wisconsin’s Defense

The Oregon defense has undoubtedly played great this year, but it may be benefiting from some 3-point luck.

The Ducks give up a ton of looks from deep but held opponents to 29.4% on the year (10th-best in D-1). The reason I think that’s fluky is that’s usually not a strength of a Dana Altman defense. There could be some regression coming, but that’s hard to predict for one game.

And don’t forget about Wisconsin, which has one of the most efficient defenses in the entire country. The Badgers are also excellent at the rim. Wisconsin’s defense ranks in the top 10 in Effective FG%, Adjusted Efficiency and 2-point percentage.

They have allowed 0.806 points per possession, which ranks 10th-best nationally. Oregon’s offense has gone into severe droughts throughout the season and you should see a few extended ones on Friday.

The biggest X-factor will be Happ’s free throw shooting. The senior has regressed significantly from the stripe and is shooting sub-50% on the season. He appears to simply have no confidence up there. And teams will foul him early in possessions to get the ball back.

So much of Wisconsin’s offense runs through Happ, and he will be especially key in regards to exposing the two weak areas of the Oregon defense. In a game that shouldn’t have many possessions between two excellent defensive teams, Happ’s unavailability late if Oregon goes to Hack-a-Happ or a bunch of missed free throws could swing this game and/or cover.

Still, this is a complete line over-reaction to Oregon’s recent success. I drove the Ducks’ bandwagon to end the season, but this line would’ve been six a few weeks ago. I grabbed Wisconsin at a PK earlier in the week but would still jump on it at -2.

Yes, the game is in San Jose, which might give a minimal advantage to Oregon, but nothing material. Ultimately, in what should be a slugfest, Happ will be the difference.

In regards to the total, the under is certainly worth a look in another matchup of two absolute snails in the South region. Per KenPom, Oregon and Wisconsin rank 328th and 332nd in Adjusted Tempo, respectively.

Stuckey’s Picks: Wisconsin up to -2, Under 118

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Wisconsin -5.5
  • Total: 121.5
  • Proj Score: Wisconsin 63.5 | Oregon 58
  • Win Probability: Wisconsin 70% | Oregon 30%

#8 Utah State vs. #9 Washington

  • Spread: Utah State -3
  • Over/Under: 135
  • Date: Friday, Mar. 22
  • Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio

Surprisingly, both of these teams are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Utah State will look to end an ugly run in the tourney, as the Aggies have lost their past six first-round games and are just 1-16 in the tournament since making the Elite 8 in 1970.

This is a good opportunity for Utah State to end its losing streak, as the Aggies match up well against Washington. Let’s take a closer look at this game, which I think may provide a nice live betting opportunity.

Utah State Can Beat Washington’s Zone

Washington runs a zone on defense more than any team in the entire country. The Huskies have sat in the 2-3 zone that head coach Mike Hopkins brought out West from Syracuse in over 95% of its defensive possessions. It’s essentially all they do.

That would cause problems for countless teams in this year’s tourney field, but not for Utah State, which boasts an excellent zone offense. The Aggies have shooters, move the ball well and are an excellent rebounding team — all of which helps drive a pretty efficient zone offense.

If you look at the underlying metrics, Utah State scored 1.015 Points Per Possession against the zone this season, which ranks in the 82nd percentile, nationally. The Aggies have the ability to score on this zone and should dominate the glass on both ends.

Can Washington Shoot Well Enough to Win?

Utah State has a very stingy defense with pack-line principles. The Aggies just don’t allow much at the rim, as they funnel everything toward center Neemias Queta. The 6-foot-11 Queta has helped anchor a defense that ranks fourth in the country in 2P%.

As a result of their scheme, the Aggies are vulnerable on the perimeter. They allowed Mountain West teams to shoot 38.8% from beyond the arc during league play.

However, this Washington team is not known for its 3-point prowess (unless Jaylen Nowell goes off from deep). Plus, Utah State ranks in the top five nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, so it will be able to limit Washington’s second chance opportunities.

Washington will have a tough time scoring on this Utah State defense.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Utah State Aggies center Neemias Queta (23), Washington Huskies guard Jaylen Nowell (5).

Other Factors to Consider

Washington won’t have many schematic advantages, but it is the much more experienced team. This is essentially the same group from last year, and the Huskies have plenty of senior leadership. Just take a look at KenPom’s Minutes Continuity metric (which compares minutes from last year to this). Washington ranks No. 1 in the nation, while Utah State is about average.

The Aggies lost some key pieces, which is one of the reasons they were picked ninth in the preseason Mountain West poll. They’ve proven all of the doubters wrong, but this team is significantly younger overall than Washington.

Utah State is the hotter team and comes into this game riding a 17-1 stretch which includes a victory in the Mountain West Championship.

Washington, on the other hand, stumbled down the stretch to a 4-3 record over its last seven, which includes a home overtime win over Oregon State and a bad loss to Cal.

As much as I’d like to see Washington move on for the national title future I placed mid-season, Utah State just has too many advantages on both ends of the floor.

That said, I’m actually going to wait to bet Utah State live or at the half because it could take the Aggies some time to figure out the very lengthy and effective Washington zone. But once they do, the offense should start flowing.

Stuckey’s Pick: Wait for Utah State live and target better than -3.

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Utah State +0.5
  • Total: 133
  • Proj Score: Utah State 66.5 | Washington 67
  • Win Probability: Utah State 49.9% | Washington 50.1%

#1 Duke vs. #16 North Dakota State

  • Spread: Duke -26.5
  • Over/Under: 149
  • Time: Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Columbia, SC

North Dakota State already has a win in this year’s NCAA Tournament, beating North Carolina Central 78-74 on Wednesday. The First Four game had both teams tied under two minutes before the Eagles missed a free throw and jumper to give the Bison the lead. The box scores were identical, and now the Summit League champ gets No. 1 seed Duke.

The Blue Devils begin their NCAA Tournament fresh off an ACC Tournament title beating Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State. Duke saw the return of arguably the best player in college basketball with Zion Williamson. While injuries loom in the form of Jack White and Marques Bolden, the return of Williamson makes Duke the team to beat in the tournament.

North Dakota State’s Strengths

There are positives in the advanced metrics for North Dakota State. The Bison rank 50th in effective field goal percentage, top 20 in free throws, and shoot a top-50 percentage from deep.

That last stat is important with North Dakota State relying on more than 40% of their points to come from 3-pointers. However, Duke ranks top 10 in defending the 3.

On the other side of the court, Duke ranks 338th in 3-point percentage, making the key to beating the Blue Devils to force them into a 3. North Dakota State ranks 199th in opponent point distribution from deep.

The Bison must focus on protecting everything short and forcing Duke to the arc to have a chance.

Will Duke overlook the Bison?

Duke may very well overlook this game in preparation for the round of 32 instead of focusing on the Bison. Much like North Dakota State, neither Central Florida nor VCU — Duke’s two potential opponents — make its opponents shoot 3s.

The Knights and Rams lack a top-75 rebounding unit, thus giving Duke a comfortable advantage in the second round. While Duke shouldn’t overlook the No. 16 seed flying in from Dayton, there isn’t any dominating stat to give the Blue Devils issues in Columbia, thus limiting the chance Coack K’s crew gets caught looking ahead.

The Pick

With a KenPom projection of 88-63 in favor of Duke, there would seem to be value in the +27 on the side of North Dakota State. The Bison had eight days to prepare for Duke, and should not show any signs of fatigue for playing their second game in three days.

When looking at double-digit seeds covering large spreads in the first round, it is important to note 3-point and free throw percentage.  The strength of North Dakota State is its top-50 three-point percentage and top-20 free throw percentage.

While this game will get out of hand quickly, the Bison should be able to shoot themselves into a cover.

Collin’s Pick: North Dakota State +27 or better

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Duke-30.5
  • Total: 145.5
  • Proj Score: Duke 88 | North Dakota State 57.5
  • Win Probability:Duke 99.9% | North Dakota State 0.1%

Georgia State vs. Houston NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Houston -12
  • Over/Under: 141.5
  • Time: Friday, 7:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.

Younger fans may not know this, but Houston (20-12-2 against the spread) is not just another team from the AAC. The Cougars are college basketball royalty thanks to Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, who led Houston to the Final Four three years in a row in the 1980’s.

This Houston team is good enough to make it to a Final Four, but the Cougars will need to get through Georgia State (17-14-1 ATS) first.

This isn’t Georgia State’s first rodeo. Head coach Ron Hunter famously led the Panthers to the Round of 32 in 2015, upsetting Baylor as a 14-seed. Is this team good enough to spring another surprise?

Georgia State uses a 2-3 matchup zone on defense and boasts a decent offense that has put up 90 points on five separate occasions this season. Georgia State has won nine of its past 10 games and brings a roster that ranks 31st in minutes continuity.

A Good Matchup for Houston

The last time we saw the Cougars, they were getting dusted by Cincinnati in the AAC Championship. Houston only shot 30% that night, though, and that is probably an outlier as the Cougars rank 23rd in adjusted efficiency on offense.

This could be a good matchup for Houston since the Cougs chuck a ton of 3-pointers. Houston attempted the 30th-most 3-point attempts in the nation in 2018-19 and will look to shoot over the Panthers’ zone all night.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: North Dakota State Bison guard Tyson Ward (24), Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1).

The other big edge Houston has is on the glass. The Cougars rank 19th in offensive rebounding percentage while Georgia State sits 337th in terms of defensive rebounding.

Houston should have the edge on defense, too, as it is the best team in the nation in effective field goal percentage. That means a lot of missed shots for Georgia State and the Panthers are not good at cleaning up their own mess, ranking 316th in offensive rebounding.

Can Georgia State Offense Keep it in This Game?

The Panthers may press the ball and try to create opportunities off turnovers as they rank 30th in defensive steal percentage.

On the other end, you can trust Georgia State to hold onto the ball as it is 53rd in offensive turnover percentage thanks to strong guard play. This is a pesky team that doesn’t turn the ball over and can shoot from distance (16th nationally in 3-point percentage).

The Panthers take and make a lot of 3’s.

The Pick

I don’t think Georgia State’s defense will be enough to quiet a Houston offense that can sink shots from anywhere on the court. The Cougars can also succeed by attacking the zone and getting Georgia State’s starters in foul trouble since the Panthers rank 323rd in bench minutes and 12th in 2-foul participation (how often the team leaves in players on the court with two fouls in the first half).

These metrics point to a tough game for the Panthers, and I think they’ll have a tough time keeping it close.

THE PICK: Houston -12

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Houston -12
  • Total: 140
  • Proj Score: Houston 76 | Georgia State 64
  • Win Probability: Houston 88.2% | Georgia State 11.8%

#5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty

  • Spread: Mississippi State -6.5
  • Over/Under: 133
  • Date: Friday, March 21
  • Time: 7:27 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.

Ben Howland got a team back in the NCAA Tournament after Mississippi State had one of its more successful seasons in recent memory. Despite that level of success, the Bulldogs’ opponent, Liberty, is taking lots of money in a potential 12-5 upset, as the spread is down from the opener of 8 to 6.5.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lovell Cabbil Jr.

Is there an upset brewing? Or will the roughly 70% of bettors taking Liberty in this game be disappointed?

An Underrated Mississippi State Offense

This is a balanced attack for Mississippi State, led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who averaged just over 18 points per game this season. All five starters are near double figures in points per game, meaning someone is going to get a quality look most of the time.

That’s reflected in Mississippi State’s shooting percentages and efficiencies, as the Bulldogs were top-3 in the SEC in both eFG% and 3-point percentage.

One place they should thrive is creating extra possessions off misses, as they were above-average in the SEC in offensive rebounding, and although Liberty is about 100th in offensive rebounds allowed, that’s against FAR inferior competition and athleticism.

With SEC athletes, it’ll be a different game, and I would expect the Bulldogs to be able to create extra possessions.

When Liberty Has The Ball …

… it’s going to take a while. This team is extremely deliberate (349th in adjusted tempo), but it has one elite skill, which is helpful to any team trying to pull an upset. And that elite skill is their shooting.

The Flames rank 12th in the country in eFG% and shoot very well from both 2 and 3. Long possessions that end in quality shot attempts, with no threat of offensive rebounding, is a similar strategy to what you’ll see a team like Wofford employ in the tournament, and teams like Davidson have succeeded with in the past.

When you play very slow, low-possession games and you can trade 3s for 2s, you can level the playing field real fast vs. your opponent. Helping matters is that Mississippi State isn’t good at defending the 3 — 226th in the country, and 12th in SEC play.

It’s also worth mentioning that Nick Weatherspoon, one of Mississippi State’s most impactful defensive players, was suspended indefinitely about a month ago, and as of now, is not going to play (although there is a little uncertainty about that).

Without him, the team’s defensive metrics have suffered, to put it nicely. In SEC play in general, they were just 8th in defensive efficiency, and 9th in effective field goal percentage allowed.

Bet to Watch

In a low-possession game like this, where the underdog’s strengths are amplified because of its opponent’s weakness, I think taking the points is a very good idea.

At a number like 6-7, you also need the Bulldogs to make their free throws in a lot of end-game situations to cover, and the team shot under 70% from the line in SEC play, just No. 9 in the conference.

It is not a strength. I think Liberty’s strategy and shot selection can keep this within the number.

Ken’s Pick: Liberty +6.5

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Mississippi State -9
  • Total: 136.5
  • Proj Score: Mississippi State 73 | Liberty 64
  • Win Probability: Mississippi State 82.8% | Liberty 17.2%

#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Iona

  • Spread: North Carolina -22.5 
  • Over/Under: 166
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Columbus, OH

North Carolina (27-6) ended the season winning 14 of its past 15 games. The Tar Heels finished tied with Virginia for the ACC regular season title and were the only team to defeat Duke twice. They were 21-9-2 against the spread, including a masterful 11-2 on the road.

Iona (17-15) won its fourth straight MAAC Tournament Championship to earn the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Gaels had a weak non-conference schedule, ranking 200th in the country. They also did not have a win this season against a Quadrant I or Quadrant II opponent. The Gaels were just 13-16-1 ATS, including 5-10-1 on the road.

Which team offers the most value in this matchup of 1- vs. 16-seeds?

North Carolina’s Explosive & Balanced Offense

The Tar Heels own the seventh-best adjusted offensive efficiency rating in the country. In ACC Conference play, they ranked third in effective field goal percentage and second in 3P percentage. They have perfect symmetry in their point distribution, relying on 30.5% 3P, 51.7% for 2P, and 17.8% on free throws.

North Carolina’s scoring comes from its big trio of Cameron Johnson (16.9 ppg), Coby White (16.3 ppg) and Luke Maye (14.7 ppg). All three shoot 76% or better from the free throw line and attempted over 100 3Ps this year.  The Tar Heels offense is very difficult to stop.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: North Carolina Tar Heels guard Coby White (2).

But their best offensive skill is rebounding. North Carolina ranks 18th in the nation with 13.1 offensive rebounds per game. They pose a big challenge to an Iona team that ranks 261st in defensive rebounding percentage.

Iona Only Knows One Gear

The Gaels know only one speed, and that’s high gear. Iona ranked first in the MAAC in points per game, adjusted offensive efficiency, 2P% and free throw percentage. Iona scored 73 points or more in each of its past five games. The Gaels are decent from 3P, shooting 36.5% in conference play, and they were second best in offensive turnover percentage.

Iona has balanced scoring, led by junior E.J. Crawford (17.9 ppg) and senior Rickey McGill (15.5 ppg). However, it is difficult to project any success for the Gaels against a team of North Carolina’s caliber, especially with a 274th strength of schedule and 2-4 record against Quadrant III opponents.

Head coach Tim Cluess is a brilliant tactician, but the talent differential here is too great.

The Pick

The type of first-round opponent that could put a scare into North Carolina would be a team with a slow and methodical offense paired with a stout defense. The Tar Heels barely escaped Harvard in 2015 in that exact situation. Unfortunately for the Gaels, they don’t play with that style.

Mike’s Pick:  UNC -22.5, would bet up to UNC -24.5

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: North Carolina -25
  • Over/Under: 158
  • Score: North Carolina 91.5 | Iona 66.5
  • Win Probability: North Carolina 99.3% | Iona 0.7%

#8 VCU vs. #9 UCF NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: UCF +1
  • Over/Under: 126.5
  • Date: Friday, March 21
  • Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.

The Knights (18-12-1 against the spread) have dropped their past two games ATS after covering in each of their previous eight contests. On the flip side, the Rams (20-11-1 ATS) failed to cover in three of their past five affairs.

Which team presents the most value in this Round of 64 matchup? Let’s breakdown the biggest factors.

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard Marcus Evans (2), UCF Knights center Tacko Fall (24).

How Healthy is Marcus Evans?

The 6-foot-2 guard exited the Rams’ Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals (knee injury) and failed to return. Evans isn’t able to simulate game action in practice, but he’s set to give it a go for their contest against the Knights.

Evans has notched the 23rd-highest steal rate (4.1%) in the country, but it’s unknown how much lateral movement he’ll have at that end of the court.

Will Tacko Fall 7 Co. Dominate Inside?

The Knights’ 59th-ranked Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (110.6 points per 100 possessions) stems from their prowess for attacking the rim.

Not only has Johnny Dawkins’ bunch produced the 79th-highest 2-point clip (52.5%) in college basketball — led by the 7-foot-6, 310-pound Tacko Fall (10.9 points per game) — but it has also generated the second-highest free-throw rate (46.4%) in the country.

UCF point guard B.J. Taylor (16.0 ppg) initiates it all, along with tallying the 31st-highest individual rate in that department.

VCU has struggled to stay out of foul trouble, especially in A-10 play, allowing the second-highest free-throw rate (37.6%). Overall, Mike Rhoades’ squad has let up the 20th-highest scoring from that vicinity (20.9%).

The Rams still possess an advantage in the turnover department, though, even if Evans isn’t as effective as usual. They’ve manufactured the ninth-highest opponents’ turnover rate (23.4%) while the Knight accrued the fifth-highest rate in AAC play. Expect Rhoades’ ball pressure to give UCF issues, particularly when it looks to feed Fall in the low-post.

Can VCU Succeed in Half-Court Sets?

The Rams’ transition offense is electric when they turn their opponents over, utilizing the 40th-highest average possession length (16.1 seconds).

But their interior offense has been effective, too, totaling the 52nd-highest 2-point clip (53.7%) in the nation. The 6-foot-7 Marcus Santos-Silva (10.1 ppg) showcased his low-post prowess following Evans’ departure on Friday, going off for a 26-point, 22-rebound performance.

UCF’s 2-point defense regressed in conference play, yielding the fourth-highest scoring rate (49.4%) to league foes. That’s a product of its inability to control the glass, and VCU owns the 88th-highest offensive rebounding rate (31.1%) in the country.

Expect the 6-foot-6 Isaac Vaas and the aforementioned Santos-Silva to have a major impact inside the arc, and anything Evans delivers off the dribble is a plus.

Eli’s Pick: VCU +1, but don’t bet it past VCU PK.

Our Projected Odds for #8 VCU vs. #9 UCF

  • Spread: VCU +2
  • Total: 125.5
  • Proj Score: VCU 62 | UCF 64
  • Win Probability: VCU 44.1% | UCF 55.9%

#6 Iowa State vs. #11 Ohio State

  • Spread: Iowa State -5.5
  • Over/Under: 140
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.

Iowa State (23-11) won the Big 12 Tournament Championship, defeating Kansas 78-66. The Cyclones finished just 9-9 in conference but battled through the 16th best strength of schedule with some ups and downs throughout the year, but ultimately put it together for that tourney run.

Ohio State (19-14) has finally returned to full strength after sophomore Kaleb Wesson missed three games due to a suspension for violation of team rules. The Buckeyes sputtered down the stretch of conference play with just an 8-12 Big Ten record. They were 14-16 ATS.

Which inconsistent group will show up Friday?

Who Is the Real Iowa State? 

As impressive as Iowa State looked in the conference tournament, the Cyclones also played that poorly at the end of the regular season. They lost their last three games of conference play, and five of their last six. There were reports of players-only meetings and turmoil in the locker room.

However, that all seemed to be forgotten in the Big 12 Tournament, where the Cyclones dominated. Their offense, ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency, was perfectly balanced.

Senior guard Marial Shayok (18.6 ppg, 4.9) and sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) led the way for the Cyclones, who were second best in the Big 12 Conference in effective field goal percentage and offensive turnovers per game. That’s a great recipe for offensive success.

Ohio State Needs Inside Production

The Buckeyes finally have their roster at full strength after struggling to find offensive consistency for much of the season. They ranked second worst in adjusted offensive efficiency and turnover percentage in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes also ranked 10th in 3P% and 11th in 2P%.

They will need a big game from the previously suspended Wesson to compete. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward averaged 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. When Wesson has grabbed double-digit rebounds this season, Ohio State is 5-0.

The closer the Buckeyes can keep this game early, the better their chances. They rank 88th in the country with a 73.4 percent team free throw percentage.

The Pick

If the Iowa State team we saw in the Big 12 Tournament arrives, this game won’t be close. But if the Cyclones stumble, the Buckeyes’ 26th best adjusted defensive efficiency ranking will suffocate their offense.

While this game will be close early, look for the Cyclones to keep their hot shooting on target for at least one more game.

Randle’s Pick:  Iowa State -5.5, would bet up to -6

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Iowa State -5
  • Total: 137.5
  • Proj Score: Iowa State 71.5 | Ohio State 66.5
  • Win Probability: Iowa State 66.1% | Ohio State 33.9%

#4 Virginia Tech vs. #13 Saint Louis

  • Spread: Virginia Tech -10
  • Over/Under: 126
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.
  • TV: truTV

I keep hearing that Duke has an easy path to the Final Four. While the Blue Devils are clearly the favorites to win their region, don’t sleep on the Hokies, who could cause major problems for Zion & Co. in a potential Sweet 16 showdown.

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Saint Louis Billikens forward D.J. Foreman and Virginia Tech Hokies guard Ahmed Hill

Don’t forget that the Hokies started the season with a 14-1 record that included three wins over 2019 NCAA Tournament teams. With point guard Justin Robinson presumably back healthy, this is as scary of a No. 4 seed as you will see.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, the Hokies must first get by Saint Louis in the first round. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Key Matchup in Virginia Tech-Saint Louis

Saint Louis plays stingy defense and really gets after the glass on both ends, but the Billikens have a dreadful offense. They simply can’t shoot.

The Billikens rank 322nd in the country in Effective FG%, per KenPom. And even more telling is they shoot just 30.8% from 3, which is the third-worst rate in the tourney field. It’s not like they’ve been improving either, as Saint Louis shot just 29.8% from beyond the arc during conference play (13th in the Atlantic 10).

That’s not ideal against a Virginia Tech defense designed to make you beat them from deep. Because Buzz Williams’ team goes under screens, it really forces teams to jack up plenty of 3’s.

In fact, opponents on the year have attempted more 3s than 2s against the Hokies. Their 50.1% opponent 3-point rate is the third highest in the country; only Longwood and Monmouth gave up a higher percentage.

That’s what could make Virginia Tech so dangerous against Duke in a potential Sweet 16 matchup, as the Blue Devils are one of the only two other tourney teams that shoot worse than Saint Louis from 3.

This Game Could Get Ugly

This one could be ugly. Not only should Virginia Tech suffocate Saint Louis’ offense, but the Hokies are absolute snails, ranking 337th in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom. If you are interested in this total, I’d recommend looking at the full game or first-half under.

As I mentioned before, Saint Louis simply can’t shoot. That also applies to the charity stripe, where it’s not only the worst free-throw shooting team in the field, but it has the second-worst percentage in the entire country at 59.8%.

On the other hand, the Hokies shot 75.8% from the line during the season (24th in the country) and were a league-leading, pristine 78.2% during ACC play. They are also deadly from 3 at 39.4% for the season, ranking eighth-best nationally.

The Pick

Robinson, Virginia Tech’s star senior point guard who has missed most of the last two months, is expected to make his long-awaited return for the Hokies. When healthy, everything runs through him on offense.

This is just a nightmare matchup for the Billikens. My only concern is if Robinson has to shake off some rust and/or Virginia Tech struggles a bit early assimilating him back into the lineup.

Still, given the matchup advantage, I think the Hokies eventually roll and cover the number even if this game is a grind.

Stuckey’s Pick: Virginia Tech -10

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Virginia Tech -12
  • Total: 130
  • Proj Score: Virginia Tech 71 | Saint Louis 59
  • Win Probability: Virginia Tech 88.2% | Saint Louis 11.8%

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game is from the individual writer and are based on his research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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