NCAA Tournament Thursday Betting Mega-Guide: Odds, Picks, Analysis for All 16 Games

NCAA Tournament Thursday Betting Mega-Guide: Odds, Picks, Analysis for All 16 Games article feature image
Credit:

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Villanova

There’s so much college basketball to bet on Thursday. How could you possibly narrow it down?

We’re here to (try to) help. We’ve compiled betting guides for all 16 Thursday NCAA Tournament games here. They’re normally all for EDGE subscribers, but we’re giving away the first two games for free.

Let’s get to it.

Also, access Friday’s game guides here:

#7 Louisville vs. #10 Minnesota NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Louisville -5.5
  • Over/Under: 135
  • Time: Thursday, 12:15 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

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


You may have heard: Richard Pitino is coaching against the program where his father once won a national title before leaving in infamy. But the real story here is the late-season ugliness ON the court for both teams.

It would tough to find two programs that struggled more down the stretch. The Gophers went 3-7 after Feb. 1 to close conference play, and a court-storming win over Purdue may have been the only thing that got them comfortably in the field. They knocked off the Boilers again in the Big Ten Tournament before getting walloped by Michigan.

Louisville went 3-7 after Feb. 1 as well, but at least those losses were mostly to Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina, quite possibly the three best teams in the country.

Who will keep their season alive on Thursday in the first tournament game? Let’s dig in.

Louisville Doesn’t Do Much Well on Offense

Louisville’s offense wasn’t pretty, especially in conference play. The Cardinals shot the ball pretty well from deep (fourth in the ACC) but they had no real elite skill at that end of the court. They turned the ball over way too much (10th in ACC in turnover rate) and didn’t get to the free throw line very much. They didn’t do anything to create extra possessions.

Jordan Nwora was their leading scorer, but that was almost because of the absence of a go-to guy. Balance and reasonable shot-making got them to this point. In non-conference play, their signature win was over Michigan State, a game where the Cardinals shot 41 free throws(!), 18 more than Sparty. That’ll do it. My point is, there’s not a lot to like here.

I mentioned Louisville went 3-7 after Feb. 1, but the funny thing is, so many of the losses are completely explainable. North Carolina, at Florida State, Duke, Virginia, at Virginia. What were the Cardinals supposed to do? The ACC has the three best teams in the country. You’re going to lose those games often.

Still, when you see their offensive numbers, the good news is that Louisville is playing Minnesota, so it may not matter! The Gophers were abysmal on defense in Big Ten play, forced no turnovers, and allowed opponents to shoot a very high percentage from the field.

Louisville’s struggles, whatever they may be, may not haunt it in this game specifically, but later in the tournament they will. You can score on Minnesota, in pretty much every way possible.

Minnesota Offense Goes as Coffey Does

When Amir Coffey plays well, this team tends to do well. In Gophers’ home win against Purdue, he was excellent. In their second win over Purdue, he (and Jordan Murphy) were great. When Coffey scores in single digits, on the other hand, the team is 1-5 this season.

Minnesota’s big strength in this game is its ability to get to the foul line. The Gophers were the best in the Big Ten in conference play in free-throw rate. That’s good news in this match-up because Louisville fouls A LOT.

When Louisville has lost games it shouldn’t (Boston College, Pitt), it’s because the Cardinals were minus-double-digits in free throw attempts in those games. If Minnesota gets an officiating crew that’s prone to calling all contact, it can set up as a massive advantage for them.

Market Analysis, Bet to Watch

Minnesota does not profile as a team setup to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers struggled mightily away from home in all parts of the season. Their defense is abysmal and they don’t force turnovers. They probably were one Purdue win away from being seriously on the bubble, and maybe out. All of these tend not to auger well when predicting future performance in this tournament.

The good news is they are facing a Louisville team that basically overachieved the whole year before finally coming back down to Earth. Neither of these teams has a great profile, nor do they possess skills that generally translate to NCAA success.

Louisville’s metrics are better, so it is the rightful favorite, but to me the number is correct. I do think Minnesota’s defense, combined with Louisville’s propensity to foul, could create an “over” situation compared to my projections, so we’ll call that a lean.

Ken’s Pick: Pass on Side, Lean Over at 135

Our Projected Spread for #7 Louisville vs. # 10 Minnesota

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: Louisville -4
  • Total: 135
  • Proj Score: Louisville 69.5 | Minnesota 65.5
  • Win Probability: Louisville 64% | Minnesota 36%

#4 LSU vs. # 13 Yale NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Odds: LSU -7.5
  • Over/Under: 157
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 12:40 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV

Yale (22-7) won the Ivy League Tournament at home against Harvard but struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing three of its last four games, including home losses to Harvard and Columbia.

LSU (26-6) won the SEC championship and is the only school that can claim a victory over both Kentucky and Tennessee. The Tigers ended the season on a five-game winning streak before being upset by Florida in the first round of the SEC Tournament. LSU is an impressive 17-11-1 against the spread on the year, including 9-2-1 on the road.

Yale Has Truly Elite Offense

Yale can score with anyone. It ranks in the top 50 in both Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (111.7, per KenPom) and 3-point percentage (37.4%). The Bulldogs also own the 11th-best effective field goal percentage (56.1%) and 14th-best 2-point percentage (56.1%) in the nation.

Yale’s leading scorer, 6-foot-6 junior guard Miye Oni (17.6 ppg), has scored in double-digits in 28 of Yale’s 29 games and has unsurprisingly drawn significant interest as an NBA prospect.

The Bulldogs were the most dominant offensive team in the Ivy League, ranking first in league play in offensive efficiency (108.3), effective field goal percentage (55.3%), offensive turnover percentage (17.1%), 2-point percentage (54.9%), free throw percentage (74.7%), and block percentage allowed (7.4%).

2019-ncaa tournament-sleepers-bracket-busters-upsets
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Yale Bulldogs guard Miye Oni (25).

Reserve guard Azar Swain (7.7 ppg) has been blistering hot from 3-point range, shooting 8-of-10 from deep over his last three games.

LSU is surprisingly poor on the defensive boards, ranking 268th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed (30.4%). Yale, however, only ranks 240th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (26.3%) itself, so it remains to be seen whether or not the Bulldogs can take advantage.

LSU Can Exploit Yale’s Defense

Yale may be good offensively, but this is a bad defensive team.

The Bulldogs struggle to pressure wings, ranking 338th in opposing turnover percentage (15.2%). They allowed more than 80 points at home to both Columbia and Princeton, each of which ranks outside the top 200 in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.

LSU will be able to take advantage. The Tigers feature four players with double-digit scoring averages: guards Tremont Waters (15.1 ppg),  Naz Reid (13.7 ppg), and Ja’vonte Smart (11.5 ppg), as well as forward Skylar Mays (13.4 ppg).

The Tigers are also one of the most dominant offensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking ninth nationally with an average of 13.5 per game.

Led by Waters, who also averages 5.9 assists per game, LSU boasts a top-10 offense in adjusted efficiency (118.6). Reid, a 6-foot-10 freshman also chipping in with 7.2 rebounds per game, is a versatile scorer who shoots 74% from the foul line and 37% from 3.

Also featured in LSU’s offensive attack is 6-foot-11 senior Kavell Bigby-Williams (7.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg), who will be extremely tough for Yale to match up with down low.

The Achilles’ Heel for LSU is 3-point shooting. The Tigers rank 276th in the country at only 32.3%. However, freshman guard Darius Days shot 7-of-12 (54%) from downtown over his last five regular season games and could give the Tigers a major lift if he can continue his efficiency from deep.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Darius Days and Emmitt Williams

Where’s the Value?

Yale is one of the trendiest upset picks of the tournament. As of this writing, the Bulldogs are drawing 63% of the bets and 55% of dollars wagered (view live odds here).

That said, an Ivy League team with inferior offensive talent that plays poor defense is not the recipe for an upset of LSU.

LSU has suffered under the cloud of uncertainty regarding the status of suspended head coach Will Wade, but it will be laser-focused coming off an SEC Tournament loss.

Count on the Tigers to avoid the upset and cover the single-digit spread.

THE PICK:  LSU -7.5 (up to -9.5)

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: LSU -10.5
  • Total: 151.5
  • Proj Score: LSU 81 | Yale 70.5
  • Win Probability: LSU 85.7% | Yale 14.3%

#5 Auburn vs. #12 New Mexico State NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Auburn -5.5
  • Over/Under: 146
  • Time: Thursday, 1:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

A tremendous run through the SEC Tournament saw Auburn (18-15-1 against the spread) defeat several NCAA Tournament teams. Both No. 10 Florida and No. 2 Tennessee had to deal with Auburn’s suffocating pressure and no fear in jacking three pointers.

The Tigers have now won eight consecutive games, including 10 of their past 11. Auburn has been nothing but impressive since a 2-4 start to their SEC conference campaign.

Speaking of streaks, New Mexico State (17-15-1 ATS) has won 19 straight of its own. The Aggies have not lost a game since a trip to California Baptist on Jan. 3 and two of New Mexico State’s victories in the WAC Tournament were by 30-plus points. With the top ranking in Bench Minutes in the nation, this is a team with depth and athleticism.

Perimeter Defense a Must vs. Auburn

Auburn made 396 3-pointers this season, which led the NCAA. For any team to have a shot at beating the Tigers, perimeter defensive is imperative. Auburn is 27th in the nation in 3-point percentage and ranks seventh in depending on the deep ball for point distribution.

Against a strength of schedule of 239th, New Mexico State is just 104th in 3-point defense. New Mexico State ranks 332nd in average height, which should mean the Tigers will have open looks all afternoon.

Auburn also ranks first in the country in defensive turnovers. New Mexico State is middle of the pack at turning the ball over, but its safe to say a slate full of WAC opponents did not prepare the Aggies for Auburn’s pressure.

Auburn ranks 54th in average offensive possession length, meaning there is haste in every Tigers possession. The Aggies might feel they are playing at warp speed with a season-long rank of 278th in adjusted tempo.

How New Mexico State Pulls Off the Upset

The Aggies have become a public darling in this game against the SEC Tournament champs. New Mexico State does have impressive metrics, ranking top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage, opponents offensive boards, and 2-point field goal percentage. This is an excellent rebounding team.

A 3-point loss to Kansas on Dec. 8 will be firmly on the minds of bettors looking to back the underdog in this game, either ATS or on the moneyline.

A rebounding advantage should be key against Auburn, but with the number of 3-pointers attempted, it will be more about the effort in chasing down lose balls as opposed to traditional boxing out.

While the Aggies are not great at shooting the 3, they rank ninth in 2-point field goal percentage. The key to this game is slowing Auburn down, pounding the blocks for high percentage shots, and fetching every single rebound from a missed 3-point attempt.

The Pick

This is a spot where a letdown could happen after an impressive four-day run in the SEC Tournament. It’s safe to say that no team New Mexico State has played in the past three months can simulate what it will see with a hyperactive Auburn team.

There are plenty of advanced metrics supporting the love for New Mexico State, but these numbers were built through one of the easiest conferences in the nation. One statistic that may come into play is free throw percentage. New Mexico State is 293rd in the country in free throws.

In a game where New Mexico State needs Auburn to lack effort and miss 3-pointers, the Aggies must also make their free throws. The advanced stats say they will not be successful in these aspects.

Collin’s Pick: Auburn -5.5 up to -7

Our 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: Auburn -8.5
  • Total: 142
  • Proj Score: Auburn 75.5 | New Mexico State 67
  • Win Probability: Auburn 81.7% | New Mexico State 18.3%

# 4 Florida State vs. #13 Vermont

  • Spread: Florida State -9
  • Over/Under: 133.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

Florida State (16-18 against the spread) has won six of its past seven games outright despite covering just four of them. On the flip side, the Catamounts (20-10-2 ATS) racked up 18 straight-up wins in their past 20 contests.

Can you count on Vermont to keep it close? Let’s dive in.

Florida State: Scary Long and Athletic

Vermont showcases a small-ball lineup under John Becker, with the 6-foot-6 star Anthony Lamb starting at “center.” Although the Seminoles have a clear-cut size mismatch, Becker’s troops have let up the 38th-lowest 2-point clip (46.5%) in the nation.

Their ability to switch everything defensively will give the Seminoles fits, and FSU’S below-average turnover rate (19.2%) will come into play because of it.

Florida State has tallied the 31st-highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (113.0 points per 100 possessions) in the country, and its biggest strength comes in its transition and half-court sets, generating the 80th-highest free-throw rate (36.0%).

That stems from its ability to control the glass at both ends, guided by the 6-foot-10 Mfionde Kabengele.

But FSU won’t have an easy time living at the line in this matchup, which it so often does.

The Catamounts have limited their opponents to the 22nd-lowest free-throw rate (26.2%), though, a product of slowing down opponents’ high-paced attacks with the second-highest defensive rebounding rate (21.8%) in the nation.

Lamb Getting to the Hoop Key for Vermont

Similar to FSU, the Catamounts’ biggest weapon is attacking the lane and getting to the line, amassing the 84th-highest free-throw rate (36.3%) overall. They generated the highest rate (38.0%) and scoring percentage (21.2%) from that department in America East play, too.

Florida State has not only yielded an above-average free-throw rate (36.1%) in Division I, but it gave up the second-highest rate (35.7%) in ACC play as well. Guided by Lamb (21.4 points per game) and 6-foot-3 guard Ernie Duncan (13.8 ppg), look for Vermont to have its way off the dribble en route to the charity stripe.

Becker’s crew has also generated the 31st-highest free-throw percentage (75.3%) in the country. It’ll be able to capitalize in that area, which will come in handy if the score creeps closer to the line.

Moreover, the Seminoles’ perimeter defense regressed plenty during ACC play, allowing the fourth-highest 3-point clip (34.7%). Expect the Catamounts’ floor-spacing lineup to take advantage, as they’re shooting 35.3% clip from that vicinity.

Covering Bigger Spreads

Although the Seminoles are expected to notch a straight-up victory, they’re just 4-7 (36.4%) ATS this season when laying at least nine points. The Noles occasionally slipped up against subpar competition with straight-up losses to Boston College and Pitt.

Vermont was never an underdog in any of its American East games, but its matchup advantages will allow it keep this one competitive throughout. This is a well-coached team.

Eli’s Pick: Vermont +9, but I wouldn’t bet it past Vermont +8.

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: Florida State -11
  • Total: 134.5
  • Proj Score: Florida State 73 | Vermont 62
  • Win Probability: Florida State 86.3% | Vermont 13.7%

#2 Michigan State vs. #15 Bradley

  • Spread: Michigan State -18.5
  • Over/Under: 133.5
  • Time: Thursday, 2:45 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Michigan State is one of the best teams in college basketball at covering the spread, posting a 24-10 record against the spread this season. The Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament despite injuries across the roster, losing Kyle Ahrens in the championship game against Michigan.

Bradley (16-17 ATS) was an unexpected winner of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. As the No. 5 seed, the Braves upset Missouri State, Loyola-Chicago and then Northern Iowa in the finals. The Braves rely on a slow pace of play, rebounding and an experienced roster. Bradley has pulled upsets in the NCAA Tournament before, beating Kansas as a No. 13 seed in 2006.

Bradley is looking for a snail-paced game, Michigan State has also had its share of low-scoring games, going under in 20 of 34 contests this season. But with a strength of schedule rank of third for the Spartans and 205th for the Braves, it is safe to say Bradley may not have the chance to dictate the flow of the game.

Bradley Wants to Slow It Down

There is a reason this point spread is pushing 20. There just are not many statistical categories where Bradley as an advantage. The Braves have excelled in blocks, 3-point percentage and defensive effective field goal percentage. But Bradley is 302nd nationally in 2-point percentage and 231st in free-throw percentage, two stats vital to tournament success.

The Braves have an average height of 185th in the country, and that will be trouble against Michigan State’s excellent, sizable interior defense. While Bradley does have a top 60 three-point percentage rank, it is important to note that Michigan State is top 50 in perimeter defense. The only true advantage Bradley may have over the Spartans is health.

Bradley’s Issues Play Into Michigan State’s Hands

A blind resume of these two teams is eye opening. We mention Bradley’s issue with 2-point field goal percentage, and that plays into the hands of Michigan State. The Spartans are third in the country in opponent 2-point field goal percentage. It’s really tough to get inside on them.

Along with the advantages in blocks and average height, Michigan State should have their way on the offensive glass. The Spartans are top 25 in offensive rebounding and take on a Braves defense that is 104th in that category.

The Pick

The advanced stats are heavily in favor of Michigan State — it’s hard to find anything good to pull out of this Bradley team’s statistical profile. If this was an opponent that had a quick tempo and relied on a ton of 3’s in its point distribution, we may be talking upset.

The ingredients for a Michigan State upset are there between injuries and possible fatigue from selling out to win the Big Ten Tournament, but Bradley isn’t a team that will push the pace and challenge Sparty in that way.

For the Braves to come close to winning this game, Michigan State would have to have its worst shooting day of the season combined with no effort on the glass. Even in that scenario, Bradley is not a great shooting team and would have to play its absolute best game.

Take Sparty.

Collin’s Pick: Michigan State -18.5, up to -19


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: Michigan State -22
  • Total: 135.5
  • Proj Score: Michigan State 79 | Bradley 57
  • Win Probability: Michigan State 98.9% | Bradley 1.1%

#6 Maryland vs. #11 Belmont

  • Spread: Maryland -3
  • Over/Under: 146.5
  • Time: Thursday, 3:10 p.m. ET
  • TV: TruTV
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.

After an 81-70 win over Temple on Tuesday night in Dayton, No. 11 seed Belmont (19-10-2 against the spread) has now covered in six of its past eight games (6-1-1).

No. 6 Maryland (17-14-1 ATS) has dropped three of its past four ATS, including its loss to Nebraska in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

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

First Four Magic

Since the First Four started in 2011, at least one team from the four play-in games has advanced to the Round of 32 each season. Three of them have made the Sweet 16, while one advanced to the Final Four (VCU, 2011).

The Bruins notched their first NCAA Tournament win in program history against Temple on Tuesday. But make no mistake, coach Rick Byrd has always had one of the most creative offensive minds in college basketball, using a heavy dose of the Princeton offense.

Belmont’s Perimeter Mismatch

For the Bruins at least to cover, they’ll have to control the pace to get open 3-point looks through a Princeton-style offense that should frustrate Maryland.

Mark Turgeon’s Terps have been susceptible from  behind the arc, especially in Big Ten play, letting up the second-highest 3-point scoring rate (34.0%). And Belmont gets loads of open looks and cashes in.

Dylan Windler (20.8 ppg) posted just five points (2-of-7 shooting) against Temple, but expect him to raise his game to another level vs. a Terps team that should struggle to stick with the Bruins’ small-ball lineup. Windler is hitting almost 43% from deep this season, and Belmont has five players shooting at least 36%.

Maryland’s Inefficient Interior Attack

Even with two should-be dominant bigs in Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, the Terrapins notched the fourth-lowest 2-point scoring rate (48.3%) in conference play. Fernando owns a 23.5% turnover rate as well and has been a major contributor to Maryland’s below-average miscue percentage (19.8%).

Mark Turgeon’s bunch could take advantage of the Bruins’ saggy defense around the arc, but it’s at its best while playing inside-out through Fernando & Co. Belmont has allowed the 53rd-lowest 2-point clip (47.1%), so expect freshman big Nick Muszynski to provide plenty of resistance.

Given that the Terps have one of the least experienced teams in college hoops, their inconsistent play should be exposed, especially in an environment where most fans will be cheering on the underdog.

Eli’s Pick: Belmont +3, with some moneyline

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: Maryland -5 vs. Belmont
  • Over/Under: 148 vs. Belmont
  • Score vs. Belmont: Maryland 76.5 | Belmont 71.5
  • Win Probability: Maryland 66.1% | Belmont 33.9%

#4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern

  • Spread: Kansas -6.5
  • Over/Under: 143.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 20
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Since the bracket expanded in 1985, Northeastern hasn’t won a single NCAA Tournament game (0-5). The Huskies will search for that elusive victory against an opponent with 22 Sweet 16 appearances and two national titles over that same span.

There’s no questioning which team wins the pedigree battle, but what about Thursday’s matchup? There are a few reasons the Huskies can be optimistic about ending that drought against Kansas.

If Only…

… Kansas had Udoka Azubuike.

Not only do I think the Jayhawks would be a legit national title contender with Azubuike, but he would be key in this particular game.

Defense is not Northeastern’s strength — although the Huskies did get their best on-ball defender (Shawn Occeus) back recently, which helps. However, this Northeastern team really struggles to defend the rim. The Huskies rank 271st in 2-point defense and 325th in block percentage, per KenPom. They also sit in the 20th-percentile nationally in post-up defense, per Synergy.

Dedric Lawson should have a huge day down low and fill up the box score for Bill Self.

Northeastern’s Offense Is Art

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 final when he hit seven 3s to lead the Huskies to that 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.

A top-25 ranking in both 3-point attempt rate and 3-point shooting percentage is a dangerous combination.

The Pick

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 reading this. 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.

Stuckey’s pick: Northeastern Moneyline +245

Our Projected Odds for #4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern

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: Kansas -11
  • Total: 142.5
  • Proj Score: Kansas 77 | Northeastern 66
  • Win Probability: Kansas 86.3% | Northeastern 13.7%

#5 Marquette vs. #12 Murray State

  • Spread: Marquette -4
  • Over/Under: 149.5
  • Time: Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.

No. 5 seed Marquette (19-13-1 against the spread) enters the NCAA Tournament with five straight-up losses in its past six contests. The Eagles were looking at a No. 2 or No. 3 seed before flopping down the stretch.

On the flip side, No. 12 Murray State (19-10 ATS) has covered in seven of its past nine games, including an outright win over Belmont in the OVC Tournament title game.

Which team provides more value in the Round of 64? Let’s break it down.

Marquette’s Injury Concern for Markus Howard

The 5-foot-11 Markus Howard (25.0 points per game) has been the most critical factor in Marquette’s resurgence this season, and his right wrist injury means just as much to its hopes of making a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Howard said that he’ll be ready to go for the matchup against the Racers, yet his shooting touch from behind the arc (40.8%) was clearly off in the Big East Tournament semifinals against Seton Hall. The junior point guard shot a mere 1-of-15 (6.7%) from the field, finishing with 21 points because of a flurry of free throws down the stretch with Marquette in comeback mode.

A One-Dimensional Marquette Offense

Let’s say Howard is somehow near full-health, providing a boost to the Golden Eagles’ 68th-ranked 3-point scoring rate (36.4%). The Racers are still in prime position to stymie their perimeter-oriented attack, limiting their opponents to the fourth-lowest clip from behind the arc (28.5%) in Division I.

They’re allowing the 29th-lowest 3-point scoring rate (26.8%) in the country as well, forcing Howard & Co. to attack the rim, where they’re letting up the 59th-lowest free-throw rate (28.5%).

While Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant (24.6 ppg) is even more explosive on offense, he and backcourt mate Shaq Buchanan’s ball pressure will force turnvoers. Marquette tallied a below-average 19.8% turnover rate, and the Racers boast the 67th-highest steal rate (10.2%) in the sport.

Marquette doesn’t do much well on offense besides shoot, so it needs to get hot to have a chance in any tournament game.

Murray State Offense Wants to Play in Transition

Given the Racers’ likely ability to control the tempo with their defense, Morant should receive plenty of transition opportunities (No. 6 in eFG% in transition, per Hoop-Math).

Matt McMahon’s unit has accrued the fifth-highest 2-point clip (57.2%), thanks to its effective, sped-up offense (60th-highest 2-point scoring rate).

Murray State doesn’t get to the line often as a team, but Marquette yielded the second-highest free-throw rate (37.1%) in Big East play. It started its defensive regression during conference play, showcased by that poor finish to the season.

Morant’s 51.3% free-throw rate will become factor, along with he and his teammates combining to generate the 71st-highest free-throw percentage (74.1%) in the nation. If the score ends up near the closing line, it should benefit the Racers greatly.

Marquette does defend the rim well in halfcourt sets (19th-lowest 2-point clip) thanks to 6-foot-9 big Theo John, who’s an excellent rim protector. If Murray State’s perimeter defense has an off night, the game script could completely flip.

But don’t expect that to be the case.

Eli’s Pick: Murray State +4, but I wouldn’t bet the Racers past +2.5.

Our 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: Marquette -5
  • Total: 144.5
  • Proj Score: Marquette 75 | Murray State 70
  • Win Probability: Marquette 66.1% | Murray State 33.9%

#7 Nevada vs. #10 Florida

  • Spread: Nevada -2.5
  • Over/Under: 133.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Nevada (29-4) entered the season as one of the leading contenders for the Final Four. After a 13-0 record in non-conference play, many wondered if the Wolf Pack would lose a game all season.

After sharing a Mountain West regular season title with a surprising Utah State team, followed by an early exit in the conference tournament, Nevada enters the NCAA Tournament with much debate over its potential. The Wolf Pack went 17-14-1 against the spread but just 1-4 in their last five games.

Florida (19-15) experienced a completely different season from Nevada: The Gators struggled early, falling to 9-7 after losing three of their first four SEC conference games. But they are now playing their best basketball of the season, defeating Arkansas and LSU in the conference tournament before falling 65-62 to eventual champion Auburn.

Florida is 8-5-1 on the road ATS, having covered their past seven road games away from Gainesville.

Nevada’s Explosive Offense

The Wolf Pack can score in bunches. They dominated the second half of their wins with athleticism and offensive aggression. Nevada ranks 26th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and are top 25 in 2P field goal percentage. The Wolf Pack will look to attack a Florida team that ranks a mediocre 106th in 2P defense.

Nevada is led by three seniors who are all possible NBA draft picks. Caleb Martin (19.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Jordan Caroline (17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), and Cody Martin (11.7 ppg, 5.1 apg) account for 60% of their per game scoring. The Wolf Pack also rarely give the opponent extra chances, ranking third-best in the country at offensive steal percentage and seventh in offensive turnover percentage.

Their only offensive issue is their inconsistent 3-point shooting. Nevada ranks 132nd in 3P efficiency and their leading scorer, Caleb Martin, has struggled (34.3%) to regain his masterful touch from last season.

Florida Turns Defense Into Offense

The Gators have well-documented problems on offense. They rank 211th in effective field goal percentage, 222nd in 3P%, and 200th in 2P%. However, the Gators have improved throughout the season and finished the SEC conference season ranked third in free throw shooting.

Florida used its stout defense to generate extra opportunities on offense. It ranked third in the SEC in defensive turnover rate, which, when coupled with their low offensive turnover rate, provides the Gators with a huge advantage.

The offensive improvement of senior KeVaughn Allen (12.1 ppg) was instrumental in their SEC Tournament run.  He excelled on both ends of the floor while shooting a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line.  Freshman Andrew Nembhard had his best game of the season in the win over LSU, scoring 20 points along with the game-winning 3-pointer with a second remaining.

The Pick

Nevada has been too inconsistent to trust in this game. The Wolf Pack did not tally a big win all season, losing at New Mexico by 27, at San Diego State for the seventh consecutive year, and failing to even reach the Mountain West Finals. Florida has battled through 16 Quadrant I games and played great in the difficult SEC Tournament. The two-point spread is a gift, that you should gladly accept.

THE PICK:  Florida +2.5, would bet to Florida PK

Our Projected Odds for #7 Nevada vs. #10 Florida

  • Spread: Nevada -1.5
  • Total: 132.5
  • Proj Score: Nevada 67 | Florida 65.5
  • Win Probability: Nevada 53.1% | Florida 46.9%

#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Abilene Christian

  • Spread: Kentucky -22
  • Over/Under: 132
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

The butterflies will assist Abilene Christian in its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. It draws one of the blue bloods of college basketball in Kentucky. Although both teams have the Wildcats as their mascots, Abilene Christian is in just its sixth year of Division I play.

It has been an amazing season for ACU after losing two of its best players in B.J. Maxwell and Jalone Friday just last month. Despite the losses, the Wildcats were able to win 11 of their past 13 games, including the Southland Tournament. After a successful campaign in the SEC, Kentucky lost in the conference tournament semifinals to Tennessee. The only other team to beat Kentucky since the first week of January was LSU at home.

Kentucky Will Dominate the Glass

Kentucky should absolutely dominate on the glass at both ends of the floor. The Wildcats are 10th in the nation in offensive rebounding, while ACU ranks in the bottom third of the NCAA (against subpar competition).

One important factor in this game will be how often ACU allows Kentucky to get to the free throw line. The Wildcats have had a stellar season from the charity stripe, ranking 73rd in free throw percentage and ranking seventh in points distribution for free throws. Kentucky will be angling for the rim on each offensive possession.

Abilene Christian Has Two Key Strengths

There are reasons these Wildcats won the Southland. ACU is eighth in opponent turnover percentage and have the 19th-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation. ACU isn’t a team that relies on shooting from deep, but it has had success when a shot is needed.

One statistic to look at is Minutes Continuity, which measures how often the five players on the floor have played together year over year. There is a large discrepancy between the two Wildcat rosters. ACU is 72nd in minutes continuity while Kentucky is 324th thanks to huge roster turnover every year.

The Southland winner has plenty of experience playing on the floor together.

But size is also important. Kentucky is 34th in average height, 16th in blocks and eighth in opponent 2-point percentage. That may not work well for an Abilene Christian team that doesn’t have size and can’t even come close to matching up athletically.

The Pick

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.

Collin’s Pick: Abilene Christian +22.5, but wait for +23 or better

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: Kentucky -22.5
  • Total: 133
  • Proj Score: Kentucky 78 | Abilene Christian 55.5
  • Win Probability: Kentucky 99.3% | Abilene Christian 0.7%

#6 Villanova vs. #11 Saint Mary’s

  • Spread: Villanova -4.5
  • Over/Under: 130
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

These two teams last met back in 2010 in the second round of the NCAA tournament when No. 10 seed Saint Mary’s upset No. 2 seed Villanova in Providence.

That Gaels team was led by guard Matthew Dellavedova and big Omar Samhan under the same coach they have today, Randy Bennett, who has been in Moraga for 18 years.

Villanova’s head man, Jay Wright, has also been on the main line for 18 years as the head coach of the Wildcats. The defending champs will look to add a third national title in the past four years, but will they stumble on the first weekend against Saint Mary’s once again?

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Most Important Matchup in Villanova-Saint Mary’s

Villanova is one of the most 3-point-reliant teams in the nation. That’s nothing new for the Cats under Jay Wright in recent years, but their 3-point frequency has ticked up significantly this season. In fact, only two other teams in college basketball shot more 3’s per field goal attempt.

That could spell trouble against a Saint Mary’s defense that has always emphasized limiting the 3-pointer under Bennett, especially late in the shot clock. That’s when Villanova usually gets its best looks by making the extra pass.

Saint Mary’s allows opponents to shoot just 31.8% from deep, which ranks in the top 50 nationally. More importantly, the Gaels have allowed an opponent 3-point rate of 31.8% — the ninth-lowest in the country and second-lowest among teams in the NCAA Tournament field.

The Gaels must contain this perimeter-reliant Villanova attack.

Battle of Snails

Besides its 3-point reliance, the other thing that sticks out when you look at Villanova’s profile is its pace. The Wildcats are in no rush on the offensive end, ranking 339th in Average Possession Length.

And Saint Mary’s is even more methodical on the offensive end, ranking 350th in that category. In a matchup of two pure snails, I think the under holds value especially since both defenses match up fairly well.

With a such slow pace expected, grabbing the points with Saint Mary’s becomes even more valuable.

Other Factors to Consider

This game will be played in Connecticut, which has to give a slight edge to Villanova for travel and potential fan presence. I make that edge worth approximately 1-point to the line.

However, that is somewhat mitigated by the rest advantage the Gaels will enjoy. Saint Mary’s hasn’t played since the WCC final on March 12.

Conversely, Villanova just played three games in three days this past weekend en route to a third-straight Big East championship. That could be a concern for a team that showed signs of fatigue down the stretch of the regular season.

Neither team is very deep, so that extra rest could be invaluable this time of the year. After considering all factors, I make this game Villanova -3 with a total of 126.

Stuckey’s Picks: 

  • St. Mary’s +4.5 (I’d play down to +4)
  • Under 130.5 (I’d play down to 128)

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: Villanova -3
  • Total: 137
  • Proj Score: Villanova 70 | St. Mary’s 67
  • Win Probability: Villanova 62.1% | St. Mary’s 37.9%

#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson

  • Spread: Gonzaga -26.5
  • Over/Under: 153
  • Time: Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Fairleigh Dickinson won and covered the 16-seed play-in game against Prairie View A&M. Aided by 42% from 3-point range and dominant rebounding, the Knights will pick up and make the flight to Salt Lake City for the first round against No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

The top-ranked Bulldogs will have had nine days off when the NCAA tournament starts, unlike many other top seeds. A 60-47 upset loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC Finals exposed a Zags team that shot 12% from 3-point range while being out rebounded 34-27.

Gonzaga should be well rested and motivated after that embarrassing loss. The committee was kind enough to put Florida State as the projected Sweet 16 matchup, a potential revenge game from last year’s tournament exit.

Can Fairleigh Dickinson Make This Interesting?

The Northeast Conference champions ride a nine-game winning streak into Salt Lake City with a strength of schedule of 339th. And there are a few advanced metrics that could make this game interesting from a betting perspective.

FDU is fifth in the country in 3-point percentage, and although the Knights don’t shoot from the arc that often, it is a weapon that can keep this game within covering range.

The Knights are close to the worst rebounding team in the nation, ranking 115th in offensive rebound percentage but a lowly 328th on the defensive side. But if the Zags have a weakness, it’s on the boards (128th overall in rebounding).

How to Beat Gonzaga

We have to assume Gonzaga will not shoot 12% from 3-point range like the WCC Championship against Saint Mary’s (though it’s worth noting that teams with great perimeter defense can stop Gonzaga, like Saint Mary’s, so mark that down for future rounds).

If there is a game for Gonzaga to get shooting back on track, it is against Fairleigh Dickinson, which ranks 215th against defending 3-pointers.

The Knights don’t have the athleticism to defend the Zags on the perimeter.

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura (21) dunks the basketball against the Saint Mary's Gaels during the first half in the finals of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura

The Pick

If you have listened to the Action Network Colleges podcast, I have singled this game out as an under spot.

Salt Lake City has an elevation over 4,000 feet, which has an affect even at the pro level for visiting teams going against the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets.

On the Gonzaga side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be playing a zone defense in the form of a 2-3 Syracuse or a 1-3-1 Baylor in their next game. I think Mark Few has spent the week preparing for a zone attack rather than Fairleigh Dickinson.

The first half and full game under should be considered.

As for the side, Fairleigh Dickinson does a few things that can get an inflated spread to the window. The Knights are 60th in the nation in free throw percentage, 115th on the offensive glass, and an average possession length on offense that ranks 260th translates to a lower scoring game.

I expect this number to steam, and Fairleigh Dickinson to potentially be on my card.

Collin’s Pick: Lean Under, Fairleigh Dickinson +27.5 or better

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: Gonzaga -28
  • Over/Under: 153
  • Score vs. FDU: Gonzaga 90.5 | FDU 62.53
  • Win Probability for Gonzaga-FDU: Gonzaga 99.3% | FDU 0.7%

# 2 Michigan vs. #15 Montana

  • Spread: Michigan -15
  • Over/Under: 129.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Montana (26-8) won the Big Sky regular season and conference tournament titles. It had a solid 53rd best non-conference strength of schedule and has the experience of facing the Wolverines in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. This will be Montana’s eighth postseason appearance in the past 10 years. The Grizz were 14-18 against the spread including 8-7 on the road.

Michigan (28-6) returns a solid nucleus from last year’s National Championship finalist. The Wolverines boast nine Quadrant I wins and a perfect 10-0 record against Quadrant II opponents. Michigan was 18-12 ATS, including 8-6 on the road.

Grizzlies’ Versatile Offense

Montana’s has still maintained a high level of offense despite losing leading scorer James Akoh in mid-February with a knee injury. The Grizzlies rank 12th in the nation in 2P efficiency and 25th in the country in 3P%. Montana also owns the seventh-best effective field goal percentage in the country.

Senior guard Ahmaad Rorie (15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.1 apg) is a dynamic offensive player. He put forth a dominant performance against Weber State in the Big Sky semifinals, scoring 28 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the field and going 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

The Grizzlies feature three players –in Sayeed Pridgett (47.4%), Kendal Manual (43.2%) and Donaven Dorsey (45.3%) — who thrive from beyond the arc. With Michigan’s defense excelling in all metric areas, getting hot from 3 would greatly improve Montana’s chances.

Michigan Offensive Whole > The Sum of The Parts

The Wolverines lack a true go-to scorer, with freshman Ignas Brazdeikis (15.1 ppg) leading the way statistically. Their balance has been both a blessing and a curse. Michigan has struggled to score late in games and has blown late second-half leads in all three Michigan State games.

The biggest difference on offense is the reduced 2P efficiency. In the past two years, Michigan ranked eighth and 35th, respectively, in that category. This season, the Wolverines are ranked 105th. They shot much better from 3-point range earlier in the season and can struggle to get baskets in critical moments.

The Wolverines typically struggle at offensive rebounding but will find it even tougher against Montana’s 43rd best defensive rebounding percentage.

The Pick

Michigan head coach John Beilein is one of the best in college basketball, but this Wolverine team has struggled to put opponents away. They are just 3-3 in their past six games. Michigan will win this game but the 15-point spread is simply too many points.

The Pick:  Montana +15, would bet to Montana +14

Our Projected Spread

  • Spread: Michigan -16.5
  • Total: 132.5
  • Proj Score: Michigan 74.5 | Montana 58
  • Win Probability: Michigan 96.5% | Montana 3.5%

#7 Wofford vs. #10 Seton Hall 

  • Spread: Wofford -2.5
  • Over/Under: 144.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.

No. 7 seed Wofford (19-11 against the spread) has racked up 20 consecutive outright victories — the longest active winning streak in Division I — but it shouldn’t take No. 10 seed Seton Hall (17-16 ATS) lightly. The Pirates have covered in five straight affairs, winning four outright.

Which team provides more value in the Round of 64?

Stardom in the Backcourt in Seton Hall-Wofford

Marquette-Murray State will provide arguably the best individual scoring matchup in the Round of 64 in Markus Howard vs. Ja Morant, but this one isn’t far off.

Wofford two-guard Fletcher Magee (20.5 points per game) is an elite microwave scorer, especially from behind the arc (43.9%).

On the flip side, Seton Hall’s Myles Powell (22.9 ppg) provides just as much excitement via his ability to sink his pull-up jumper from anywhere. As play-by-play voice Gus Johnson would say, “Powell, from Trenton!

No matter which team ends up covering, there won’t be a shortage of thrilling moments from these two matchup nightmares.

Can Wofford Best Seton Hall’s Elite Perimeter Defense?

With Magee at the helm, the Terriers present the 11th-highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (118.4 points per 100 possessions) in the country, led by the second-highest 3-point clip (41.6%).

But the Pirates’ defense squared up well vs. countless perimeter-oriented offenses in Big East play, yielding the third-lowest 3-point clip during that stretch (34.6%).

Seton Hall point guard Quincy McKnight provided tremendous on-ball defense throughout, shutting down a hampered Markus Howard (wrist, 1-of-15 shooting) in the conference tournament semifinals.

The Pirates allowed the fourth-lowest scoring rate from behind the arc (32.8%) against their conference foes, an even though the Pirates are a below-average defensive rebounding team (29.6%), many of Wofford’s misses will trickle out further because it primarily shoots from distance. Defensive rebounding will come down to effort.

The Southern Conference is no layup drill — UNC Greensboro and Furman both possessed a shot at earning a ticket to the big dance — but I expect Seton Hall’s next-level defense to stifle Wofford’s 3-point attack just enough.

Wofford Has One Big Flaw

As often as Powell  jacks up a long-range jumpers, the Pirates have still relied on their interior offense during their recent hot stretch.

Paced by Powell and McKnight off the dribble drive, along with the 6-foot-10 Sandro Mamukelashvili in the low post, Kevin Willard’s bunch has manufactured the 97th-highest 2-point scoring rate in the nation (51.8%).

Wofford’s most glaring defensive flaw comes via defending the lane: The Terriers have let up a below-average 2-point scoring percentage of 50.9%.

Majors such as Oklahoma and Mississippi State were able to take advantage of the Terriers in non-conference play, and the same should happen in a spot where Seton Hall can control the tempo while speeding up a Wofford squad that surprisingly doesn’t favor that style of play.

Eli’s Pick: Seton Hall +2.5 (down to +2)

Our 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: Wofford -1
  • Total: 141
  • Proj Score: Wofford 71 | Seton Hall 70
  • Win Probability: Wofford 50.2% | Seton Hall 49.8%

#3 Purdue vs. #14 Old Dominion

  • Spread: Purdue -12.5
  • Over/Under: 126
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

Before digging into each team’s profile, I’d just like to go on record with a bold statement: This is one of my favorite potential upsets of this round. I am not naive enough to guarantee Old Dominion wins, as there are an infinite number of ways this can play out. Purdue winning by 30 is, of course, possible.

What I will say is that there are specific indicators present in this game that lead me to believe Old Dominion is undervalued as both a side and especially as a moneyline bet.

Purdue Will Present New Challenge for Old Dominion

Carsen Edwards is an excellent scorer who is also an all-conference player, but his recent performances have left a lot to be desired. In his past three games, he’s shot just 17-for-66 (25.7%) from the field, and 7-for-33 (21.2%) from 3.

In both non-conference and Big Ten play, Purdue was very deliberate, with slow tempo and offensive time of possession numbers, but incredibly efficient with the possessions it did have.

The Boilermakers take a very high number of 3s relative to their overall shots, and score 37.3% of their points from beyond the arc. Old Dominion is a reasonable 3-point defensive team, ranking in the top 100 in percentage allowed, but that’s still an advantage for Purdue and where it will attack.

It’s worth noting that in Old Dominion’s two strong non-conference wins vs. VCU and Syracuse, it didn’t have to worry about opposing 3-point shooting, as those two teams are in the bottom 10% of the entire country in 3-point percentage. Purdue will present different challenges than those teams did.

Old Dominion Has Rebounding Edge

The Monarchs rank 325th in adjusted tempo and 316th in offensive time of possession. Purdue plays deliberately as well, hence a very low total.

Old Dominion does not shoot well, but its advantage in this game is clearly the offensive glass, an area where Purdue really struggled in conference play. The Boilers were ninth in Big Ten play in OREB% allowed, and Old Dominion was the best in C-USA at securing them.

In a game that should have a very limited number of possessions due to tempo, gaining extra ones thru offensive rebounding is absolutely Old Dominion’s path to competitiveness. It will need Purdue to miss some 3s too, but that’s only half of the equation.

The Two Purdues

The most compelling factor for me in this game, aside from Matt Painter’s relative lack of tournament success despite talented teams, is how insanely different Purdue was at home vs. on the road/neutral courts this season.

In non-conference play, Purdue played six road/neutral games and went 2-4, with wins over App State and Davidson. It lost to Notre Dame on a neutral court, in a game that still perplexes me to this day.

The profile becomes more compelling in conference play, where the Boilers went 6-4 in true road games. That may sound perfectly reasonable, but the team was the beneficiary of an incredible number of lucky bounces in close games. They won two games in overtime — at Wisconsin and at Penn State — then won at Indiana by two and at Nebraska by three.

There are a handful of possessions that could have turned their profile into an 8-9-10 seed, something like what Minnesota has on paper right now. Their splits are just too compelling to ignore across the entire season and the entire profile is being inflated significantly by what they did at home, and I don’t think there’s any evidence that’s the type of team you’re going to get in Hartford on Thursday.

Taking the Points

With two teams playing slow and the favorite relying heavily on the 3-point shot (and struggling away from home), I think that creates the recipe for extreme volatility, which makes Old Dominion’s moneyline worth a shot at +800.

Also because the total is so low (and rightfully so), I think 12.5 is too high of a number as well, considering how few possessions there will be. Making an adjustment for Purdue’s home-road splits, I make this number closer to 9-9.5, and would play Old Dominion down to that range.

Ken’s Pick: Old Dominion +12.5/+800

Our Spread Projection

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: Purdue -15
  • Total: 133
  • Proj Score: Purdue 74 | Old Dominion 59
  • Win Probability: Purdue 94.9% | Old Dominion 5.1%

#8 Syracuse vs. #9 Baylor

  • Spread: Syracuse -2
  • Over/Under: 132
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

This is one of the most intriguing first-round matchups because of each team’s respective defensive scheme.

There are only eight teams in the entire field that ran a zone defense at least 30% of the time during the regular season. Baylor and Syracuse were two of them — although Syracuse did so with much more regularity and the two zones are drastically different schematically.

Which team is better equipped to handle the other’s zone defense? Let’s take a close look at this matchup to determine which. school will move on for a likely date with North Carolina.

Howard Out for Syracuse

Wednesday night, some disappointing news dropped for Syracuse: Point guard Frank Howard was suspended for violating athletic department policy.

Howard has started almost every game over the last two seasons and averages 8.9 points per game.

The line didn’t immediately move on Wednesday, but Syracuse already has one of the thinnest rotations in the country.

Most Important Matchup in Baylor-Syracuse

Despite the drastic differences between the two zones, shooting will still matter. And the Bears are the far superior 3-point shooting team.

While their season-long 34.0% 3-point shooting doesn’t look that impressive, their percentage during Big 12 does. Baylor shot 37.3% during conference play, which led the league.

Syracuse shot just 33.0% from 3-point range (244th in NCAA). And unlike Baylor, it didn’t improve much as the season progressed. The Orange shot only marginally better during ACC play at 33.8%.

When it comes to perimeter shooting, Baylor has the edge, which is key against any zone. Just look at these teams’ respective zone offenses.

Syracuse scored just 0.832 points per possession in its zone offense, which ranks in the 16th-percentile nationally (per Synergy). It has one of the five-worst zone offenses in the entire tourney field.

Conversely, Baylor has been much more successful in its zone offense. The Bears scored a much higher 0.979 against opposing zones, which ranks inside the top 100 in the country.

Other Factors to Consider

The Bears rebound on the offensive end at an impressive clip. In fact, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the field and second-best nationally.

Baylor should have a field day in that regard against a Cuse zone that has historically been extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounds. That’s no different this season, as Jim Boeheim’s bunch ranks 335th nationally in opponent offensive rebounding percentage. Only Washington and Georgia State (two other zone teams) allow a higher clip.

Expect plenty of second-chance opportunities and easy put-backs when Baylor doesn’t connect from deep.

Baylor closed the season with four consecutive losses, but it’s not like the Orange ended theirs ablaze. They closed out the season with a 2-5 record, and those two wins came against ACC bottom-feeders Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Neither team comes in with much momentum.

In a game that I make a true coin flip, I’ll take the points with the better zone offense and superior rebounding team.

THE PICK: Baylor +2

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: Syracuse -1
  • Total: 133.5
  • Proj Score: Syracuse 67.5 | Baylor 66.5
  • Win Probability: Syracuse 50.2% | Baylor 49.8%

Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are 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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