Friday Mega Preview: Predictions, Analysis for Every Tourney Game

Friday Mega Preview: Predictions, Analysis for Every Tourney Game article feature image
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© Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

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Merry Christmas again. See, in this world, we get back-to-back days of Christmas. Let’s dive right in and see what Santa has in store for us on Friday. In today’s NCAA Tournament betting guide, we will cover every game on Friday, looking at key matchups and metrics, along with trends and our favorite bets from our crew of experts (Stuckey, Jordan Majewski, Bryan Mears and Ken Barkley — aka @LockyLockerson).

Be sure to check back here up until game time for insight into last-minute sharp action, significant line moves and any other betting market info.

Let’s get to it!

All spreads as of Thursday morning. 


#10 Providence vs. #7 Texas A&M -2 | O/U: 138.5

Charlotte, NC | 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Can Providence keep Texas A&M off the glass?

Providence isn’t a terrible rebounding team (its metrics are ever so slightly below average), but it hasn’t seen a front line such as Texas A&M’s this season. The Aggies rank 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage (some of that was accumulated with star forward Robert Williams out). A reasonable amount of their offense comes from simply bullying other teams underneath.

Providence, meanwhile, is built more to stop the opposing team from shooting 3s (which helps explain why it plays Villanova competitively). However, that is an area in which the Aggies don’t excel. The Friars seem ill-equipped to deal with the physicality and height that the Aggies will bring to this game. — Ken Barkley

Did You Know?

The Aggies shot under 40% from the field in each their final three games before the tournament. Since the 2006 tourney, teams entering the Big Dance on a streak of three or more games of shooting under 40% from the field are 15-3-1 against the spread (83.3%). That includes Radford’s win and cover against LIU-Brooklyn Tuesday night. (Auburn also enters March Madness in this situation). — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Providence is attracting heavy public action (70% of tickets), which has forced oddsmakers to drop the line from +4 down to +3. Hello there trendy dog! — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Looking for Texas A&M live if it gets down 6 or more
Mears: Texas A&M -2
Ken: Texas A&M -2

#15 CS Fullerton vs. #2 Purdue -20.5 | O/U: 147

Detroit, MI | 12:40 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: How Fullerton guards Purdue center Isaac Haas.

Purdue’s offense was really a juggernaut for most of the season. The Boilers enter the tournament ranked No. 2 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric and No. 5 in effective FG percentage. Fullerton’s defensive metrics aren’t horrible relative to other lower seeds, but the Titans do rank 196th in average height. Their primary three-guard lineup features two forwards at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9. That is not a good recipe for containing the 7-foot-2 Haas, who should see plenty of double-teams. As a result, Haas should be able to find wide open 3-point shooters with regularity. With Purdue leading the tournament in 3-point percentage, that does not bode well for Fullerton. The over (147) may also be assailable.  — Ken Barkley

Did You Know?

In 2005, Sean Miller (Arizona) made his first NCAA Tournament appearance with Xavier and Matt Painter became the head coach at Purdue. Since then, no two head coaches have been more profitable against the spread in the first two rounds of the tourney than Miller (12-4-2 ATS) and Painter (12-4 ATS).

Purdue enters the tournament having lost three straight games ATS. Under Painter, the Boilermakers are 8-1 ATS in the tourney when they failed to cover their previous game entering the Dance. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Sixty percent of spread tickets and 75% of dollars wagered are laying the points, yet the line has ticked down from an opener of -20.5 to -20 at Bookmaker.eu. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Purdue -20.5

#13 Marshall vs. #4 Wichita State -12 | O/U: 167.5

San Diego, CA | 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Wichita State’s defense

I’m not sure Wichita State can defend Marshall in pick and roll and in transition. It’s been a sore spot for Gregg Marshall’s defense all season, a unit that has been the worst he’s had at Wichita State since his first year on the job back in 2007-08. Conversely, this is the best offense Marshall (the coach) has ever had anywhere, and Marshall (the team) might slice up the Shockers in pick and roll, but  the Thundering Herd can’t defend or even come close to rebounding with WSU. There’s a reason why Vegas thinks points will be scored in this game. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

The total for Wichita State-Marshall currently sits at 167.5, which marks just the fifth NCAA Tournament game with a total of 165 or higher since 2005. In the four previous games, the over went 2-2. — John Ewing

Wichita State is currently getting fewer than 40% of the total bets. Under Gregg Marshall, Wichita State is 6-1-1 ATS (85.7%) when it’s not receiving the majority of tickets in the tournament, covering by an average of 7.4 points per game. Over that same span, the Shockers are 3-5 ATS when receiving the majority of tickets.  — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Marshall also finds itself in a trendy dog spot, garnering 57% of tickets as a 12.5-point underdog. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: Marshall +12
Ken: Marshall +12

#15 Georgia State vs. #2 Cincinnati -14 | O/U: 130

Nashville, TN | 2 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If Georgia State can grab any rebounds.

I get why people are interested in the Georgia State number: The Panthers are well-coached and are 26th in opponents’ effective field goal percentage. They’re the sixth-best rim-protecting team, and they’re top-15 in transition defense. They won’t beat themselves, and that’s valuable in March. But my analysis might stop at one metric: Rebounding. The Bearcats rank third in offensive rebound rate, and the Panthers rank 321st in defensive rebound rate. Cincy has its issues scoring at times, ranking just 147th in effective field goal percentage, but that won’t matter with 2-3 shots per trip down the floor. — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Top-2 seeds in the first round by point spread since 2006:

  • Favored by 20 or more: 46.5% ATS
  • By fewer than 20: 61.1% ATS  Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Fifty-eight percent of tickets are backing Cincinnati, but 67% of dollars wagered are taking the points with Georgia State, driving this line down from +15.5 to +13.5. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Under 130
Jordan: Under 130
Mears: Under 130
Ken: Cincinnati -14

#15 Lipscomb vs. #2 North Carolina -19.5 | O/U: 162.5

Charlotte, NC | 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Pace

This is one of the highest totals in the tournament. When people think of North Carolina, they think of pushing in transition off misses, off makes, off anything. Meanwhile, Lipscomb played a conference tournament final against Florida Gulf Coast that was basically “first to 100 wins.” So an easy over here, right?

Not so fast. This isn’t necessarily a typical Carolina team, as it ranked just 50th in pace nationally. Also, its defense held opponents to an average possession length of 18.3 seconds, one of the longest in the country. (For comparison, Virginia’s average is 18.7, Purdue’s 18.8.) A lot of UNC’s offense comes from offensive rebounding, but Lipscomb actually boards well on defense (granted, it doesn’t play teams such as Carolina very often). This game may be lower-scoring than people think. — Ken Barkley

Did You Know?

During his career at North Carolina, head coach Roy Williams is 16-0 straight-up and 12-3-1 ATS (80%) when playing an NCAA Tournament game in the state of North Carolina. — Evan Abrams

North Carolina in the NCAA tournament since 2005:

  • All games: 28-20-2 (58%) ATS
  • As a favorite: 28-15-2 (65%) ATS
  • As a favorite of 3 or more: 26-13 (67%) ATS — John Ewing

Betting Market

Not only are sharp bettors hammering the under in this matchup, but North Carolina is also one of Friday’s most overvalued sides among public bettors. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Lipscomb +19.5
Ken: Over 162.5

#10 Butler -1.5 vs. #7 Arkansas | O/U: 151

Detroit, MI | 3:10 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: How tightly the refs call this game.

As evidenced by the spread, this is one of the most evenly matched first-round games. The margins will be slim, unless the refs call this game really tightly. Not only would that hurt the pressure-style defense of Arkansas, but Butler also has a significant advantage at the free-throw line. Butler shoots 77.1% from the line, good enough for 23rd nationally. Conversely, Arkansas hits free throws at a 67.8% clip, which ranks 301st nationally. That disparity in free points adds up. — Stuckey

Did You Know?

Since 2005, not including play-in games, when a double-digit seed is favored: 28-15 (65%) ATS.  — John Ewing

Butler against the number in the NCAA Tournament since 2005:

  • vs. SEC: 2-2 ATS
  • vs. all other conferences: 19-3-1 ATS  Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Butler, always a popular team in March, is receiving 63% of spread tickets as a 1.5-point favorite despite being the lower-seeded team in this matchup. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

None of our experts is betting this game at the moment.

#12 Murray State vs. #5 West Virginia -10.5 | O/U: 145.5

San Diego, CA | 4 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Murray State’s half-court offense

Jonathan Stark (21.8 ppg) and Ja Morant comprise a phenomenal backcourt for the Racers. Stark is a pure scoring point, while Morant (6.4 apg) is a poor man’s Rajon Rondo. They should be able to handle Press Virginia. What I’m more concerned about is Murray State’s ability to score in the half court and keep WVU off the offensive glass. With Jevon Carter, Beetle Bolden, and Dax Miles taking turns on Stark and Morant, the key might be Terrell Miller Jr.’s ability to drag shot-blocking monster Sagaba Konate out of the paint to open up the lane for Stark and Morant to attack the rim and draw some contact. You can count on the Mountaineers obliging with latter. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

Murray State was the last Ohio Valley Conference team to win a first-round game (2012), but OVC teams have had plenty of success against the number. Since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, the Ohio Valley Conference is 10-3 ATS in the first round.  — Evan Abrams

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: West Virginia -10.5

#10 Texas -1 vs. #7 Nevada | O/U: 143.5

Nashville, TN | 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The Nevada half-court offense.

Can head coach Eric Musselman’s pace-and-space scheme open up the outstanding half-court defense of the Longhorns? Nevada doesn’t have a true point guard, especially with Lindsey Drew hurt, but the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) are an unfair matchup as a pair of 6-foot-7 perimeter threats. Cody is the facilitator (4.6 apg) and lock-down defender, while Caleb is the scoring machine (19.1 ppg) and deadeye 3-point shooter (40.8%). If Jordan Caroline can get Texas stud freshman Mo Bamba defending out of his comfort zone, Nevada’s small ball will win out. If not, Texas will turn this into a rock fight and smother the Pack with its length.  — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

For just the third time in the last 20 years, Texas is a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. Good thing the Longhorns brought in head coach Shaka Smart, who went 7-1 ATS (87.5%) as a double-digit seed at VCU.  — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Sixty-five percent of dollars wagered are on Texas, moving this number from a pick’em to Longhorns -1.5. – PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

None of our experts is betting this game at the moment.

#9 Kansas State vs. #8 Creighton -1 | O/U: 144.5

Charlotte, NC | 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The pace battle.

Creighton owns a top-10 offense, and that’s despite almost never grabbing an offensive board. The Bluejays rank 55th in the nation in offensive pace of play, and they’re seventh in percentage of shots in transition. Juxtapose that style against the methodical one of the Wildcats, who rank 303rd in pace and almost never get out in transition. However, the Wildcats can be beat if opponents speed them up, as K-State ranks 262nd in transition defense. Underdogs playing at a pace of 70 possessions/40 minutes have gone 112-79-7 (58.6%) ATS since 2009, although that number dips to just 62-50-4 (55.4%) against fast-paced teams. Controlling the tempo will determine who wins this game. — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Since the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Creighton is 4-8 SU and 2-9-1 ATS (18.2%) in the Big Dance. Under coach Greg McDermott, the Blue Jays are 1-5-1 ATS in the NCAA Tourney. — Evan Abrams

The favorite in the No. 8 vs No. 9 seed matchup has gone 19-30-3 ATS (39%) since 2005. — John Ewing

Betting Market

A slight majority (53%) of tickets have come down on Creighton, but 64% of dollars are backing Kansas State. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Kansas State +1
Jordan: Kansas State +1
Mears: Kansas State +1

#14 Bucknell vs. #3 Michigan State -14.5 | O/U: 148.5

Detroit, MI | 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If Bucknell can score on the wing.

Bucknell runs post offense at the second-highest rate in the country thanks to 6-foot-9 big Nana Foulland. However, Michigan State has the best 2PT% defense in the country, and Jaren Jackson has come into his own as a post defender. The Bison’s lethal wing scorer Zach Thomas has been clearly hindered by a mask to protect his broken nose, and it’s unclear if he’ll be mask-free for the first round. Bucknell has a no-gamble defense, which means the Spartans can run their Hawk action unabated without the turnover issues that have plagued them all year. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

Since 1990, the Patriot League has only four NCAA Tournament wins. Bucknell has two of those victories, both of which came in the first round as a No. 14 seed.  — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Another bets vs. dollars discrepancy here with 67% of tickets laying the points with Michigan State, but only 47% of actual dollars backing the Spartans. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Michigan State -14.5

#16 Texas Southern vs. #1 Xavier -19.5 | O/U: 160

Nashville, TN | 7:20 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Xavier’s focus level.

Texas Southern is playing at a higher level than you typically see from a SWAC entry, as coach Mike Davis finally has his full roster in place. TSU can score off penetration from the point with waterbug Demontrae Jefferson (23.4 ppg), off the wing and Donte Clark (18.6 ppg) off the wing, and through the post with 7-foot-2 Trayvon Reed (8.8 rpg). This isn’t a one-trick pony, low-level D1 team. Xavier has had its problems staying focused defensively, and a player such as Jefferson is ready to make a name for himself on the national level. Of course, there’s a whole host of reasons why this could turn into a blowout, but TSU isn’t to be taken lightly. Davis also always preps his team with a brutal out-of-conference schedule, as he did this year. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

Since 2006, Xavier is 20-5-2 ATS (80%) in the NCAA Tournament, the second-most profitable team in the country over that span. However, Xavier has been listed as a double-digit favorite only twice in those 27 games (2-0 ATS) and as a favorite of more than five points just four times (4-0 ATS). — Evan Abrams

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Texas Southern +19.5
Jordan: Texas Southern +19.5

#13 Charleston vs. #4 Auburn -9 | O/U: 148

San Diego, CA | 7:27 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The pace battle, again!

I hate to essentially copy from above, but the pace battle will also be critical in this matchup. Charleston ranks 324nd in pace, while Auburn ranks 21st. The Cougars never go for offensive rebounds, instead opting to get back on defense, which is a primary reason why they allow the fewest transition opportunities in the country. Conversely, the Tigers like to hit the offensive glass.

I mentioned an interesting ATS trend in the Kansas State-Creighton section, and slowing down the pace could benefit Charleston spread backers. That, combined with the fact that the Cougars are one of the best teams in basketball at protecting the ball, means the under could also be worth a look. Possessions will drag if Charleston has its way. — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Since the 2006 NCAA Tournament, only six teams have closed with a spread-ticket percentage of less than 40% in the first round as a top-4 seed. Those six teams are 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS, covering the spread by 3.3 PPG. (At the time of this writing, this trend also applied to Texas Tech and Wichita State. See live ticket percentages here.) — Evan Abrams

Auburn enters the tournament on a four-game ATS losing streak. Teams that have failed to cover four or more games in a row entering the Big Dance have gone 5-19 (21%) ATS in the first round since 2005. — John Ewing

Betting Market

College of Charleston is one of the most popular public sides of the day, forcing oddsmakers to drop this line from the opener of -11 down to the current number. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: Charleston +9
Ken: Over 148

#16 UMBC vs. #1 Virginia -21 | O/U: 121

Charlotte, NC | 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: UMBC bombs

As a team, UMBC is capable enough from 3 to hang around. The Terriers collectively shoot 38.2% from deep, which ranks 43rd nationally. The UMBC guards in particular won’t hesitate to chuck over Virginia’s pack-line defense. If the UMBC guards are making a high percentage early, the confidence will go a long way against the No. 1 overall seed. I do know the Retrievers won’t be afraid, as UMBC has an extremely experienced backcourt, led by senior guards Jairus Lyles (20.2 ppg and 38.7% from 3) and K.J. Maura (11.4 ppg and 42.3% from 3).

Even junior forward Joe Sherburne (10.9 ppg) and sophomore Arkel Lamar (10.5 ppg) can stroke from deep at 42.3% and 43.2%, respectively. Bottom line, UMBC has multiple shooters to stay within this number. — Stuck

Did You Know?

In the past five years, the over is 22-12-1 in tournament games with a total under 125.  — Ewing

Since 2005, teams favored by 20 or more points in the NCAA Tournament are 22-29 (43.1%) ATS. — Abrams

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: UMBC +21

#11 Syracuse vs. #6 TCU -4 | O/U: 136.5

Detroit, MI | 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Syracuse’s energy level.

This is not a deep team. Having to turn around for a Friday night game in Detroit after a tight, physical game on Wednesday in Dayton might be too difficult of a task for ‘Cuse. Head coach Jim Boeheim is technically using a seven-man rotation, but it is really five players. Against Arizona State, the Orange had a total of 11 bench minutes. Their five starters all played at least 34 minutes. (Guards Frank Howard and Tyus Battle both played all 40 minutes!) If they are just a little bit fatigued, that zone will lose a little luster. A few late rotations make all the difference in Boeheim’s zone scheme. — Stuckey

Did You Know?

Since winning the 2003 NCAA Tournament, Jim Boeheim is 8-5 SU as an underdog in the Big Dance, including Syracuse’s First Four win as a 1-point dog against Arizona State Wednesday night. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

This is currently the largest bets vs. dollars discrepancy of the day with 59% of tickets taking Syracuse and 71% of dollars on TCU. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

None of our experts is betting this game at the moment.

#9 Florida State -1.5 vs. #8 Missouri | O/U: 147

Nashville, TN | 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The flow of Missouri’s offense.

The Tigers’ offense has a lot of moving parts. Missouri is trying to assimilate star guard Michael Porter Jr. back into the lineup. (The offense was clearly out of rhythm in MPJ’s return against Georgia in the SEC tourney.) Additionally, Missouri will be without forward and second-leading scorer Jordan Barnett, who is suspended for a recent DWI. That’s a lot to ask of an offense this late in the season against an elite Florida State defense. — Stuckey

Did You Know?

No. 8 seeds getting points against No. 9 seeds are 15-7-1 ATS since 2005. — John Ewing

As Florida State’s coach, Leonard Hamilton is 2-7 ATS in the NCAA Tournament. Hamilton and the Seminoles have failed to cover their past five games ATS. Florida State was listed as the favorite in all five of those games. — Evan Abrams

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Florida State -1.5
Jordan: Florida State -1.5
Mears: Missouri +1.5
Ken: Over 147

#12 New Mexico State vs. #5 Clemson -5 | O/U: 133

San Diego, CA | 9:57 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: New Mexico’s State backcourt length

Brad Brownell heard the criticisms about his stodgy motion offense, and switched to a modern pick and roll heavy attack the past two years. The brutal irony is that he faces an excellent pick-and-roll defense in NMSU in the first round. This is one of the rare instances where a mid-major team has more size in the backcourt and wing than the power conference team. Zach Lofton and Dennis Rodman clone Jemerrio Jones could thrive offensively. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

Over the past 20 years (since 1998 NCAA Tournament), Clemson is 0-5 SU and ATS in the first round of the tournament, failing to cover the spread by an amazing 9.3 PPG. The Tigers were the better seed in four of the five tournament losses. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Public bettors (72% of tickets) are all over New Mexico State, putting them in another classic trendy dog spot. — PJ Walsh

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: New Mexico State +5
Jordan: New Mexico State +5, Under 133
Mears: New Mexico State +5


Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writers and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

Purdue forward Vincent Edwards and center Isaac Haas pictured above; photo credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports