4 NCAA Tournament Picks & Predictions For Friday’s Early Games
Getty Images. Pictured: Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr.
The First Four proved to be a thrilling starter, but the real madness begins on Friday.
The Round of 64 kicks off with 16 games, but don’t be overwhelmed by the high volume of betting options — our college basketball analysts did the hard work of identifying the four best bets for the first eight games of the day. Let’s dive right in.
NCAA Tournament Odds & Picks
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Note: All photos below are via Getty Images.
(7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia Tech
Just one game into the tournament slate and I feel like I’m going crazy looking at the market for this game.
Seeds be damned, Virginia Tech is flat-out the better team. Since Keyontae Johnson’s medical issue forced him out of the Florida lineup, the Gators are just 11-9 and haven’t beaten an NCAA Tournament team since January 30.
Florida has become overly-dependent on Tre Mann to create on the offensive end. It’s led to a stagnant offense that is singularly focused — over their last eight games, the Gators have assisted on just 41.7% of their field goals. That mark would be among the 10 lowest in the nation if extrapolated over the full season.
Virginia Tech’s Mike Young is a better game-planner than Florida’s Mike White and should have the X’s and O’s advantage in this game.
The Hokies also had the most efficient defense in ACC play this year. There’s no reason to believe that Florida’s unbalanced offense can succeed against Virginia Tech.
Pick: Virginia Tech -110 (to -120)
(6) Texas Tech vs. (11) Utah State
By Pat McMahon
This game has all the makings of a slow and ugly start.
First of all, both teams are excellent defensively. Utah State ranks eighth in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, while Texas Tech isn’t far behind at 23rd. Utah State also ranks 15th in scoring defense (62.2 ppg) while Texas Tech ranks 28th (63.4).
The Aggies boast the nation’s fourth-best 2-point field goal defense (42.9%) and seventh-best overall field defense (38.9%), though — bad news for a Red Raiders squad that struggles from the floor, hitting just 44.3% as a team.
On the other side of the floor, Utah State’s shooting isn’t all that better. The Aggies rank 180th in effective field goal percentage and shoot 44.6% from the field and just 33.6% from 3-point range, so they should be in for a rough afternoon against a Red Raiders defense that surrenders just 41% shooting from the field.
Finally, Texas Tech plays at a snail’s pace (316th in adjusted tempo) and will want to control the tempo from the jump.
This should be a tight chess match between two of the nation’s best defenses, and we shouldn’t see a big run from either side early. Utah State played San Diego State — a team with a similar tempo and defensive prowess as Texas Tech — three times this season. Those three games averaged 53.3 first-half points, with the highest point total being 55. This has the feel of a similar opening half, so I see a lot of value on the under at 61.
Pick: 1H Under 61 (down to 60)
(2) Ohio State vs. (15) Oral Roberts
Oral Roberts is the most dangerous 15-seed in the field because of its offense, which averaged an astounding 81.8 points per game this season. That offense will match against an Ohio State defense that struggles in the pick-and-roll, which is Oral Roberts bread-and-butter.
The Golden Eagles run a 5-out motion offense that translates into a pick-and-roll style between Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor.
Abmas is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, averaging 24.4 points this season. He’s a true hooper who had two 40-point efforts and scored 30 or more points in six games this season. He’s hitting an astounding 43.8% from behind the arc and 89.9% of his free-throws. And he should have success running the pick-and-roll with Obanor, who can score both in the post and hitting outside jumpers.
Oral Roberts shoots the 22nd-most 3-point attempts in the country and converts at a 38.8% clip, good for 11th nationally. Going against an Ohio State defense that has struggled defending the 3-point shot all season should bode well for Oral Roberts.
There’s no denying this Oral Roberts team can score — specifically Abmas, who can do it against any team in the country. Give me the points with the underdog that might not beat Ohio State, but should put up enough points to cover comfortably.
(2) Ohio State vs. (15) Oral Roberts
There are going to be so many 3-pointers jacked up in this game.
Ohio State is one of the best offenses in the nation and shoots better than 36% from 3-point range. The Buckeyes shoot 3s on almost 40% of their field goal attempts, but I wouldn’t be shocked if that number rises to around 50% on Friday because Oral Roberts’ perimeter defense is downright awful, ranking 266th in 3-point defense.
The Buckeyes are also elite scoring inside, shooting 60% on shot attempts at the rim, per Hoop-Math. They also should have a ton of second chance opportunities because Oral Roberts is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking 328th, per KenPom.
Oral Roberts is most likely going to lose this game, but the Golden Eagles are going to go down swinging. They’re a deadly 3-point shooting team, hitting 38.8% of their attempts on the season. What’s crazy, though, is that Oral Roberts shoots 3s on 46% of its field goal attempts, which is the 22nd-highest rate in the nation. If that wasn’t enough, the Golden Eagles also have the nation’s leading scorer in Max Abmas, who is averaging 24.2 points per game.
Oral Roberts loves to push the pace, ranking 46th in adjusted tempo, so the Golden Eagles will no doubt try and pull the Buckeyes out of their comfort zone.
Another factor Oral Roberts has going for it is the Golden Eagles are the best free-throw shooting team in the nation at 82.6%. Ohio State is 235th in free-throw rate allowed, so Oral Roberts may be able to get a good chunk of its points at the charity stripe.
I have this total projected at 162.95, so there’s plenty of value on the over at 156.5 points.