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New Mexico (29-5) will face Harvard (19-9) in Salt Lake City, Utah, to open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. The Bookmakers opened New Mexico up as 11 point favorites, but bettors quickly moved that line to 11.5 points as the Lobos enter March Madness as one of the hottest teams in college basketball, winning 9 of their last 10 games (9-1 SU & 8-2 ATS). The Total opened at 126 points, but is currently 125 points after dropping by less than a basket.
New Mexico own a 29-5 record this season behind an impressive 15-1 home mark, but the Lobos should have no trouble in this tournament as they're true road warriors, posting a 14-4 SU (11-7 ATS) record playing away from home. New Mexico averages 67.4 points per game while shooting 42.5% from the field. The Lobos are known for their stingy defensive play, holding opponents to just 60.4 points per game and 38.8% shooting from the field.
Harvard is 19-9, but most of those victories came against lesser competition during Ivy League Conference play. Harvard backed in the Madness after ending the season at 2-2 SU & 1-3 ATS. Harvard is averaging 68.9 points per game and is known for their patience to wait for the open shot, as their incredible 48.2% shooting percentage indicates. Harvard allowed foes to average 63.9 points per game and 44.1% shooting. The main question on Thursday will be if Harvard can continue their accurate offensive shooting against the smothering New Mexico defense that's much stronger than the Ivy League defenses.
Harvard last played on March 9, beating Cornell, 65-56. They'll have 12 days of rest to prepare for New Mexico, but the long layoff might work against them as they're 0-10 ATS when playing with a week or more of rest behind Head Coach Amaker. Expect this jump in class to be to tough for Harvard and the New Mexico defense will force them to take bad shots. Lay the points as New Mexico advances to the next round!
Saint Mary's had to play in Dayton for a play-in game with Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night and then has to play Memphis in the #6/11 game. Yes, the higher seed is actually the underdog here. Matthew Dellavedova is a great guard for Saint Mary's but I like a rested squad that is well coached by Josh Pastor.
I'm backing the Harvard Crimson as a double-digit underdog in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. I believe they have what it takes to upset New Mexico here, but I'm just taking the points for some insurance in a game that will go right down to the wire.
Harvard has gone out West and played some very good teams tough this year. It won at California 67-62 as an 11-point underdog, and lost at St. Mary's in the closing seconds 69-70 as a 12-point underdog. Both of those teams will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Those weren't the Crimson's only impressive showings on the road, either. They lost at UMass 64-67 as an 11-point underdog, won at Boston College 79-63 as a 4-point dog, lost at UConn 49-57 as a 9-point dog, and lost at Memphis 50-60 as a 13.5-point dog. As you can see, Harvard is certainly battle-tested heading into this one.
Harvard is 6-0 ATS in road games after allowing 65 points or less 2 straight games this season. The Crimson are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600. Harvard is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games vs. a team with a winning record. The Crimson are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games. Bet Harvard Thursday.
I am surprisingly bullish on the Cyclones in this tournament. They have a favourable first round matchup in their tournament opener against Notre Dame which seems to come up just a little short more often than not. Iowa State is battle tested and might be a little deeper than Notre Dame.
They also play a little differently than most teams in the Big East because their bigs are their best shooters. If they can get off to a good start they have a chance to run away from an ND team that is not great offensively.
Free Play Missouri -3
The pressure is much less this time around for Mizzou. This is a very talented team getting a nice opening round game against Colorado State - a good team but far from an imposing one. The key is hitting the glass, as long as Mizzou doesn’t get lazy they should be easily able to outshoot a slower less athletic team.
This team has the talent to beat any team in this tournament. This is the time of year where having one of the top 5 point guards is supposed to pay off. The Tigers could win this one by 20.
(735) CALIFORNIA VS (736) UNLV
Take: UNDER THE TOTAL.
Cal likes to play tough defense and the Golden Bears got here on a 12-5 run under the total. They will need to play the physical game against a UNLV team that can play any style but prefers to run. The under is 11-4 in the Golden Bears last 15 neutral site games. UNLV has plenty of defense, tops in the Mountain West in blocks and steals, plus ranked third in field goal shooting defense (38.8%). The under is 7-3-1 in the Runnin' Rebels last 11 neutral site games and 19-6-1 following a loss. Play Cal/UNLV under the total.
South Dakota State vs. Michigan
Pick: South Dakota St.
Michigan won its first 16 games this season but was just 10-7 SU (5-11-1 ATS) down the stretch. The Wolverines do get an excellent venue for this game (Auburn Hills is just miles from the Ann Arbor campus) but the Wolverines get no favors in their opponent, the South Dakota St Jackrabbits. Coach John Beilein's team makes its fourth trip in six years to the Big Dance and matched its No. 4 seed from a season ago, but the Wolverines (-5.5) lost their first game of the tourney last year to the 13th-seeded Bobcats, 65-60. Could a similar fate await them this year? Just maybe.
There is no doubt that Michigan fields a talented group but during the season’s second-half, the Wolverines have shown a lack of mental and physical toughness at crucial times down the stretch plus WAY too often, the offense (despite its many options), has become over-reliant on sophomore guard Trey Burke (19.2-3.1-6.7). Michigan’s perimeter-oriented team lacks a reliable post threat (Wolverines rank 156th in rebound margin), so one can expect that the Jackrabbits, a junior and senior-laden group, just may make the Wolverines ‘sweat’ the last few minutes of this game. SDSU’s 6-4 senior guard Nate Wolters (22.7-5.6-5.8) is a “player” and is joined by three other double digit scorers. That trio includes 6-8 junior Dykstra (12.5-7.9), 6-7 senior Fiegen (10.1-3.5) and 6-6 junior White (10.0-4.0).
The Jackrabbitts almost won at Alabama (lost 70-67 as six-point dogs) in this season’s first game and handed New Mexico (tied with Michigan for 10th in the final AP poll) its only loss this year in “The Pit,” 70-65 back on Dec 22 as 15-point underdogs. Let’s also not forget that in last year’s NCAA tourney, SDSU gave Baylor all it wanted, before falling 68-60 (that Baylor team would advance to the Elite 8). I expect Michigan to squeak by but I’m taking the points.
Ohio U’s strong performance in a truly awful spot at Denver in the NIT on Tuesday Night helps make the case that Akron really is worth supporting in a matchup that looks very bad for the Zips at first glance.
Remember, the Bobcats lost to the Zips in all three meetings this year, including an embarrassing blowout loss in the second half of the MAC Championship game. So, when Ohio U can hang around at a quality Denver squad for the full 40 minutes in a tough emotional and travel spot, it makes the Zips look that much better as they make the short trip to suburban Detroit to face their own tough test against VCU.
VCU is a very popular team right now in the betting markets, and we shouldn’t forget that the Rams have enjoyed a 7-1 pointspread run over the last two NCAA tournaments. That being said, VCU was an overvalued commodity in the betting markets all year, just 10-17 ATS for the season, including a 2-6 ATS mark down the stretch.
The Rams offense is often like fingers on a chalkboard; ugly to watch and heavily reliant on their ability to make three point shots. Akron’s defense beyond the arc has been stellar all year, holding foes to 32% shooting from long range. A similar showing on Thursday and we can expect the Zips to hang within this generous number. A healthy dose of contrarian thought goes a long way at this time of year...remember, there are no ‘accidental’ pointspreads posted – ever! Take Akron.
Belmont is coming off a 70-68 OT win over Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game on March 9th. Kerron Johnson had 12 points; JJ Mann had 18.
Arizona is coming off a 66-65 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. The Wildcats had already been assured a spot in the Tournament. Brandon Ashley had 15 points; Mark Lyons had 13.
Note that Belmont is 1-2 ATS its last three as an underdog, and only 1-6 ATS this season in all tournament games.
Note that Arizona is 7-5 ATS vs. good defensive teams that allow 64 points or less per contest.
There's some room to read between the lines in the Bruins victory over the Racers, as they were actually outshot 53.3 percent to 49.1 percent, and were outrebounded by a whopping 33 to 23. The Wildcats on the other hand are coming off a frustrating setback, and will be eager to take their frustrations out on someone: ''I don't know what seed we're going to get,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the loss to UCLA. ''We played well from start to finish and we lost. It's hard when you lose to a team three times.'' Consider laying the points on the "better" team!
Valparaiso is most experienced team in country, with two juniors and six seniors in rotation; Crusaders won last six games and 16 of last 18, but lost by hoop at Nebraska, one of worst teams in Big Dozen. Michigan State is 3-4 in last seven games, with all four losses to teams in top 15; they beat Loyola by 12, in only game vs Horizon foe. Spartans played toughest schedule in country; since 2000, Izzo is 3-2 as double digit favorite in this round, but covered just one of last four first round games. Last six years, #3 seeds are 16-8 against spread in this round; first round favorites of between 10-20 points are 27-22 vs spread.
Since 2001, Patriot League teams are 9-3 vs spread in this round, 2-1 if a single digit underdog; LY, Lehigh upset Duke in 2-15 game. Bucknell has a good resume, beating Purdue-New Mexico State-Kent State-LaSalle, losing by hoop at Missouri- this is highest seed for Patriot squad since Bucknell (+4) upset Arkansas 59-55 in an '09 8-9 game. Last four years, dogs are 11-5 vs spread in 6-11 games; since '09, first round underdogs of 5 or less points are 38-19 vs spread. Butler is 10-6 last 16 games after a 16-2 start; Stevens is master when given prep time- Butler was 3-1 as a favorite in two years they went to Finals (dog in six of ten wins).
Over last six years, underdogs are 18-6 vs spread in 8-9 games; since '99, underdogs of 4+ points are 5-2 in 8-9 games. Since '89, dogs are 16-8 SU in the 8-9 game in West region. Pitt missed tourney LY, then played the #339 non-league schedule this year; Dixon is 7-1 in first round tilts (5-3 vs spread), but all seven wins were as 5-seed or higher, loss as 9-seed to Pacific in '05. Wichita split its last six games, losing to Creighton twice; they lost to VCU in 5-12 game LY, their first tourney under Marshall. This figures to be a physical, low-scoring game. First round underdogs of 5 or less points are 38-19 against the spread.
Saint Louis played in Brooklyn last weekend, winning final on Sunday, now has early Thursday game in San Jose, not easiest travel schedule for veteran team that is fashionable pick as Final Foul sleeper. Billikens had rough 3-3 start, but are on 15-1 run now- they've got four juniors, three seniors in rotation, are in top 20 in country at getting to foul line, which could hurt if game isn't called tight. #4 seed in Midwest got upset four of last five years; other #4's are 9-6 vs spread (13-2 SU) during that time. New Mexico State has 7-5 freshman center; they've won 18 of 20 after a 6-8 start, are #3 team in country getting to line, but their best assist guy (Watson) has been injured. Aggies were in Vegas last week; less travel.
Davidson is very well-coached; they made run to Elite 8 in ’08 with Steph Curry, but those are SoCon’s only tournament wins since ’97. Since ’02, Wildcats are 1-4 in first round, losing by 5-8-12-7 points (lost 69-62 (+7) to Louisville LY). Marquette is 4-1 in last five first round games, winning last two years by 11-20 points (won 88-68 (-6) as 3-seed LY). Wildcats won last 17 games; they went 6-6 vs #16 non-conference schedule; best teams they beat were #83 Richmond, #85 Vandy. Marquette won six of last eight games, but lost in first Big East tourney game. First-round underdogs of 5 or less points are 38-19 vs spread, but over last 14 years, #3’s are 53-3 SU in this round.
Lot of pressure on Memphis coach Pastner, who went 19-0 in C-USA but has yet to win NCAA game, losing by 2-7 points last two years as replacement for Calipari, who was 12-3 in NCAAs three years prior to that. Tigers lost non-league game 64-62 at Xavier Feb 26, only loss since Dec 15 at home to Louisville. Memphis plays at #28 tempo; they'll try to wear down St Mary's with their better athletes. St Mary's played three starters 35+ minutes in methodical win Tuesday over an athletic Middle Tennessee team; Gaels are 24-4 in last 28 games, losing all three games with Gonzaga, by 5-17-14 points. Over last four years, underdogs are 11-5 vs spread in 6-11 games. St Mary's is 3-4 in NCAA games under Bennett, upsetting #2 Villanova on short prep time after beating #7 Richmond two days earlier, scenario similar to this one.
This is first time in five years the SWAC rep hasn’t gone to play-in game; they’re 2-4 vs spread in last six regular first-round games, losing last two by 43-41 points. Southern won 22 of last 26 games after its 1-6 start, losing to Iowa State by 23, Nebraska by 11, Wyoming by 7- they won at Texas A&M. Jaguars have #2 eFG% in country (41.6%) but no one in SWAC can shoot. From 2004-6, Gonzaga was #2-3-3 seed, won first round games by 27-10-4 points; this is its first #1 seed. Bulldogs are 11-0 vs teams ranked outside top 150, with 10 of 11 wins by 16+ points; they could be looking ahead to second round, vs Pitt/Wichita winner. Over last five years, #1’s are 13-7 vs spread in this round.
Oregon was 17-2 when PG Artis hurt his foot; they went 5-4 while he was out, are 4-2 since he came back, but 14 minutes he played in Pac-12 title game, and totals of 7-24 from floor, 2-11 inside arc since he came back indicate he isn’t close to 100%. Oklahoma State is in NCAAs for first time in three years, third time in seven years since Eddie Sutton retired; they won 12 of last 15 games, have one of two best freshmen in country in Smart (4-19 from arc in their last three losses, 3.4 3’s/game (13-41) in their last 12 wins). Last five years, underdogs are 12-8 vs spread in 5-12 games; since 1994, dogs are 15-4 vs spread in 5-12 Midwest game. Ducks took advantage of Jordan Adams’ injury to beat UCLA Saturday; 12-seed says they might be in NIT had they lost that game.
Since 1993, Louisville is 3-11-1 vs spread in first round games, losing in first round two of last three years; only other time they were a #1 seed, Cardinals (-20.5) beat Morehead State by 20. North Carolina A&T used four starters 31+ minutes in 73-72 play-in win Tuesday; Aggies lost at Cincinnati 93-39 in its only game against a Big East team. A&T is in serious trouble vs Louisville; they turn it over 22.5% of time, bad news vs Cardinal club that forces turnovers 27.6% of time, #2 in US. #1 seeds are 13-7 vs spread in this round, over last five years. Louisville is 3-0 vs teams ranked outside top 200 this season, winning by 26-41-52 points; they had 44-10 run in second half vs Syracuse, after being down 15 early in second half. Question is, will they let down after winning conference tournament, and looking ahead to winner of Missouri-Colorado State?
South Dakota State is solid offensive team that won at New Mexico, lost by 3 at Alabama, but also lost at Hofstra/Bakersfield. Jackrabbits make 39.4% behind arc, are #26 in eFG% (53.5%) but also lost by 24 at Minnesota, in their only game vs Big Dozen team. State doesn’t sub much, but is #43 experience team in country, while Michigan is #338. Wolverines (two juniors, no seniors in rotation) went 6-6 in last 12 games, after starting season 20-1; six of its seven losses came vs top 10 teams. Michigan is 2-1 in first round under Beilein, winning by 3-30, with dog covering all three games- they lost as 4-seed to Ohio LY. Last seven years, #4 seeds are 17-11 vs spread in this round. Summit League teams are 0-5 last five years, 2-3 vs spread, losing by 19-10-23-4-8 points, all as 13-14 seeds. Playing in Auburn Hills can’t hurt Michigan.
Belmont is in NCAAs for 6th time since 2006; they’re 0-5 SU, 1-4 vs spread, losing by 34-25-1-14-15 points, with only cover 71-70 (+20) loss to Duke in 2-15 game five years ago- they lost by 14-15 points last two years. Bruins won at Stanford, but lost to VCU by 10, Kansas by 29. Belmont’s 56.8% eFG% is #2 in country; they make 37.6% behind arc, 57.1% inside arc (#1 in country). Since 1985, Arizona is 3-7 SU in first round of NCAAs when lower than a 4-seed; they’re 5-5 in last 10 games after a 20-2 start. First round underdogs of 5 or less points are 38-19 vs spread; over last four years, underdogs are 11-5 vs spread in 6-11 games. Game is in altitude in Salt Lake City; Belmont ranks #284 in bench minutes; will longer TV timeouts save them from getting worn down?
UNLV (+1.5) won 76-75 at Cal Dec 9; Thomas put back airball for win at buzzer, in game Birch didn't play and Moser got hurt in, playing five minutes. Now Rebels go back to NoCal (San Jose) for semi-road game vs Bears, who lost last two games after winning previous seven. Solomon was 7-13 from floor in first game; doubt he'll do as well with defensive ace Birch in paint. Over last five years, dogs are 12-8 vs spread in 5-12 games; underdogs of 5 or less points are 38-19 vs spread. UNLV lost its last three first round games (favored in all three), so certain amount of pressure on Coach Rice, who doesn't have true PG on this roster. Cal lost three of its last four first round games, losing play-in game LY to South Florida. Bears hardly sub; they get 62% of points on 2-pointers (#5 in country), so Rebels' edge inside should be the difference.
Missouri PG Pressey is loose cannon, not a dependable PG, turning ball over 25.5% of time; Tigers are 8-6 in last 14 games, with all six losses by 3 or less points, or in OT- one of losses was on this floor in OT Feb 23. Colorado State starts five seniors, but PG Greene tweaked ankle at end of UNLV game Friday, is a ? here. Rams are #308 in bench minutes, so they need Green to be healthy, especially vs Missouri team that will be anxious to atone for upset loss in a 2-15 game LY. Colorado State is top rebounding team in country (#2 on offensive, #1 on defensive boards); Iverson-Oraihki matchup will be fun. Over last six years, underdogs are 18-6 vs spread in 8-9 games; over last 13 years, dogs are 11-2 vs spread in Midwest 8-9 game in. Winner of game gets Louisville Saturday, when Lexington locals will pull for them and against the Cardinals.
Akron PG Abreu got arrested/suspended two weeks ago; Zips won the MAC tourney without him, thanks to double bye, but now face a VCU team that forces turnovers 28.7% of time, #1 in country. Important for VCU to make 3's (35.2% from arc) to negate 7-foot Marshall, defensive force for Zips- two teams Akron played without Abreu, Kent/Ohio, are not good shooting teams. Rams beat Akron 70-53 in '10 Bracket Buster game, then won by point in OT at Akron in return game LY. Since 2006, first round favorites of between 5-10 points are 28-23 vs spread. Dogs are 10-6 vs spread in 5-12 games last four years. VCU won 10 of last 13 games, with only losses to Saint Louis/Temple, teams with outstanding guards. Atlantic 16 is #8 conference this year, MAC is #15. Since 2004, MAC teams are 1-7 in first round games, covering four of last five.
New Mexico is underrated as #3 seed, winning nine of last 10, beating UNLV on its home floor in MWC title game. Key here is to defend the 3-ball; Harvard is #8, making 40.8% behind arc. Crimson didn't exactly dominate Ivy League, losing three games; since 1999, Ivy League teams are 1-13 in first round games, 3-11 vs spread; Harvard (+6.5) lost 79-70 to Vandy in LY's tourney, but two guys from LY that were supposed to return didn't for off-court reasons, so they're #286 in experience, #343 in bench minutes, which will hurt in Salt Lake altitude. Crimson lost its last two road games; they're #2 in country at getting to foul line- Lobos are #8 team in country at not fouling- their two big fellas inside should enjoy playing vs Ivy League bigs after banging with more athletic Mountain West bigs all winter.
Long road trip for Syracuse after playing four games in four days in New York last week; they've won last four first round games, by 15-23-17-7 points. Montana is 93-34 last four years, so they've got guys who are used to winning, but without 6-7 inside star Ward, would have to shoot high percentage of 3's (37.8% for year) against team thats more athletic across board. Over last six years, #4 seeds are 14-10 vs spread in this round; last time #4 seed in East got beat was 1991, though six other #4's have lost in last five years. Cal's fans will be there too; their coach was Montana's coach long time ago (he coached Griz coach Tinkle for year), so if this game stayed close, expect the crowd to turn on eastern favorite and pull for underdog Griz, but Big Sky teams are 1-13 in first round last 14 years, losing last six years (1-5 vs spread) by 28-24-18-5-18-24.
Very difficult to prep for Princeton offense in a day, but Maryland beat Northwestern by 20 back in December, so they've worked on it before. Long travel for Denver (18-2 in last 20 games)- they were 15-29 at the foul line in four-point win over Ohio Tuesday.