Wake up, rejoice!
It's the best day of the year! St. Patty's Da -- well, it's that too.
No, it's the first full day of the NCAA Tournament, people!
To quote the recently unretired Tom Brady (yeah, the same guy who hijacked Selection Sunday): LETS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Anyway, with the tournament get set to get underway, I decided to bring back the written form of "Best Bets." I usually do Instagram videos every Saturday (and sometimes mid-week with my picks), but this time, it felt only right to get my thoughts on paper. It is the first of the Big Dance, after all!
So with that said, let's get to my favorite bets and stayaways for Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament - and remember, all the lines are brought to us by our partners at DraftKings Sportsbook, which has an incredible NCAA Tournament offer for first-time users.
Let's get to the picks:
No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence (-2): Midwest Region, Thursday, 12:40 p.m. ET, TruTV
Spread: Providence (-2)
Anyone who has ever filled out an NCAA Tournament (so basically everyone reading this) knows that there are few things in life more thrilling than nailing an upset pick, especially early in the NCAA Tournament.
There's also nothing worse than when your favorite upset pick becomes super trendy to the point that you're almost afraid it won't hit. Which is what happened here with South Dakota State.
Look, I get why the Jackrabbits are a trendy upset pick. They were legit awesome this year (30-4 overall) and are the second-highest scoring team in all of college basketball averaging 86.7 points per game. Providence has of course been great all year, but the metrics seem to indicate they are more "lucky" than good, going 13-2 in games decided by five points or less.
Therefore, the common sentiment seems to be pretty straightforward: This is a good spot to take the high-scoring squad, over the Providence team that likes to play slow and bang in the paint.
The problem is, I honestly don't see it.
One, while I wouldn't call Providence a "high-scoring team" by any stretch, they have proven that they can put the ball in the basket when need be. They topped 80+ points twice in wins over St. John's and put up 83 in a loss to Villanova earlier in the season as well.
More importantly, I do worry a bit about the Jackrabbits' size down low, with their biggest starter standing 6'8.
Give me Providence to win and cover here.
No. 15 Saint Peter's vs. No. 2 Kentucky (-10 - first half): East Region, 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
For some reason, DraftKings has pulled this game off the board for the time being - but the good news is, tip isn't until 7:10 ET so we have plenty of time to wait for a line to come out. And in this one, I like Kentucky to roll.
Look, I don't like betting huge favorites in Round 1, but one, Kentucky is generally a safe bet in Round 1 (they beat Abilene Christian by 25 in their last NCAA Tournament appearance) and two I just like the matchup here. St. Peter's is small and thin in the front court (their two starting bigs are 6'7 and under 200 lbs.) which means Oscar Tshiebwe should feast. They also don't score particularly well (66 points per game) and have a negative assist to turnover ratio.
In the end, there are lower seeds that can strike fear in anyone, even a team as good as Kentucky. I'm just not sure the Peacocks are built to do that here.
I expect Oscar Tshiebwe to feast down low early (he could legit go for 30 and 20 if he wants). My only fear here is that Calipari pulls his starters late.
Give me Kentucky in the first half - the spread should be around -10 (I'd play it to -11.5).
No. 12 Indiana (+2.5) vs. No. 5 Saint Mary's: East Region, 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS
As soon as this bracket came out I remember thinking to myself "If Indiana can get by Wyoming in the play-in game, they have a really good shot at pulling off the upset in Round 1 against Saint Mary's." Well, despite all sorts of travel delays and issues getting to Portland (the Hoosiers landed around 6 a.m. PT after flying out right after the Wyoming game) I'm sticking with my guns.
And for those wondering, no this isn't simply me backing my guy, Mike F***ing Woodson. I really do like the matchup here.
The bottom line is that Saint Mary's plays one of the slowest tempos in college hoops (they rank 325th in tempo) meaning that the Gaels are inherently in a lot of close, low-scoring grind 'em games. So that's already a good sign if you're backing a dog here.
More importantly those are the exact kind of games Indiana wants to play. Basically, they're looking at Saint Mary's saying 'Oh, you think you're beating us 52-50? NOBODY LOVES PLAYING 52-50 GAMES MORE THAN WE DO!"
At the end of the day, I simply think that Indiana is better at playing Saint Mary's game than Saint Mary's is. The Hoosiers will also have the best big on the floor (Trayce Jackson-Davis) and the best guard too (Xavier Johnson).
Mike F***ing Woodson baby! Hoosiers advance.
No. 10 San Francisco vs. No. 7 Murray State (-2): East Region, Thursday, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
This is another game that jumped out to me as soon as the bracket was released.
One, I like the Dons, and love the fact that the WCC got three teams into this field. I wish we gave more good mid-majors a chance, rather than 17-14 squads like Michigan. At the same time, if you really dig into San Francisco's resume there isn't much there. They have a couple really nice wins (Davidson, UAB) but nothing great. They went 0-5 against the Big Two in the WCC (Gonzaga and Saint Mary's) with a bunch of other decent wins sprinkled in. Credit them for scheduling and beating Arizona State, Nevada and UNLV, but again, that resume is pretty thin.
I also just think it's a bad matchup for them.
San Francisco is led by a pair of talented but smallish guards (Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz - great names, by the way!). The problem is, Murray State is also led by guards, who are better (namely Tevin Brown) and have, by far, the best post player in this game, KJ Williams.
Murray State rolls in my favorite bet of the day.
No. 9 Memphis (-3) vs. No. 8 Boise State: West Region, 1:45 p.m. ET, TNT
First off, shout out to the NCAA - how about a 10:45 local time tip-off in Portland! WHAT! Anyway, Memphis - like South Dakota State - has become so trendy it scares me. They're the better team, but Boise is also a really talented squad, and will have a distinct homecourt advantage.
The other thing that scares me: While nothing is official, Penny Hardaway has hinted for weeks that Emoni Bates could play in this one. I don't think he will, but the thought of it is enough for me to want nothing to do with this one.
No. 12 New Mexico State vs. No. 5 UConn (-6.5): West Region, 6:50 ET, TNT
I get the idea that there's got to be a 5-12 upset somewhere in your bracket, but I just don't see this being it for one simple reason: UConn and New Mexico State are basically the same team. Each is tough, rugged and physical, and respectively, one elite on the boards (both Top 20 nationally in rebounding percentage).
Basically, they're the meme where Spiderman is point at itself come to life.
I like UConn to win, but the 6.5 are simply too much. This is a stay away for me.
No. 13 Vermont vs. Arkansas (-5): West Region, 9:20 ET, TNT
This too has become a trendy upset pick, but I simply just don't see it. Vermont is great at what it does, playing good defense and controlling the boards. The problem is, the Hogs are also really good defensively, and I do think their size and athleticism and toughness will eventually wear down the Catamounts on both ends of the floor.
If I were betting this, I'd' probably take Vermont for the first half and Arkansas for the game.
Instead, I'll gladly just stay away.
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