The first round of the NCAA tournament didn’t disappoint. The dogs have been barking, we had upsets from a No. 15, 14, 13, and a 12 seed. Really at this point, everyone’s bracket is just about busted. So now it’s time to hit the individual games. Betting this tournament has been a roller coaster for me. We had a three win start to begin Friday but then finished .500 after a disastrous result in the late slate of games.
I found better luck Saturday going 4-0 on the picks I gave out on twitter. So make sure you follow me @amontgomerylive to get every single betting pick.
Now, to Sunday's slate.
Illinois vs Loyola Chicago
Spread: Illinois (-7)
The Illini got screwed by getting the Ramblers as an eight seed in their bracket. Loyola Chicago, the ninth best team according to KenPom's rating, is grossly under-seeded in this tournament and now they have to play the second best team in college basketball.
It will be a battle of offense vs defense, as the Ramblers rank third nationally in defensive efficiency, and are going to get their toughest tests, facing one of the most explosive offenses in the country led by Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. The matchup between Lucas Williamson and Dosunmu is going to be stellar to watch.
While the popular pick has been over here, we are going to go the opposite way. Except we are going to take the first half under in this one- which has been dominating the NCAA tournament. In the first 20 games, first half unders went 15-4-1. The nature of the bubble makes teams start out cold. The Ramblers are a team that is going to try to slow the pace- where they rank 342nd in the country in tempo. The Ramblers play an integrated style of a pack-line defense and they are going to force Illinois to make their threes. Playing the first game of the day, I just think the Illini will start slow before taking over in the second half. The first half under 62 is the play here.
The pick: First half under 62
Baylor vs Wisconsin
Spread: Baylor (-6.5)
There were not many teams who played better in the first round than Wisconsin. The Badgers shot 13-27 from three and put up 85 points on a good North Carolina team. The Badgers had their best game on boards and they ran the Tar Heels out of the gym. Whether they can replicate that performance against Baylor is a totally different story.
Baylor seemed to have found its groove against Hartford after an underwhelming Big 12 tournament performance. I really think this is just another bad matchup for Wisconsin. The Badgers will need Brad Davidson to go nuclear once again. Baylor presents strong perimeter defense with Teague and Davion Mitchell. The Bears are tough and are more athletic. Baylor also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, something the Badgers have struggled to defend all season. It’s hard to trust Scott Drew in the tournament, but I think Baylor gets the job done and punched their ticket to the sweet sixteen.
The pick: Baylor (-6.5)
Arkansas vs Texas Tech
Spread: Texas Tech -1.5
I honestly do not get why the Red Raiders are favored in this one. Texas Tech used their athleticism to force 22 turnovers in their 13 point win against Utah State. They won’t benefit from having the better athletes against the Razorbacks. I know the Red Raiders have Chris Beard on the sidelines, and he has been money in the NCAA tournament. But it’s not like Eric Mussellman on the other sideline can’t coach. Arkansas has been a dark horse Final Four team due to their insane athleticism. Justin Smith is going to give Tech problems on the interior. Mac McClung is the main generator of offense for the Red Raiders, and Eric Mussellman is going to throw hell at him.
My only concern for the Razorbacks is their thin depth with Mussellman only playing seven guys. Arkansas is just more athletic and I think they can win this one on the boards. Justin Smith is the difference maker again.
The pick: Arkansas +1.5
Houston vs Rutgers
Spread: Houston (-8)
This was a potential matchup that I had circled when the bracket came out Sunday. Even as a two seed, the Cougars are one of the most underrated teams in the country. Houston is just one of four teams in the nation to rank in the top 15 in offensive and defensive efficiency rating per Ken Pom. The Cougars resemble those old Rick Pitino teams where they would just beat the hell out of you on the defensive end. Rutgers and Houston play similar styles, but Houston is just a million times better and they have more reliable offensive weapons. Quentin Grimes, Dejon Jarreau, and Marcus Sasser are legitimate triple threats on the offensive end. Houston should be able to take advantage of Rutgers inefficient rebounding. The Scarlet Knights ranked 13th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage, and Houston notoriously crashes the offensive glass at 2nd best clip in the country. Rutgers doesn’t have the shooting to shoot over the top of Houston’s defense. I love this Houston team and I think they win big in this one.
The pick: Houston (-8)
North Texas vs Villanova
Spread: Villanova (-6)
The Wildcats beat trendy underdog Winthrop to advance into the round of 32. Now they have to fend off another mid-major that’s been playing great basketball as of late. The Mean Green have been tested this season playing a non conference schedule of West Virginia, Loyola Chicago, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. The Mean Green love to play slow ranking 324th in pace. North Texas is very proficient from behind the arc ranking 26th nationally in three point percentage. UNT star guard Javion Hamlet is a fun player to watch. Hamlet leads the Mean Green with 15.3 points per game and he ranks in the top 100 in the country in assists rate. UNT big Zachary Simmons is a legitimate big who can score on the inside on a Villanova team that doesn’t have a true rim protector.
Villanova is 242nd on the season in 3-point shooting defense. I think North Texas can compete possession for possession with Villanova. This is going to be another classic game that will come down to a couple possessions. The underdogs have been hot and I’m sensing an upset in this one.
The pick: North Texas (+6)
Make sure to follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive