Not to take anything away from the First Four and their claims to the NCAA Tournament, but real March Madness bettors know that the action doesn’t truly gets started until Thursday and Friday when we get 32 first-round games in 36 hours and the guarantee of at least five crazy upsets and four amazing buzzer-beaters.
No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (+6.5)
We all know there is going to be at least one No. 12 seed to get a win in the first round. Since the field was expanded in 1985 and 12 seeds were added to the mix, they have won 51 games, including 17 games since 2010.
This year’s 12-seed to keep an eye is New Mexico State. The Aggies play great defense, and in all four games in which they were the underdog this season, they won the game outright. UConn is just 3-11 in their last 14 against the spread, and this Thursday’s game has all the makings of a New Mexico State upset.
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 St. Peter’s (+17.5)
We’re not going to go crazy over St. Peter’s and pick them to win this NCAA Tournament game. Kentucky is one of the favorites to win the entire tournament for a reason. And normally, a 17.5 spread wouldn’t be too much for a No. 2 seed in the first round, but St. Peter’s isn’t a normal opponent.
The Peacocks have won seven straight games and play good, slow-tempo defense. They won’t have the offense to seriously challenge Kentucky for the win, but their pace of play and forced turnovers will keep this game under 17.5.
No. 5 Houston (-8.5) vs. No. 12 UAB
Another 12-seed getting love is UAB because of their nearly 80 points per game and seven straight wins heading into Friday’s game. Don’t get caught up in the hype.
Houston is one of the best teams in the country, playing some of the best defense anywhere in college basketball, and for some reason, this team has fallen out of favor with some bettors.
They win by an average margin of 17 points, and as the Cougars have done in seven of their last eight games, they will cover this spread.
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State (+4.5)
Iowa State racked up a number of losses at the end of the season, but losing to the likes of Baylor, and covering, isn’t as bad as the record looks. The Cyclones, when they’re going, can play excellent basketball.
But really, this pick is about LSU and the turmoil at the top. The Tigers struggled down the stretch even before they fired head coach Will Wade, but now they are a mess and primed for a first-round struggle.
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