5 best NCAA Tournament predictions. What are the best bets and plays for the first round Thursday games?
5. North Carolina -3.5 over Marquette
Yes, I’m more than aware that this is supposedly the worst year ever for ACC basketball. Team after team disappointed, Duke is supposedly too young to pull off a run to the national title, Virginia has been inconsistent, and tournament champion Virginia Tech seems like a fun story that’s about to end before the first weekend is over.
And none of the metrics types seem to like North Carolina all that much.
The 24-9 Tar Heels looked fantastic at times over the back half of the season, but again, that’s because they got to play against other mediocre ACC teams.
They’re still talented, they can still rebound as well as anyone in college basketball, and they don’t turn it over that often.
Again with the rebounds – Marquette can’t do that.
This is a good offensive Golden Eagle team that does a whole lot of things right … except when it doesn’t hit the boards.
How much does this matter? Marquette is 6-8 when it gets 30 rebounds or fewer, and 13-4 when it gets more. Head coach Shaka Smart knows how to win NCAA Tournament games, but one of the worst teams in the nation in rebound margin isn’t going to start grabbing them off the glass against this team.
Up that count just a wee bit to 32. North Carolina 4-6 when allowing 32 rebounds, and 20-3 when it doesn’t.
North Carolina isn’t going to allow 32 rebounds.
4. Tennessee vs Longwood OVER on 133
We’re a long way from the Big South schedule for your Lancers of Longwood, and we’re even further away from the opening game of the season against a loaded Iowa offense – the Hawkeyes won 106-73.
Tennessee might not put 100 on the board, but it can hang 91 on Longwood like Georgetown did.
This is a high-powered Volunteer team that bogged down a bit in the late parts of its run to the SEC Championship, but it’s not above getting out, moving, and cranking up double-digit threes like it in eight SEC games including the conference championship over Texas A&M.
But to get over the 133, Longwood has to do its part.
Tennessee is good at guarding the three, but the Lancers will keep putting them up – and they’ve been good at getting them down. They’re among the best scoring teams in the country, they make 38% from the outside, and they’ve only scored fewer than 60 points once this season.
Tennessee will score in the mid-70s. You’re just going to need the team on the other side that averages over 76 points every time out to keep on firing.
3. UConn -6.5 over New Mexico State
The line on this has actually moved down as the public is going with the metrics and a New Mexico State team that has size, has a great RPI, and is terrific at guarding the three. There’s one giant problem with this team, though …
It turns the ball over a TON.
The other issue is its rebounding ability. It lives for the boards and coming up with second chance points, and UConn should negate that. The Huskies have a phenomenal inside defensive presence and crush the rebounding battle time and again.
For all the love the stat-types are giving the Aggies for their early season win over Davidson and a win over Washington State, it was beaten on the boards by the Cougars and beat a Wildcat team that couldn’t hit anything in the early November loss.
UConn is about to force at least 15 turnovers, get out on the move, and the defense should suffocating at times.
New Mexico State isn’t going to be good enough from three, and it won’t make up for it on the inside.
2. San Diego State vs Creighton UNDER on 121
If the world is giving you a point total of 121, so you take the over and assume at least one side will go off. Or, the two NCAA Tournament offenses will be good enough to each get into the 60s.
By any chance did you notice Indiana’s 66-58 win over the Mountain West’s Wyoming on Tuesday night? Now take that combination of tough shooting and great defense and slow it down to a dead stop.
America, welcome to San Diego State basketball and the Mountain West this season.
Oh, and don’t you worry about Creighton – it’ll be a willing participant. It scored 60 points or fewer 12 times and comes into this allowing fewer than 66 points per outing.
But it takes something special to get under on 121. San Diego State and the No. 2 scoring defense in college basketball has allowed fewer than 60 points in 20 of the 31 games.
It loves to win games in the 50s, it’s going to slow this down to a dead stop by waiting to the last possible moment to shoot, and now it gets to do its thing against one of the worst three point shooting teams in America.
You’re still not convinced?
San Diego State and Fresno State – another great defensive team – battled in an intense 65-64 Aztec win a few weeks ago. Yeah, the 129 point total would’ve pushed past the 121 … it took two overtimes to get there.
Creighton just lost the Big East championship to Villanova 54-48.
Under. If it doesn’t work, it’s not your fault. However …
1. Murray State vs San Francisco OVER on 137
If the under on the San Diego State-Creighton game doesn’t work, it’s okay. Again, a 121 point total is ridiculous – it’s hard to have that low scoring of a game – but it’s still the right call.
Murray State vs San Francisco at 9:40 ET on Thursday night is another matter. If this doesn’t go over, something went horribly wrong and we’re dealing with powers beyond our control.
This point total didn’t make sense when it opened at 138, and it’s even more puzzling that it went down from there.
Murray State scores. A lot.
It’s the No. 2 scoring team in the country behind Gonzaga, averaging over 79 points per game with the ability to score inside and out, and on the move, and on the free throw line, and just about everywhere else.
San Francisco’s three games vs. Gonzaga totaled 140, 152, and 162.
Okay, so the fear is that the great San Francisco defense is going to keep the Racers from going off, but the Dons can fill it up, too. The best three-point shooting team in the West Coast Conference – even better than Gonzaga – is going to come close to making double-digit threes.
Neither team cares all that much about controlling the tempo and slowing things down. Even when they do, they still get into shootouts.
San Francisco was held to under 70 points just twice in the last 14 games. One of those games still went over the 137, and the other was against Saint Mary’s and its slow-and-go style – even that got to 133.
Murray State? It’s been held to under 70 just six times all season.
Again, if this doesn’t work, just chalk it up to a world gone mad and carry on.