Let the madness begin!
The NCAA Tournament begins today with Texas Southern vs. Mount St Mary’s. These are two 16-seeds battling for their chance to make it to the Big Dance. The line opened up with Texas Southern favored at -2 and -105 Moneyline. Betting on two teams that are this close and fighting to get into the Tournament is hard. In the last five years, the First Four favorites are 8-10 against the spread and 9-9 for Moneyline, with two games being a pick-em. In the last five years, there have been four games that have a line under 1.5. The favorites in those games went 2-2. It’s safe to say that the line makers know what they’re doing. Instead of picking a side, let us look at the total, which is at 133 points.
The public is currently rooting for points in this First Four game, as 65% is on the over. Time to fade the public: Texas Southern and Mount St Mary’s struggle on the offensive side of the ball. Texas Southern averages 73.6 points per game and shoots an effective FG% of 48.4%, good for 96th and 250th in the country. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that 3 pointers are worth more than 2. Texas Southern shoots a horrible 27.9% from 3, which is 342nd in the country. Texas Southern prefers a fast pace game, the opposite of Mount St. Mary, which wants to slow down the game and limit possessions. When everything is on the line for a big game, the pace of play slows down. Defense steps up, and shots don’t seem to fall. That is why I believe that the under will hit.
The pick: Under 133 points.
The next game in the First Four is Drake vs. Wichita State. The Bulldogs are currently the favorite at -1.5. Drake is coming off a 65-75 loss against Loyola for the Missouri Valley championship, and it finished the year with a 25-4 record. The Bulldogs aren’t a 3-and-gun school, as they rank 275th nationally in 3-pointers shot per game. They are a great shooting team though, as they shot 49.4% from the field (13th nationally). Drake is also missing two of their best players, Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill.
Wichita State is coming off a 1-point loss against Cincinnati for the ACC Conference Championship. Wichita State finished the season going 16-5 and finishing first in the ACC. The Shockers played in a much harder conference than Drake, which played in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State had a great win against Houston, a No. 2 seed, and a close 3-point loss to Oklahoma State. Wichita State will also have the best player on the court: Tyson Etienne, ACC co-player of the year. Wichita State has proven themselves to be winners countless times, and I see them winning a close game against Drake. I would take the points if the madness happens and Drake hits a buzzer-beater to win the game. It seems as if I’m following the public with this pick, as 65% are also on Wichita State’s spread.
The pick: Wichita State -1.5.
The third game of the First Four is Norfolk State vs. Appalachian State. The Spartans take on the Mountaineers for the 16th seed and a chance to get to the Big Dance. The Spartans are red hot lately, as they are on a six-game winning streak. Their excellent 3-point shooting has led that winning streak. Norfolk State shoots 37.4% from 3, which is 32nd in the nation. They rank 200th overall, according to Kenpom, and I’m surprised that they are not the favorite here, as the line is Norfolk State +3.
Appalachian State is ranked 208th overall by Kenpom because of their defense, which allows a 50.4% effective field goal percentage (186th nationally) and 33.5% from deep (154th nationally). It’s the opposite with Norfolk, who not only have impressive percentages from 3, but who also have a great defense. They allow their opponent’s effective field goal percentage to be 47.4% (54th nationally) and 31.7% from 3 (68th nationally). The public agrees that Norfolk State is the right play here, as 69% are on Norfolk’s State spread.
My pick: Norfolk State +3, and Norfolk State Moneyline.
Wrapping up the first day of March Madness is UCLA vs. Michigan State. Mr. March, Tom Izzo, has a play in-game, and he will try to get his team back into the Final Four, which he has done eight times in his career, most recently in 2019. UCLA has limped its way into the Big Dance as the Bruins have lost four straight games. The Bruins are only 2-7 against teams who made the Tournament and will be without their rebounding leader, Chris Smith. Michigan State will feast in the paint, as they averaged 30.4% in offensive rebounds (95th nationally). The Spartans will also show up with their great defense that was, according to Kenpom, 34th in the nation.
On paper, this game almost seems too easy for Michigan State, but will their inconsistent play show up again? Coming into the Tournament, the Spartans beat three Top 5 teams. In theory, it should have all of the momentum in the world. Or will the team that was blown out nine times by double digits show up instead?
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