I was never a big fan of this whole “First Four” nonsense, I mean come on, who are they fooling by calling this the “first round” and not what it really is; a play-in game. But I must admit, I am starting to warm to the concept. It may not be the “real’ NCAA Tournament, but it is a nice little appetizer during what used to be the three most agonizing days in a college basketball fan’s year. Last night’s games were entertaining. North Carolina A&T earned their first tourney win in school history with a 73-72 win over twenty-loss Liberty (where Seth Curry began his career – you can bet they’ve liked to have him last night!), and then the nightcap featured an impressive effort by Matthew Delavadova and St. Mary’s.
Not only was it good basketball, it was a profitable night as well for us. Coupled with the Kentucky implosion (ESPN called it an “all-time” upset – but it was only a 4.5 point line – and we called it here as well), we went 2-0 to run our modest college hoops ATS win streak to six straight games.
Let’s keep it going tonight with a pair of play-in, er, ‘first round’ picks…
James Madison University vs. LIU Brooklyn – Pick ‘Em
James Madison won the beleaguered Colonial League and finds themselves in a rare spot for a CAA team, a #16 seed in a play-in game. In prior years this has been a multiple bid conference that has thrilled the nation with teams like VCU and George Mason (and even Old Dominion to a lesser extent). However this year, ODU was as bad as any team in the country (and even fired their coach midseason), George Mason struggled and VCU left for the A-10. The result? JMU is dancing, but not with much fanfare.
Long Island, or LIU Brooklyn as they are now referred to, are making their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and has showed reasonably well in their two trips. In 2011 they lost by 16 to North Carolina and last season they lost to top-seed Michigan State by 18. This year, they get a chance to play a game they can actually WIN, and I don’t think they’ll miss out on it.
James Madison will be playing the first half without their leading scorer, who is suspended for the first twenty minutes after an arrest Sunday. That certainly won’t help matters any. This game is a pick-em’ and I think the suspension and tourney experience tips the pendulum in LIU’s favor.
Free Pick: LIU Brooklyn – Pick Em’
La Salle Explorers vs. Boise State Broncos -1.5
The First Four features another matchup of two teams who many thought would be left out of the Big Dance. However, the committee stayed steadfast in rewarding smaller conference teams who fared well in their underrated leagues and has delivered us a great matchup of A-10 and Mountain West foes.
The perception is that Boise State finished the year with a bit of a slump, but I’d argue that’s not true. Yes, they lost two of their final three games, but the losses were a three-point loss to San Diego State in the MWC tourney and a four-point loss at UNLV. Other than that, they won their other five games, including wins over Colorado State and SDSU. This is a good team that is deserving of their spot in the Dance.
La Salle, on the other hand, I’d have more objections too. It’s hard for me to put them ahead of teams like Iowa and Maryland given their relative lack of real wins. Sure, they had the stretch in January where they pulled the huge upset at VCU and the one-point home win over Butler (an ugly 54-53 affair) and that probably sealed their bid. However, against most tourney competition, it was not a pretty picture. They lost by 18 to Miami, they lost handily to Bucknell and were absolutely slaughtered by St. Louis. In their latest rematches against Butler and VCU they lost each by double figures.
La Salle is a nice team, but I think Boise State is significantly more athletic and better overall. I like them to win tonight and earn their way into the Field of 64.
Free Pick: Boise State Broncos -1