The greatest single day of the year is upon us! The opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament kicks off today with thirty-two of the best teams in the country in action, all competing for a chance to head to Minneapolis for the Final Four. We were steaming hot during championship week, winning north of 80% of our picks. We kept that hot streak alive last night when we backed the Arizona State Sun Devils as small favorites against the St. John’s Red Storm in a first-four matchup from Dayton.
In my opinion, the Sun Devils, despite playing in a weak PAC-12 this year, were the far superior team in this game. I also didn’t think St. John’s should have even been selected to play in the tournament, as they also played in a down league, the Big East, and didn’t even have a winning league record, and had lost five out of their last six games before the tournament. So, I laid a point and a half and expected the Sun Devils to cruise to a fairly easy victory.
And that is just what happened. Arizona State jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the first half and coasted to a 74-65 victory, easily covering the spread. With the win, the Sun Devils advance to face the 31-3 Buffalo Bulls in the next round on Friday. For today’s pick, I will take a look at the matchup between the twelfth-seeded Murray State Racers and the five seeded Golden Eagles of Marquette.
The Marquette Golden Eagles will look to get back on track today after stumbling to the finish line of the regular season, losing five out of their last six games. The Eagles are hoping to avoid the dreaded 12-5 upset as the higher seed today. For the Racers, they are looking to stay hot as they have won twelve straight games. The Golden Eagles are -3-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 149.5-points. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 PM PST from the XL Center in Hartford.
What a game we have in store for you today! This is a very exciting matchup that features two of the best and most explosive players in the nation in Ja Morant of Murray State and Markus Howard of Marquette. Both are expected to be high draft picks in next year’s NBA draft, and both are scoring twenty-five points a game. These guys can really score the basketball and have athleticism for days. If you ask me, this is the best talent on talent matchup in the entire first round.
Murray State has been riding the strength of Morant all season long to the tune of a 27-4 record and an Ohio Valley Conference championship. We already saw how strong the Ohio Valley is this year when Belmont used their at-large bid to get into the madness and then promptly won their first-four game against Temple earlier in the week. The Racers were top ten in the nation in points per game at nearly eighty-four per contest.
This team plays a fast up-tempo pace, they shoot the ball well, they pass the ball really well, and they rarely turn the ball over. In addition to his twenty-five points a game, Morant also dished out ten dimes a game, the most in the country by a wide margin. If you are looking for a double-digit seed that could make a run to the Final Four, look no further than Murray State.
Three weeks ago, it looked like Marquette was going to run away with the Big East and would be in contention for a top-three seed. Instead, the Golden Eagles completely fell apart down the stretch and dropped all the way to a five seed. And to be honest, it could have been worse, as this team looked awful late in the season. Late season losses to Villanova, Georgetown, Creighton, and Seton Hall twice, really put a damper on what was a really successful season for Marquette.
Every year, we look for a 12-5 upset. Historically, the twelve seed wins nearly 34% of the time in the first round, making that line a sexy upset pick by just about everyone. And this is as stereotypical of a classic 12-5 upset as there ever could be. You have a twelve seeded Murray State team with NBA level talent, that hasn’t lost in two months, playing against a big conference team that saw the wheels fall off in March.
This was such a trendy pick, that when the line opened up at Marquette -4.5-points, the sharps quickly hammered it and moved it to where it stands now, at Marquette -3. I bet it last night at +4.5, and I still really like it now at +3. I really think the Racers are going to knock them off today. Murray State has been on my radar all season long, and I think Morant is going to get the best of his matchup with Howard and lead his team to victory.
I will still snatch up the points, because this is the NCAA tournament, and anything can happen. But make no mistake, I am smelling upset today in this one. Give me the Murray State Racers today, getting +3-points against Marquette!