NCAA Tournament Picks – March 17th

Three plays going today on another beautiful day of March Madness: Dayton vs. Wichita State, Michigan vs Oklahoma State and SMU taking on Southern Cal.

We split our opening day NCAA Tournament picks with Notre Dame not only giving away the cover but darn-near giving away their season with some late missed free throws (ironic, considering they are the best free throw shooting team in the country), and Xavier rolling over Maryland on the strength of a strong second half.  However, if you are also following our guest column on Forbes or on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs, it was a particularly strong day with both upset plays cashing in for a 3-1 ATS day overall and all of our hedge value picks taking one step closer to being relevant.

We haven’t seen the “big upset” yet as 14 of the 16 seed-favorites advanced, and the two “underdogs” were a Vegas favorite and two-point underdog respectively.  “But Chris, there are ALWAYS a ton of upsets, so today will be chaos, right?”

Well, MAYBE.  But to use one of my favorite analogies: Someone flips a coin ten times, and ALL TEN times it lands on heads.  What are the odds the 11th flip comes up tails?

Fifty-fifty, of course.

Every variable is independent.  That means yesterday’s relative calm has no actual impact on the results of today aside from the perception of inevitable chaos.  So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at today’s best plays on a board full of awesomeness.

Today’s NCAA Tournament Picks:

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Michigan Wolverines -2.5

Michigan is everyone’s darling right now after a furious close to the season, including a Big Ten Tournament Title vaulted them from “bubble team” to trendy #7 seed and sleeper Elite Eight pick.  But I would caution people that this road has been travelled before by more than a few teams – late run to a conference tourney only to cool off in four days and go home in the first round.  For every Kemba Walker/Uconn run, there is a GerryMac/Syracuse flop.

I’m not calling a “flop” today, but am suggesting that Oklahoma State is a nice value and is getting overlooked here.  Oklahoma State has been the better team for a little larger sample size this season and is devastating offensively, which could provide a lot of pressure on Michigan to keep up in an area they aren’t usually required to in the more methodical Big Ten.  Oklahoma State averages almost 86 points a game, and although Michigan shoots 2% points better overall, Oklahoma State is shooting over 40% from behind the arc on the season, which more than makes up for the difference.  Remember the new basketball math; three is more than two.  Not many teams have flipped that to their advantage better than the Cowboys this season.

Oklahoma State went 10-4 down the stretch after a disastrous start to conference play and most bracket-pundits had them slated as far higher than a #10 seed.  This is a sneaky tough draw for the Wolverines after the high of last week’s fun.  More importantly, they are 4-1 in their last five ROAD games, which might be a more accurate measure of a team now that we head into the pressure-packed neutral court environment portion of the season.

Michigan has obviously been awesome of late.  They are 8-2 in their last ten games and have won five in a row, but I think they are going to have to shoot REALLY well today to keep up with the Pokes.  If I can get the more explosive team, the dramatically ignored team, AND two and a half points, that is where I am heading.

Today’s Pick:  Oklahoma State Cowboys +2.5

 

USC Trojans vs. SMU Mustangs -6.5

SMU is one of the most under-seeded teams in the tournament, and it is likely USC and Baylor who will pay the price.  The Mustangs did lose to USC back in November, but that was a LONG tone ago with a very different-looking team, and it was a true road game.  Today, I think the ‘Stangs roll.  SMU enters today winners of 26 of their last 27 games, with the only loss coming on the road at Cincinnati and wins over Cincinnati twice, and laying waste to the rest of the decent AAC competition.  I get that they don’t have high-profile wins, so the Committee wanted to punish them, but this is a talented team that has been good for several years, only this year they have the emerging brilliance of Semi Ojeleye to offset the loss of Nic Moore.

In short, this team is really good.  Just LOOK at them.  They are big, versatile, defend well, rebound and can score in varied ways.  They have a legit star in Ojeleye and excellent players in Ben Moore and Shake Milton.  I think this is a really awesome hedge-play sleeper at +5000 to win the whole thing and +1000 to win the region – Duke should legitimately be concerned if they meet next Thursday.

USC, on the other hand, is lucky to even have been invited to the Tournament.  I suppose they justified their bid with the win over Providence, but I like the party to end today.  They finished the year 3-5 SU with Oregon, Arizona and UCLA just dumptrucking them.  They played UCLA tight in the Pac-12 Tourney, but the rest of the losses were uninspired and the wins came over the state of Washington.

I like SMU to fire a nice opening salvo and let people see they are a legit contender.

Today’s Pick:  SMU Mustangs -6.5

 

Wichita State Shockers -6.5 vs. Dayton Flyers

Everyone loves tragically under seeded Wichita State and is already warning Kentucky to watch their backs.  But what about Archie Miller’s Flyers?  They have made nearly as much March noise over the last five years and have every reason to think they can win tonight.

After all, Wichita State has exactly ZERO wins over teams in the NCAA Tournament a year removed from losing Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, so are we really SURE Wichita State is that good?  They have laid waste to teams on their schedule, so you can’t fault the players for their performance or effort – I’m simply observing that Dayton is far more battle-tested and that this game is NOT a 6.5-point line.

Dayton has a tight home loss to St. Mary’s, wins at Alabama and versus Vandy and a narrow three-point loss at Northwestern.  They went 15-3 in A-10 play with a sweep of URI and a split versus VCU.  And an even better ATS record than the Shockers at 18-10-1 ATS to Wichita’s 18-12 ATS.

This is going to be a really good, competitive game.  I’ll take the six and a half points and the Flyers in my favorite line of the day.

Today’s Pick:  Dayton Flyers +6.5