Yesterday finally gave us our first real “upsets” of the 2017 NCAA Tournament with #8 seeded Wisconsin knocking out the defending champs, Villanova (Juuuuust when we thought Nova had finally shaken the “tourney choker” reputation) and #11 seeded Xavier advancing to the Sweet Sixteen with an absolute CRUSHING of #3 Florida State. The rest of the evening went relatively according to plan with #1 Gonzaga, #2 Arizona, and a quartet of typically vulnerable #4 seeds; West Virginia, Butler, Florida and Purdue all advancing with varying degrees of stress.
It means the exception of Villanova, the Bracket is largely in tact, and even Wisconsin and Xavier have been ranked in the Top Ten at some point this season and are no strangers to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Will today finally yield some chaos?
Well, as I wrote yesterday, every game is an independent variable, and the prior results in non-related games are completely irrelevant. Just because very few teams were upset, for example, doesn’t mean that North Carolina or Kansas are in any trouble… right?
We are off to a nice 5-2 ATS to the Tourney, so let’s see if we can cap off the opening weekend with a few more winners.
Today’s NCAA Tournament Picks:
Michigan Wolverines vs. Louisville Cardinals -4
First off, let’s dismiss the “home court” edge for Louisville playing just down the road in Indianapolis. Yes, the Cardinal faithful travel, but Ann Arbor and the massive Michigan fan base is an easy drive too, and more importantly, the second game features their HATED rival Kentucky. We all know the ‘Cats travel well and I would expect them to be in their seats a little early just for added bonus to boo Ricky Pitino and his Cards.
More importantly, the mojo in Michigan has now reached “impossible to ignore” status. They ran through the Big Ten Tourney and handled a physical and talented Wisconsin team. They scored 92 points in an opening round NCAA win over Oklahoma State, and they have shown that at any tempo, any pace, any style, they can play. Louisville is actually a less-skilled offensive team and I am not sure the athletic edge is as big as some would like to insinuate.
This game should be VERY close, and frankly, I think Michigan might have a slight edge overall. Either way, getting four points is plenty for me to take the “underdog” in this matchup.
Louisville is just 2-8 ATS in their last ten games and has failed to cover six of their last seven. Michigan’s momentum is obviously the complete opposite. I’ll take the hot team with the BLAZING point guard, Derrick Walton Jr. who is exploding with confidence as has been arguably the best played in the entire country the last three weeks.
Today’s Pick: Michigan Wolverines +4
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. UCLA Bruins -3.5
There was obviously concern with Lonzo Ball’s awkward fall and subsequent muted performance in the opening round game. But assuming he is good to go, and all reports indicate he is fine for tonight, it is hard to see Cincinnati being able to score enough to keep up with the high-flying Bruins. This line is a point or two closer than I expected, and I was willing to go minus six with UCLA tonight. I think their offense is too good, and while UC is a better offensive team than the school’s normal reputation warrants, they are still a far cry from the Bruins offensive majesty.
The biggest difference to me is the shooting efficiency of each team. UCLA shoots a ridiculous 52% from the floor and nearly 41% from distance. Compared to Cincinnati’s 45% and 34.5% respectively, the Cats are going to have to play AMAZING defense to make up the difference. And while UCLA’s defensive indifference gets a lot of attention, it isn’t like their entire team is “incapable” of defending – they just don’t always have it as a foremost priority. I have a feeling their first real test of the postseason will get their collective attention.
I like this Cincinnati team and love the toughness of Troy Caupain. He will be READY to defend Lonzo Ball and Cincy’s bigs will make like tough to TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh. But in the end, UCLA can score so much more easily and from so many more positions, they should be able to edge out the cover.
Today’s Pick: UCLA Bruins -3.5
Michigan State Spartans vs. Kansas Jayhawks -7.5
This play isn’t based on the Tom Izzo mythology or the magical belief that because Michgan State made an unexpected run in 2008 they can make one nine years later. It is a simple mathematics play. Kansas, for all their wonderful traits, is a bad team against the spread. They are just 12-18-1 ATS this season and were a lousy 6-12 ATS in conference play (meaning against reasonable competition and eliminating the mostly-slop of the pre-con schedule). Michigan State has covered seven of their last ten and just visibly, LOOKED, like something resembling the team that was ranked preseason in their demolition of a solid Miami squad.
Michigan State is still young, playing mostly freshman, and certainly has some clunkers on their resume – so anything is possible. But the most likely outcome to me is that they do no worse than COMPETE today for 40 minutes, making eight and a half points a pretty healthy pile.
Kansas has the talent edge without a doubt, and has a veteran senior point guard All American in Frank Mason III and Top Three NBA pick in Josh Jackson. But there’s just something that makes me a little uneasy with this Kansas team as even more allegations swirl around Jackson and his off-court behavior. That’s not the sole reason for the pick, “an uneasy feeling” but it is part of the perception and why I am cool on the ‘Hawks despite a manageable bracket in front of them.
Either way, for today, I’ll take the pile of points and Sparty.
Today’s Pick: Michigan State Spartans +7.5