March Madness is finally here!
After a long wait for college basketball fans, the bracket is set, and a full day of games starts on Thursday. Everyone loves to fill out a bracket and join a pool with their friends and coworkers, but if you’re like us and are looking to have even more of a rooting interest in the games this weekend, we’ve got your covered. We’ve divided up the bracket in half in order to study each game and give you a pick on a side or total in each one. Check back on Thursday after the play-in round is over to see our picks involving those teams.
Check out Pat and Alex’s picks for the South and Midwest regions here:
East Region- Alex
Michigan State (-18.5) vs. Bradley
The Big 10 champion Michigan State Spartans currently look like one of the best bets to reach the Final Four. The Spartans are a veteran heavy team and are led by stellar guard Cassius Winston (18.9 ppg). They are big inside and have a physical presence that is only matched by a few other teams in the field of 64. The Spartans rebound the ball extraordinarily well and do not turn the ball over frequently. Coach Tom Izzo has an efficient team on offense and should cover their spread against a good defensive team in the Braves.
Belmont (+3) vs. Maryland
After coming off of a First Four win against a talented Temple team, the Bruins are not done yet. Bruins star senior Dylan Windler struggled to score the ball as he was blanketed all night by Owl defenders, however he was still able to impact the game by making hustle plays and fighting for rebounds. Windler received a ton of help from his supporting cast, who looked sharp all game, with contributions from Kevin McClain (29 points) and Nick Muszynski (16 points). Belmont is first in the country averaging 19.9 assists per contest. They do an excellent job on offense and are extremely efficient, rarely turning the ball over. Rick Byrd’s team is extremely
disciplined and likes to get out in transition. The Bruins fast paced and selfless style of play
make them an early round upset candidate against a Terrapins team that sometimes struggles to
score the ball.
Yale (+7.5) vs. LSU
After an impressive Ivy League Conference championship the Yale Bulldogs look to keep up their momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have an efficient offensive unit led by guard Miye Oni (17.6 ppg) and do an excellent job of controlling the pace of play. They will have a tough first round opponent in LSU, a team that has been known to be extremely physical and to control the glass. The Tigers suffered a loss in the SEC quarterfinals in overtime to the Florida Gators. While LSU should pull out a close win, I don’t see them covering their spread against a hot Yale team.
Minnesota (+5) vs. Louisville
The Golden Gophers played well out of conference early in the season and more recently in the Big 10 conference tournament, reaching the semifinals before being blown out by a strong Michigan team. Minnesota has proven that they are a tough and physical team that can dominate the paint. However, they have a tough matchup with a battle tested Louisville team out of the ACC. Louisville lost a tough one to a strong and fast paced UNC team in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament because they lost the battle on the glass and in the paint. If the Golden Gophers are going to cover their spread they need to control the paint and slow down the pace of play.
Duke/North Dakota State over 148.5
All signs point to a shootout in this contest. The Bison can fill it up at times, especially when they get hot from three, and everyone knows about the firepower that the Blue Devils have. There isn’t much of a hope for North Dakota State to slow down Zion, Barrett, and co., so their only hope is trying to keep pace offensively and they will be firing away from three. Duke’s fast paced style and NDSU playing with nothing to lose as a huge underdog is a recipe for a high scoring affair.
Liberty (+7) vs. Mississippi State
Liberty is one of the slowest paced teams in the country and operates efficiently in the half court set. This will be vital if they are going to cover a 7 point spread against a fast paced Mississippi State team. The Flames play stellar defense, giving up only 60.8 points per game, and have many players capable of hitting threes, which makes them a dangerous first round matchup. The key for the Flames to cover their spread and potentially upset the Bulldogs is to keep up their offensive efficiency and hold on to the ball against a Bulldogs team that forces a lot of turnovers (13.1 turnovers per game).
UCF (-1) vs. VCU
The VCU Rams have proven to be a solid defensive team throughout the season, however, they will face a challenge with the UCF Knights. UCF has had a terrific season in the American and rebound the ball extremely well. The Knights have the tallest player in all of college basketball with center Tacko Fall, who is a strong physical presence down low. The Rams have shown that they can have problems scoring the ball at times and do not have many players that can hit three pointers. This game will be a low scoring affair and the team with the paint advantage, most likely UCF, will move on to the next round.
Virginia Tech (-10.5) vs. St. Louis
The Hokies have proven to be a stout defensive team throughout the regular season and are also efficient on offense. With guard Justin Robinson healthy for the tournament, they will be even more dangerous. Robinson led the team with 5.2 assists per game during the season until suffering an injury. Virginia Tech is a completely different team with him in the lineup and move the ball extraordinarily well when he plays. This ball movement will open up more three point shots and scoring opportunities for the Hokies. Meanwhile, the Billikens also play solid defense but sometimes struggle to put points on the board. Look for the Hokies to control the game early by playing suffocating defense and cover their spread with ease.
West Region- Pat
Gonzaga/FDU over 72.5 1st half
Fairleigh Dickinson overcame a slow start against Prairie View A&M on Tuesday to stage a great second half comeback win to earn a matchup with the top seeded Zags on Thursday. They really showed they could shoot the ball in the second half, and have some speedy, athletic guards that can give them some hope in this one if they get hot. Meanwhile, Gonzaga is coming off a shocking loss vs. St. Mary’s in the WCC title in which they only mustered up a mere 47 points. I expect Gonzaga to want to get their offense going early, come out absolutely firing and playing with tempo in the first half. The Knights have nothing to lose, so I think they’ll try to match that pace and hoist up a lot of threes. If they can get a decent amount to fall, it will make for a high scoring 1st half and this total should easily go over.
Syracuse (-2) vs. Baylor
Baylor is not a very strong three point shooting team (34% on the year) and the unfamiliarity of the zone will make it tough for them to score against the Orange. Syracuse has the experience edge, as virtually the entire team from last year’s sweet 16 squad is back. They also get leading scorer Tyus Battle back, who missed the ACC tournament with a bruised tailbone. I like the Orange to win an ugly one here.
Marquette (-3.5) vs. Murray State
Murray State is a trendy upset pick, but I don’t think they can get it done against a tough Marquette squad. While Ja Morant and the rest of the Murray State backcourt can play with anyone, they lack size up front and the Golden Eagles will look to take advantage. Theo John, Ed Morrow, and the Hauser brothers are all quality front-court options that should dominate up front and will be the difference in a game where the guards will dominate the headlines.
Vermont (+10.5) vs. Florida State
Florida State is one of the most dangerous teams in this tournament, and I think they have a very good shot of making a final four run. With that being said, I don’t think they’ll have an easy time against a pesky Vermont club. Dealing with the length and athleticism of Florida State isn’t easy for any team, but nothing seems to bother Vermont star forward Anthony Lamb (21.4 ppg). I don’t think the Catamounts will win, but they’ll keep it close and do enough to get the cover in this one.
Buffalo (-5) vs. Arizona State
While Bobby Hurley and Nate Oats probably aren’t thrilled to be playing each other in a round of 64 game, this is a dream matchup for diehard college hoops fans. You have master vs. apprentice (with the apprentice having the higher seed) with both coaches playing a fun fast paced style that is sure to make for an entertaining up and down game. The Sun Devils looked impressive on Wednesday night in their win over St. John’s, and their inside/out combination of Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham is an extremely tough cover for any team. However, the Bulls are very well equipped to contain them, and also have the offensive firepower to put lots of pressure on the Arizona State defense. Dontay Caruthers and Davonta Jordan are both very quick and athletic defenders, and between the two of them, will make life hard on Dort all day. The Bulls combo of athletic shot-blocking center Montell McRae and strong rebounding forward Nick Perkins (the best sixth man in America) should also be able to minimize Cheatham’s effectiveness in the post and on the offensive glass. On the other side of the ball, I don’t think the Sun Devils have enough answers to slow down the big three Bulls scorers in Perkins, C.J. Massinburg, and Jeremy Harris.
Texas Tech/Northern Kentucky under 137
Northern Kentucky can fill it up, averaging 79.1 points per game this season. However, they run into one of the nation’s best defense teams in Texas Tech, who boasts the fourth best scoring defense (59.3 ppg). The Red Raiders know the Norse are a dangerous club and won’t overlook them, and will try to control the tempo and slow the game down.
Nevada (-2) vs. Florida
This was a tough one to pick, but I’m going with the more talented Wolfpack. Florida finished the year strong, but they still struggle offensively and don’t have nearly the amount of weapons as Nevada. The Gators will keep it close with their defense, but I like the Wolfpack to pull it out and advance to the second round.
Michigan (-15) vs. Montana
Another game I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on, but I’m going to go with the Wolverines to win big. Coming off a frustrating third loss to rival Michigan State this season in the Big Ten final on Sunday, Michigan will look to come out and score a statement victory over the overmatched Grizzlies, who struggled mightily in their only two games versus major conference opponents this year with big losses to Creighton and Arizona.