In the First Four games I went 0-2 on 16/16 games and 2-0 on 11/11 games. I could probably craft some kind of small sample size narrative out of that if I really wanted to.
Anyway, the appetizers are over and the main course is here. The best sporting event in the world is getting ready to tip off with 16 games. Let's do this.
(on the off chance that you haven't finished your bracket yet, you can find my full bracket breakdown here)
Yesterday ATS: 1-1-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 2-2-0
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Notre Dame (-6.5) over Princeton: As good as this Princeton team is, Notre Dame is a bad match-up for them. The Irish are very well coached, and will be prepared for the Princeton offense. At the same time, they are not dependent on the turnovers and free throws that Princeton is so good at taking away. Bonzie Colson also seems like a massive mismatch considering the Princeton front line.
Virginia (-7.5) over UNC Wilmington: Virginia is not a team that tends to play down to its competition. Their defensive pressure is so fierce, particularly against a small team that doesn't hit outside shots particularly well. UNC Wilmington did get some easy baskets by leading the Colonial in defensive turnover rate, but Virginia is always solid with the ball.
Winthrop (+11) over Butler: The line is very fair in this game and I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. Butler is obviously very likely to win, but Winthrop is a team that can be pesky, particularly on the defensive end. Butler does not have a particularly formidable front line as far as power teams go, and Winthrop has a strong defensive interior presence in 6'8″ Xavier Cooks. I wouldn't be surprised if this game is very competitive at halftime.
South Dakota State (+22.5) at Gonzaga: South Dakota State obviously isn't winning this game, but it will be fascinating to watch Mike Daum play against the huge Gonzaga front court. His athleticism and range will make him a difficult defensive match-up, as I'm not quite sure who Przemek Karnowski is going to be able to defend on this roster. South Dakota State got blown off the court by California and Wichita State back in non-conference play, but their level of play is so much higher now than it was a few months ago. They are an awfully difficult 16 seed, as far as potential 16 seed draws go.
West Virginia (-14) over Bucknell: Bucknell is a team that has struggled with turnovers and which has an undersized front line that doesn't rebound well. That makes West Virginia's frenetic press and offensive rebounding attack a nightmare match-up. I'd be stunned if Bucknell made a serious run at winning this game.
East Tennessee State (+10.5) over Florida: East Tennessee State is just an awfully dangerous 13 seed, having won at Mississippi State and nearly taking out Tennessee. Their ability to create fast break opportunities and draw contact could test a short-handed Florida front line that has been missing John Egbunu for close to a month. With the superb senior TJ Cromer as primary playmaker, East Tennessee State is built like a classic March Cinderella.
Middle Tennessee (-1) over Minnesota: I picked this 12/5 “upset” in my bracket, as much as an upset as it would be for a really good Middle Tennessee team to beat a Minnesota team that just lost Akeem Springs to a season-ending injury. Middle Tennessee picked up some “bad” losses, as mid-majors tend to do through random chance, but they're an awfully impressive 6-1 vs Pomeroy Tier A/B opponents, including a road win at Ole Miss and a 23 point smoking of Vanderbilt. They are so balanced and steady on both sides of the ball, and I worry about Minnesota's ability to score consistently against any kind of decent defense.
Vanderbilt (-2) over Northwestern: Vanderbilt is a tough match-up for Northwestern in two key ways. First, Luke Kornet is going to be a hassle for a Northwestern front line that gets pretty small after Dererk Pardon. Second, Vanderbilt's tendency to launch tons of three-pointers and to score in bunches presents a problem for a Northwestern team that likes to grind out low-scoring games. The Wildcats were just 12th in tempo and 9th in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play. If Northwestern wins this game, it'll likely be because Vanderbilt's outside shots aren't falling.
Xavier (+2) over Maryland: Xavier isn't the Top 20 team that they were with Edmond Sumner, but they've righted the ship over the last couple of weeks and are playing solid basketball. Maryland, of course, had yet another season where luck in close games led them to finish higher in the standings than where their statistical peripherals said that they were. My biggest concern for Maryland in this game is their front line holding off a Xavier team that led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate and FTRate in conference play.
Villanova (-26.5) over Mount St. Mary's: It's hard to have strong feelings about a game with a spread like this. Villanova could dominate most of the game and Mount St. Mary's could backdoor cover. The reason I'm choosing Villanova is because they have a history of not fooling around with inferior opponents, and because I think they'll come out motivated to look good considering how disrespected they've been in the media heading into the Tournament. They're perhaps the best team in the tourney and they are the defending national champs, yet you basically never hear about them.
Saint Mary's (-4.5) over VCU: VCU can still force turnovers and score easy baskets, but it's not the #HAVOC of old. These days they get more of their easy buckets from second chance opportunities than off of their defensive pressure, with a couple of ferocious big men in Mo Allie-Cox and Justin Tillman. But Saint Mary's has a ton of front court talent and actually led the nation in defensive rebounding rate. None of VCU's top seven minute earners are over 6'7″, which will make Jock Landale a match-up problem.
Vermont (+10) over Purdue: Vermont is perhaps the most dangerous of the 12/13 seeds, and I expect them to give Purdue trouble. And that is particularly because Vermont's three-point defense is so good, and because their front line is fairly big and strong as far as America East teams go. Purdue should win, but don't be surprised if Vermont keeps this one very competitive into the second half.
Florida State (-12) over Florida Gulf Coast: On Selection Sunday, it was odd to see the CBS folks talking about Florida Gulf Coast like this is the Andy Enfield team. But this is a very different team these days. They're no longer #DunkCity, they're now the team playing at the 261st fastest tempo in the nation, and which led the Atlantic Sun in defensive efficiency in conference play. The problem is that Florida Gulf Coast depends on offensive rebounding for offense, as they were dead last in the Atlantic Sun in 3P% shooting. Florida State's defensive rebounding isn't good, but they have a massive size advantage, and should get plenty of offensive rebounds themselves. Without a rebounding advantage, I don't see how FGCU competes in this game.
Wisconsin (-5.5) over Virginia Tech: A lot of this game will come down to what you believe three-point defense is. Virginia Tech, of course, depends heavily on the three, as they were 3rd in the ACC in 3PA/FGA rate and hit them at a 41.4% clip in conference play. Wisconsin opponents shot 38% behind the arc this season, which puts them 305th in the nation. Modern analytics generally has found that 3P% defense is almost entirely luck, and that the real measure of three-point defense is 3PA/FGA rate, and Wisconsin was 4th best in the Big Ten there. My regular readers, of course, know that I'm with the analytic orthodoxy here. And if Virginia Tech isn't pouring in threes, they will get annihilated on the boards, and just don't have a defense capable of stopping an efficient offense like Wisconsin has. I'll take the Badgers.
Arizona (-17) over North Dakota: Being a foul-prone team, as North Dakota is, is never a good sign against an Arizona team with a vast athleticism advantage and which also hit 75.8% at the line as a team this season. Also, North Dakota's defense was strongest in its ability to force turnovers, and as a general rule I'm skeptical of high defensive turnover rates from small leagues against elite major conference talent.
Iowa State (-6.5) over Nevada: Like the Wisconsin/Virginia Tech game above, this game comes down to what you believe three-point defense is. Nevada held opponents to 30.7% three-point shooting, which was 15th best in the nation, but they were just 7th in the Mountain West in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio. Iowa State is an outside shooting team that I expect will get a lot of open shots. The Cyclones are vulnerable to big teams that can get after the glass, but Nevada is not that kind of team.