It was a relatively quiet Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament. There were no significant upsets, no buzzer beaters, and really just a handful of tough finishes against the spread.
But don't get down, because we have a second day coming up, and we all know that we never have a super crazy day both days of the Round of 64. Besides, even a weak day of the NCAA Tournament early rounds is still a great day of hoops.
Remember as we head into games involving teams like Oklahoma State and Wichita State which are “KenPom darlings” that nothing that happens in the NCAA Tournament justifies or disproves anything. On any given day, any team can beat any other team, and one result simply does not a sensible narrative make. When a 15 seed defeats a 2 seed, nobody says that this proves that the 15 seed should have been seeded higher or that the RPI sucks for having the 2 seed so high, so if Wichita State or Oklahoma State loses today it says literally nothing about how accurate the computer ratings are.
Yesterday ATS: 7-8-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 9-10-1 (47%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Oklahoma State (+2.5) over Michigan: I picked Oklahoma State to win this game outright. Oklahoma State has just been playing so well over the last month and has a point guard in Jawun Evans who can take over. Also, Oklahoma State's aggressive crashing of the glass will pose problems for a Michigan team that, despite a lot of height, doesn't really have a lot of “size” and can be out-muscled in the paint. Also, as a general rule of thumb, I like betting against teams that just pulled off miraculous conference tournament runs, as a form of statistical regression.
Baylor (-12.5) over New Mexico State: Statistically, Baylor is a hard team to figure out. New Mexico State relies heavily on second-chance points to score, and Baylor was just 201st in the nation in defensive rebounding rate, yet Baylor also led the Big 12 in defensive rebounding rate in conference play. Baylor has historically struggled at defensive rebounding under Scott Drew, but having watched them plenty this year I believe in the in-conference stats. The fact is that Baylor has played an inordinately large number of elite offensive rebounding teams. As good as New Mexico State's rebounding stats are, they've been inflated by playing in such a weak conference.
Seton Hall (+1) over Arkansas: For Arkansas to win this game, they need a huge performance from Moses Kingsley. Angel Delgado is a monster for Seton Hall, and if Kingsley gets in foul trouble then the Arkansas front line drops off in quality and size very quickly. Seton Hall's front line is very athletic and aggressive, and I don't know if Arkansas will be able to handle that. The Razorbacks were just 13th in the SEC in defensive rebounding rate.
Iona (+15) over Oregon: Flying across the country to play Oregon doesn't sound like fun, but at the same time it's hard to justify a 15 point spread. Sagarin has the spread at 16, but Pomeroy only has it at 13, and Chris Boucher is a massive loss. If Oregon covers, it'll likely be because Jordan Bell annihilated Iona on the glass. The Gaels had a miserable defensive rebounding performance in the MAAC title game, and so they'll need to clean that up.
Jacksonville State (+19.5) over Louisville: It's hard to totally justify a 19.5 point spread in a game that will likely be played at a slow tempo. Jacksonville State is a feisty team that both can get hot from outside and has a 7-footer who is a significant defensive presence. I wouldn't be completely shocked if Jacksonville State keeps this game competitive.
SMU (-6.5) over USC: This is a big spread, but if you believe the advanced metrics on SMU then the Mustangs are a good value here. In addition, SMU was 8th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and are going against a USC team that was 10th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding percentage, despite a relatively tall front line. Jordan McLaughlin will be a match-up problem, but I'm skeptical that he's good enough to overcome SMU's overall talent advantage.
North Carolina (-26.5) over Texas Southern: Texas Southern is literally the shortest team in the nation (just one of their top six minute earners is over 6'4″), which might be a problem against a North Carolina team that has wings who are 6'8″, and which led the ACC in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Obviously the backdoor cover is always an option in a game like this, but I'd be stunned if this isn't a rout.
Rhode Island (PK) over Creighton: Creighton hasn't dropped off too much without Mo Watson, but their offense has become more dependent on outside shooting. They hit 40% behind the arc this season, while finishing dead last in the Big East in both offensive rebounding and FTRate. Rhode Island's three-point defense led the Atlantic Ten, and they have a pair of athletic, aggressive front court players in Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. In general, Rhode Island suffered through some injuries this season, but they've been fully healthy and rolling for over a month now, and have a chance to really open some eyes in the NCAA Tournament.
UC Davis (+23.5) over Kansas: I don't have strong feelings about this line, as it's fair and will likely come down to how garbage time plays out. I'm a little uncomfortable with Kansas in general, though. They've had a lot of luck in close games this season (11-3 in games decided by six points or fewer), and thus are rated as easily the weakest of the 1 seeds. Josh Jackson will be back, but his suspension was for an ugly situation, and the team will have his controversy swirling over them. I wouldn't be shocked if they underperform in this NCAA Tournament.
Dayton (+6) over Wichita State: I picked Wichita State to win this game, and believe that they'll likely win, but at some point it's worth remembering that this is a really good Dayton team that is explosive offensively. There's a particular concern because of Dayton's ability to drive and draw contact – Wichita State is a deep roster, but they can be foul prone (181st in the nation in defensive FTRate). This game could come down to the final shot.
Duke (-20) over Troy: This line is bigger than the computers put it, but there's a reason for that (and not just pro-Duke bias in public perception). Duke has suffered through a lot of injuries this season, but we knew all along that they had the most talented roster in the nation, and they've really showed it down the stretch. They are a better team than the computers say that they are, and I expect them to roll over Troy.
Cincinnati (-3.5) over Kansas State: Usually, Bruce Weber teams are excellent at defensive rebounding, but that is not so this year. Kansas State was 9th in the Big 12, and 296th in the nation, in defensive rebounding percentage. Gary Clark could potentially have a field day, particularly if DJ Johnson gets into foul trouble. With a Vegas line this small, just pick the team that you expect to win.
Michigan State (+2.5) over Miami-Florida: Michigan State is a freshman-heavy team, with freshmen making up four of the eight players in their regular rotation. Unsurprisingly, they've gotten better as the season has gone along, particularly after Miles Bridges got fully healthy. I picked them in my bracket simply because I think they're the better team right now.
Kentucky (-20) over Northern Kentucky: I don't have strong feelings about this spread. I chose Kentucky simply because the Wildcats have tended to out-athlete inferior opponents and run them off the court this season, rather than just letting them hang around.
Marquette (+1.5) over South Carolina: I chose Marquette to win this game in my bracket. South Carolina is a team with an ugly offense that has been in a slow fade for months, having gone just 3-7 vs Pomeroy Tier A/B opponents since January 20th. As a rule of thumb, I always like to bet against teams that are significantly over-seeded, and no team is more over-seeded in this year's bracket than South Carolina.
Kent State (+18.5) over UCLA: UCLA has become a very “public” team this season, so it's not surprising that the Vegas line is a 2-3 points away from where the computers have it. That said, there are no obvious mis-matches in this game aside from UCLA just being a better team, so I don't have strong opinions on this spread, other than just fading the public.