People are complaining about how chalky the NCAA Tournament has been. It's the first year without a 13+ seed in the second round since 2007, and even the 12 seed that won (Middle Tennessee) was favored in Vegas. But despite that, we have had some really good basketball games, and the lack of upsets sets us up for some absolutely fantastic second round match-ups. First round upsets are all fun and games until you end up spending your Saturday or Sunday watching a 12 and 13 seed playing each other. This weekend will, instead, be packed with great match-ups.
There are no bad teams left. Every team tipping off today has a legitimate argument that they deserve to be here, and should expect to be competitive. Let's get to the match-ups:
Yesterday ATS: 9-6-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 18-16-2 (53%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
West Virginia (-2.5) over Notre Dame: Notre Dame's depth and front court size are going to be tested by Press Virginia. Matt Farrell has been perhaps the most improved player in the nation this season, and his ability to take care of the ball against relentless pressure will be key to the Irish potentially winning this game. One other advantage that Notre Dame has is their 79.5% free throw shooting considering how much West Virginia fouls. But aside from their match-up advantages, West Virginia has simply been the better team this season.
Villanova (-6) over Wisconsin: This game is an interesting contrast in styles. On one hand, Villanova is going to struggle to defend both Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes in the post, as they just don't have much big man depth after Darryl Reynolds. On the other hand, Villanova's wings are so explosive and athletic that I'm not sure how Wisconsin can defend all of them either. Villanova is also a team that is awfully efficient offensively, while Wisconsin is a team that can get into a rut when their outside shots aren't falling (they were falling, of course, in that Virginia Tech game). In the end, it's a tough call on this spread. I'm going with Villanova because they hit 79.2% at the free throw line this season, so if they're winning at all in the final minute I think they'll hit enough free throws to cover.
Gonzaga (-11) over Northwestern: This is a big spread, but it's a fair spread. The difference in this game, more than anything, is Gonzaga's ridiculous size and height. In the first round, Dererk Pardon was able to defend 7-footer Luke Kornet by using his physicality and shoving the skinny Kornet out of the way, but that isn't going to fly against the monstrous Przemek Karnowski. Without much in the way out of outside shooting (Northwestern was 13th in the Big Ten with 30.9% three-point shooting in conference play), I expect Gonzaga's ownership of the paint to deliver a victory.
Xavier (+6.5) over Florida State: Florida State is the better team, but not by much, and this game could easily go down to the final possession. Florida State is a massive team, but they're vulnerable to teams that are aggressive in the paint. Xavier, who led the Big East in offensive rebounding rate and FTRate, fit that bill. That said, if there's a quick whistle for both teams, Florida State has significantly more depth.
Butler (-3.5) over Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee was a one point favorite against Minnesota, so it wasn't even an “upset” when they crushed Minnesota (that final score was deceptively close, to be honest). This Middle Tennessee team is awfully good, and it's a shame that RPI obsession would've relegated them to the NIT had they failed to win the Conference USA tournament. But Butler is not short-handed Minnesota, and their ability to pass the ball and executive on offense will challenge a Middle Tennessee defense that is not particularly strong inside. With a spread this small I'd only take Middle Tennessee if you really think they're going to win, and I expect Butler to pull this one out.
Saint Mary's (+5) over Arizona: I chose Saint Mary's to win this game outright in my bracket. Offensively, they are one of the most efficient teams in the nation, and can light up the scoreboard with 40% three-point shooting. Defensively, they have enough size to hang with Arizona. Jock Landale vs Lauri Markkanen will be a hell of a match-up. Despite the Vegas line, most computer ratings have this game significantly closer – basically a toss-up. I'll take the points.
Virginia (+2) over Florida: This is an Elite 8 game in the 2nd round. The two teams are 8th and 9th in the Pomeroy ratings at the moment, and both are among the best defensive teams in the nation. Considering that Florida will likely not be getting as many baskets as they usually get off of turnovers, this game will likely come down to whether or not Florida hits their outside shots at a high rate. This is definitely a game to enjoy, but it's not really one where anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be favored. Personally, I just think Virginia is a slightly better team than an Egbunu-less Florida.
Purdue (PK) over Iowa State: I took Purdue in my bracket simply because I think they're a really tough match-up for Iowa State. The size that they bring with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas is going to be so hard for Iowa State to deal with. Outside of 6'8″ freshman Solomon Young, Iowa State's only big man is 6'5″ Deonte Burton. And defensively, I'm not sure that I buy that Iowa State will have big mismatches with Burton against defenders like Haas – if it is Burton and not Monte Morris who is Iowa State's primary playmaker then that is a huge problem for the Cyclones. Purdue's three-point defense is very strong as well.