6 LSU (-4.5) vs. #11 Iowa State:
Iowa State has been a great story this season. The Cyclones have had a strong turnaround year and sneaked into the tournament. Both LSU and Iowa State are two of the better defensive teams in the country. LSU is on a different tier athletically. The Tigers need to avoid terrible turnovers. I expect LSU to pull away late.
Verdict: LSU -4.5
14 Colgate (+7) vs. #3 Wisconsin
Wisconsin will carry the same philosophy into this year’s tournament as it has many years before: ‘fundamentally sound basketball, avoiding mistakes.’ While that philosophy can result in a solid season, I believe it limits the Badgers offensively. Johnny Davis has been the cure-all. If Colgate can cap his production, Wisconsin could find themselves in a fight.
Verdict: Colgate +7
7 USC (-1.5) vs. #10 Miami
USC/Miami is one of the games that I don’t have a great feel for. This game is a virtual coin-flip, and Vegas agrees. USC is the better team but has been beaten by deep-shooting this season. Miami has shown the ability to beat teams from deep. I lean toward USC, but I rather keep my money in my pocket and shy away.
Verdict: Stay Away
2 Auburn (-17) vs. #15 Jacksonville State
Auburn has struggled down the stretch of the season. Should this worry you here in this spot? I don’t think so. As we proceed further along in the tournament, I believe the lack of consistent outside shooting will doom Auburn, but that should not be an issue here. Auburn will do whatever they want to in this one and win big.
Verdict: Auburn -17
8 Seton Hall (-1) vs. #9 TCU
The Seton Hall/TCU match-up is another toss-up, with the Pirates posted as a 1-point favorite. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well–a low-scoring affair should be in order. I will lean into Seton Hall which played its best basketball down the stretch while TCU limped to the finish line.
Verdict: Seton Hall -1
5 Houston (-8.5) vs. #12 UAB
Every year a few players become household names for carrying their teams to victory. Jordan Walker of UAB should be near the top of this list. Walker can take over a game offensively. Houston will be ready for Walker, and they have too much firepower for UAB to contend with for forty minutes.
Verdict: Houston -8.5
4 Illinois vs. Chattanooga (+7.5)
The Tournament committee showed their respect for Illinois by granting them a #4 seed. The issue with Illinois is that they are too dependent on Kofi Cockburn. When Cockburn is off the floor, Illinois struggles. Chattanooga is flying a bit under the radar and could pull Cinderella’s slipper out with an early-round upset.
Verdict: Chattanooga +7.5
7 Ohio State vs. #10 Loyola Chicago (-1)
Ohio State is a bit overrated as a #7 seed. The Buckeyes are one of the worst defensive teams in the field. The Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago or the affectionately known ‘Fighting Sister Jeans’ are back in the tournament. Vegas is showing them a ton of respect, making them the favorites here against the Buckeyes. I’m going to roll with Vegas on this one.
Verdict: Loyola-Chicago -1
2 Villanova vs. Delaware (+16)
Villanova should eventually overwhelm the Blue Hens in this one, but Nova struggles defensively. I like Delaware to keep this one close for a while and cover the spread.
Verdict: Delaware +16
3 Texas Tech (-15.5) vs. #14 Montana State
Texas Tech is an absolute nightmare to face. The Red Raiders are arguably the top defensive team in college basketball. Montana State will not put up much resistance in this one.
Verdict: Texas Tech -15.5
7 Michigan State (-2) vs. #10 Davidson
This Michigan State team is one of the most limited teams that Tom Izzo has ever brought to the NCAA tournament. The Spartans are vulnerable, and Vegas agrees, installing them as just a 2-point favorite. Davidson is a team that plays stronger on the inside than out. The Spartans pose a threat with formidable physicality. I will lean Michigan State in this one but make no mistake, they are one and done.
Verdict: Michigan State -2
2 Duke (-17.5) vs. #15 CS Fullerton
There is no questioning the talent of this Duke Blue Devils team. The issue is the lack of experience. While that lack of experience may cost Duke down the line, it won’t be of consequence in this one against CS Fullerton.
Verdict: Duke -17.5
6 Texas vs. #11 Virginia Tech (+1)
Vegas is trying to tell you something! Texas is only a 1-point favorite against Virginia Tech in the opening game. Virginia Tech may be the most underrated team in the tournament. The Hokies started the season off slowly, but are hot entering the Big Dance.
Verdict: Virginia Tech +1
3 Purdue (-16.5) vs. #14 Yale
Purdue is one of the better offensive teams in the country. Jaden Ivey is electric, as he led the Boilermaker offense to over 80 points per game. Yale will have no answers in the opener.
Verdict: Purdue -16.5