It’s the third week of March and everyone knows what that means, it’s tourney time! Bracket pools with your friends are fun and all, but the real money is made on the books. Sully, Jones, and Tommy Buns are here to break down all the first round matchups and give the Bleacher Fan Faithful winners!
The last two years we’ve had over 70% winning percentages in the first round of the tournament, and we’re looking to do even better this year. Make sure to follow @BleacherBookie on Twitter for tournament updates and daily gambling picks and sign up for MyBookie using our code to get a 100% bonus and get to winning.
We’re going to go through region by region, starting with the East.
#1 Duke vs #16 North Dakota State
Spread: Duke -26.5
Duke is Duke, we don’t know who the Blue Devils will get in the first round matchup, but whoever it, let’s expect a blowout of this 16 seed. We can expect a spread in the mid 20’s and I’ll take Duke to blow this team out just as they did the low-level teams in the beginning of the year.
Our Pick: Duke -26.5
#2 Michigan State vs #15 Bradley
Spread: Michigan State -18.5
I know what you’re thinking, 18.5 is a lot of points to cover, but Michigan State is more than good enough to do it. The Spartans are 4th in the country in KenPom rating and are also 4-1 when they play at a neutral site. Bradley is 302nd in shooting inside the arch and is horrible on the offensive glass, while MSU has a +9 RBG margin.
Our Pick: Michigan State -18.5
#3 LSU vs #14 Yale
Spread: LSU -6.5
Now this one is interesting. LSU might have only lost six games all season and be in the top-20 in Ken Pom rating, but its offensive and defensive efficiency are essentially identical to Yale. LSU is also dealing with some distractions surrounding its coaching staff. Yale is a great three-point shooting team and is ranked 44th in offensive tempo. This has all the making of a classic first-round nail biter.
Our Pick: Yale +6.5
#4 Virginia Tech vs #13 St. Louis
Spread: Virginia Tech -10.5
Does anyone actually know what the fuck a Billiken is? I digress, but the Hokies certainly aren’t, they are getting back one of their best players in Justin Robinson who they had 10-1 record before losing him to injury. Having a top-25 offensive and defensive efficiency at 11th and 25th respectively, Virginia Tech is a dark horse to make a run in the tourney. St Louis is a team that can defend but struggles offensively and should be swarmed by the Hokies’ defense. Expect them to turn the Billikens over and score often in transition. Hokies by 12-15.
Our Pick: Virginia Tech -10.5
#5 Mississippi State vs #12 Liberty
Spread: Mississippi State -6.5
Mississippi State is 16-17 ATS and 9-13 ATS in conference play. Liberty is 12th in the country in EFG offensively while Mississippi State is 148th in EFG on defense. Liberty shoots the ball extremely well from everywhere and is going to put up points. This will be another close one.
Our Pick: Liberty +6.5
#6 Maryland vs #11 Belmont
Spread: Maryland -3
Belmont is the 2nd team in the country when it comes to shooting from 2-point range, which leads to them scoring a TON of points. They’ve eclipsed 80 points in 20 of their games this season. Maryland has a very slow tempo, ranking 274th in the nation and don’t force a ton of turnovers on defense. This is a major upset watch game, Belmont is a real sleeper that could make a run in the tournament. The +150 money line for Belmont is also something to consider here.
Our Pick: Belmont +3
#7 Louisville vs #10 Minnesota
Spread: Louisville -5.5
The NCAA saying this is all done without any bias is complete bullshit. Pitino’s son versus his old school in Louisville is just too good to be true. Revenge game for young Pitino? Not so fast. The Golden Gophers are just 2-9 in true road games, YIKES. Minnesota quite frankly can’t shoot for shit – outside of the top 240 in FT%, 3-point percentage and effective field goal percentage. Amir Coffey is the Gophers only hope as they’re 12-3 when he scores 18 or more. Inevitably, Louisville’s defense will be too much for them, facing the brutal ACC all year has them ready for a win and a cover.
Our Pick: Louisville -5.5
#8 VCU vs #9 UCF
Spread: Pick ‘em
For starters, VCU is phenomenal ATS, they’re 20-11-1 on the season. VCU is 3rd in the nation in EFG% defensively and 7th in defensive efficiency, which will give UCF a problem. UCF as a team is also horrible from the charity stripe, shooting 64.5% as a team which is among the worst in the nation. The Knights 7’6” center Tacko Fall is a whole other kind of bad from the line, shooting 36.1% this season. This will definitely affect the game late.
Our Pick: VCU
#1 Virginia vs #16 Gardner-Webb
Spread: Virginia -22.5
Last year Virginia became the first #1 seed to ever lose to a #16 seed, UVA can’t win this game by any less than 30 points. It’s 1st in the country in Ken Pom rating, 2nd in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency. Not to mention, the Cavaliers are 23-9 ATS, which my sources tell me is good. Gardner-Webb will be completely outmatched in this UVA revenge game.
Our Pick: Virginia -22.5
#2 Tennessee vs #15 Colgate
Spread: Tennessee -17.5
The volunteers have come out of nowhere this year and have even beaten Kentucky two of the three times they’ve played them. Colgate, while known for their toothpaste isn’t half bad themselves, they have two players who shoot 43% from 3 in Ivanauskas and Raman. Colgate is in the top-15 in multiple offensive categories and should be able to rack up points alongside the volunteers who are third offensively efficiency wise as well. Neither team is elite defensively so this should be a high scoring affair, but 17.5 points is too many to give against a team who has no problem scoring in Colgate.
Our Pick: Colgate +17.5
#3 Purdue vs #14 Old Dominion
Spread: Purdue -13
Old Dominio is a team that strengths pose a potential problem for this slow-paced Purdue squad. Old Dominion has a great defense, ranked 14th in defensive field goal percentage and 48th in defensive efficiency. Purdue might be ranked in 5th in offensive efficiency, but they rank 276th in tempo. If Purdue’s offense can’t remain as efficient as usual due to Old Dominion’s defense, they might not have enough possessions to cover the huge spread.
Our Pick: Old Dominion +13
#4 Kansas State vs #13 UC Irvine
Spread: Kansas State -4
Oh boy, do I love this one. This one’s going on red alert for the upset watch. UC Irvine is a nightmare matchup for Kansas State. Irvine is the number one team in the country when it comes to defense inside the arc, they also have won 16 games in a row. Both offenses aren’t all that impressive, but Irvine’s defense is the big difference maker here. We’re taking the points, but don’t be surprised if this is an outright win for UC Irvine.
Our Pick: UC Irvine +4
#5 Wisconsin vs #12 Oregon
Spread: Wisconsin -2
Wisconsin is only 16-16 ATS on the year. Dana Altman is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball and the Ducks are on an 8-game winning streak. Oregon is 18th in the nation in defensive efficiency, 25th in defensive field goal percentage and 10th at defending the three. Wisconsin also struggles to force turnovers, where they rank 262nd in the nation. The Badgers will also be traveling over 2,000 miles from home, one of the furthest first-round trips of any team.
Our Pick: Oregon +2
#6 Villanova vs #11 St. Mary’s
Spread: Villanova -3.5
I think people are a little too high on the Gaels as they just beat Gonzaga in the WCC championship game. Let’s not forget they lost to the same Zags by 48 this year too. Nova has lost a ton of talent this year and has certainly had a down year by its standards, but they’re rocking a 20-14 record ATS and coming off their third straight Big East tournament title. Nova has many bad losses this year don’t get me wrong and their defensive numbers are way down but I’m putting my trust and money on Jay Wright. This game is essentially a home game for Nova as it’s being played in Hartford, CT meanwhile the Gaels are traveling from Cali. Ouch.
Our Pick: Villanova -3.5
#7 Cincinnati vs #10 Iowa
Spread: Cincinnati -4.5
Iowa being a 10 seed is kind of a miracle, they are out here Tom Petty style Free Fallin’. The Hawkeyes have lost six of their last eight and have a trash can for a defense. Meanwhile, Cincy is 9-1 in their last 10, 4-0 when they play at a neutral location, are 28th in the nation in defensive efficiency. They also boast a +5.2 RPG margin.
Our Pick: Cincinnati -4.5
#8 Ole Miss vs #9 Oklahoma
Spread: Ole Miss -1
One of the tougher games in the first round to decide. Oklahoma has an elite defense, sitting at 23rd in defensive efficiency and has some impressive wins on its resume over other tournament teams, but they did lose twice to a pretty terrible West Virginia team. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is 44th in Ken Pom ranking, and forces turnovers on defense. Classic #8 vs #9 matchup.
Our Pick: Ole Miss -1
#1 Gonzaga vs #16 Fairleigh Dickinson/Prairie View
Spread: Gonzaga -28
FDU just won its play-in game over Prairie View A & M but the buck stops there for Fairleigh Dickinson. I know Virginia was upset by a 16 seed last year for the first time ever so we can no longer write these games off but FDU was one of the worst teams to make the tournament. Its first game of the year, FDU lost to Rutgers by 35, I think it’s safe to say Gonzaga will do the same. Gonzaga simply doesn’t have any holes, in fact, they were one of the only teams to defeat Duke while the Blue Devils were at full strength. The Zags have played most of the season without their skilled big man Killian Tillie. They even have the number one offense efficiency-wise in the country and are 21-12 ATS. This one won’t be a game for long. Zags by 30+.
Our Pick: Gonzaga -28
#2 Michigan vs. #15 Montana
Spread: Michigan -15.5
This is another big spread but the Wolverines are going up against a Montana squad that only has one win against a top 100 team this season. Michigan has an elite defense, ranking 2nd in defensive efficiency. Additionally, Montana will be without one of its best players in Jamar Akoh.
Our Pick: Michigan -15.5
#3 Texas Tech vs #14 Northern Kentucky
Spread: Texas Tech -12.5
Another decent-sized spread here at 14. Texas Tech is 1st in defensive efficiency and are 2nd in EFG% on defense. Northern Kentucky is a team that shoots the ball well, and are a pretty solid team offensively, but it will all be negated by Texas Tech’s top caliber defense. Texas Tech is also on fire right now, 9-1 in their last 10.
Our Pick: Texas Tech -12.5
#4 Florida State vs #13 Vermont
Spread: Florida State -8.5
Now I’m not saying Vermont will win this game because I do love Florida State, but the Seminoles better be ready to play. The Catamounts have been in the same position (4 verse 13) just two years ago where they faced a dangerous Purdue game and only lost by 10. This tournament experience coupled with the fact that they just have to travel a few hours south to Hartford makes this a dangerous game for Florida State. Both teams are great on the glass, but Vermont is second in securing defensive rebounds in the country which should limit FSU’s second-chance points. In addition to shooting a smooth 75% at the line, I anticipate a close one. Did I mention Vermont is 20-10-2 ATS? Take the points and be wary of a possible upset.
Our Pick: Vermont +8.5
#5 Marquette vs #12 Murray State
Spread: Marquette -4
This game comes down to Ja Morant, the sophomore sensation point guard and future top-five pick in the NBA Draft for Murray State. If you don’t know him by now, then boy, you must live under a rock, because this dude can ball. Murray State is 19-10 ATS this year. The one big question mark for Marquette is point guard Markus Howard, who suffered a wrist injury last game and clearly won’t be 100 percent for this one. If Morant has a huge game because Howard is too hurt, Murray State can not only cover this spread, but they can win outright.
Our Pick: Murray State +4
#6 Buffalo vs #11 Arizona State
Spread: Buffalo -5
Buffalo is a pretty great all around team, they’re 22nd in Ken Pom, 19th in offensive efficiency, 29th in defensive efficiency, and they have the 9th fastest team in the country tempo wise. Buffalo is also 10-0 in as many games, and on the year are 5-0 when they play at a neutral site. This should be an easy one for the upstate New Yorkers.
Our Pick: Buffalo -5
#7 Nevada vs #10 Florida
Spread: Nevada -2
Nevada is 25th in Ken Pom rating and take care of the ball extremely well, its 7th in the country in offensive turnover percentage. One of Florida’s strengths is they force a lot of turnovers, but that will be difficult against Nevada. These two teams are so opposite in play style, that it will hurt Florida which plays much slower than Nevada, who will run all over them. Another matchup where all of Florida’s strengths are negated by Nevada.
Our Pick: Nevada -2
#8 Syracuse vs #9 Baylor
Spread: Syracuse -2.5
Syracuse is a team that always manages to snag a win in the tournament, no matter what its seed is. The famous 2-3 zone stifles teams who don’t get a chance to face it or gameplan for it all year. Baylor is 178th in scoring in the nation, so it’s not doing itself any favors on offense, not to mention Baylor been decimated by injury all season. Syracuse ranks 24th in defensive efficiency and 24th in turnover percentage on defense.
Our Pick: Syracuse -2.5
#1 North Carolina vs #16 Iona
Spread: North Carolina -22.5
Iona is a terrible defensive team in transition and as we’ve seen all year from UNC, especially against Duke at Cameron Indoor, it can blow open a game with transition buckets in the blink of an eye. That’s exactly what we’ll expect the Tar Heels to do here and cover this spread.
Our Pick: North Carolina -22.5
#2 Kentucky vs #15 Abilene Christian
Spread: Kentucky -22
The bible boys of Abilene Christian will be without one of their best players, Jalone Friday. Kentucky will control the boards given its 8.9 rebound differential. The Wildcats also have the 13th and 12th ranked offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. Kentucky is simply too big and athletic for Abilene to handle.
Our Pick: Kentucky -22
#3 Houston vs #14 Georgia State
Spread: Houston -12
Houston is 15th in Ken Pom rating and has a super impressive 21-12-1 record ATS. Another matchup where the two play styles are dramatically different, Houston plays extremely slow, while Georgia State likes to run. Georgia State has beat some good teams, but its horrible on the glass on both ends because of its lack of size and Houston has a +7.3 RPG margin. This will kill Georgia State’s chances.
Our Pick: Houston -12
#4 Kansas vs #13 Northeastern
Spread: Kansas -7
For the first time in fourteen years, the Jayhawks have not held at least a share of the regular season Big 12 title. Clap it up for Kansas, that’s impressive as hell but this year they have disappointed. Undoubtedly a top team talent-wise, it hasn’t been able to piece it together. Northeastern is one of the best passing and shooting teams in the game as it ranks top-15 in effective field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and 2-point percentage. The Huskies also shoot 75 percent from the line. They are a fundamentally sound team who struggles defensively, however. Kansas is just 8-9 in games not played at its homecourt Allen Fieldhouse and guess what? We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. This combined with the Jayhawks going just 15-19 ATS have them on upset alert, take the points.
Our Pick: Northeastern +7
#5 Auburn vs #12 New Mexico State
Spread: Auburn -6.5
For whatever reason, the No. 12 vs No. 5 matchup is usually pretty close games. I think this fits the mold for one of them. New Mexico State is a force inside the arch, they are 2nd in the country in field goal percentage from 2-point range, and Auburn is 220th in EFG percentage on defense. I don’t think Auburn will lose after winning the SEC tournament and going 10-0 in the last 10 games, but New Mexico will definitely keep it close.
Our Pick: New Mexico State +6.5
#6 Iowa State vs #11 Ohio State
Spread: Iowa State -5
I am very high on Iowa state this year and with good reason, as it’s hot coming off winning the BIG 12 championship and have the 9th best offense in the country. Ohio State is a team that many thought shouldn’t have even made the tourney and went a pathetic 0-9 against the top 5 teams in the BIG 10, Iowa is certainly that caliber of a team, if not better, so it is hard to imagine Ohio State will have a chance in this once as Ken Pom has The Cyclones ranked 16th in the country. The Buckeyes should have their best player back in Kaleb Wesson but they are one dimensional and still just 267th in the NCAA in points per game, that won’t be enough against the Cyclones. Iowa State by 8-10.
Our Pick: Iowa State -5
#7 Wofford vs #10 Seton Hall
Spread: Wofford -2.5
Seton Hall had a pretty great Big East tournament run, winning some close game before losing by two to the defending National Champions Villanova in the final, which could have taken a real toll on them. Wofford is 10-0 in its last 10 and won its conference tournament, but against much weaker competition. Seton Hall’s defense will give Wofford a real test and could mean the Terriers going home early.
Our Pick: Seton Hall +2.5
#8 Utah State vs #9 Washington
Spread: Utah State -3.5
Don’t overthink this one folks. The Pac-12 is hot garbage and has been for a few years. Did you ever wonder how Arizona got knocked off by a 15 seed in Buffalo? Because Buffalo was better than almost all of the teams, they faced in the PAC 12. Utah State has won 10 in a row including one over Nevada. Not to mention its one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The Wolfpack are far from impressive but certainly better than Washington who I believe was overseeded. Being the best team in the Pac-12 is like being the skinniest kid at fat camp.
Our Pick: Utah State -3.5
There you have it, the betting guide of all betting guides. The field of 64 kicks off action with #7 Louisville vs #10 Minnesota at 12:15 on Thursday, so be sure to get your bets in using our promo code for MyBookie and get a 100% bonus and be sure to follow @BleacherBookie on Twitter for any last minute updates on the tournament and daily gambling pics throughout the year.