NCAA Basketball Betting 3-Point Play: Three Interesting Opening Lines Thursday
by Alan Matthews - 3/18/2015
It's one of the best sports days of the year on Thursday as the NCAA Tournament begins in full with games from noon to past midnight. As one who works from home, I certainly enjoy having live sports action going on during the day. Alas, it also makes me want to head to the sports pub (or Las Vegas). I'll likely be previewing many Kentucky games during the Big Dance, but I'll pass on Thursday's matchup against No. 16 Hampton because that clearly will be a slaughter. At Bovada, UK is +110 to win the tournament and -140 not to.
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 6 SMU (-3.5, 133)
It's a 3:10 p.m. start (approx.) for this South Region matchup from Louisville on truTV. The winner gets the No. 3 Iowa State-No. 14 UAB victor on Saturday. Of course, SMU is coached by Larry Brown, who among his many stops also coached UCLA from 1979-81.
SMU (27-6) was the preseason favorite in the American Athletic Conference, and it won the regular-season title and beat defending National Champion UConn 62-54 in the conference title game, ensuring the Huskies wouldn't get a chance to repeat. The tournament title was the first for the Mustangs since the 1988 team won the Southwest Conference. It's only the second time in school history it won the regular-season and tournament titles. The Mustangs are in the Big Dance for the first time since 1993 -- they were arguably the top snub last year. SMU is a three-man team for the most part. Junior guard Nic Moore leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (5.2 apg) and was the AAC Player of the Year. Senior center Yanick Moreira (11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was the conference's Most Improved Player, and junior forward Markus Kennedy (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) was the Sixth Man of the Year.
UCLA (20-13), in my opinion, did not belong in the Big Dance. Sure, the Bruins had 20 wins and were 11-7 in the Pac-12, but they haven't beaten another tournament team since Valentine's Day. They also didn't beat anyone of note out of conference, losing by double digits to Oklahoma, North Carolina, Gonzaga and Kentucky (whopping 83-44 score). But it's UCLA and it's a brand name. This could be the final game for UCLA leading scorer Norman Powell. The senior averages 16.4 ppg while adding 4.7 rebounds. I'm also guessing that freshman Kevin Looney is one-and-done. He averages 11.8 points and a team-best 9.2 rebounds.
UCLA is 2-0 all-time vs. SMU, but they haven't played since 1976. The Bruins and Mustangs both played Gonzaga this year. SMU lost 72-56 at Spokane on Nov. 17 and the Zags won 87-74 at UCLA on Dec. 13.
Key trends: UCLA is 4-0 against the spread in its past four after a loss and 6-0 ATS in its past six vs. teams with a winning record. SMU is 6-2 ATS in its past eight against teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in 11 of UCLA's past 15. The under is 5-2 in SMU's past seven at a neutral site.
Why take the favorite: Mustangs have too much size and are very well-coached.
No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Virginia Commonwealth (+4, 137)
A 4:40 p.m. (approx.) time on TNT for this West Region game from Portland. The winner almost surely will face No. 2 Arizona on Saturday.
Ohio State (23-10) is one of the few higher seeds that's a favorite, and I think this might be the best first-round game Thursday. The Buckeyes lost two of their final three games, falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. I guarantee you that OSU freshman D'Angelo Russell will be one-and-done in Columbus, so this could be his finale as Russell is a lock Top-5 pick this summer. The Freshman All-American leads the Buckeyes in scoring (19.3 ppg.) and rebounding (5.6 rpg.) and is second is assists (168) and steals (53). He has scored 20 or more points 15 times this season and twice has reached the 30-point plateau. The only other Buckeye in double-figure points is senior forward Sam Thompson (10.2 ppg).
VCU (26-9) was the preseason Atlantic 10 favorite. The Rams only finished fourth in the regular season but ended the year on a five-game winning streak, beating Dayton in the conference tournament championship game. VCU plays one of the most hectic defensive schemes in the country, called "Havoc" with that full-court press. The Rams rank third nationally in steals but did lose their best defender and national steals leader (at time) in Briante Weber for the season in early February. I think that ended VCU's Final Four chances, but it can still win a couple of games. VCU is 2-1 against Power 5 teams this season, beating Tennessee and Oregon and losing to Virginia. The Rams' best win was on Dec. 23 against Northern Iowa.
OSU and VCU have never played.
Key trends: Ohio State has covered 10 of its past 13 following an ATS loss. The Buckeyes are 2-10 ATS in their past 12 at a neutral site. VCU is 4-1 in its past five at a neutral site. The over is 6-0 in Ohio State's past six non-conference games. The over is 5-1 in VCU's past six after a win.
Why take the underdog: Rams' pressure can help neutralize Russell.
No. 13 Harvard vs. No. 4 North Carolina (-11, 132.5)
This South Region game from Jacksonville is at 7:20 p.m. ET on TNT. The winner plays either No. 5 Arkansas or No. 12 Wofford on Saturday.
Harvard (22-7) is very fortunate to be here. Yale beat Harvard in Cambridge on March 6 in the penultimate game of the Ivy League regular season to take a one-game lead. All the Bulldogs had to do to win the conference title and automatic NCAA bid was win at Dartmouth the next night (or have Harvard lose). However, Yale lost in the final seconds, Harvard won and Yale was beaten 53-51 in a one-game playoff by Harvard on Saturday. It's the fourth straight NCAA bid for the Crimson, who have won a game in the past two tournaments. I don't think this Harvard team is as good as those, but it does have the Ivy League's best player in Wesley Saunders.
North Carolina (24-11) finished a disappointing fifth in the ACC regular-season standings but upset Louisville and Virginia in the conference tournament before falling to Notre Dame 90-82 in the championship game. The Heels led that midway through the second half. The pace of play will determine this one. Harvard isn't great offensively and plays slow, allowing just 57.2 points. UNC plays fast and ranks 17th in scoring (77.9 ppg) and is among the rebounding and assists leaders in the country.
Harvard played three Power 5 teams during the regular season and lost them all: 76-27 at Virginia (yikes!), 56-46 at Arizona State and 64-57 in OT at Boston College. UNC was 1-1 vs. Virginia and beat BC by 11.
Key trends: Harvard is 1-4 ATS in its past five nonconference games. It is 7-2 in its past nine vs. the ACC. UNC is 4-0 ATS in its past four out of conference. The under is 8-1 in Harvard's past nine non-conference games. The over is 4-1 in UNC's past six outside the ACC.
Why take the favorite: UNC just has too much talent, and that ACC run will have boosted confidence.
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