The build up and anticipation is almost over. Thank God. The Round of 64 is set to tip off Thursday, and for those who are still looking for tips to fill out a last-minute bracket, look no further.
However, filling out a bracket is not the be all and end all to this glorious tournament we all love.
There will be an estimated $9.2 billion bet on the NCAA Tournament. Most of that cash will be bet the more conventional way, which is handicapping games and picking teams on the Las Vegas line.
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Whether you are into picking teams straight up (moneyline), on the spread or are a totals player, the next four days will be heavenly for you. Moreover, profitable I hope!
I have taken the time to share some of my favorite plays on Thursday, and I will be using my friends at 5dimes for lines and odds.
Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Utah Utes (-8.5)
Backing a No.14 seed is what usually leads people to pull their hair out and hit the bottle. If you back Fresno State plus the points in this matchup, you will be hitting the bottle in celebration. To that, I say, act like you have been there before.
Momentum is key in March. Fresno State comes into this game on a nine-game winning streak that saw them capture the Mountain West Championship by taking down a San Diego State team that was untouchable in the regular season.
Utah limps into this game after being absolutely obliterated in the Pac-12 Championship by an Oregon team that many are saying will have a tough time in the second round against Cincinnati or St. Joes.
The Utes may have the best player on the court in sophomore Jakob Poeltl, but I say let him get his and focus on shutting down the rest of the team. If you let Poeltl go off for 30 points, surely you can score 31.
Another aspect I like about this matchup is the travel. While most of the seemingly lower seeds have to travel a good distance away from home, Fresno State is only a quick two-hour flight to the Pepsi Centre in Denver.
Give me the Bulldogs (+8.5) -110
Iona Gaels vs. Iowa State Cyclones (-7.5)
Casual bettors would not think twice about backing a Power-5 team against some mid-major school from the MAAC. What most people don't know is that this mid-major school is on an eight-game winning streak and just knocked off Monmouth in the MAAC Championship. You know, the Monmouth team who everyone was clamoring for to get an at-large bid into the tournament.
The Gaels are no joke. They average a shade less than 80 points per game and love to push the tempo. They have guys who can give defenders fits and they are led by 6-foot-4 guard A.J English. The senior averages 22.4 points, 6.2 assists and five rebounds per game this season and has drawn the attention of NBA scouts. It's not all about English, either-as 6-8 senior forward Jordan Washington can fill it up (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), as can sophomore guard Deyshonee Much (13.1 ppg).
The Cyclones come into this game losers of two in a row. Their last three wins since Feb 20 were against TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, who are a combined 41-57 overall. Not something to hang your hat on coming down the stretch run if you're looking for momentum. Iowa State is also thin on the bench. They usually run a six- or seven-man rotation, and in the thin Denver air at what's likely to be a high tempo, this could be troubling.
Not to mention, they were upended last year by UAB as a No.3 seed. Some would say retribution is in order, I would say Iona gets beat by Purdue in the second round.
Pick: Iona (+7.5) -110, Iona ML +285
Providence Friars vs. USC Trojans (+2)
This seems like one of the more popular "upset" picks of the first round. That is, of course, if you are talking in terms of seeding.
Based on the Vegas spread, you can chalk this up to a win for the favorites in the first round, and I think that is exactly what is going to happen.
The Friars are led by Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, who fill up the stat sheet every single game. Dunn's stat line looks like this: 16.0 ppg, 6.4 apg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 spg, 1.1 3-pt pg. Not bad for a stud point guard who could be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. 6-foot-9 forward Bentil is sitting at averages of 21.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.5 3-pt pg. That combination is tough to handle for any team, let alone a mediocre Trojans squad.
The Trojans took care of the bottom half of the Pac-12, but when the chips were on the table they folded. They have been terrible down the stretch and have only beaten a UCLA team that was in shambles in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Now they travel across the country and go up against a Friars team that likes to push the pace, move the ball around and plays solid on the defensive end.
I think the talent level is about even, but the two best players on the court at all times will play for Providence -- that will be a combo USC will have no answer for.
Pick: Providence (-2) -110
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