Don't know about you, but I can't think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than by spending all day at some Irish pub with March Madness on the tube! One prop I always like for the NCAA Tournament is betting on which conference the winner will come from. While the two team favorites are from the Big 12 (Kansas) and Big Ten (Michigan State), I tend to agree that the ACC should be favored, and it is at +200. You have legit chances for North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland to cut down the nets. Not sure Duke is good enough to repeat.
No. 9 UConn vs. No. 8 Colorado (+3, 132.5)
South Region game from Des Moines at 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT with the winner facing No. 1 Kansas. UConn (24-10) probably doesn't make the NCAA Tournament if not for the miracle shot of the year, if not many years: a Jalen Adams three-quarter court heave at the buzzer to tie the Huskies' AAC Tournament opener against Cincinnati at the end of a third overtime. I expected UConn to be totally on empty after that epic four-OT win, but it then easily beat top-seeded Temple and Memphis on the way to the AAC title. I'm still not sure what to make of this team because I don't think the AAC was all that great. UConn's best nonconference win was at Texas but it lost to Syracuse, Gonzaga and Maryland. It also was 0-2 vs. Temple in the regular season. But the Huskies can defend, ranking among the national leaders in defensive efficiency and points allowed. UConn also has the chance to sort of repeat as national champion. The Huskies won it behind Shabazz Napier in 2014 and then weren't allowed to defend in 2015 due to low APR. A few players remain from that squad.
Colorado (22-11) won only three of its final seven games, but one of those victories, over No. 9 Arizona, was what got this team into the Big Dance. The Buffs were then knocked out of the Pac-12 Tournament by the Wildcats in a four-point loss. CU has really no great nonconference wins to hang its hat on. It did play AAC team SMU and lost by four in a Christmas holiday tournament. UConn split with the Mustangs. The Buffs have one of the better big men in the nation in senior Josh Scott, who averages 16.1 points (53.2 percent shooting), 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Key trends: The Huskies are 4-0 against the spread in their past four nonconference games. They are 15-3 ATS in their past 18 NCAA Tournament games. CU is 5-0 ATS in its past five games. The "over/under" has gone under in three of UConn's past five out of conference. The under has hit in six of CU's past eight after a win.
I'm leaning: UConn and under.
No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 Iowa State (-7.5, 167)
Midwest Region game from Denver at 2 p.m. ET on TBS, with the winner facing either No. 5 Purdue or No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock. And if you like fast-paced basketball, this is the best game of the first round as both these clubs play fast. This total is easily the highest of any first-round game. Iona (22-10) was second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season but knocked off champion Monmouth, everyone's favorite mid-major this year, in the conference title game. Iona has the MAAC's best player and a future NBA guy in senior A.J. English, who averages 22.4 points, 6.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He's one of those guys who can single-handedly carry a mid-major to an upset or two. Iona didn't play any Big 12 teams this season but did lose by 20 at Pac-12 school Oregon State. The Gaels averages 79.6 points per game.
Iowa State (21-11) finished a moderately disappointing fifth in the Big 12 standings and then going for a threepeat in the Big 12 Tournament lost its opener in a close game to a very good Oklahoma team. I know the Cyclones burned a lot of people's brackets last year as many had them going to the Final Four, but ISU was upset as a No. 3 seed by UAB in the first round in what proved to be Coach Fred Hoiberg's final game in Ames -- he's now with the Chicago Bulls. Led by All-American Georges Niang and Big 12 assists leader Monte Morris, ISU ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency at 120.5 points per 100 possessions. The Cyclones average 81.8 ppg.
Key trends: Iona is 7-1 ATS in its past eight. ISU is 4-1 ATS in its past five after a loss. The under is 9-2 in Iowa State's past 11 neutral-site games.
I'm leaning: Two teams who live on the perimeter for the most part. Will playing in the thin air of Denver keep the score down? Go Iowa State and under as that total is really high.
No. 14 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Miami (-13.5, 148.5)
South Region game from Providence at 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT with the winner taking on either No. 6 Arizona or No. 11 Wichita State. Buffalo (20-14) finished third in the MAC East Division but won two blowouts in the MAC Tournament and then upset top-seeded Akron 64-61 in Saturday's final. It's the second straight year in the Big Dance for the Bulls. They were a No. 12 last year and played well in a 68-62 first-round loss to No. 5 West Virginia. That game went down to the final minute. BU was so impressive it got then-coach Bobby Hurley, the former Duke star, a better job at Arizona State. Hurley was replaced by Nate Oats, who was one of Hurley's assistants. This won't be Buffalo's first game of the year against a ranked team from a Power 5 conference. It lost 82-59 at No. 6 Duke on Dec. 5 and 84-63 at No. 4 Iowa State two nights later. The Bulls also lost to NCAA tourney teams Saint Joseph's and VCU in blowouts.
Miami (25-7) would have shared the ACC regular-season title with North Carolina but lost its finale at Virginia Tech. The Canes then beat the Hokies in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals before falling to No. 4 Virginia by five. My worry about this team is that it's dominant at home but very shaky on the road. UM did have quality neutral-site wins over Utah and Butler early in the season. Miami has been ranked in the AP's Top 15 for 14 weeks this season, eclipsing the previous school record of 10 in the 1959-60 season. The season also marks the 10-year anniversary of Coach Jim Larranaga leading little George Mason to the 2006 Final Four. Miami and Buffalo haven't played since 2006.
Key trends: Buffalo is 5-0 ATS in its past five neutral-site games. UM is 12-3 ATS in its past 15 non-conference games. The over is 8-3 in Miami's past 11 out of conference.
I'm leaning: Miami and under.
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