Not a very interesting Thursday of the NCAA Tournament as it was almost completely chalk. The only big "upset" was Middle Tennessee beating Minnesota to keep the No. 12 over No. 5 first-round trend going, but the Blue Raiders were also slight favorites. I recommended them, by the way. I was also correct on Iowa State -6 over Nevada but missed on Vanderbilt -1 over Northwestern. More on that below. Even though the favorites dominated straight up, the underdogs had a huge day against the spread -- killing the sportsbooks in that regard. Neither No. 1 seed on Thursday (Gonzaga, Villanova) covered a big number.
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No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Villanova ( -5.5 )
East Region game from Buffalo at 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS. It's somewhat of a stupid TV schedule on Saturday as most of the games are backloaded. There's just one early game, Notre Dame vs. West Virginia at 12:10 p.m., and this is the only mid-afternoon matchup. Wisconsin probably should have been seeded a No. 5 or 6. The Badgers beat No. 9 Virginia Tech 84-74 in an otherwise not-great day for the Big Ten as Northwestern probably should have lost, Minnesota and Maryland did, and Purdue looked shaky vs. No. 13 Vermont. Bronson Koenig made a school-record eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points for Wisconsin. Nigel Hayes had 16 points and 10 rebounds and UW won the battle of the boards by 12. This is a very experienced team that will not be fazed by facing the defending national champions. The Badgers have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in the past three tournaments. It is the only school to have done so.
Villanova won its sixth game in a row but was less-than-impressive in a 76-56 victory over No. 16 Mount St. Mary's, a winner in the First Four on Tuesday night. The Wildcats were up just a point at halftime. They led for only 46 seconds in the first half but trailed for just 22 seconds in the second half. Kris Jenkins, who hit the buzzer-beating winner in last year's title game, started 0-for-10 and finished 2-for-13. He was benched earlier this season because of some shooting struggles. That could be a major issue going forward. Villanova did play at Big Ten school Purdue very early in the season and won 76-65. The Badgers played at Purdue on Jan. 8 in their only meeting and lost 66-55.
Key trends: The Badgers are 6-1-1 against the spread in their past eight as an underdog in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 as a favorite of 6.5 points or fewer.
I'm leaning: Wisconsin (I'm hoping this gets over 6 by tipoff with early action on the Wildcats; Nova advances regardless).
No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-10.5)
West Region game from Salt Lake City at 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS and the biggest spread of any game Saturday. Northwestern is the only team to be unbeaten in NCAA Tournament history. It's true! OK, the Wildcats are 1-0 after beating Vanderbilt 68-66. Northwestern got a huge break when Vandy's Matthew Fisher-Davis committed one of the worst gaffes in NCAA Tournament history - not quite as bad as Chris Webber's timeout since that was in the championship game - by fouling the Wildcats' Bryant McIntosh on purpose with around 14 seconds left. The Commodores had just taken a 66-65 lead, but Fisher-Davis apparently thought his team was down one. McIntosh is one of the Big Ten's best from the free-throw line and hit both. Vandy then missed a 3-pointer (terrible shot selection) and NU added a free throw for the final score. Just a shame for Fisher-Davis, a good player who scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to help his team rally from 15 down. At least it wasn't the last play of his NCAA career as Fisher-Davis is a junior. With Northwestern's win, Nebraska is the only current member of a major conference not to win an NCAA Tournament game.
If Gonzaga were to lose this game, could it be Mark Few's last at the school? He can clearly stay there for the rest of his life if he wants, but the University of Washington gig is now open and school officials are at least going to reach out. I doubt Few leaves for that. Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd could be a candidate. He has a coach-in-waiting agreement to replace Few if Few were to leave Gonzaga. The Zags didn't play well in their 66-46 win over No. 16 South Dakota State. They shot 39.7 percent and missed 10 of 18 free throws. I don't read a ton into that in all honesty. Gonzaga didn't play a Big Ten team this year.
Key trends: The Wildcats are 1-5 ATS in their past six following a win. The Zags are 20-5-1 ATS in their past 26 vs. teams with a winning record.
I'm leaning: Gonzaga.
No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 2 Arizona (-4)
West Region game from Salt Lake City at 7:45 p.m. ET on CBS. Another candidate for the Washington job is the Gaels' Randy Bennett, and he would be more likely to leave than Few. Bennett's team, which is in the Big Dance for the first time in four years, dominated the West Coast Conference about as much as Gonzaga this year - SMC simply couldn't beat the Zags. I was all over Saint Mary's to beat No. 10 VCU in the first round, and SMC did 85-77 as a 4-point favorite. Star Jock Landale had 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Gaels shot 56 percent, outrebounded the Rams 37-29 and went to the free-throw line 39 times, making 29. If you want to nitpick, Saint Mary's allowed 20 points over its season average as it was No. 2 nationally in scoring defense.
Arizona's Sean Miller probably can expect a call (or at least his agent) from Indiana now that it has an opening after firing Tom Crean. Arizona was in a dogfight for a while with No. 15 North Dakota but won 100-82 as an 18-point favorite. That was by far the highest-scoring game of Thursday and went 'over' the total by 35 points. It was just the third time Arizona has scored 100-plus points in its NCAA Tournament history. The Cats' two best players in the game were freshmen: Rawle Alkins had his best game of the season with 20 points (8-for-8 shooting), five assists and four rebounds, while likely NBA lottery pick Lauri Markkanen had 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting along with six rebounds. If Landale gets into foul trouble, SMC has no shot here. This is the seventh all-time meeting between Arizona and Saint Mary's. The Wildcats lead 4-2.
Key trends: The Gaels are 0-5 ATS in their past five as a dog. The Wildcats are 1-5 ATS in their past six vs. the West Coast Conference.
I'm leaning: Arizona.
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