NCAA Tournament Betting Free Picks: Three Interesting March 22 Opening Lines
It's fun and all picking upsets in the first round or two of the NCAA Tournament, but if you aren't largely going chalk to reach the Final Four and, especially, to cut down the nets, then that's just a waste of money. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won it all 26 times. The lowest seed to do so is No. 8. Just don't pick all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four, either, because that has happened just once (2008). My Final Four teams are: No. 2 Michigan State (East), No. 1 Gonzaga (West), No. 1 Virginia (South) and No. 2 Kentucky (Midwest). Gonzaga wins it all. Here's a look at three Friday games.
No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 4 Kansas State (-5, 119)
South Region game (2 p.m. ET) from San Jose. Kansas State was the Big 12 co-regular-season champion with Texas Tech, but the Wildcats lost in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals to eventual champion Iowa State. K-State was without arguably its best player, first-team All-Big 12 pick Dean Wade, for that tournament due to a foot injury, and he's not expected to play Friday, either. He was originally hurt March 9 in a win over Oklahoma and has dealt with foot injuries off and on all year, missing six regular-season games in addition to both Big 12 tourney matchups. KSU was 20-5 in games Wade played. He averages 12.9 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds and is the first Wildcat to be named first-team All-Big 12 in back-to-back years since the start of the decade (Jacob Pullen). Wade missed three of his team's four NCAA Tournament games last year with an injury as well.
UC Irvine might be scary good as the Anteaters (in running for best nickname in Division I) are 30-5 overall and were 15-1 in winning the Big West regular-season title. They had little trouble in the conference tournament and haven't lost a game since Jan. 16. UC Irvine did play one Power 5 school this season, winning by a point at a not-great Texas A&M side early in the year. It also won at NCAA Tournament team Saint Mary's. It's a great defensive team, allowing the lowest two-point field goal percentage in the nation. Jonathan Galloway made conference history as he received the Big West Defensive Player of the Year honor for the third straight season. This will be a slog ... and potentially an upset.
Key trends: The Anteaters are 9-1-1 against the spread in their past 11 games. K-State is 1-6 ATS in its past seven non-conference games.
Pick ATS: UC Irvine.
No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (-1.5, 117)
South Region game (4:30 p.m. ET) from San Jose. The Pac-12 totally blows this year with just three schools in the Big Dance and fortunate to get that many. Oregon was the preseason conference favorite thanks in large part to a terrific freshman class led by Bol Bol, the son of the late Manute Bol and a likely lottery pick this summer. Bol was ruled out for the season in early January to a foot injury, though, and the Ducks looked done. They were 15-12 at one point and 6-8 in conference. However, Oregon hasn't lost since as it won its final eight games, including thumping regular-season champion Washington in the Pac-12 title game, 68-48. That got the Pac-12 its third bid along with Washington and Arizona State - Oregon took an at-large bid from UNC-Greensboro, so we are told. The Ducks have played amazing defense during this winning streak, allowing a team to score in the 60s just twice and holding three opponents in the 40s.
Wisconsin is annually a slow-paced, great defensive team, and not much has changed as they allow just 61.4 points per game. The Badgers basically go as far as All-American forward Ethan Happ takes them as the senior averages 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Doesn't it feel like he's been at Wisconsin since like 2012? If I'm Oregon, I'm either double-teaming him on every possession or fouling him. Happ is shooting an ugly 46.5 percent from the free-throw line. This probably will be the lowest-scoring game of Round 1 as you can see from that insanely low total.
Key trends: The Ducks have covered eight straight games. The Badgers are 4-1-1 ATS in their past six NCAA Tournament games.
Pick ATS: Wisconsin (don't trust Pac-12).
No. 13 Saint Louis vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (-10.5, 126.5)
East Region game (9:57 p.m. ET) also from San Jose. Just a coincidence I picked three of the four games at that venue Friday. Virginia Tech is fully capable of reaching the Final Four even though it's in the same region as Duke and Michigan State. The Hokies have one of the nation's best backcourts in Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The latter leads the team in scoring, while the former averages 13.7 points and a team-best 5.2 assists per game and will return after missing the past 12 game with a foot injury. The Hokies were 7-5 without their leader, including a win over Duke (which didn't have Zion Williamson). Tech's scoring dropped from 78.8 points with him to 66 without Robinsons. In addition, Kerry Blackshear is as good as just about any big man. He dominated in that win over Duke with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Saint Louis was the preseason Atlantic-10 favorite but finished fifth in the regular-season standings before a run to the conference tournament title, rallying from down 15 to edge St. Bonaventure in the final. Travis Ford, who led Oklahoma State to five NCAA Tournaments as the coach there, has really relied on transfers this season. The Billikens' best player is Javon Bess, formerly of Michigan State. Tramaine Isabell Jr., the A-10 Tournament MVP, is a grad transfer from Drexel. SLU is a good defensive team with Bess the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Key trends: The Billikens are 1-5-1 ATS in their past seven vs. the ACC. The Hokies are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 out of conference.
Pick ATS: Virginia Tech.
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