NCAA Tournament Betting Free Picks: Three Interesting March 21 Opening Lines
We didn't get to the daily 3-Point Play Opening Lines stories this college basketball season, but we'll take a look at three interesting Thursday games in this space and have a glance at Friday's the following day. I will say that I won't be wagering on SEC regular-season champion LSU, Big 12 regular-season co-champion Texas Tech or a solid Purdue team to cut down the nets the night of April 8 at U.S. Bank Stadium. Why not? All three lost their conference tournament opener, and no team has ever won a National Championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament.
No. 10 Minnesota vs. No. 7 Louisville (-5.5, 135)
The first game of the tournament - not counting the First Four - is this matchup in the East Region from Des Moines with a 12:15 p.m. ET tip. The winner almost surely faces No. 2 Michigan State; the Cardinals beat the Spartans in the regular season and the Gophers lost to them. Want more proof we need "basketball minds" instead of just administrators on the NCAA Tournament selection committee? There's really no reason these schools should be playing because of course Louisville fired Hall of Famer Rick Pitino in October 2017 after even more violations were uncovered, and Pitino's son Richard is the Minnesota coach.
Think Rick - who has sued Louisville for $38.7 million for breach of contract -- is giving any pointers to his son? I'm sure he'd love to be there in person and root against his former employer, but Rick is coaching in the top Greek league and that country's top team, Panathinaikos, so he won't be able to make it. Richard Pitino's job security was very tenuous entering this season, but getting a bid should ensure he's back next season. Unless the Gophers are beaten by 50 or something. Richard Pitino is 0-2 vs. Louisville in his coaching career. Minnesota and Louisville have split six all-time meetings, last meeting early in the 2014 season. Expect a defensive slugfest here.
Key trends: The Gophers are 0-4 against the spread in their past four nonconference games. The Cardinals are 10-3-1 ATS in their past 14 vs. the Big Ten.
Pick ATS: Louisville (and under).
No. 14 Yale vs. No. 3 LSU (-7, 159.5)
Another East Region game (12:40 p.m. ET) but from Jacksonville, Fla. How much does a head coach really matter? Of course, LSU's Will Wade is indefinitely suspended in the wake of that explosive Yahoo! story where Wade was caught on an FBI wiretap talking about how much it would cost to pay the family of touted recruit Javonte Smart to commit to the Tigers. Smart, from Baton Rouge and a former Louisiana High School Player of the Year, did commit. LSU has gone 1-1 under interim coach Tony Benford, trashing a horrible Vanderbilt team and then losing by three to Florida in the SEC Tournament opener. Wade believes he should be allowed to coach even though he has refused to tell his side of things to the school under lawyer's orders. There's no freaking way he'll ever coach at LSU or any Division I school again in my opinion.
I'm not really sure why Smart is eligible. The school sat him against Vanderbilt but cleared him to play in the SEC Tournament and has cleared him for the Big Dance. That might come back and bite LSU. Smart averages 11.5 points and 3.3 rebounds this season. Yale was the Ivy League regular-season and tournament champion - and Ivy League teams usually play the power schools well because they don't beat themselves. In Yale's last trip, in 2016, it knocked off Baylor and then gave Duke fits before losing. Supposedly, no Ivy League player has been drafted by the NBA since 1995 (Jeremy Lin wasn't drafted), but it's likely that Yale junior and Ivy League Player of the Year Miye Oni will be, whether he comes out this summer or next. This game is going to be close and a Yale victory wouldn't shock at all.
Key trends: The Bulldogs are 11-3 ATS in their past 14 neutral-site games. The Tigers are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 after a loss.
Pick ATS: Yale.
No. 12 Murray State vs. No. 5 Marquette (-4.5, 149)
West Region game at 4:30 p.m. ET from Hartford. There might be more NBA scouts at this game than any other on Thursday. That's because it's the individual matchup of the first round by far in electric Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant - he'll probably go either No. 2 or No. 3 in this year's draft and is a future All-Star Slam Dunk champion - and Marquette junior guard Markus Howard. These are the only two players ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring in this NCAA Tournament.
Morant, the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, is averaging 24.6 points (No. 8) and a national-best (by far) 10.0 assists. No Division I player ever has averaged 20 points and 10 assists per game in a season. Howard, the Big East Player of the Year, is averaging 25.0 points (sixth), 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds. He's had a 53-point game this season and two with 45. Howard reportedly has been troubled by a wrist injury of late and was just 1-for-15 from the field in Marquette's Big East Tournament loss to Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles might have been in the mix for a No. 1 seed but fell apart late in losing five of their final six. Murray State beat an excellent Belmont team in the OVC Tournament final after the two schools shared the regular-season title.
Key trends: The Racers are 7-2 ATS in their past nine nonconference games. The Golden Eagles are 1-5 ATS in their previous six overall.
Pick ATS: Murray State - have to pick one 12 over a 5!
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