(16) Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. (1) Duke, 7:25 ET
No sixteen seed has ever beaten a one seed, and this isn’t the tournament where that will happen. Despite Duke’s flaws – and there are many – they will not lose to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The only question now is whether APB will be able to keep the game close enough to cover a 23 point spread. After the shooting performance I saw live at UD Arena Tuesday night, I wouldn’t expect them to manage that.
Pick: Duke -23
(16) Vermont vs. (1) Syracuse, 9:30 ET
Again, the 16-1 rule applies here, but not without a little history attached. Those that remember back to 2005 know that Syracuse has already been surprised by Vermont once in the NCAA’s. Syracuse rarely blows teams out, but their zone is suffocating and the Catamounts struggle to score. Another big line means another risky pick, but when in doubt, take the cover.
Pick: Syracuse -17.5
(15) Morgan State vs. (2) West Virginia, 12:15 ET
The first game of the day Friday is a big spread, meaning once again a very difficult prediction to make. Generally teams that play in championship games of conference tournaments are susceptible to early round upsets because of the energy exerted the week before, but Morgan State doesn’t have enough to knock off the Big East champs. The only reason to take Morgan State is if watching Thursday’s early games – specifically Robert Morris-Villanova – made big lines look very questionable.
Pick: West Virginia -17.5
(15) UC Santa Barbara vs. (2) Ohio State, 9:35 ET
Big line, easy game. If Evan Turner even comes close to showing up at full force, the Buckeyes will run away with this one. It might be a 17-point spread, but there’s no reason, given the way these two teams have played this season, to think that Ohio State can’t cover it against the Big West champions.
Pick: Ohio State -17
(13) Siena vs. (4) Purdue, 2:30 ET
One rule that makes sense when wagering on an upset is whether that team can win the game outright or not. Purdue is simply not the same team without Robbie Hummell, and even a 4-seed is being called too high by some experts. On the flip side, I watched Siena stun Ohio State in front of a partisan crowd in Dayton last year, then give Louisville all they wanted in round two. They have the experience of a tournament win under their belt, and are a good pick to knock off the Boilermakers. So the aforementioned rule applies – pick the upset if you think the underdog can win outright.
Pick: Siena +4
(12) New Mexico State vs. (5) Michigan State, 7:20 ET
Despite New Mexico State’s win over Utah State in the WAC final, it would be hard to see them toppling Michigan State. Still, the Spartans are 13 point favorites, which is usually a bit high considering the 5-12 matchup is the most common first round upset excluding the 8-9 games. Izzo will have his team ready to play – as he always does in the NCAA’s – but will they have enough to cover the high spread? Considering the closeness of Thursday’s games, it’s a gamble I’m certainly not willing to take.
Pick: New Mexico State +13
(12) Cornell vs. (5) Temple, 12:30 ET
This might be the most popular upset pick on the board in the entire first round, and for the life of me I don’t understand why. Cornell won a down Ivy League, and despite playing Kansas to within six at Fogg earlier this year, they’re facing one of the hottest teams entering this tournament. Fran Dunphy’s crew played suffocating defense to win the A-10 regular season and conference tournament titles, and have three players who can take over a game. Oh, and did I mention he used to coach in the Ivy League? Did I mention one of his former assistants is Steve Donahue? Temple may not blow anyone out, so the spread is fair, but it’s tough to pick a cover on a four point spread if you think the favorite will win.
Pick: Temple -4
(14) Oakland vs. (3) Pittsburgh, 2:45 ET
Pitt has flown under the radar this entire season, which was only enhanced when they dropped in the Big East quarterfinals to Notre Dame. Still, the Panthers are a respectable 3-seed, while the Grizzlies managed to win a Summit League that had another “as expected” season. That means they likely won’t be able to win the game outright, but Big East teams have struggled this season and Pitt can have issues scoring at times, so maybe the 10.5 spread isn’t too unreasonable.
Pick: Oakland +10.5
(9) Florida State vs. (8) Gonzaga, 7:10 ET
Two at-large teams play here that both lost their last game prior to this one, but one is clearly headed in a better direction than the other. The Zags are woefully underseeded after easily winning the West Coast regular season title, while Florida State struggled in what was a decidedly down year for the ACC. Both teams have to travel a decent ways to travel to get to Buffalo for this game, so any sort of fan support will be a wash (especially with Syracuse as the other half of the double-header), and since Gonzaga is not only the better team, but also the underdog, it makes sense to go with them.
Pick: Gonzaga +1.5 **TOP PLAY**
(13) Wofford vs. (4) Wisconsin, 2:50 ET
It’s no longer the Davidson conference after Wofford captured the Southern Conference championship a year after the graduation of Stephen Curry. The Badgers come in after being upset by Illinois in the Big Ten quarterfinals but are still a clear 10 point favorite. The thing about teams from the Southern Conference is that they play good fundamental basketball, which means they have a chance against athletic but undisciplined teams. The problem is that they drew a Bo Ryan coached team, which is anything but. Tough call with a very accurate line, but look for the Badgers to try to make a statement after the Illinois upset.
Pick: Wisconsin -10
(13) Houston vs. (4) Maryland, 9:40 ET
I’m not quite sure how Houston running through a weak Conference USA as a six seed warrants a 9.5 line against the co-regular season champion from the ACC. Sure, Houston’s playing well, but often times teams that get hot to win a conference tournament can’t continue their winning ways after nearly a week off. Greivis Vazquez might very well be the player of the year in a close race with Evan Turner (and, for my money, Da’Sean Butler), and I can’t see he and Gary Williams bowing out to a team that is simply happy to be in the dance.
Pick: Maryland -9.5
(12) Utah State vs. (5) Texas A&M, 4:45 ET
The matchup of Aggies has to favor Texas A&M, though the low line suggests this is clearly a game the WAC regular season champs could also win. With the line under five, it presents the opportunity to pick the underdog outright fairly easily, and given the rate at which non-power conference teams have scored upsets, it might not be a bad pick. My money, however, is on the Aggies from the Lone Star State.
Pick: Texas A&M -3
More College Basketball Free Picks
(9) Louisville vs. (8) California, 9:45 ET
The classic pick ’em game. Neither of these teams has shown any consistency – Louisville managed to score two wins against Syracuse, but got blown out by Charlotte and lost their last game to Cincinnati. California won a brutal Pac-10 regular season championship, but then lost to a Washington team that would not have otherwise made the dance in the tournament. Talent-wise, Louisville has it all over Cal, and they have the better wins too, but they go as Edgar Sosa goes, meaning you might be picking solely based on how the Cardinals point guard plays.
Pick: Louisville Pick
(10) Georgia Tech vs. (7) Oklahoma State, 7:15 ET
Kevin Anderson might be the most exciting player to watch when he gets on a roll, but as far as a roll is concerned, Georgia Tech is certainly on one of its own. They reached the ACC championship game and gave Duke a scare, enough to take them from pure bubble team to 10-seed. The Cowboys got bounced in the first round, but Travis Ford is one of the most underrated coaches in the game, and this almost the same exact team that knocked out Tennessee and gave Pittsburgh a scare last season. I’ll take that experience over Tech’s freshmen Favors and Luwal in the NCAA Tournament any day.
Pick: Oklahoma State -1.5
(11) Minnesota vs. (6) Xavier, 12:25 ET
The Gophers are another team that could lay claim to the title hottest team entering the dance, but they play one of the best non-BCS programs in the country in the Musketeers. Chris Mack’s first season as head coach saw X finish second in the A-10 with one of the most prolific players in the country in Jordan Crawford. Give Tubby Smith credit for getting his team into the Big Dance, but Xavier is too deep and too battle tested to drop this one to a game Gophers squad. I’m actually surprised at the low line – I figure Xavier by at least two possessions.
Pick: Xavier -1
(10) Missouri vs. (7) Clemson, 2:35 ET
A battle of two teams heading the wrong way entering this tournament. Missouri was bounced in the first round of the Big 12 tournament – as was Clemson in the ACC – so neither of these teams entered postseason play as they would have like. Mike Anderson’s squad loves the run-and-gun style that got the black and gold Tigers to the Elite 8 last season and his old UAB team a major upset of top-ranked Kentucky in 2004. Oliver Purnell has never won an NCAA game, and his purple and orange Tigers are favored, but it’s low enough to be a straight pick. My bracket says Clemson, but that was yesterday. Today?
Pick: Missouri +1.5