Florida (10) vs. BYU (7), 12:20 ET: Florida limps into this contest losing 6 of their last 10 games. That’s not the kind of streak I like to see teams have when they’re facing a high scoring offense like BYU. The Gators have balanced scoring with 5 players averaging over 10 points a game. BYU is led by Jimmer Fredette at 21.7 points per game. The Cougars have won 7 of 9 overall and each of those wins came by double-digits. Their two loses were to fellow Tournament participants New Mexico and UNLV by a combined 6 points.
Pick: BYU -4.5
Old Dominion (11) vs. Notre Dame (6), 12:25 ET: Notre Dame comes in on fire. They’ve won 6 of 7 with their only loss to eventual Big East Tournament Champs West Virginia 53-51. Luke Harangody is the heart and soul of this team. He’s back after missing 5 games due to injury. He averages 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. They will face a tough and balanced Old Dominion squad led by Forward Gerald Lee. The Monarchs have 7 guys who average over 5.8 points per game. They won the CAA Regular season and Conference Tournament Championship. I think the Irish are too strong for ODU, but wouldn’t be surprised by an upset.
Pick: Notre Dame -2
Robert Morris (15) vs. Villanova (2), 12:30 ET: These big spreads are always hard to play. Villanova struggled last year in the 1st round against American. They probably weren’t focused enough as they were playing at home with too many distractions. They eventually cruised into the Final 4 before losing to North Carolina. Robert Morris won the Northeast Conference Tournament to get this invite. They are just too small to compete with the Big East.
Pick: Villanova -18.5
Murray State (13) vs. Vanderbilt (4), 2:30 ET: This could be an interesting game. I’m not the only one who thinks so either. The books have Vandy as only a 3 point favorite in this one. Murray State is an underrated relatively high scoring squad with lots of balance. Their top 6 scorers average between 9.5 and 10.6 points a game. Very balanced. The Racers 4 losses this year came on the road to tough opponents including a 5 point loss at California. Vandy finished 2nd in the SEC and has won 7 of 10. I would say pass on this game. The books are begging you to take Vandy, but I would take Murray.
Pick: Murray State +3
North Texas (15) vs. Kansas State (2), 2:50 ET: Kansas State could easily be one of 3 or 4 teams to make the Final 4 from the Big 12. If they can just avoid Kansas in the Final 4, they just might win it all. They’re 0-3 against the Jayhawks this year. They’ve won 10 of 11 games if you don’t count KU in what is the number 1 rated Conference in America. North Texas shared the Sun Belt Conference regular season title with Troy and Middle Tenn State and have won 11 in a row. They get 29 points per game from their two guards Josh White and Tristan Thompson. This is another game I would take a pass on, but North Texas is 2nd in the Nation with a 17-6-2 record against the spread. They covered the spread this year at Big 12 foes Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. K-State might take them lightly, but pull away in the end.
Pick: North Texas +16
Sam Houston State (14) vs. Baylor (3), 2:55 ET: Baylor is another Big 12 who could make a deep run in this Tournament. They have 2 outstanding guards in LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter. They face a red-hot Sam Houston State team that has won 17 of 19. Their only 2 loses in that stretch were in overtime. The Southland Conference didn’t exactly offer them the stiffest competition, but a very confident team non the less. This is a pretty tough number to play, but Sam Houston’s excellent 3 point shooting might keep this in the single digits.
Pick: Sam Houston State +11
Saint Mary’s CA (10) vs. Richmond (7), 3:00 ET: Richmond is a team that I think is better than their 7 seed. They have won 12 of 14 with an overtime loss to Xavier and a 56-52 loss to Temple in the A-10 Championship. This is another team with great guard play, which is huge in this Tournament. Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez average 32.3 points per game combined. They’re 15th in the Nation is defensive FG% at 39.2%. Saint Mary’s will have 10 days off between their last game and this one. They haven’t seen a defense like this outside of Gonzaga. I like Richmond.
Pick: Richmond -2
UTEP (12) vs. Butler (5), 4:55 ET: It’s hard to believe that a team that was won 20 games in a row and had a perfect conference record are only 2.5 point favorites over a 12 seed in Round 1. That’s because, Butler is going up against a team that had won 16 in a row before Saturday’s late 2nd half meltdown. UTEP was looking good to win the C-USA Tournament until Houston pulled it out at the end. UTEP is a very physical team and Butler hasn’t played a game since March 9th.
Pick: UTEP +2.5
East Tenn State (16) vs. Kentucky (1), 7:10 ET: East Tennessee State finished 5th in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but got hot in their tournament to claim the automatic bid. Obviously this won’t be the first 16 seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are 3rd in the Nation in rebounding margin and 5th in FG%. Kentucky wins this by 30.
Pick: Kentucky -19.5
Northern Iowa (9) vs. UNLV (8), 7:10 ET: This should be a real good game. UNLV finished 3rd in a very good Mountain West Conference that saw 4 teams make the dance. They are an up-tempo deep squad led by guard Tre’Von Willis. Northern Iowa has much more experience as all 5 starters played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Panthers will slow down the tempo of this game and advance to the 2nd round.
Pick: Northern Iowa +1 **TOP PLAY**
Washington (11) vs. Marquette (6), 7:20 ET: This is a game that I think won’t be as close as the lines makers think it will be. Washington finished 3rd in a very poor Pac-10 Conference, while Marquette finished 5th in a very strong Big East. Marquette has learned how to win the close games. After losing a few nail bitters early in the season, they turned it around and won 3 overtime road games in a row in February. They won 2 in a row in the Big East Tournament before bowing out to Georgetown 80-57. The Golden Eagles are too strong defensively for the Huskies.
Pick: Marquette -1.5
Ohio (14) vs. Georgetown (3), 7:25 ET: I expect this game to be a blow-out in favor of the Hoyas. Ohio was the 3rd best team in a weak MAC behind Kent State and Akron. Georgetown is starting to play well. They won 4 straight including a win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament before falling to West Virginia 60-58 in the Championship game. Center Greg Monroe is averaging 16.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in his last 5 games. He’ll prove too much for the Bobcats froncourt.
Pick: Georgetown -13.5
Lehigh (16) vs. Kansas (1), 9:40 ET: The number 1 seed overall in this tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks, get a practice game with Patriot League champs and undersized Lehigh. There’s just no way the Mountain Hawks can keep up with Kansas in this one. The only thing I worry about laying this big number, is Kansas sitting all their starters late and Lehigh pulling the cover. I would stay away from this one.
Pick: Kansas -25.5
Wake Forest (9) vs. Texas (8), 9:45 ET: This Texas team is really hard to figure out. They have the talent to make a deep run, but haven’t been playing like it. They started out 17-0 including wins against Pitt, Michigan State and Texas A&M. Then they went 7-9 in the second half of the season. All 9 of those loses were by more than 9 points. Wake Forest might be just the medicine the Longhorns need. Wake has lost 5 of 6 including a 21 point loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament. I expect a big game from Texas’ Damion James and the Longhorns will prevail.
Pick: Texas -5
Montana (14) vs. New Mexico (3), 9:50 ET: The New Mexico Lobos enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country and if they would have won the Mountain West Conference Tournament, they might have stolen a number 2 seed. They are an explosive team on offense led by head coach Steve Alford. They do, however, have holes in their defense. They seemed to have a lot of trouble with the bottom of the conference beating Utah, Air Force twice, Wyoming, and Colorado State by less than 10 points. Montana finished 4th in the Big Sky Conference and had to come from 20 points behind to beat Weber State to earn the automatic bid. The Lobos should handle the Grizzlies pretty easily in this one, but I wouldn’t take them deep into this tournament. I just don’t trust New Mexico.
Pick: New Mexico -8.5
San Diego State (11) vs. Tennessee (6), 9:55 ET: The last game of the evening could be the most entertaining. After being snubbed last year, San Diego State took care of business by winning the Mountain West Tournament. They are a much better team than the 11 seed they got. They’ve only lost twice since the end of January and that was at BYU and New Mexico. Tennessee comes in as the only team in the country to beat both Kentucky and Kansas this year. They won 5 games in a row before getting embarrassed by Kentucky 74-45 in the SEC Semifinals. The Vols are a little unpredictable so I’ll take the hot and hungry Aztecs to upset them.
Pick: San Diego State +3