The first round was a mixed bag on the picks front. Day games went well (8-2). Night games did not go as well. Overall went 9-7-1. Bleary-eyed and thrilled to see good teams and not Cinderella, here are Saturday and Sunday’s picks. My pick is in bold. They’re in order of most confident to least confident.
Arizona -4 vs St. Mary’s. Line opened 2.5 and quickly shot up, is now five. Advanced stats love the Gaels. Is it because they played Gonzaga three times? It can’t be the blowout home loss to UT Arlington. St. Mary’s usually has an advantage inside with 6-foot-11 Jock Landale; Arizona has three bigs to match him (6-foot-11 Chance Comanche, 7-foot Dusan Ristic and 7-foot lottery pick Lauri Markkanen). Ken Pom says St. Mary’s 64-63. HIT, Arizona won 69-60
Notre Dame +3 vs West Virginia. Classic matchup of Press Virginia (#1 in causing turnovers) vs the team that turns the ball over the fewest (#1). Irish usually have four versatile, skilled ball-handlers on the floor, led by PG Matt Farrell. Mountaineers are 259th in FT%; Irish 1st. Ken Pom says: WVU 76-72. – MISS, West Virginia won 81-73
Gonzaga -10.5 vs Northwestern. Can you blame the Wildcats if they come out flat? They celebrated the school’s 1st NCAA Tourney win over Vanderbilt like they were Final Four-bound. Gonzaga’s Mark Few can turn on tape from the first 15 minutes of their opener and shred his team, which clearly read its pre-tourney clippings. Ken Pom says: Gonzaga, 74-63 – MISS, Gonzaga won 79-73
Virginia +1.5 vs Florida. Florida has them in individual matchups and athleticism, but I’ll lean to UVA’s defense. Gators lost to Vanderbilt three times, twice because it was raining three-pointers. In the last three years, Tony Bennett and the Cavs have been eliminated by Tom Izzo twice, and Jim Boeheim. Bennett should be OK against Mike White, coaching in his first NCAA Tournament. Ken Pom says: Florida 60-59. MISS, Florida won 65-39.
Florida State -5.5 vs Xavier. I’m a glutton for punishment because FSU let me down in the first round after shooting 2-of-13 from three, 24-of-39 on FTs, and turned the ball of 16 times. Xavier handled Maryland easily, but if Trevon Bluiett isn’t scoring, I’m not sure Xavier has the offense. But it does have a very good coach in Chris Mack, and you never know what Leonard Hamilton is going to do (spoiler: It’s usually nothing great). Ken Pom says: FSU 78-74. MISS, Xavier won 91-66
UNC -10 vs Arkansas. Somehow, Vegas opened this one -8 and it ballooned quickly. The Tar Heels have advantages all over the court, and are the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Arkansas got destroyed on the defensive glass by Seton Hall, and ranks 330th in the country. It’ll take a heroic 3-point night from Arkansas or an injury to Berry/Jackson for this to be a single digit game. Ken Pom UNC 86-77. MISS – UNC won 72-65.
Kansas – 8 vs Michigan State. The surprise performance of the 1st round belonged to Tom Izzo (which technically shouldn’t be a surprise), who trailed by 12 early, then steamrolled a solid Miami team. The problem here: Kansas has the best backcourt in the country, and Michigan State doesn’t have much of one. I’m mostly interested in watching Miles Bridges vs. Josh Jackson. Ken Pom says: Kansas 77-70. HIT – Kansas won, 90-70
USC +6.5 vs Baylor. USC has one weakness that worries me – not very good on the defensive glass (250th). Baylor is 3rd nationally in offensive rebounding. But it’s strange because USC has three guys 6-foot-10 or taller, and two of them (Boatwright and Metu) who harbor NBA dreams. But for me this boils down to a postseason coach whom I trust (Andy Enfield, USC) and one who doesn’t have a great history (Scott Drew, Baylor). Maybe USC is tired from its third game in five days, or maybe they’re peaking. Ken Pom says: Baylor 72-65. HIT Baylor won 72-68.
Rhode Island +5 vs Oregon. The Ducks are no doubt the better team, and looked dominant rolling over Iona. Rhode Island has had a strange season, losing to Valparaiso and Houston in the non-conference. but also missing two key players before February. Then, the Rams got hot, and have won nine straight, and 13 of 15. Why I’m lukewarm on the Rams – terrible 3-point shooting team, and only made 4-of-21 vs Creighton. Ken Pom says: Oregon 70-66. HIT Oregon won, 75-72