What an opening week! Went 27-18-2 with my posted picks, so hopefully I can keep this going. Seven out of the eight games have a spread of 6 points or less, so you know the games are going to be tight. Let’s start breaking down these games:
#11 Loyola vs. #7 Nevada (-2)
538 Win Prob: Loyola 51%
Ken Pom says: Nevada 74-72
Joes vs. Pros: Reverse line movement alert! The line opened at Nevada -2.5 and is now down to 2/ 1.5 in various books, despite over 60% of the bets coming in on Nevada.
ATS Pick: Loyola +2
I love everything about these two teams…from the styles they play to Sister Jean and coach Eric Musselman’s daughter! In these types of toss-up games, I’ve gone with the better overall defensive teams, and that has been working. In previous posts I’ve talked about the Ramblers offensive-minded coach Porter Moser and their NBA-style offense, but let’s take a look at their defense. Loyola’s AdjD is 27, and they are also #16 in FTA/ FGA rate allowed, which means they play great team defense and don’t commit bad fouls. I also feel like Nevada might have exhausted everything they had in their comeback win against the Bearcats. The public remembers that comeback (recency bias), so they are on Nevada in this spot. I was on Loyola and Nevada in their last games, so this is a tough call, but I will go with the Ramblers. RLM + the better defense = $.
#7 Texas A&M vs. #3 Michigan (-2.5)
538 Win Prob: Michigan 52%
Ken Pom says: Michigan 68-64
Joes vs. Pros: The public is on Texas A&M, as 60% of the bets are being placed on the Aggies.
ATS Pick: Michigan -2.5
Everyone remembers Texas A&M dismantling UNC (recency bias), so the Aggies have become a trendy underdog in this matchup. Even though I have been riding the A&M train, I’ve noticed that publicly backed dogs do not bark in big matchups. And that is precisely why I will be fading the Aggies in this spot. For Michigan to win, they need Mo Wagner to wake-up. He has had a terrible tournament so far, but I think this is exactly the kind of matchup that will help get him get going. The Aggies Robert Williams and Tyler Davis are beasts on offense, but having to defend Wagner and Duncan Robinson on the outside is going to give them fits. Look for the Wolverines to run a lot of high screen and rolls with Wagner being the guy setting the screens. Look for coach John Beilein to take advantage of Wagner’s shooting. He will have Wagner set the pick and then roll to the 3-point line, where he will be wide open against this Aggies defense. Here is another good example of what they will do to frustrate Williams and Davis. Michigan’s bigs will be able to take A&M’s bigs outside and exploit them, and they’ve won 11 straight games, have the better coach in Beilein, and the higher rated overall defense (AdjD 3), so I will take the Wolverines.
#9 Kansas State vs. #5 Kentucky (-5.5)
538 Win Prob: Kentucky 71%
Ken Pom says: Kentucky 71-67
Joes vs. Pros: It looks like the Pros and the Joes are on Kentucky from what I am seeing on different boards. This is the highest public bet game though, so definitely something to be concerned about for UK backers.
ATS Pick: Kentucky -5.5
This line has been hovering around 5.5/ 6 points in most books, which is “fishy” to me, as everything about this game screams blowout. Kentucky comes into this game playing their best basketball of the season thanks to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He has been carrying them in the tournament, and is shooting up NBA draft boards at the same time. Kansas State on the other hand struggled vs UMBC in their last game out, so it is easy to see why the public is on the Wildcats. Kansas State does look like it will get their leading scorer Dean Wade back, which should be a huge boost for them offensively. One thing I noticed in the Kansas State/ UMBC matchup was just how loose the Kansas State guards were with the ball. Look for UK to take advantage of that, which should lead to some easy buckets. Kentucky is just too good to go down here, and you can be sure coach John Calipari will have his young guys in the right mindset. Good tidbit here, but in his six Sweet 16 appearances with the Wildcats, Calipari is 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 14 points per game. Take that with a grain of salt as every team and situation is different, but it does make you feel better mentally about Cal having his guys ready to play. I think this is a setup by the sharps to drive this line down so they can get the better team with the best number. Look for this number to go up before tip-off.
#9 Florida State vs. #4 Gonzaga (-6)
538 Win Prob: Gonzaga 72%
Ken Pom says: Gonzaga 82-76
Joes vs. Pros: This game is evenly bet right now at a 50%/50% clip.
ATS Pick: Florida State +6
I went back and forth on this one, before going with the Seminoles. I bet against them in their last game because I thought Terance Mann was going to be out with a groin injury. Not only did Mann suit up, but he contributed 24 minutes and hit some big shots to help them upset Xavier. They are peaking at the right time coming into this game. On the flip side, I have not liked what I have seen from this Gonzaga team in their past two games. Against UNCG their offense looked stagnant, and vs. OSU, their defense looked suspect. If it wasn’t for Zach Norvell Jr. hitting some clutch shots, the Zags might not even be here right now. With Mann back and having some time to heal, I love FSU’s length, versatility, and depth in this matchup. I see the Seminoles throwing waves of guys at Zaga and frustrating them with their length. They matchup perfectly with the Bulldogs, to where they will not get torched by the Zags screen and roll offense. Look for them to hang around all game long, so I will take the points.