Now that the additional "play-in games" are finished, we now get to the main course of the first week: the Thursday and Friday first round matchups. We've got a mix of huge and slim favorites in the 2011 NCAA Tournament betting odds and I thought I'd look at the spreads and offer up some of my own predictions based on the odds. The folks at Odds Shark have the odds for today's games for your "entertainment." Just to warn folks: Given my past history with sports betting, you might be smart to take the opposite of what I suggest here. Much of this is a gut feeling so take it with a grain of salt.
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Clemson - The Mountaineers are sitting as 2 1/2 point favorites against a Clemson team that clobbered the UAB Blazers. In my bracket I was strongly considering taking the Tigers to upset West Virginia, but I decided against it. My concern is over-valuing Clemson after a win against a less than stellar opponent. I think this ends up being a tight game, but I think West Virginia pulls away courtesy of late free throws, winning by five or six points.
No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion - Old Dominion is actually sitting as a 2 1/2 point favorite at this point. The 8/9 game is always a tough one to figure out and it usually comes down to a flip of the coin. Public sentiment appears to be against the defending national runner up Butler Bulldogs. I've often heard you should not trust public sentiment in gambling, but I have to go with ODU to cover, in part because I think they're better and in part because I went to American University when they were in the same conference as ODU. Can you see the excellent analysis there?
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Morehead State - Louisville is ranging from an eight to ten point favorite. I'll be honest I don't know enough about Morehead State other than the fact that I recall they have a crazy solid rebounder. I'm not all that sold on Pitino's Cardinals. I think Louisville wins this game but barely escapes an upset that has the announcers panting at the end of a thriller. Maybe even Morehead State getting a crack at a last second shot to win or tie the game.
No. 7 Temple vs. No. 10 Penn State - The Temple Owls are two points favorites over the Penn State Nittany Lions. PSU made a brilliant run to the Big Ten final, only to come up short against Ohio State (who won me $200 in a Sunday parlay). I like Temple in this one to cover in what should be an incredibly dull game.
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Princeton - Kentucky is a 13 1/2 point favorite over the Princeton Tigers. While history may not repeat itself, the Princeton Tigers have claimed their share of upsets. However, after seeing Kentucky dismantle Florida on Sunday I'm taking Kentucky and the points as I think they roll Princeton in the second half.
No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 16 UNC-Asheville - The Pitt Panthers are an 18 point favorite. Everybody loves seeing the underdog 16 seed hang close and have the other channels switch over to that game. And I actually think of the four number ones, Pittsburgh is the most vulnerable. They won't lose in the first round, but one has to wonder if that vulnerability will be exposed at least a little bit today. I think Pitt pulls away at some point and wins by 22 or so.
No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Richmond - The Commodores are two to three point favorites in a game everybody is thinking will be an upset. The Spiders have a history of upsets, but more importantly they appear to be a bit underseeded coming off their run to the Atlantic-10 title. The SEC isn't bad but it's not exactly dominant this year. I have Richmond upsetting the Commodores in my bracket, so I'll put my money on them to cover.
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado - The San Diego State Aztecs are 15 1/2 point favorites and they're also my pick to win the entire tournament. I grabbed them at 18/1, as well as 7/2 to get out of the West region. They are uber-physical inside and I think they've got a complete game. For this first game, I think they run Northern Colorado out of the building with a mix of fast breaks and inside bullying.
No. 2 Florida vs. No. 15 Santa Barbara - The Gators are 13 point favorites over the Gauchos. As a UNLV fan UCSB became a stubborn rival for me back in the Big West days. I think Florida is in good shape to make a strong run through the tournament, but I could see UCSB giving them some early trouble. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a Florida win but not a cover. I'm thinking a 10 or 11 point win courtesy of late free throws, but UCSB doesn't let them off the hook without making them work.
No. 3 BYU vs. No. 14 Wofford - The BYU Cougars are 8 1/2 point favorites. The loss of Brandon Davies has hurt them on the interior, but they still have Jimmer Fredette jacking up shots. I think they get enough from Jimmer to cover this game, but physical teams will have their way with the Cougars.
No. 3 Connecticut vs. No. 14 Bucknell - UConn is favored by 13 points in a game they would normally win running away. However, one has to wonder how exhausted their five wins in five days has left them. This could be as big a hurdle in the NCAA Tournament as any one or two seed. I think UConn has to come out strong and take an early lead. I don't expect them to fall behind to Bucknell, but if the Bison grabbed an early lead, the exhaustion might catch up with them. I think you don't go against a streaking team but I also think Bucknell will keep this close. I think UConn wins but Bucknell covers.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Belmont - Wisconsin sits as a five to six point favorite. Initially I thought this was too low, but Ken Pomery rates Belmont at No. 18 (he has Wisconsin at 9). I think this could end with an exciting finish, particularly given Wisconsin's inability to score for stretches at a time. Count me in for Belmont to cover but lose a tight one.
No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State - The Spartans have actually emerged as a two point favorite against the higher seeded Bruins. I'm not particularly sold on Michigan State and would take UCLA to cover, even if the Bruins were the one's favored by a couple points.
No. 6 St. John's vs. No. 11 Gonzaga - St. John's is a 1 1/2 point favorite as everyone's favorite old Cinderella is back in a position to make some noise. I guess I'll have to be the hater that puts a stop to Cinderella. Gonzaga was hot late so that might indicate sticking with the hot team, but I think St. John's has what it takes to win this game. And when you get down to a 1 1/2 point line, it's close enough to a pick 'em for me. Of course this is where a buzzer beater would kick me in the butt. Either way I'm taking the Red Storm to cover.
No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Missouri - The Bearcats are a one point favorite over the Tigers. I can honestly say I know nothing about either of these teams and have not seen either play a single game. That means I should either stay away from betting on this or go with chalk and the Cincy cover. I'll go with the latter since it's too easy to NOT bet on the game.
No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Utah State - K-State is favored by 2 1/2 points in a game that is another upset special. Folks are jumping all over Utah State to win this game. The Aggies rolled through the WAC and finished 17th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. My problem with all this is that aside from a win over St. Mary's they really haven't beaten anybody of real significance. How am I supposed to bet on them? I actually have Utah State getting the upset in a bracket of mine, so I suppose that goes against my thoughts. What do I really know at this point? I might as well stick with my gut and the