We're halfway through the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament and I'm sitting at 7-8-1 against the spread. I had a strong showing early yesterday, but faded late and had my clock cleaned by most of the late afternoon and early evening games. I did fairly well in straight-up picks, but I'd imagine my brackets will take some sort of beating today. Anytime I get my hopes up things fall apart. Once again, we get our odds from Odds Shark.
No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 Oakland - Texas sits as a ten to eleven point favorite against Oakland. The Longhorns got popped by Kansas in the Big Twelve but bring a lot of talent to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I think they're a team that could beat Duke in the Sweet 16, assuming both make it that far. Texas is going to defeat Oakland and I think the Longhorns number one ranked defense will be the difference-maker. Texas struggled, closing out the season 4-4, but I think they can rebound with a strong win, covering the spread in this one.
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Tennessee - The Volunteers appear to be two point favorites after Michigan opened as a one point favorite. Tennessee is riding all sorts of controversy as nobody knows what Bruce Pearl's future is with the team. On the other hand Michigan rode a strong run late in the season to get into the tournament and get a decent seed. I go with the hot Wolverines to cover and actually win against the Volunteers.
No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 15 Akron - Notre Dame comes in as a 14-point favorite over the Akron Zips. Number two seeds were on a roll yesterday as San Diego State and Florida both covered, with Florida thoroughly dominating the UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos. Notre Dame seems to have a strong edge over Akron at kenpom.com so I'll take that and the number two seeds' Thursday dominance as a sign of Friday domination. Maybe not the best idea, but I'll still go with the Fighting Irish to cover.
No. 8 George Mason vs. No. 9 Villanova - Villanova is a one-point favorite in spite of being the slightly lower seed. Kenpom.com has these teams ranked right next to each other with the Patriots at 25 and the Wildcats at 26. The CAA won its opening round game when VCU took care of USC, but then lost yesterday when Old Dominion lost a heart-breaker to Butler. The CAA gets a crack at the Big Easy today with VCU playing Georgetown later tonight. I view 8-9 games as gut instincts, and my gut is telling me George Mason to cover the small spread and win.
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Memphis - Arizona comes in as a 5 ½ point favorite against the Memphis Tigers. Memphis ran the table to win the Conference USA title after entering the conference tournament on the bubble. Arizona lost the Pac-10 title game in overtime to Washington. I was pondering the 5-12 upset, but I just don't think the Tigers have enough talent to spring the upset. I think they'll hang close but be doomed by free throws late and miss the cover by a couple points. Go with Arizona and the points.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Hampton - The Blue Devils are 23-point favorites and fresh off their thrashing of North Carolina in the ACC title game. Hampton rates as one of the worst teams in the tournament this year. I don't see this one being close at any point outside of shortly after tip-off. This is a big spread, but I think Duke covers.
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Florida State - Texas A&M is a slim 1 ½ point favorite over the Florida State Seminoles. Kenpom.com rates the Seminoles eight spots higher and ranks them second in the nation on defense. A strong defense can make up for offensive struggles and lead to some fast-break points, which can really pull momentum in your favor. I'm taking Florida State to win outright.
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 16 UT-San Antonio - Ohio State is a 23 ½ point favorite over a UT-San Antonio squad that rated out as the worst in the country in the current tournament field. I have the Buckeyes in the final four and I'm willing to bet they roll the Road Runners much worse than the Road Runner did to Wile E. Coyote. Give me Ohio State to cover.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Boston University - Kansas is a 23-point favorite against the Boston University Terriers. Normally I'd say there is at least one close 1-16 matchup, but nothing about the four one seeds gives me any indication they'll struggle or not cover. I just don't see it in any of these matchups; which is exactly why I'll get crushed by them at some point. Nonetheless I'm going with Kansas to cover.
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Long Island - The Tarheels are a 17 ½ point favorite after the line opened at 20. I'm not sure why people are betting heavy on the Blackbirds but it has me questioning things right now. UNC was easily handled by Duke but I don't see that translating to this first round game. Both teams play an up-tempo style of play, which could make for an interesting game early on, but I think UNC's defense would eventually prove to be a difference-maker. I'll take UNC to cover the big spread.
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 St. Peter's - Purdue comes into this game as a 14 ½ point favorite after stumbling late in their Big Ten season, losing to Iowa to close the regular season and then Michigan State in their opening game of the Big Ten tournament. St. Peter's has a fairly awful offense but a very strong defense. I worry about their ability to score buckets, but Big Ten teams can sometimes struggle scoring. I'm going to say Purdue victory, but St. Peter's cover.
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 Marquette - The Musketeers are 2 ½ point favorites, but Kenpom.com might have another upset special for us. He ranks Marquette three spots higher than Xavier (34 to 37). It's not a make-or-break philosophy, but it seems to hint that maybe Marquette is a little undervalued as an 11 seed. For that reason I'm going to go with Marquette to win outright.
No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Illinois - UNLV is currently a 2 ½ point favorite. If we were going with my Xavier-Marquette philosophy using kenpom.com, I'd probably take Illinois. However, I grew up in Las Vegas and simply cannot bet against the Rebels. I suppose that means I should just stay away from this game. However, the Rebels are playing well enough and Illinois has been inconsistent enough lately (6-10 over last 16) that I'm taking UNLV to cover. Just remember I warned you about my bias.
No. 7 Washington vs. No. 10 Georgia - Washington is a 5 ½ point favorite over a Georgia team that might have gotten a little lucky in getting in after a blown SEC tourney game against Alabama. Washington was a bit inconsistent late but pulled things together to win the Pac-10 tournament on an overtime buzzer beater against Arizona. If this turns into an up-tempo game it would seem to favor Washington's strong offense. I think Washington has enough offense to win, but I don't really know if they can cover. I'm going to go with a Georgia cover but Washington victory late. Something about the Huskies has me questioning whether they can dominate in this tournament..
No. 6 Georgetown vs. No. 11 VCU - Georgetown is a 5 ½ point favorite against the VCU Rams. Georgetown struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last six. Of course those losses all came to Top-25 rated teams, so you can only criticize them so much. I think that spread is a little low. VCU could hang with Georgetown, but I have to think Big East play has them ready to take on lesser competition. VCU is a solid team, but I just don't think they're in Georgetown's class. Hoyas with the cover.
No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Indiana State - Syracuse is a 12 ½ point favorite against the Sycamores of Indiana State. ISU was on the outside of this tournament looking in before running the table in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. ISU isn't a bad basketball team, but I think Syracuse is on their way to a solid run in this tournament. I think they handle the Sycamores and get the cover.