Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Picking The Lines: Day 3

Technically, last night was Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament. Tonight is Day 2. So the first day of the Round of 64 on Thursday will be Day 3. Here's my preview for that day. Just to warn you, last year I did my worst on the first round. Those 1/16 and 2/15 games are the hardest to pick against the spread.

Day 1 against the spread: 2-0-0
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

West Virginia (-2) over Clemson: Clemson has been playing great defense of late, but they're not a great rebounding team, averaging only a 67.2% defensive rebounding percentage on the season. West Virginia gets a lot of their offense from offensive rebounding, which makes them a bad match-up for Clemson. West Virginia went 9-2 in Big East play this season when putting up an offensive rebounding percentage greater than 35%, which is what you'd expect them to do against Clemson based on their average stats. Throw in the fact that Clemson has zero time to prepare for this game after playing late last night and West Virginia is the pick.

Old Dominion (-2) over Butler: Butler struggles most with teams that are long and athletic in the paint. Unless Matt Howard stays out of foul trouble (very unlikely) I don't see how they handle the tremendous ODU front court. Butler does have the better back court, but I don't think it will matter. ODU dominates the boards against almost everybody, and has led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage for two straight years.

Morehead State (+9.5) over Louisville: This is a tough game to pick. If you can, I'd avoid betting on it. That line is very fair. This game is a clear battle of wills, with Morehead State the better rebounding team, but horrible at ball handling against even average defenses. Many people forget that these two teams played in the first round a couple of years ago, in a 1/16 game. In that case, Morehead State dominated the boards (Kenny Faried was a monster even as a sophomore), and it wasn't until late that the Louisville press began to really take over the game. Louisville won that game by 20, but they were better that year and Morehead State was worse (it was a 1/16 game after all). I'm not sure how much I trust Louisville to come out with the appropriate defensive intensity in the opening minutes here - it's hard to motivate kids to play the same way in the opening minutes of a 4/13 game as they did in the closing minutes of a Big East tournament game. So I'm giving the narrow edge on the spread to Morehead State.

Temple (-2) over Penn State: I talked about this game here. On match-ups alone, Penn State is arguably the better team. But I think Penn State achieved their goals for the season when they went on their run in the Big Ten tournament and made the NCAA Tournament. They seem like a "we're just happy to be here" team. Temple is coming off a very disappointing first round loss to Cornell last year. I give them the edge, and a 2 point spread isn't enough to make me want to take Penn State.

Princeton (+13.5) over Kentucky: Princeton's not going to win this game, but I do think they'll slow it down. And Kentucky is a very young team - it's going to take a little while for those player to get used to the NCAA Tournament atmosphere. I expect them to get off to a slow start before putting this game away late. That spread is large enough for me to want to take the points.

UNC-Asheville (+18) over Pittsburgh: We don't have a large sample size of play-in games, so it's not obvious whether playing on Tuesday should benefit or hurt UNC-Asheville. Playing an extra game and getting momentum and removing the jitters should help, but having to travel so far without adequate time to prepare won't. I'm taking the points because historically Pitt doesn't blow a lot of teams out. Their grinding style isn't conducive to running up the score on teams.

Richmond (+3) over Vanderbilt: I'm picking Richmond to win this game straight up, so I'm certainly going to take them with the points. Richmond is a very good and accomplished team by ordinary 12 seed standards, and their strengths and weaknesses match up well against Vanderbilt's strengths and weaknesses. And if you don't have a good reason to take a 5 seed over a 12, always take the 12.

San Diego State (-15.5) over Northern Colorado: Northern Colorado is a pretty good team that can get hot on threes and make this game close, but I won't bet on that. Lately, San Diego State has been blowing out teams it should be blowing out, and they have only played close games against teams they're supposed to play close games against. Plus, they'll be looking to get off to a quick start this year after a disappointing first round exit last year (when they should never have gotten a seed as poor as they did).

Florida (-13) over UC-Santa Barbara: Yes, UCSB did beat UNLV in December, but I talked about how that game was more of a fluke than anything else. For the most part, UCSB has struggled against the best teams in their conference, and has done best against teams that don't shoot well and that don't apply defensive pressure. Florida will be motivated from hearing all week how they don't deserve a 2 seed (even though the criticism is accurate), and they should blow out UCSB.

Wofford (+8.5) over BYU: Wofford is a poor defensive team, but they can shoot the ball. BYU might play man-to-man on them, but they've been mostly playing a zone since they lost Brandon Davies, to protect Jimmer Fredette and to keep their small rotation fresh. Zones are always vulnerable to outside shooting. Wofford was fifth in the nation in three-point shooting percentage, and could actually take down BYU if they shoot well enough. I think BYU survives, but I expect this game to be close.

Bucknell (+10) over UConn: Bucknell has pulled a big first round upset before, and they are ideally built to do it again - they hit free throws, they don't turn the ball over, and they hit threes at a high rate. UConn will be trying to mentally get themselves motivated for Bucknell after winning five games in five days at the Big East tournament. Bucknell could win this game outright, and I expect it to be closer than ten points.

Wisconsin (-5) over Belmont: I talked extensively about this game here. Not only do I think Wisconsin is the worst possible match-up for Belmont, but even if we do have a very tight game, Wisconsin is on pace to set the record as the best free throw shooting team ever, so they should hit enough free throws in the final minute to cover the spread. I wouldn't pick Belmont here unless you think they're going to win outright.

Michigan State (-1.5) over UCLA: With a spread this small, pick the team you think will win. I picked Michigan State, simply because UCLA isn't a very good team. They're way over-seeded as a 7. Michigan State's overall numbers and stats were deflated by a horrible six game slump in the middle of the Big Ten season, and they've been steadily improving their defensive play and are playing like a borderline Top 25 team now. UCLA doesn't have any mismatches that they can take advantage, and has a tiny fraction of the Tournament experience on their roster that Michigan State does.

Gonzaga (+1.5) over St. John's: Gonzaga is the clear favorite in this game. St. John's doesn't beat good teams unless they're forcing turnovers and getting out on fast breaks, but Gonzaga doesn't turn the ball over very often. And Gonzaga has three big front court players that can all score in the paint, and I don't see who St. John's has that can guard them. And the loss of DJ Kennedy should have a big impact on the ability of St. John's to score.

Cincinnati (-1) over Missouri: Obviously with a 1 point spread, don't pick Missouri unless you think they're going to win outright. All season long Missouri has lost if they haven't forced a lot of turnovers, and the fact that their press is less effective away from home is why they had arguably the widest home/road split in performance of any BCS conference team this year. Cincinnati handled defensive pressure fairly well in the Big East this year, and their strong halfcourt defense will make it very difficult for Missouri to score outside of fast breaks.

Utah State (+2.5) over Kansas State: I can't see any reason to pick Kansas State to win this game. The computer think Utah State is the better team, and Utah State has a tremendous experience advantage. Kansas State is sloppy with the ball, they shoot free throws poorly, and they don't box out well - they're the worst combination of things you want in a team to have success in the NCAA Tournament. And if you have any doubt in a 5/12 game, always take the 12.


Josh said...

Thank you so much for this. I'm loving it. I can't wait to see "Picking the Lines: Day 4"

Jeff said...

Glad I can help. And I do hope to have that posted tonight. Don't get too excited, though... I'm not going to get them all right. I got lucky in that UNC-Asheville game. I just hope to do better than I did last year.

Mark L. said...

Jeff--It's that time again! Love your blog, as always! Enjoy the games. I'm surprised about your Purdue Final 4 pick.