The First Four games were lots of fun this year, but they were just the appetizers, of course. Today we start the real Field of 64. And yes, today should be a national holiday so we can all stay home and watch. If any of you ever become US President, make it happen.
Remember, if you still need to fill out your bracket, that my complete bracket breakdown is here. Below I've broken down all of today's games, and I'll have one of these tomorrow morning for tomorrow's games as well.
As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.
Let's get to the games:
2015 Tournament ATS: 2-2-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3
Northeastern (+12) over Notre Dame: This is a very fair line, so it's hard to feel too strongly in either direction. But what's make Northeastern an interesting opponent for Notre Dame is that they are very good at defending the interior and not giving up easy baskets. They were 5th in the nation in defensive FTRate and 12th in DR%. The Irish aren't really a team that relies on free throws or offensive boards, of course, but it just emphasizes that this will game a game where the Irish have to hit their shots. If they go first-half-BYU-vs-Mississippi in this game and shoot out of their minds (and they can) then this will be a rout, but if the shots aren't falling then this could turn into a slog. Meanwhile, this Northeastern team can score, so they should be able to take advantage of a weak Irish defense. I'll take the points.
Iowa State (-14) over UAB: This big Vegas line is fair. This UAB team just is not that good, and probably deserved a 15 seed. The Selection Committee historically has a bias toward conference names when seeding 12-16 auto-bids, and I think the "Conference USA" name carried them to the 14 line. Also, UAB's offense was dead last in Conference USA in 3PA/FGA and 3rd to last in 2P%. So their offense comes from offensive rebounds and free throws (79.1% FT shooting in conference play). But Iowa State led the Big 12 in defensive FTRate and DR%. And the uptempo, aggressive attack by Iowa State tends to swamp vastly inferior teams. This has the feeling of a total rout.
Baylor (-9) over Georgia State: This is a fair line in the sense that Georgia State is a strong 14 seed. They have a significantly more talented starting lineup than you'd expect to see in a 14 seed out of the Sun Belt, including major conference quality players like Kevin Ware (formerly of Louisville), Ryan Harrow (formerly of Kentucky) and RJ Hunter (though Ryan Harrow is hurt and might not play in this game). But Georgia State has not played up to their talent. They are a team that do all of their offense in the paint, typically from their perimeter players driving for runners or layups. That will be a lot more difficult against Baylor than the typical Sun Belt foe. And Georgia State was dead last in the Sun Belt in defensive 3PA/FGA and second-to-last in DR%, playing right into the hands of the Big 12 leader in OR% and 3P%. Baylor shouldn't have much trouble.
Texas Southern (+23.5) over Arizona: Texas Southern isn't your typical SWAC winner, a conference almost always relegated to 16 seeds and (since they've existed) play-in games. They won at Michigan State and Kansas State and played close on the road at SMU, Tennessee, New Mexico State and Auburn. Their computer numbers have faded in SWAC play, but they'd have had to have outscored the league by around 0.25 PPP to maintain those numbers against such weak competition. That's not to say that they're going to win this game - they're not - but this game won't be as big of a physical mismatch as we often see in 2/15 games.
Butler (+1.5) over Texas: I picked Butler to win this game outright, for reasons laid out here.
UCLA (+4) over SMU: Once again, I picked this upset outright. My reasons are here.
Xavier (-3) over Mississippi: I think Xavier fans should have been rooting for Misssissippi to knock off BYU, because they're a softer opponent. Mississippi won't be able to get all of those offensive rebounds against Xavier's big front line, which was 2nd in the Big East in DR%. Also, we saw on Tuesday night how foul-prone Mississippi is (11th in the SEC in defensive FTRate), which plays into the hands of a Xavier team that hit 75% at the line in Big East play. I think this is a good match-up for the Musketeers.
Ohio State (-4) over VCU: The concern with picking VCU, as it always is, is forcing enough turnovers to win. This season they were 24-3 when forcing turnovers on at least 20% of possessions, but just 2-7 when they didn't. They haven't forced turnovers at anywhere near the same rate since losing Briante Weber, and Ohio State turned the ball over on just 16.8% of possessions in Big Ten play, with one of the best point guards in the nation. Unless the Buckeyes backcourt melts down under the defensive pressure, they should take care of business and win.
Villanova (-23) over Lafayette: Games like this are for the degenerate gamblers, because it's a total mismatch, and you're basically guessing whether Villanova keeps their foot on the pedal for 40 minutes or allows a backdoor cover. But this Villanova team tended to stomp inferior opponents this season. I think they do that here.
Purdue (PK) over Cincinnati: With a PK spread, you just pick the team you think is going to win. I picked Purdue to win here, basically because they've played better basketball over the last month. Neither team has a huge advantage over the other, and I expect this game to be low-scoring and close.
North Carolina (-10.5) over Harvard: Harvard is a very strong halfcourt defensive team, but their offense is bad. They scored just 1.05 PPP In Ivy League play and are rated the 172nd best offense in the nation by Pomeroy. If the Tar Heels are able to turn up the tempo and score in transition, as they generally can, then Harvard will not have the offensive firepower to keep up. Against Pomeroy Top 100 defenses this season, Harvard is averaging 0.87 PPP. The Tar Heels are the second best defense they will have seen all year. The best defense they played was Virginia, and the Cavaliers held them to 27 points.
Utah (-6.5) over Stephen F. Austin: This line is consistent with Pomeroy, which has it at six points, but Sagarin has the spread at close to 10. The reason is that it's hard to measure how good a team is that did all of its damage against bad opponents. The only teams in the Pomeroy Top 200 that Stephen F. Austin beat all season were Memphis and Sam Houston State. This is also a Stephen F. Austin team that relies on offensive rebounds (13th in the nation in OR%) and scoring in the paint (6th in the nation in 2P%). Utah's not a great defensive rebounding team, but they're not bad either, and they have a huge front line that was one of the most dominant paint defenses in the nation (4th in the nation in defensive 2P%). Stephen F. Austin pulled the 12/5 upset last season, but I don't think that they repeat it here.
NC State (-2) over LSU: I don't have strong feelings about this game, but I spoke here about why I had NC State as the narrow favorite in this game. A two point spread is too small to worry about. Pick who you think is going to win the game.
Hampton (+34.5) over Kentucky: This line opened at 31 points, which was lower than I expected, but it quickly rose. The public loves Kentucky. But that's why you should probably fade it. As a rule of thumb, you want to fade Kentucky in this Tournament, just because you're not going to get good value. Pomeroy only has the spread here at 28. Now, if Kentucky plays hard for 40 minutes, can they win this game by 45 points? Of course they can. But they probably won't.
Arkansas (-7.5) over Wofford: Wofford is a popular upset pick, but I think Arkansas should handle them relatively easily. Wofford likes slow tempo games (316th in the nation in adjusted tempo), and while they led the Southern Conference in offensive turnover rate, that's the type of stat that tends to break down for small conference teams when facing athletic, long power conference teams like Arkansas. They had significant turnover problems against teams like West Virginia, Stanford and Duke.
Georgetown (-7.5) over Eastern Washington: I wanted to pick Eastern Washington here. I've loved this team all season long. As I said on multiple occasions, they aren't the best auto-bid winner from a one-bid league, but they have the highest ceiling. They chuck up a lot of threes, and when they get hot they are almost unbeatable. That said, if their outside shots don't fall, they're going to get creamed. And this 7.5 point line screams "fade the public". Pomeroy has the line at 10 and Sagarin has it at 12. With the fact that JTIII has the "regular season coach" narrative on top of how popular this Eastern Washington team is, the public is just hammering Eastern Washington. History says that the upset everybody picks to happen in the Round of 64 never happens. When in doubt, fade the public.