Well that was a hell of a day, huh?
While we all catch our breath after an incredible Thursday of games, and all deal with the dread that there's no way Friday can possibly live up to Thursday, I want to talk briefly about a couple of things.
First, please remember to never, ever draw conclusions about conferences, teams or coaches in the NCAA Tournament. There is scant evidence that over careers there are certain coaches who are "regular season coaches" or "NCAA Tournament coaches". That's just #HotTaek crap for sports radio and team message boards. And that's particularly true over single games. So stop trying to make a big deal out of the Big 12 suffering a couple of ugly losses.
The Georgia State win over Baylor was the moment of the tourney so far, and Iowa State inexplicably playing that poorly against UAB was the upset of the tourney so far, but of course we all know that if we line those games up again and play 100 times that the favorites are going to win at least 80% of the time. We only get one shot at these games, and yesterday we had crazy things happen, and that's precisely why the NCAA Tournament is so fun. There would be no point in letting a team like UAB in if they had to play a best-of-7 series against Iowa State. They'd have no chance.
But so keep that in mind when you see morons in the media count up the W/L records of each conference, as if that's meaningful. Hey, you know which conference has a better W/L record than the Big 12 in this year's tourney so far? The NEC.
That said, the Big 12 could be headed for just a little bit more pain today, as I think there's a reasonable chance that two of the four teams in action end up losing.
This day might not live up to yesterday, but I doubt it's going to be all chalk. I think there's a pretty good chance that we see another 13+ seed win a game, be it UC-Irvine, Valparaiso or New Mexico State.
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:
Yesterday ATS: 9-7-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 11-9-0
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
New Mexico State (+10.5) over Kansas: I spoke here about why I think New Mexico State is the strongest 15 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Since I wrote that, the spread has dropped from 12 to 10.5, but I think it's still good value. I'm not saying New Mexico State is going to win this game, but it absolutely would not be one of the biggest upsets in this year's Tournament if they did. They are bigger, particularly with Cliff Alexander gone. Kansas has struggled, more than anything, with size in the paint this season. And as I explained in the linked post, the metrics substantially underrated how good this New Mexico State team is.
Michigan State (-6.5) over Georgia: This game will be tough and physical, between two teams that like to control the paint. Michigan State is the better rebounding and paint defense team, but they're also more foul prone. If you think Charles Mann and Marcus Thornton are going to get the Spartans front line in foul trouble then pick them. But if they don't, and I think Michigan State has been much better at keeping their players out of foul trouble the past few weeks, Michigan State's superior skill should carry them through.
Northern Iowa (-6.5) over Wyoming: Wyoming could win this game outright, of course. Wyoming was a potential bubble team before Larry Nance, Jr got hurt, and they've been playing like it again since he got back. But even at their best they were never at Northern Iowa's level. This game will be low scoring and close, but Northern Iowa's defense is so versatile and efficient that they've been held below 0.98 PPP just once in a game since January 1st. Wyoming, in contrast, averaged just 0.97 PPP in Mountain West play. They're a defensive team first and foremost. But if we operate under the assumption that they're going to have to score at least 1 PPP to win this game, they're going to have to hit shots. Wyoming never crashes the glass (343rd in the nation in OR%) and Northern Iowa was 11th in the nation in defensive FTRate. So if you're picking Wyoming here, you're betting on them shooting significantly above their season average.
West Virginia (-4.5) over Buffalo:
This seems like the most popular 12/5 upset, and it's certainly what the computers say. But I talked here about why I think Buffalo is a great match-up for West Virginia. I expect this one to be a rout.
Wichita State (-6) over Indiana: Once again, I explained here why I think this match-up is a total mismatch.
Belmont (+17) over Virginia: This is an awfully fair Vegas line, and I don't see how anybody can have a strong opinion on it. What works in Belmont's favor is that they love to chuck threes (4th in the nation in 3PA/FGA), which is the only type of shot they're likely going to be able to get against Virginia's defense anyway. If they aren't hitting their outside shots this game will be a rout, of course, but Belmont rolls out three regulars who attempted more than four three-pointers per game at a 38% or better clip, so they can hit shots and keep this one close. So since my stupid pick-every-line gimmick is forcing me to pick every game, I'll take the points, but I don't feel strongly about it.
UC-Irvine (+8) over Louisville: I don't think there's any Round of 64 match-up I'm looking forward to more than 7'6" Mamadou Ndiaye against Montrezl Harrell. But this is also a game where we could very realistically see a 13/4 upset. Louisville has basically three players who can score, so unless two or more of the three are on their game then all scoring is a slog. UC-Irvine, meanwhile, was the 3rd most efficient offense in the Big West with an outside shooting attack that hit 41% of their threes in conference play. I picked Louisville to win this game in my bracket, but I'd be surprised if they win this game easily.
Maryland (-4.5) over Valparaiso:
This is a popular upset, and tightly so. Maryland is the weakest 4 seed and Valparaiso is a strong 13 seed. Pomeroy has the spread at only 2. What makes me nervous about taking Valparaiso is that their biggest strength is the paint. 6'9" Alec Peters is their best player, and their offense is heavily dependent on offensive rebounds. Maryland isn't a great defensive rebounding team, but they were fairly good (6th best in the Big Ten), and more importantly they are massive. Five of the ten guys in their regular rotation are 6'8" or larger. I think that they force Valparaiso to hit outside shots to beat them.
Oregon (-1.5) over Oklahoma State: With a spread this small, just pick the winner. I explained here why I think Oregon is the favorite.
Duke (-22.5) over Robert Morris: As always, these are tough games to pick against the spread. Duke could dominate this game for 30 minutes and then allow a backdoor cover. But I just don't see how Robert Morris stays competitive in this game with an undersized team that can't rebound well and was 9th in the NEC in defensive 3PA/FGA. If Robert Morris does cover, it's because they shoot their threes better than Duke does.
Iowa (-2) over Davidson: Davidson's offense is great, but the reason why I took Iowa in this game is because Davidson has one starter over 6'4" and he's 6'7". Iowa is so much bigger than they are that I really don't know how Davidson defends guys like Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. And Adam Woodbury and Gabriel Olaseni should have a field day on the glass against a Davidson team that was 10th in the Atlantic Ten in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage.
Oklahoma (-13) over Albany: Albany is a team that had most of its success in the America East by physically dominating their opponents, with an offense built around 6'6" big man Sam Rowley. I don't think that's going to work against a physical, elite Oklahoma defense with multiple talented big men. When Oklahoma fails it's because their offense struggles to score, and they are certainly inconsistent at executing offensively, but Albany has a far softer defense than anything they saw in the Big 12.
Wisconsin (-19.5) over Coastal Carolina: Like most lines involving 1 seeds, this one is hard to guess. Coastal Carolina is a strong 16 seed, so it would be far from stunning if they pull a backdoor cover here. But with the 159th best defense in the country (according to Pomeroy), Wisconsin should have a field day offensively. It's also worth noting that Coastal Carolina got a lot of their success by leading the Big South in OR% and FTRate. Wisconsin was 4th and 1st in the nation defensively in those two metrics.
San Diego State (-4) over St. John's: I wrote here about why, with Chris Obekpa out, this game seems like a total mismatch.
Gonzaga (-18) over North Dakota State: I don't have a strong opinion on this line. Pomeroy only has the spread at 14 (though Sagarin has it at 19). My primary concern for North Dakota State keeping this game close is that they are very undersized. They play a seven man rotation, of whom only one is over 6'6". Gonzaga, in contrast, goes ten men deep, with three guys who are 6'10" or taller. The Zags had a tendency to totally stomp inferior opponents this season, and their overwhelming size was a chief reason why.
Providence (-3) over Dayton: With no regular over 6'6", Dayton is going to struggle with a Providence team that generates almost all of their offense in the paint (they generated just 19.2% of their offense from 3s in Big East play, which was least in the conference). They are also always at risk of foul trouble against a Providence team that draws a lot of them (remember that Dayton only plays seven guys, with only six scholarship players on their roster). And that's before we even get to Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton, two of the most explosive offensive players in the nation. If Dayton wins, it's because their quick perimeter scorers were able to get into the lane and draw fouls against a Providence team that was just 8th in the Big East in defensive FTRate.