It was nice to see the mid-majors perform well, for the most part, yesterday. All the media people laughing at Wichita State's high Pomeroy ratings, or who scoffed at Yale as a bunch of slow white guys, were awfully quiet.
One of the old trends that continued was that teams outscored in conference play (Texas Tech, Colorado, and USC) all lost. Oregon State also was outscored in conference play, so that's worth keeping an eye on.
If there's one performance that really stands out from yesterday it's Kentucky's utter domination of Stony Brook. It's not purely reasonable to think this way, but North Carolina fans had to be nervous watching that while they spent a half struggling with Florida Gulf Coast.
Yesterday ATS: 9-6-1
2016 Tournament ATS: 12-7-1
2015 Tournament ATS: 39-28-0 (58%)
2010-14 ATS: 181-139-11 (57%)
Syracuse (+1.5) over Dayton: Syracuse should not have gotten into the NCAA Tournament, but they're a Tournament quality team. In contrast, Dayton was very lucky in close games (13-3 in games decided by six points or fewer) and is not nearly as strong as their resume. I'm also very concerned by what Dayton's inefficient offense will do against the Syracuse zone, which flummoxes even efficient offenses that aren't used to seeing it.
Villanova (-17.5) over UNC Asheville: It's impossible to have a strong opinion on this line, and it's a hard line to predict because it's basically going to come down to whether or not Villanova is hitting their threes. The only chance Asheville has to keep this game close is for Villanova to go cold... which of course has happened plenty of times this season.
Oregon State (+4) over VCU: There are two ways to think about this game. First of all, Oregon State is clearly a team with a very inflated RPI, and the Vegas line reflects that. You generally want to bet against teams like that. On the other hand, VCU is still a team that relies heavily on forcing turnovers defensively (there's not quite as much #havoc, but the team still looks pretty similar to Shaka Smart's teams), and Oregon State led the Pac-12 in offensive turnover rate. I took VCU in my bracket, and give them the narrow edge to win the game, but that Vegas spread has gotten just a little bit too high. This should be an awfully even game, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it come down to the final minute.
California (-5) over Hawaii: The line moved about three points here after it was announced that Tyrone Wallace was injured and would miss the game. That's reasonable movement, but it's worth remembering that Cal lost Wallace for five games in the middle of Pac-12 play, and didn't suffer too much of a decline. The injury matters, but it's hardly crippling to California. The biggest concern I have for Hawaii is that they are foul prone, and Cal led the Pac-12 in offensive FTRate. Hawaii's offense is not good, and if Cal is on a steady moving walkway to the free throw line, Cal should win this game even if they don't shoot the ball well.
Middle Tennessee (+18) over Michigan State: Conference USA was down this season, but as far as 15 seeds go, Middle Tennessee is a fairly strong one. They also match up well with Michigan State in that they led Conference USA in defensive turnover and rebounding rate. Michigan State's backcourt is vulnerable to turning the ball over, and their offense relies in large part on offensive rebounds (they led the Big Ten in offensive rebounding rate). That said, Middle Tennessee will struggle otherwise to stop the awfully efficient Michigan State offense, so an actual upset seems really unlikely.
Iowa (-7) over Temple: The Vegas line is in line with the computers. Temple is just not a very good team, and might be the weakest at-large team in over a decade. They had a soft at-large resume to begin with, and achieved it with very good luck in close games. Like Fran Dunphy teams always are, Temple is solid defensively and they don't make a lot of mistakes, but offensively they just have absolutely nothing going on. There isn't a single scorer who you are worried about. Iowa has several different guys who can go off, and if they're hitting their jump shots then this will quickly turn into a rout.
Oklahoma (-14.5) over Cal St Bakersfield: If you're taking Cal State Bakersfield here, you're believing that their strong performance in WAC play is legit, because their non-conference performance was fairly ugly. They turned things around in conference play, in large part due to an aggressive defense that turned teams over. Oklahoma has certainly proved vulnerable to aggressive defenses that can turn them over, but it's always good to be skeptical of teams that force a lot of turnovers in small leagues. That often doesn't translate against a bigger, faster, more athletic opponent like Oklahoma. It's not a huge sample size, but in three non-conference games against higher quality opponents (Saint Mary's, Arizona State, and Fresno State), those turnovers disappeared, and Bakersfield got routed. I'll ride with Oklahoma here.
Maryland (-9.5) over South Dakota State: Maryland has struggled a bit down the stretch. Offensively, they're very difficult to keep away from the basket, but they're also sloppy and turnover-prone. That said, South Dakota State doesn't have the type of defense that is really going to challenge them. I'm also concerned about how effective star freshman Mike Daum will be against an awfully athletic Maryland front line.
Wisconsin (-2) over Pittsburgh: This Vegas line is right where the computers have it, but it's worth noting that early season play is factored significantly into that. Wisconsin has played significantly better in the second half of the season than the first half, while Pitt faded a bit down the stretch. So considering the last month or six weeks of play, Wisconsin has been more than two points better than Pitt. Is there a match-up advantage for Pitt to make up for that? Perhaps, in that they are an aggressive offensive rebounding team against a Wisconsin team that has struggled on the defensive glass. But Pitt also struggles with ball handling, while Wisconsin led the Big Ten in defensive turnover rate.
West Virginia (-8) over Stephen F. Austin: Stephen F. Austin has great computer numbers, but you have to be skeptical of numbers that came against a schedule that soft. They led the entire nation in defensive turnover rate, but did it by turning over weak opponents like crazy. That often doesn't translate against upper level opponents, as it didn't when they were demolished by Baylor earlier this season. On top of that, West Virginia relies more than any team in the nation in forcing steals and getting offensive rebounds, and Stephen F Austin is both a poor rebounding team and a poor ball handling team. I expect this to be a rout.
Green Bay (+13.5) over Texas A&M: This game has the potential to be ugly, as both teams do a good job of forcing turnovers. "Tempo" is the single most over-used narrative in basketball, but it could be a factor here. Green Bay likes to drive the pace as quickly as then can and get easy transition buckets, but they struggle in a half court offense. Texas A&M likes to grind out defensive possessions. If Green Bay can up the pace and have the advantage in fastbreak points, they could win this game outright.
Holy Cross (+23) over Oregon: It's hard to have a strong opinion on a 1/16 game, and obviously it would be an absolutely stunning upset if Holy Cross actually won. And I don't think they're winning this game either. But Holy Cross plays a deliberate style where they make few mistakes - they take care of the ball, protect the defensive glass, and limit fouls. They force other teams to beat them. Oregon is much better, so they'll be able to beat Holy Cross, but the Ducks rely significantly on second chance and transition points. I don't think Holy Cross is good fodder for that type of rout.
Xavier (-13) over Weber State: This is a fair line, but I don't think Weber State is the type of small conference team likely to pull a stunning upset. They tended to grind out wins in the Big Sky, controlling the paint and earning a large free throw advantage. Xavier is not going to be pushed around in the paint by Weber State. I love Joel Bolomboy, but I don't think he's any better than James Farr.
Michigan (+3) over Notre Dame: Notre Dame was the slightly better team this season, so that line is fair, but I think Michigan has two match-up advantages. First, Michigan led the nation in defensive FTRate, which matters against a Notre Dame team that led the Big East by hitting 77% of free throws in conference play. Also, Michigan's biggest defensive weakness is dominant big men, and Notre Dame really only has one effective post scorer (Zach Auguste). And while Auguste has cut down on the fouls he's committed this season, he is still vulnerable to foul trouble.
Texas (-4.5) over Northern Iowa: There is always a lot of #havoc talk when Shaka Smart is involved, but the reality is that Texas runs nothing of the sort. Shaka Smart is no dummy, and he knew that the personnel he inherited could not play that type of game. The Longhorns play similar to how they did last season. And thus the fact that Northern Iowa is excellent at preventing turnovers doesn't really matter too much here. The match-up that sticks out to me is that Texas led the Big 12 in defensive 3PA/FGA, while Northern Iowa's offense relies heavily on the outside shot. Take the outside shot away and UNI's offense becomes fairly impotent.
Cincinnati (-2.5) over St. Joseph's: Cincinnati has had some awful luck in close games, and they're clearly better than their resume, so that Vegas line is fair. Cincinnati is the same team that they always are: physical and dominant both defensively and on the glass. If St. Joe's wins this game, it's because they are able to limit Cincinnati's second chance points. But offensively, I'm just not sure how St. Joe's scores. To have any hope against Cincinnati's defense you need to be able to hit outside jumpers to open things up. Isaiah Miles is the only decent outside shooter that the Hawks have.