March Madness has finally arrived and with a heavier sense of parity than usual. With seemingly no dominant big bad “team to beat” lurking (Virginia getting its third 1-seed in five years leaves more questions than answers), there’s certainly some bold choices to be made (and avoided) when getting in on the basketball betting action this week. Below are some of the more titillating matchups, picks and potential bets of the NCAA tourney’s hectic opening rounds starting Thursday:
Oklahoma shocked many when its name was called on Selection Sunday as the Sooners lost an abysmal 11 of their last 15 games. Nevertheless, they're still the fourth-best scoring offense in the country (85.2 ppg) led by superstar guard Trae Young (27.4 ppg, 8.8 apg) and the NCAA tournament has a rich history of star guards carrying their underperforming teams to overachieving results. Just ask Buddy Hield.
The winner of the game is a toss-up with Young’s star power giving the Sooners the edge with Betfair (odds of 1/1), but by all means feel free to bet the over (157.5 per Betfair), as Rhode Island ranks in the top 100 for scoring offense (76.8 ppg) and assists per game (15.4). It seems regardless of outcome this week, a wealth of points are expected in this clash between a Power 5 staple and the budding Rams program.
One of the most intriguing mid-major squads in the tournament, Loyola-Chicago comes out of the Missouri Valley Conference at 28-5. The Ramblers won 17 of their last 18 games defeating Tourney regulars Northern Iowa three times and, most notably, taking down the then-No. 5 Florida Gators on the road back in December. They’ll face another Sunshine State powerhouse in the Miami Hurricanes and based on their resume have a more than decent shot at advancing to the third round and beyond.
The Ramblers boast some impressive statistics ranking top 10 nationally in scoring defense (5th) field goal % (3rd) and fewest fouls (4th). They’re also the 10th best team against the spread in the field with a record of 19-9-1. At odds of 5/4 (via William Hill), the Ramblers are chic picks to upset the Hurricanes or at least keep it close and potentially beat the 2.5-point spread. Consider betting the under (133.5) as well, the victory over Florida was a low-scoring, gritty 65-59 affair.
The 12-5 upset has become an annual must-pick on everybody’s bracket, but steer clear of this one. A matchup in one crucial area may spell victory for the Wildcats from Lexington who enjoy 4/11 odds as a 6.0-point favorite via Betfair. Davidson is no stranger to the big dance, but with no Steph Curry this time around they’ll need to have a near-perfect performance to beat the peaking, more talented Kentucky.
That’ll be a problem as a huge part of Davidson’s offense is based on perimeter shooting while Kentucky is the 5th-best team in the country in 3-point defense. Davidson attempted 874 threes this season (24th-most in the country) and connected on 342 of them, but Kentucky allowed only 260 makes where opponents shot just 29.9 percent. Expect Big Blue Nation to both win and cover the spread.
Stephen F. Austin made headlines knocking off West Virginia in 2016 and are back to make more noise this year as another potential mid-major monster. The Lumberjacks force the most turnovers in the nation, have the fourth-best turnover margin and post the 21st-best field goal percentage.
Texas Tech is more than a little loose with the ball (414 turnovers, 174th in the nation) which could create problems for the 11.5-point favorites. Texas Tech is also 17th in scoring defense, where the Lumberjacks rank 68th, so expect a grind-it-out showdown with in-state bragging rights to go with advancement on the line and consider betting the under (138.0 via William Hill).
College of Charleston is careful and efficient with the basketball as the Cougars give up the 4th fewest turnovers in the nation. Their other overall team numbers don’t fly off the page, but Charleston has a well-balanced attacking “Big 3” of Grant Riller (18.7 ppg), Joe Chealey (18.5 ppg) and Jarrell Brantley (17.0 ppg) that could create problems for the Tigers who are still reeling from the loss of Anfernee McLemore.
Auburn lost McLemore to a season-ending injury in a February loss to South Carolina and won only 2 of its remaining five games. If there were a team that could potentially take advantage of the short-handed Tigers, Charleston could be it as the Cougars come rolling into the tournament winning 14 of their last 15 games. Charleston should at the very least make things interesting and beat the generous 10.5-point spread while having a good 4/1 shot (via Betfair) at knocking out Auburn.
Kansas State is arguably overachieving in the 2018 season based on their team-wide statistics. While the Wildcats have a decent scoring defense (67.9 ppg, which has them ranked 58th nationally) it’ll be a challenge for K-State to hold off a Creighton team ranked 10th in scoring offense (84.3 points per game) and 6th in assists with 18 per game so far this year.
It will be an exciting contest, as Creighton’s scoring defense (74.2 percent 226th in the nation) leaves a lot to be desired, but the revenge factor is strong with this one as Creighton’s lead scorer Marcus Foster (20.3 ppg) is looking to advance past his former team in Kansas State. Bet the over posted at 144.0 via Betfair and anticipate a big game from Foster as the Bluejays advance in a shootout.
Like Auburn, Clemson struggled down the stretch and is sorely missing a key player in Donte Grantham. The Tigers got off to an incredible 14-1 start and finished in third place in a stacked ACC, but Clemson won just three times in its last eight contests. New Mexico State is as tough as mid-majors come and could very well be the 12-5 upset of this year’s bracket.
The Aggies are 4th in the nation in rpg (41.5), fifth in rebound margin (9.0) and 10th in points allowed (63.8). To go with those outstanding rebounding and defensive numbers, an above-average scoring attack led by seniors Zach Lofton (19.8 ppg) and Jemerrio Jones (11.0 ppg, 13.2 rpg) give New Mexico State an edge.
Expect the Aggies to slug it out with Clemson and keep it close to beat a 5.0-point spread and maybe take a shot on the 19/10 odds (via William Hill) of them sending the Tigers packing early. Whether you choose one of our expert's upsets or find some yourself, we highly recommend engaging the always exciting NCAA tournament betting using our recommend online bookmakers!
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