I definitely did not count on Loyola having a horrific shooting day against Ohio State, but that’s basketball and that’s this tournament. Stumble once and you’re done, creating a pressure situation that exists nowhere else in sports except football.
So far, there’s actually been a notable lack of big upsets in this tournament. Saint Peter’s and Richmond were big upsets and New Mexico State a mild one, but beyond that, chalk has reigned. Michigan was actually favored as an 11 seed and Iowa State and Notre Dame were both underdogs of four points or less.
Does that mean the upsets are coming today? Tough to say, but we’ll try to figure it out anyway. Here are my best plays for March 19.
NORTH CAROLINA +5.5, -110
Truth be told, I think Carolina could win the game outright. No defending champion has reached the Sweet 16 since 2007, when Florida went back-to-back. Then again, no No. 15 had won a game without at least one other team seeded 13 or lower winning too, and that trend didn’t hold with Saint Peter’s. Trends aside, I think Armando Bacot is unstoppable in the paint for Baylor and creates a matchup nightmare for the Bears. Baylor might shoot their way out of this one, but Carolina is playing great basketball right now and offers plenty of value. At +200 to win, the Heels are worth a try.
KANSAS -12.5, -110
Kansas is also playing great right now, and the Jayhawks have the added boost of barely breaking a sweat against Texas Southern. Creighton, on the other hand, has been shaky all season and used up a lot of energy coming from behind against San Diego State and having to play overtime. The Bluejays are on a turnaround of less than 48 hours going into this matchup, which I don’t think is going to work.
MICHIGAN TTU 65, -115
Tennessee’s defense has been outstanding in tournament play, and even though the Volunteers lit up the scoreboard against Longwood, their defense didn’t take any time off in holding the Lancers under 60. The Wolverines aren’t a great offensive team themselves, but they do play good defense, so the under 135.5 play is also a strong possibility. However, I don’t want to worry about Tennessee shooting 60% again; I’m backing the Vols’ defense.
SAINT MARY’S +3.5, -120
The Gaels looked very good against Indiana, and the Bruins didn’t look good in their matchup with Akron. UCLA might have made a Final Four run last year, but something has just looked off about this Bruins squad. This is the best Saint Mary’s team Randy Bennett has ever had, and the Gaels look like they could make a run in what is suddenly a wide-open East Regional. I like their chances with the free basket.
NEW MEXICO STATE-ARKANSAS O138, -110
The Razorbacks love to run and got Vermont to play their game in the first round. New Mexico State should prove a much more willing partner in this situation. The Aggies can score and won’t mind playing at a fast tempo, so this one should be a fairly high-scoring contest. As long as the teams don’t go cold shooting the ball, they should get into the 140s.
SAINT PETER’S-MURRAY STATE U130, -110
Saint Peter’s shouldn’t expect to score 85 in this one. But that’s OK, because the Peacocks are more known for their defense than their offense. Murray State prefers a lower-scoring game anyway and plays teams on Saint Peter’s level all season long in the OVC, so the Racers won’t make the mistake of taking the Peacocks even a bit lightly. Expect this to turn into a low-scoring grinder.