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Updated on 09/17/2011 2:15PM
March Madness: Saturday's NCAA plays
Thursday's opening-round action of the NCAA tournament lived up to the hype. There were only three outright upsets, but nearly every game was competitive in relation to the point spread.
By my count, 14 of the 16 games could have gone either way, with many games hovering around the closing number at some point in the second half. The exceptions were Manhattan's 75-60 upset of Florida as a 4 1/2-point underdog and Wake Forest's 79-78 win over Virginia Commonwealth as a 12 1/2-point favorite (although even in that game, Wake led by 11 points early in the first half and looked like it was on its way to covering).
The underdogs were clearly the way to go in the early games Thursday as they covered five of the first seven, but when the day was complete, favorites and underdogs split 8-8. Likewise, the over went 5-2 in the early games and also ended up 8-8.
(The point spreads in the above section are based on the closing numbers at the Stardust, which will be used as the sports book of record throughout the tournament. The point spreads in the next section are the lines that were available when my picks were published in Daily Racing Form.)
Bankroll off to nice start
My prediction "we could be starting to see a case where there is actually more value now on the favorites because of this overadjustment in the market" didn't pan out, but fortunately I was able to navigate Thursday's minefield with a 4-2 record on my six bankroll plays.
I went 2-0 with my underdog plays - Manhattan +5 1/2 vs. Florida and Nevada +2 1/2 vs. Michigan St. - and split with my favorites, winning with Texas Tech -1 1/2 vs. Charlotte and North Carolina -7 1/2 vs. Air Force and losing with Alabama -2 vs. Southern Illinois and Arizona -3 vs. Seton Hall.
The losses were both tough to take as Alabama won 65-64, failing to cover by just 1 point, and Arizona held a 14-point second half team before losing 80-76. But I can't complain too much because Nevada and North Carolina both looked like they were going to lose until late runs got the job done. As they say, these type of random results tend to even out, so I'll take my 4-2 record (pending Friday's action) and head into Saturday's schedule.
Texas Tech (+6 1/2) vs. St. Joseph's At Buffalo, N.Y.
When filling out my bracket prior to the tournament, I liked this matchup with No. 8 seed Texas Tech facing No. 1 St. Joseph's. Nothing that happened Thursday has changed my mind about these two teams, so I have to take the points. St. Joe's backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West are great, but they won't be able to dominate as much against Texas Tech's athletic guards. Tech also is looking more and more like coach Bob Knight's Indiana teams, with solid man-to-man defense and an emphasis on lots of passes to find the open shot. The Red Raiders were crashing the boards against Charlotte and should limit offensive rebounds by St. Joe's. I'm calling for the outright upset, but even if Texas Tech doesn't get there, they should be able to stay within the number.
PLAY: Texas Tech for 1 unit.
Alabama (+7) vs. Stanford At Seattle, Wash.
Alabama failed to cover for me Thursday, but I'm not going to hold it against them. In a lot of ways, these teams games on Thursday typified their seasons. Stanford rolled over Texas-San Antonio 71-45 but it was obvious they benefited from an easy first-round matchup, just like they rolled through the Pac-10, which everyone agrees is down. Meanwhile, Alabama scrapped and clawed vs. a tough Southern Illinois team before pulling out its 65-64 victory, just as they've done all year while playing the nation's toughest schedule. All things being equal, I usually side with the battle-tested team because they're more used to the pressure. Stanford only outrebounded Texas-San Antonio 40-39 and committed 20 turnovers. Just like the Texas Tech game, Alabama has a great shot at the outright upset, but the beauty of the underdog pointspread bet is that you can still win even if your team loses.
PLAY: Alabama for 1 unit.
North Carolina (PK) vs. Texas At Denver, Colo.
Both of these teams struggled Thursday and then came on strong late to not only win but cover the spread. Both of those performances should serves as wake-up calls, but I see North Carolina as much less likely to get off to another slow start. The fact that this is a No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup and is pick-em (or 1 point either way) shows that oddsmakers think North Carolina is worthy of a higher seed. Texas doesn't have a true point guard (unlike in recent years when T.J. Ford ran the show) and they could be susceptible to turnovers vs. Raymond Felton & Co. That could lead to a lot of fastbreak points. The battle of Texas' James Thomas and North Carolina's Sean May in the paint should be key, and I give the edge to May. I also have the feeling that Tar Heel coach Roy Williams (formerly of Kansas) has a good scouting report on his former Big 12 rivals.
PLAY: North Carolina for 1 unit.
Maryland (-2 1/2) vs. Syracuse At Denver, Colo.
I was going to go with just three bankroll plays, but added this one at the last minute. Maryland should be able to finish the job that BYU couldn't. BYU was able to beat Syracuse on the inside - which Maryland should also do - but watching Thursday's game I just kept getting the feeling that if BYU had the talent of Maryland that they would have pulled away. Syracuse's only chance is if Gerry McNamara shoots out the lights again (nine 3-pointers on Thursday and a total of 43 points) and that's not likely, is it?
PLAY: Maryland for 1 unit.
The rest of Saturday's games
Wake Forest (-8) vs. Manhattan: I loved the Jaspers vs. Florida, but the feeling is that Wake Forest will be much more focused after escaping vs. Virginia Commonwealth. Either way, the number seems right, so it's hard to fire away.
Duke (-12) vs. Seton Hall: Duke coasted to victory over Alabama St. in what was basically a scrimmage and the Blue Devils should be fresh against a Seton Hall team that rallied vs. Arizona. Can't see them doing it twice.
Connecticut (-11) vs. DePaul: The Blue Demons have to be exhausted from their double-overtime win over Dayton. UConn should roll, but I'm still not comfortable laying double digits.
Nevada (+7 1/2) vs. Gonzaga: Yesterday's Cinderella vs. today's Cinderella. Nevada showed grit in rallying vs. Michigan St., but I'll still pass because Gonzaga, as it showed in blowing out Valparaiso, can go on a run to rout just about anybody.
Thursday's bankroll plays: 4-2 for a net profit of 1.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).
Record on rest of tourney selections: 5-5-1.
Record of all NCAA games through Thursday (including play-in game): 9-7-1.
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