Updated on 09/17/2011 11:33PM

NCAA selections and analysis for Thursday


LAS VEGAS - College basketball fans have barely had time to fill out their brackets since the NCAA tournament was determined Sunday and it's time to get down to the business of March Madness with the tourney tipping off Thursday.

And it is big business. Heck, there seems to be as many stories in the business section of the local newspaper as the sports section, detailing how office pools are prevalent across the country from small mom-and-pop stores to the legendary pools and futures trading on Wall Street, and how U.S. companies are projected to lose $4.8 billion in productivity during the tournament.

The pools are one thing, but those are for picking teams to win straight-up and advance through the brackets. Even if you fare well, the payouts aren't until the whole thing is over. Serious bettors - as well as the recreational ones - are looking to find good opportunities on individual games throughout the tournament, and that's our purpose here.

Here's a look at six of Thursday's 16 games (all time are Eastern):

Wisc.-Milwaukee (+2 1/2) vs. Oklahoma - 12:25 p.m. at Jacksonville, Fla.

Oklahoma was 20-8 on the season but that includes a stretch in which they had four straight 1-point victories. Now, that could be viewed as impressive if they were gutty wins over Big 12 teams such as Texas, Kansas, etc., but they were against mediocre teams such as Iowa St., Texas Tech, Kansas St. and Nebraska. The Sooners then got blown out by Texas before falling to Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 tourney. Not exactly a team on a roll heading into the NCAA's. Wisconsin-Milwaukee will certainly not be intimidating by playing Oklahoma, especially after making the Sweet 16 last year and having four starters back on a senior-dominated team. UW-Milwaukee, fresh off its Horizon League championship, is fully capable of jumping out to a big lead and never letting the Sooners make it close. And if the Panthers are unable to pull off the minor upset, another one-point Oklahoma victory would still work just fine.

PLAY: Wisc.-Milwaukee for 1 unit.

Marquette (-1 1/2) vs. Alabama - 2:40 p.m. at San Diego, Calif.

Another team from Wisconsin, Marquette has all the making of being a Cinderella team in this tournament. They've been through the fires of the Big East schedule and are almost taking a step down in class to face SEC middle-of-the-pack finisher Alabama. Marquette's 3-point shooting whiz, Steve Novak, at 6-10, poses matchup problems for anyone and the Golden Eagles also make their free throws, which is critical down the stretch in these games. Also relevant late in the game could be Bama's lack of depth, but I'm hoping it won't be necessary to even worry about that if Marquette can pull away for an easy victory.

PLAY: Marquette for 1 unit.

Winthrop (+7) vs. Tennessee - 2:40 p.m. at Greensboro, N.C.

I wish I could say I was the only one calling for this upset, but with all the controversy surrounding Tennessee's No. 2 seed (they're seeded higher than SEC regular-season champ LSU or conference champ Florida - huh, how'd that happen?), a lot of people are predicting this one. The Vols dropped three of their last four games and four of their last six, while Winthrop won the Big South and has an early-season win over Marquette under its belt. For a 2-15 game, Winthrop matches up surprisingly well with its matchup zone on defense, point guard Chris Gaynor distributing the ball and 6-10 forward-center Craig Bradshaw controlling the paint. Frankly, Winthrop probably would have drawn a tougher opponent if they had gotten the No. 13 or 14 seed they were hoping for.

PLAY: Winthrop for 1 unit.

NC-Wilmington (+2 1/2) vs. George Washington - 7:10 p.m., at Greensboro, N.C.

George Washington probably got shafted the most of any team by the selection committee, receiving only a No. 8 seed. True, they played in a down Atlantic-10, but a 26-2 record should still be worth more. However, as much as I'd normally love to play a team like this with something to prove, George Washington didn't get any favors with this matchup vs. NC-Wilmington. The Seahawks, winners of their last eight games and 13 of 14 including the Colonial Athletic Association title, have a deeper and stronger team that plays well together on both ends of the floor. To show their balance, no single player ranked in the top 10 in the conference in either scoring or rebounding, but they get the job done and should make the selection committee look good for their seeding of George Washington (though that's not something I'm rooting for).

PLAY: NC-Wilmington for 1 unit.

Illinois (-9) vs. Air Force - 7:25 p.m. at San Diego, Calif.

I don't normally lay this many points in a basketball game, especially on a neutral court in the NCAA tourney, but this is a case of Illinois being that much better than Air Force, which most people agree didn't deserve a bid. The Falcons rely on defense as they don't score too much, and while that might have helped them rack up wins vs. the dregs of the Mountain West, that won't be enough to keep up with Illinois, which features two seniors who played in last year's title game, guard Dee Brown, who averages 14.7 points and 5.7 assists per game, James Augustine, who adds 13.4 points per game and 9.1 rebounds. This could and should get ugly early.

PLAY: Illinois for 1 unit.

San Diego St. (+2 1/2) vs. Indiana - 9:40 p.m. at Salt Lake City, Utah

Indiana will be trying to send out coach Mike Davis in style, but that won't be easy as SDSU's Steve Fisher knows something about teams playing for lame-duck coaches. In 1989 at Michigan, he took over for Bill Frieder and led the Wolverines to the national championship on just that kind of emotion. Plus, this Indiana team is nowhere near as good as that Michigan team was, and they get a tough draw with Mountain Conference champ San Diego St. The Aztecs shoots well from beyond the 3-point arc and has 6-9 forward Marcus Slaughter to match up with Indiana's big man, Marco Killingsworth. This could be the last of a lot of mini upsets on the opening day.

PLAY: San Diego St. for 1 unit.

Selections for March 14-16 Games

At Dayton, Ohio

Monmouth (-5) vs. HamptonPick: Monmouth

At Greensboro, N.C.

Wichita St. (-2) vs. Seton HallPick: Seton Hall

Tennessee (-7) vs. WinthropPick: WINTHROP

George Washington (-2.5) vs. NC-WilmingtonPick: NC-WILMINGTON

Duke (-25) vs. SouthernPick: Duke

At Jacksonville, Fla.

Oklahoma (-2.5) vs. UW-MilwaukeePick: UW-MILWAUKEE

Florida (-8.5) vs. South AlabamaPick: South Alabama

Syracuse (-1) vs. Texas A&MPick: Syracuse

Louisiana St. (-6.5) vs. IonaPick: Louisiana St.

At Salt Lake City, Utah

Boston College (-8) vs. PacificPick: Pacific

Nevada (-7) vs. MontanaPick: Nevada

Indiana (-2.5) vs. San Diego St.Pick: SAN DIEGO ST.

Gonzaga (-5.5) vs. XavierPick: Gonzaga

At San Diego, Calif.

Illinois (-9) vs. Air ForcePick: ILLINOIS

Washington (-6) vs. Utah St.Pick: Washington

Marquette (-1.5) vs. AlabamaPick: MARQUETTE

Ucla (-20) vs. BelmontPick: Ucla

Best bets in CAPS, detailed analysis above.