Updated on 09/17/2011 11:34PM

NCAA: Thursday recap/Saturday selections


LAS VEGAS - Thursday's opening-round NCAA tournament action had the sports books here rocking with several games that came down to the wire, especially in regards to the point spread.

As is usually the case, while it seemed like a day full of upsets (because those are the most exciting games and the ones that stand out in the mind), the better seeds won the majority of the games by winning 12 of the 16 games and favorites winning 13 of 16. The discrepancy was the Syracuse-Texas A&M game in which No. 5 seed Syracuse opened as a 2-point favorite last Sunday but Texas A&M was bet to 1-point favoritism by Thursday's tip-off and went on to win 66-58.

Favorites went 10-6 against the spread but it sure didn't feel that way as several favorites were in trouble throughout their whole games before finally covering the spread in the end. Boston College, an 8- to 8 1/2-point favorite vs. Pacific at most books, was pushed to two overtimes before finally winning and covering 88-76. George Washington, a 2 1/2- to 3-point favorite at most books, trailed NC-Wilmington by as many as 18 points in the second half only to force overtime and get the cover (or push for those who bet the line at 3 - see below) with an 88-85 victory. Indiana, a 1 1/2-point favorite over San Diego St. was behind the whole game and pulled out a miracle 87-83 cover (see below).

The over went 9-7 on the opening day, aided by the Boston College-Pacific game needing overtime to go over the total of 134.

Bankroll suffers bad beats

My Thursday bankroll plays were rolling along nicely at 2-1 in the early games with clear-cut decisions with Wisconsin-Milwaukee's outright 82-74 victory over Oklahoma as a 2 1/2-point underdog and Winthrop's easy cover in a 63-61 loss to Tennessee as a 7-point dog and a loss on Marquette in a 90-85 setback as a 1 1/2-point choice. There wasn't too much debate in which was the right side in each game and I was content at 2-1.

But the late games were another matter. As mentioned above, NC-Wilmington was ahead by 18 points. When I submitted my plays for the print editions of Daily Racing Form and the DRF.com website the line in Vegas was NC-Wilmington +2 1/2, so that's what I had to use. A line of +3 was readily available on Thursday, so hopefully everyone who played that got the push.

Then, Illinois was ahead by 17 vs. Air Force before the Falcons ran off eight unanswered points to make the final 78-69. Again, my published pick was Illinois -9 but hopefully everyone got Illinois at the -8 and -8 1/2 that was available Thursday.

As tough as that was to swallow, the worst was saved for last. I had San Diego St. +2 1/2 vs. Indiana. SDSU controlled most of the game and even when Indiana's Robert Vaden hit a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left to give the Hoosiers an 85-83 lead, it looked like San Diego St. would get a last shot to either force OT or lose by 2 points. But the Aztecs' inbounds pass went the length of the court and out of bounds without being touched, and SDSU fouled Indy's Roderick Wilmont, who made both free throws for the final 87-83 margin. A brutal, brutal loss that left me at 2-3-1 on the day when at worst it should have been 3-2-1 and was very close to 4-1-1.

But that's March Madness for you, and it shows how much shopping for an extra half-point here and there can make a big difference. Onto Saturday's games:

Tennessee (-2 1/2) vs. Wichita St.

Early Thursday afternoon, Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent out this line as Tennessee -3 1/ 2 to its sports book clients. The Stardust and MGM Mirage properties went with the 3 1/ 2 and Caesars made it -4, but the public immediately jumped all over Wichita St. and within an hour the line had been bet down to 3 and 2 1/ 2 at book all over town. It's obvious why that happened as most everyone has spent the morning watch No. 7 seed Wichita St. thoroughly dominate No. 10 Seton Hall 86-66 while No. 2 seed Tennessee was holding on for dear life to hold off No. 15 Winthrop 63-61. However, even though I was on Winthrop and certainly didn't think Tennessee was worthy of a No. 2 seed, I think the Vols can get past the Shockers and there's a little value with the line dropping. Guards Chris Lofton, who hit the winning shot against Winthrop, and C.J. Watson have been the top scorers for Tennessee this year, but on Thursday it was center Major Wingate and forward Andre Patterson who really stepped up to help the Vols be in position to prevail, and they should be able to offset Wichita center Paul Miller.

PLAY: Tennessee for 1 unit.

UW-Milwaukee (+7.5) vs. Florida

Anyone who saw Wisconsin-Milwaukee's upset of Oklahoma had to be impressed with how the Panthers set the pace and kept pressing the whole game. The No. 11 seed from the Horizon League looked like the better team from start to finish. I don't see any reason why they can't do the same vs. Florida and be a surprise Cinderella team in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year even though the Gators will enjoy a bit of a home-court advantage in Jacksonville. UW-Milwaukee might not have the blue-chip stars that go to major schools, but they have a team of five fifth-year seniors that play well together (Florida starts four sophomores). Both teams play at a fast pace and it should be a game of runs that could very well come down to the final buzzer, so I'll take the veteran team with a knack of upsets vs. a program with a history of getting upset in the NCAA's.

PLAY: UW-Milwaukee for 1 unit.

LSU (-4) vs. Texas A&M

Texas A&M was the beneficiary of a bad shooting night by Syracuse, particularly Big East Conference tournament hero Gerry McNamara while LSU toyed with Iona before pulling away for an 80-64 victory. My only fear is that the Tigers might be looking ahead to a potential Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 seed Duke. This might be close for a while like the game vs. Iona, but talent should prevail with LSU holding a size advantage - and I'm not just talking height but also width with center Greg "Big Baby" Davis - and will probably be sent to the foul line often by A&M.

PLAY: LSU for 1 unit.

Selections for March 18 games

At Greensboro, N.C.

Tennessee (-2.5) vs. Wichita St. Pick: TENNESSEE

Duke (-9) vs. George Washington Pick: Duke

At Jacksonville, Fla.

Florida (-7.5) vs. UW-Milwaukee Pick: UW-MILWAUKEE

LSU (-4) vs. Texas A&M Pick: LSU

At Salt Lake City, Utah

Boston College (-10) vs. Montana Pick: Montana

Gonzaga (-2.5) vs. Indiana Pick: Gonzaga

At San Diego, Calif.

UCLA (-7.5) vs. Alabama Pick: Ucla

Illlinois (-2) vs. Washington Pick: Washington

Best bets in CAPS.

Bankroll record: 2-3-1 for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on laying 1.1. units to win 1). Website record on all tourney games: 7-9-1 through Thursday.