Let March Madness Begin
LET THE MADNESS BEGIN AS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT TIPS OFF TUESDAY NIGHT IN DAYTON - AND WE'RE CHOCK FULL OF OPINIONS ON THIS YEAR'S BIG DANCE
Geez, please allow us to get something off our chest as we start off this NCAA Tournament-filled column:
If you watched ESPN's two-hour Selection Show from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time last night then you had a few yucks with Kentucky head coach / comedian John Calipari and you learned a little something about the sport's young stars (see Duke's Zion Williamson and Murray State's Ja Morant) but, when it was time for "experts" Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Jay Williams and Rece Davis to make their Elite 8 /Final 4 /National Championship Game picks, you were assaulted with nothing but #1, #2 and #3 seeds ... really, guys, we need you for that?
Lest anyone needs a reminder, last year #11 seed Loyola-Chicago cracked the Final Four party and in recent years #7 seeds (three of 'em in the past five years), #8 and #10 seeds helped to comprise the various Final Four fields and we'll go out on a proverbial limb and say there will be at least one team seeded #5 or lower that'll make it to Minneapolis next month ... so thanks for boring us with your selections, ESPN! Someone remind us to tune out these brainiacs next year - we want to see some imagination with some the Final Four picks, okay?
Meanwhile, gotta say that overall the NCAA Tournament Committee folks did a solid job even if we had a precious few disagreements with seeding - Ole Miss is too high at #8 (should have been an #11 or #12 seed), Big East champion Villanova should have been higher than a #6 seed (and seeded higher than conference rival Marquette who's a #5 seed) and Nevada was dropped too low to a #7 seed ... otherwise, we had no real major bones to pick with the committee guys/gals even though we were surprised St. John's made it (yes, the last of the 68 teams selected) and were glad to see Belmont make the field.
Maybe the likes of N.C. State and TCU will learn they need to schedule tougher non-league affairs in 2019-20.
Oh, one last thing here: It's quite obvious that Sunday's conference games had little effect on the seeds as Michigan State won the Big 10 Tournament yet never had a shot to make it to the #1 seed line and it almost appears American Athletic Conference champ Cincinnati - a 69-57 winner against 5-point fav Houston - was gonna be a #7 seed no matter what. Agree?
Why are these Sunday games being played if the committee is not gonna fine-tune the seeds afterwards?
Now, we get ready to unwrap this year's NCAA Tournament beginning with the "First Four" games in Dayton on Tuesday / Wednesday night and it's gonna be a real blast.
HANDICAPPING THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Okay, so we're not releasing any "state secrets" here in terms of actual selections but here's some things to think about when 'capping this year's Big Dance ...
Generally, we believe any team that had to play four games in four days in their conference mini tourneys are immediately behind the proverbial eight-ball. It's not likely they're gonna have their "legs" and the emotional grind of playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back is a killer. The likes of #5 Auburn - playing New Mexico State in Salt Lake City on Thursday afternoon - and #13 seed Saint Louis (playing Virginia Tech in San Jose on Friday night) better find some emotional energy between now and game time ...
It's been sound handicapping strategy in recent years to make a play on a team that got beaten badly in their opening NCAA Tournament the year before. Obviously, the first team that jumps out at you is #1 seed Virginia who's a hefty favorite against #16 Gardner Webb. Last year the Virginia Cavs were smoked 74-54 in the one-and-only #16 seed over a #1 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Gonna be surprised if Virginia rolls to a 30-plus point win here? But let's delve into a game in which there's not a monstrous pointspread: Murray State was mauled 85-68 by West Virginia last year and this time the Racers are a smallish dog against #5 Marquette. Hmmm ...
One final way of handicapping opening-round NCAA Tournament games is to check out the power conference sides that were one-and-done in their recent mini-tournies. Note that #9 Oklahoma was KO'd in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament last week while #9 Baylor was beaten in its first Big 12 mini-tourney tilt; ditto for #6 seed Maryland in the Big 10 Tourney where #3 Purdue also was one-and-done. These teams tend to be extremely focused for opening-game tilts in the NCAA.
WHO'S HOT SPREADWISE HEADING INTO THE "FIRST FOUR" GAMES OF THIS TOURNEY?
- Prairie View A&M sports a six-game ATS (against the spread) winning streak while heading into Tuesday night's game against Fairleigh Dickinson ...
- North Carolina Central is 7-1-2 vig-wise in its last 10 games heading into Wednesday's bash against North Dakota State ...And aforementioned North Dakota State has covered seven of its last 10 games heading into Wednesday night action.