Thursday NCAA Action

Okay, so we all listened to the TV talking heads the past few days ramble on about the sport's heavyweight teams - Duke and North Carolina and Virginia and Kentucky, etc. but the $64,000 question is how will these bluebloods now fare spreadwise in their opening-round games of this here-and-now NCAA Tournament that really swings into high gear shortly after 12 p.m. Eastern time here on this Thursday, March 21st?

Well, check out the following Las Vegas price tags ...

Kentucky is a 22-point favorite against Abilene Christian on Thursday night and note the UK Wildcats are just 2-3 ATS (against the spread) as favs of 20-or-more points this year .

Gonzaga is a 27.5-point fav in its Thursday night game against FDU (that's Fairleigh Dickinson, an 82-76 "First Four" winner against Prairie View A&M) and it's interesting to note the 'Zags are a delicious 12-6 ATS as betting favs of 20-plus points ...

On Friday's NCAA Tournament menu, Virginia is a 22.5-point favorite against Gardner Webb and wouldn't you know the Cavs are 7-1 spreadwise as 20-or-more point favorites this season...

Finally, North Carolina - a 23.5-point favorite versus Iona (9:20 p.m. ET tip) - will enter this tourney tilt having failed to cover two-of-three games this season when laying 20 or more points.
So there.

Speaking of favorites here on the 16-game Thursday docket of NCAA Tournament games, Villanova has come down from a 6-point to 4.5-point fav against Saint Mary's - will be there be post-Big East Tournament letdown for the Wildcats?;

Wofford is a 2.5-point fav against Seton Hall and that makes 'em one of three non-power conference clubs favored over power conference teams in these opening-round games - along with Nevada (-2) over Florida and Utah State (- 3) over Washington ... And it's worth mentioning that all seven teams hailing from the ACC are favored in these Thursday/Friday games.  


EAST - at Des Moines, IA
#7 LOUISVILLE (20-13) vs. #10 MINNESOTA (21-13)
- 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
The headline-writers have obsessed over the "Pitino angle" in this game with son Richard said to be seeking revenge for his daddy's dismissal from Louisville last year but doesn't junior have enough to worry about with his highly erratic Golden Gophers (see six losses in a seven-game stretch late in regular-season play)? Minnesota is a dead-even 17-17 against the odds this year and the Big 10 guys are grabbing a fistful of points here. Minny's junior G Amir Coffey must ring the bell for 20-plus points and make this 'Ville backcourt sweat or else Chris Mack's club will ruin this afternoon for the entire Pitino clan.

WEST - at Hartford, CT
#5 MARQUETTE (24-9) vs. #12 MURRAY STATE (27-4)
- approximately 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
For you guys/gals that like to follow the line moves, 3.5-point pup Murray State's been taking the moolah ever since Marquette opened as a 5-point betting favorite and we figure the reason why is because Golden Eagles G Markus Howard has a bum right (shooting hand) wrist. Howard was MIA in last Friday's Big East Tournament semifinal loss to Seton Hall - maybe the single-fiercest game we've seen in college hoops this year - as he connected on only 1-of-15 FG tries while the flip side says Murray State G Ja Morant is peaking after averaging 24.6 ppg and 10 apg this year. Spread Note: Murray State's covered seven of its last nine games.

SOUTH - at Hartford, CT
#6 VILLANOVA (25-9) vs. #11 SAINT MARY'S (22-11)
- 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS
Note the totals price of 130 points is the second-lowest of any game on this Thursday card (Purdue vs. Old Dominion sits at a painfully-low 126 points) but don't kid yourself here: Villanova sports a pair of offensive stars in seniors Phil Booth (18.6ppg) and bulldozer Eric Paschall (16.5 ppg) and Saint Mary's G Jordan Ford averages 21.5 ppg and he's a career 43 percent shooter from trey-land ... it's possible things could heat up here and become more of an open-floor game than you might think. If Jay Wright's crew - defending champs in name only after losing four stars from last year's roster - is gonna cash as 4.5-point betting favs here than general unknown F Jermaine Samuels must be a stat-sheet stuffer.

MIDWEST - at Salt Lake City, UT
#4 KANSAS (25-9) vs. #13 NORTHEASTERN (23-10)
- approximately 4 p.m. ET, TNT
Okay, so if you watched all those post-Selection Sunday shows then you know Northeastern is quite the vogue pick to KO Kansas here ... and the number has come down from Jayhawks as 8.5-point favs to 6.5-point favs the past couple of days. Fact is Northeastern - 18-12-3 against the odds this year and riding a nifty 6-0-1 ATS run coming into this clash - has more than a proverbial "puncher's chance" if the Huskies are hitting from deep as there are four players that have drilled 50-or-more "3's" this year including G Jordan Roland (14.7 ppg). Kansas' injury-marred season has taken its toll as in no Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in 14 years but could it be Bill Self's squad is healthier now than it's been in weeks? Keep an eye on Jayhawks' G Devon Dotson who gives Kansas 30-plus solid minutes a game.