Every year on Selection Sunday, the only thing more entertaining than filling out a bracket and incessantly staring at it is incessantly staring at the lines which get posted at some books as early as just a few hours after the Selection Show. Needless to say, this year was no different in WiseGuyAction’s humble bungalow. My eyes are on the verge of bleeding and a severe onset of carpal tunnel has forced me to complete this blog entry using a Stephen Hawking-esque device that translates my slurred, incoherent basketball ramblings into text. The good news is I believe I’ve already unearthed five strong plays for the first round:
Michigan State ML
I’ve been knocking the Spartans all year and my main criticism is always how none of their players seem to have improved from year to year. The upperclassmen quartet of Roe, Green, Lucas, and Summers just hasn’t developed. Two or three years ago I remember thinking how great these guys were going to be in a couple years, but quite frankly not one of them has gotten noticeably better. That said, Tom Izzo is 10-3 lifetime in the first round of the tourney and has a special knack for getting the most out of his players when it matters most.
After a pretty strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, I think Izzo finally has his squad focused and ready for a nice run in the Big Dance. The Spartans come into this game against UCLA as 1.5 point favorites, but I think it’s worth it to lay a little extra juice and take the Spartans money line at a price around -130. I’ve seen UCLA play multiple times this season and haven’t been the slightest bit impressed. The game will be played in Tampa so Michigan State might also have a slight regional advantage given that UCLA must cross several time zones. And for the record, I also like Michigan State to upset Florida in the second round.
I’ve followed Memphis closely this year, and after a strong start to the season they seemed to fizzle out around mid-December. A quick review of their resume reveals a team who barely beat a bunch of mediocre teams, crumbled against ranked teams, and often lost by double digits. Of their nine losses, only two were by single digits. Arizona has enough talent and athleticism to run Memphis out of the gym. Lay the 5.5 points and don’t think twice about backing the Wildcats in this game.
The Boilers are a veteran team that can win in a variety of ways. A dominant senior guard and a dominant senior big man is generally the recipe for a deep run. Purdue has no trouble scoring and they’re also quite capable of playing suffocating defense. Don’t put too much stock in the fact that they lost their last two games because they had won their previous seven before that. St. Peter’s has absolutely no firepower and is merely a stepping stone for the Boilers, who should easily win this game by 20-plus points.
Notre Dame/Akron Over
Odds makers don’t post totals as quickly as sides, so at the time of this writing the over/under on this game had not been posted anywhere. I’m expecting a number in the upper 140′s or maybe in the low 150′s. This game has all the makings of a shootout. Akron is one of those hybrid-tempo teams in the mold of a Villanova, in that they usually allow their opponent to dictate the tempo and have no problem playing in a low scoring defensive battle or a high scoring “run n’ gun” affair. Outside of Providence and Seton Hall, the defenses in the Big East are no joke and Notre Dame averages 76 points per game. The Irish will want to push the tempo, and I expect Akron to foolishly try to run with them. This should be one of the faster paced games of the first round, and I expect it to finish in the upper 150′s if not significantly higher. Play the over in this game with confidence once the number becomes available.
A play-in game special! OK, so I just ragged on Memphis, yet Memphis beat UAB at UAB … now I want to play UAB as a dog? It’s a valid point, but I’m more of a situational bettor who often looks for spots to bet against a certain team and not necessarily reasons to bet on a certain team. Moreover, I’m not an avid fan of falling for perception. Numbers do tell a story, but not always the whole story. Hence Clemson, a team with 21 wins on the season, and nary a one against a team in the RPI Top 50. To be blunt, Clemson hasn’t beaten a single good team all year. Apparently their signature wins were against Florida State and Virginia Tech, both at home.
Forgive me for not showering the Clemson players with Cristal in the locker room after those two marquee wins. UAB is a scrappy, blue-collar team who should give the Tigers all they can handle in the first ever 12-seed on 12-seed duel on Tuesday night. I’m pretty confident the Blazers can cover 5 points against the Clemson Paper Tigers.
And yes, the photo above is an actual clock my sister bought for me that I proudly display in my wannabe man cave.