2018 March Madness First/Second Round Predictions
What’s on Tap
In a college basketball season defined by mediocrity, the 2018 tournament appears to be one where anything is capable of happening. I’ll be looking at the opening round games most intriguing from a betting and handicapping standpoint and stay out of the big picture for now, other than to say I have my eye on Michigan, North Carolina and Duke to go a long way.
- UCLA -3.5 (O/U: 154.5) vs. St.Bonaventure
Every year there are more than a handful of teams that feel “under-seeded”, but this UCLA team has one of the more legitimate cases in recent memory. The Bruins are an offensively gifted squad that posted a 21-11 record against a respectable schedule. They beat Kentucky, Arizona and USC this season and may just be entering this tournament with something extra to prove. UCLA is the play-in team I think has the best chance to advance past the first weekend of the tournament. Lay the 3.5 against St. Bonaventure and look for Steve Alford’s squad to make some noise.
- Kentucky – 6 (O/U: 143) vs. Davidson
Never one to miss an opportunity for a corny joke, I like the Wildcats here. Rimshot punchlines aside, the better-known Wildcats are a vulnerable team despite winning the SEC tournament last week. John Calipari’s squad is the youngest in the nation and that youth has reared its ugly head on many occasions this season as evidenced by their 10 losses. Davidson is on a roll of its own and had to win the Atlantic 10 tournament to qualify for the big dance. Veteran coach Bob Mckillop’s teams play a disciplined style that could frustrate the younger Wildcats. It’s also noteworthy that this game is being played in Boise on a Thursday night, meaning Kentucky’s legion of fans won’t travel as well as they normally do. I like Davidson to hang close in this one with a chance to pull one of the biggest upsets of the opening weekend.
- Virginia Tech -2 (O/U: 141.5) vs. Alabama
This should be an entertaining matchup between two teams who like to get up and down the floor. Virginia Tech ranks 19th in the country in offensive efficiency and puts pressure on defenses to avoid foul trouble. Alabama will counter with the nation’s 29th best squad in terms of defensive efficiency, but I think the Hokies overpower the Tide in this spot late in the game. Virginia Tech has slayed some dragons this year including Virginia, Duke and North Carolina – that’s three of the best teams in this tournament. I think Tech has the better squad.
- Wichita State -11.5 (O/U: 166) vs. Marshall
Whoa! Is that total correct? I know Wichita is a great offensive club (6th in offensive efficiency in the nation/13th in ppg), but 166 is an obscene number for an NCAA tournament game. Being fully aware that Murray State is averaging the 7th most points per game in the country (84.3), I can counter with the fact that both of these teams ranked among the top 50 in defensive efficiency. Further, NCAA tournament games are rarely this high scoring. There’s plenty of nerves in opening round games and coaches invariably emphasize defensive intensity in their game plans. If this were a Wednesday night matchup in January, you might well see the offensive fireworks the oddsmakers are predicting, but I think this game land squarely under that gargantuan total.
In closing, I’ll definitely roll with these four opening round games, expecting 4-0 or 3-1. There should be plenty of chaos in this tournament, but these are comparatively safe wagers.
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