There are no sure things in betting the NCAA Tournament. If there were, I wouldn’t be writing this story but on my yacht with several supermodels. Well, that’s not totally true. There is one lock for every Big Dance: No. 1 seeds are 128-0 straight-up all-time against 16 seeds. Here are three March Madness betting picks I recommend against the spread in Round 1.
March Madness 2017 First Round Analyst Betting Prediction
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 13, 2017
No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Purdue (+9)
Have you seen the Big Ten this season? It’s terrible – the Boilermakers are the highest-seeded team at No 4. The Catamounts finished the regular season 16-0 in the American East Conference and own the longest current winning streak in the country (21 games). Their last loss came December 21 against the Butler Bulldogs. The Boilermakers finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage. Their propensity for turnovers — the Achilles’ heel that Arkansas Little Rock exploited in 2016’s double-overtime first-round upset — remains. Purdue defeated the Catamounts 107-79 in Mackey Arena last season. Most of the Boilermakers said they didn’t remember much from that game, besides hitting 18 3-pointers as a team. Purdue seeks its first NCAA tournament victory since 2012. The Boilermakers won 14 first-round games in a row before opening-round losses each of the past two seasons. The Boilermakers couldn’t hold on to late leads against Cincinnati in 2015 and Little Rock last season, losing in overtime and double overtime, respectively. I like Vermont here.
No. 10 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 Michigan (-2)
The Wolverines are playing their best basketball of the season and are the choice here even though I’m not high on the Big Ten – just low on Oklahoma State. After finishing 10-8 in the Big Ten, the Wolverines became the lowest seed (8) ever to win the Big Ten Tournament. While John Beilein’s offense may run at the fifth-slowest pace of the 68 tournament teams, they take advantage of the limited possessions by ranking in the top 10 in efficiency, turnover rate, and effective field goal percentage. After losing its first six Big 12 games, Oklahoma State won 10 of its last 14. Sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is the catalyst for a team that scores in bunches (85.6 ppg). If the Cowboys are going to win a game, it will be behind their offense. They rank in the top 10 for offensive efficiency, thanks to hot shooting from beyond the arc (40.1%) and a strong offensive rebounding rate (38.0%).
No. 14 Kent State vs. No. 3 UCLA (-16)
At least one 14-seed has upset a 3-seed outright in each of the past four NCAA tournaments. Big 12 teams have accounted for three of those losses, going 1-3 outright and 0-4 ATS against 14-seeds over the last two years. However, only two 14-seeds have ever advanced to the Sweet 16. I like the Bruins here as they are the best offensive team in the country. They play at a hyper-fast pace and make nearly 52% of their shot attempts, the best in the nation. The Golden Flashes got here with a wild MAC tourney run: A 116-106 overtime win over Central Michigan followed by three wins in three days over the league’s top three seeds by an average of 3.3 points — culminating in a title game win that not only earned them a bid but spoiled rival Akron’s 26-win season. Kent State lost to the two common opponents it shared with UCLA this season, falling by 19 at Oregon State and four at Western Michigan. UCLA defeated those two teams by an average of 15 points.