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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#797 Wichita State +2 over Temple 8:30 PM CT

Regarded as one of the top coaches in the country Gregg Marshall has endured a disappointing season at Wichita State and barring a great run in Memphis the Shockers will be out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, when they won the NIT. This year’s team started 1-6 in AAC play but has rallied to win nine of the final 11 conference games and took out East Carolina in tournament action yesterday. The draw with Temple is a difficult one and the Owls won in Wichita in an 85-81 overtime result in early January. Temple is a definitive NCAA Tournament bubble team with a high-end win over Houston but not much else and four overtime wins boost the win count for the 23-8 Owls but only five wins this season have been top 100 results. Wichita State beat Providence and Baylor early in the season taking on a very difficult non-conference slate and the Shockers are still capable of clamping down defensively. Wichita State takes great care of the ball as Temple won’t get its usual filling of turnovers and the Owls can struggle on the glass at times. Temple is 8-2 in the past 10 games but they didn’t face either of the top two AAC teams in that stretch and the big regular season finale win over UCF came in a favorable spot after the Knights had defeated Houston and Cincinnati in consecutive games.

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NCAA Tournament: First 12 Tickets

03/14/2019

12 teams have punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with automatic bids in the last few days and can sit back and enjoy the madness this week around the country during the remaining conference tournament games. Here is a look at those confirmed teams and what to expect in the Big Dance next week.

Murray State – Ohio Valley (27-4) Projected #12 Seed

The Racers were a popular #12 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament but wound up with an ugly 85-68 defeat against West Virginia as a 10-point underdog. Sophomore Ja Morant is an expected NBA lottery pick scoring nearly 25 points per game and the Racers didn’t look out of place in close losses on the road vs. Alabama and Auburn in non-conference play early this season.  

Murray State beat Belmont by 12 in the OVC Final last weekend and while Belmont is a bubble team for an at-large bid, the conference as a whole did not rate as strong as in past seasons with a big gap between the top four teams and the bottom eight teams. Turnovers were a big problem for Murray State in last season’s game against West Virginia’s pressure defense and a more favorable matchup could make the Racers a threat to advance this season. This squad won’t likely present great underdog value as they will surely be considered a popular Cinderella choice as one of the most well-known small conference squads.

Gardner-Webb – Big South (23-11) Projected #16 Seed

Gardner-Webb went from a third place regular season finish in the Big South to punching a ticket to the Big Dance with wins over the top two teams in the conference in succession in a pair of true road games. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are likely to face a tough opening matchup and could be considered for one of the First Four games as they will likely be one of the worst rated teams in the field by some measures.

In November opportunities playing up Gardner-Webb lost by 12 at VCU and by 28 at Virginia Tech but did take Furman to overtime on the road. With an 11-2 run to close the season the team is playing its best down the stretch but has also benefitted from four overtime wins on the season. Size will be an issue in most potential matchups with the entire roster 6’6” or shorter. Radford from the Big South won its First Four game by 10 points last season before being blown out by eventual national champion Villanova.

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Bradley – Missouri Valley (20-14) Projected #14 Seed

Loyola-Chicago was a Final Four team out of the Missouri Valley last season as while the conference has lost a few heavyweights in recent years this league has a great postseason track record over the past two decades. Bradley started the Valley season 0-5 before a great turnaround and ultimately winning three games in St. Louis in three days by a combined total of eight points.

Bradley plays gritty defense and is a strong outside shooting team and they will not be an appealing draw for a top contender with Bradley a better team right now than they will be seeded, likely in the 14-15 range based on the marginal season record. Bradley beat SMU and Penn State in Mexico in November and a slow deliberate pace of play could make the Bears an upset threat in the right matchup.

Liberty – Atlantic Sun (28-6) Projected #13 Seed

Liberty jumped from the Big South to the Atlantic Sun this season and finished tied with Lipscomb for the regular season title, besting the Bisons in the conference tournament final. The Flames won at UCLA in December and played competitively in three other major conference losses in the non-conference season. This veteran lineup will enter the tournament on an 18-2 run and will be a threat to make some noise.

Liberty deploys one of the slowest tempos in the nation on offense and excels in getting quality shots, featuring the 13th best effective field goal rate in the entire nation. The Flames are a 78 percent free throw shooting team and the team’s top players Caleb Homesley and Scottie James have enough size to compete with major conference opposition.

Wofford – Southern (29-4) Projected #7 Seed

Wofford was pushed in a tight Southern Conference final against UNC Greensboro but has now won 20 straight games. Wofford beat South Carolina in non-conference play and the only four losses came against major conference teams in NCAA Tournament consideration including misses against North Carolina and Kansas. The Southern will be deserving of more than one bid this season, ranking as the 11th best conference in the nation, ahead of the A-10, Conference USA, and Sun Belt, though many suspect deserving candidates UNC Greensboro and Furman will be left out.

Wofford shoots a ton of 3-point shots and has four players hitting above 41 percent from 3-point range. The Wofford defense could have some problems in certain matchups, allowing 77 points per game in the five non-conference games vs. SEC, ACC, and Big XII teams however. Mike Young’s team made the tournament in 2014 and 2015 with first round exits but this could be the program’s best team ever and the Terriers figure to be in a tight first round pairing in a 7/10 or 8/9 draw.

Iona – Metro Atlantic (17-15) Projected #16 Seed

Once 7-15 on the season, Iona won the final 10 games of the season to win the Metro Atlantic regular season title and tournament title, now making a fourth straight NCAA Tournament trip. The Gaels are going to be more of a threat to win a game this season as they seem destined for a First Four matchup to start the tournament against a fellow #16 seed instead of a national power.

Iona didn’t hold up particularly well in any of the recent NCAA Tournament appearances nor did they stay within double-digits in three top 100 non-conference games this season but Tim Cluess will get another short in the Big Dance with his up-tempo offense and a Gaels squad that shoots well from all over the floor. The starting five is all upperclassmen from a team that lost by 22 to Duke last March in the Round of 64 as a 15 seed.

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Northern Kentucky – Horizon (26-8) Projected #14 Seed

The Norse made the 2017 NCAA Tournament and gave Kentucky a scare in a 79-70 defeat in a 2/15 matchup. This year’s team could climb to the #14 line with a strong record even with no top 100 caliber wins. The Norse competed respectably in road losses to UCF and Cincinnati and held a very tough home court with just one home defeat all season.

This team has pretty good size for a smaller conference program and statistically was one of the better interior scoring teams in the nation. Free throw shooting is a concern at just 67 percent on the season but this team could be a threat to keep a tournament game tight as they also played Louisville to an eight-point game in the NIT last season. John Brannen figures to get some looks for around the nation after three straight strong seasons with this program following a 9-21 first year in 2015-16.

Fairleigh Dickinson – Northeast (20-13) Projected #16 Seed

The Knights started the season 6-11 including going 1-4 in the first five conference games before catching fire to the tune of a 14-4 run culminating with a Northeast Championship win at St. Francis. While the overall profile isn’t a strong one for FDU ranking outside the nation’s top 200 by most measures, they had respectable losses to Providence and South Florida in the non-conference season. As an over 40 percent 3-point shooting team this squad could shoot its way into advancing if they wind up in a First Four contest.

The Knights earned this spot despite a late season injury to Xzavier Malone-Key as a team with a very limited bench had to make some late season adjustments. With a defensive efficiency ranking near 300 nationally this could be a favorable draw for a top seed to find its offensive rhythm early in the tournament. Last year’s Northeast representative LIU-Brooklyn lost by 10 in the First Four, though the 2017 representative Mount St. Mary’s was victorious in its 16/16 game.

Northeastern – Colonial (22-10) Projected #13 Seed

The Huskies beat Alabama by 16 in November but lost badly vs. Virginia Tech, Davidson, and Syracuse in other big non-conference tests. The Colonial did not grade as a strong league this season but Northeastern was one of three quality teams and the Huskies are in the tournament for the first time since 2015. That team lost by only four to Notre Dame in a 3/14 contest in that appearance and the Huskies are on a 16-1 run since early January with only an overtime loss.

This is an experienced team led by its offense, featuring the fifth rated effective field goal rate nationally, while a nearly 39 percent 3-point shooting team and a strong shooting team at the line that commits few turnovers. Coupled with a deliberate pace of play the Huskies have the potential to be a sleeper for an upset next week in the right draw with a roster full of upperclassmen ready for this opportunity.

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North Dakota State – Summit (17-15) Projected #16 Seed

The Bison finished just fourth in the Summit League but navigated the conference tournament to earn this spot with league champion South Dakota State upset by the league’s #8 team Western Illinois. North Dakota State could conceivably draw the Gonzaga team they lost to by 42 in November while the Bison also lost badly in three other top 100 non-conference tests on the season.

Size will be an issue in a likely 1/16 matchup for North Dakota State but this squad has good offensive shooting numbers while featuring a very low turnover rate despite a roster without a senior. The Bison also faced Gonzaga in the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a respectable 10-point loss in a 2/15 contest. Defensively it is hard to see North Dakota State competing well against a top contender but this squad will hit some shots.

Saint Mary’s – West Coast (22-11) Projected #12 Seed

The Gaels would have been an interesting bubble discussion case but they didn’t leave their Tournament inclusion to the committee, turning in a stunning 60-47 upset over Gonzaga in the WCC Final. That was the only top 50 win of the season for Saint Mary’s who looked the part in close losses vs. Mississippi State and LSU but ultimately didn’t have a lot of weight in the win column.

Saint Mary’s plays at an incredibly slow pace and works for quality shots with strong shooting numbers all over the floor, led by Jordan Ford who has scored over 21 points per game this season while a 42 percent 3-point shooter. Saint Mary’s beat VCU in a 7/10 matchup two years ago in the Big Dance and the Gaels won two NIT games last season. This squad has good size but limited depth and the roster includes only one senior. Expect Randy Bennett’s team to control the pace of play in whatever matchup they pull.

Colgate – Patriot (23-10) Projected #15 Seed

The Raiders will take an 11-gmae winning streak into the NCAA Tournament after winning by double-digits in all three Patriot Tournament games, which were played on their home court. Colgate didn’t look too out of place in non-conference defeats at Syracuse, South Florida, Penn State, and Pittsburgh including two 10-point losses.  The Patriot is also an underrated league and last year’s representative Bucknell lost by just four to Michigan State in a 3/14 contest while Bucknell lost by just six to West Virginia in the 2017 tournament.

Like many of the teams on this list Colgate plays at a slow pace and can shoot as a 39 percent 3-point shooting team and a strong free throw converting team. This squad has enough size to compete with larger programs as 6’10” Rapolas Ivanauskas leads the team in scoring. This could be one of the more dangerous #15 draws and even could get #14 seed consideration depending on how the remaining automatic bids fall.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#724 Northern Kentucky -9.5 over Oakland 6:00 PM CT

Northern Kentucky has a one-game lead over Wright State in the Horizon standings with Oakland two games back. This is a critical home game for the Norse after losing by two at Oakland in early January and knowing they head to Dayton next Friday. Northern Kentucky is 6-0 at home in Horizon play and 14-0 at home on the season. The average margin of victory for the Norse has been 17 points at home in league play while Oakland is drawing a second straight road game after a double-digit loss at Wright State on Thursday night.

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Oakland actually led that game early before getting outscored by 20 points in the second half and a highly vulnerable Grizzlies defense will face the top Horizon offense in this contest. Northern Kentucky also features the top 3-point shooting numbers on both offense and defense in Horizon play and Oakland has been turnover prone this season. After losing the past two meetings in this series including losing in Highland Heights last season in this matchup this is a huge game on the schedule for the host. Seven Northern Kentucky conference wins have come by 15 or more points and the Norse are capable of pouring it on against one of the worst defensive teams in the nation.

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Free NCAA Pick Friday

#863 Georgia State +1 over Louisiana-Lafayette 8:00 PM CT

Louisiana has dropped three in a row with an eye-popping 303 points allowed as this has been one of the nation’s worst defensive teams, unable to hold up to balance the up-tempo offense for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana lost by 13 on the road in this matchup and Georgia State is one of three teams currently tied for the Sun Belt lead. Facing Louisiana should provide a boost for the Georgia State offense with D’Marcus Simonds the top player in the league and the Panthers rated as one of the top defensive teams in the conference.

Coming off a shocking loss Wednesday at Louisiana-Monroe should leave a motivated squad for this road test with the Panthers posting seven road or neutral site wins this season. Georgia State has defeated Georgia and Alabama away from home this season while winning at UT Arlington and at Texas State for quality road wins in league play.

The key in this game will be 3-point shooting between a pair of teams that take a lot of long range shots. Georgia State has featured the best Sun Belt defense beyond the arc allowing below 29 percent while in contrast Louisiana has allowed nearly 41 percent from 3-point range. A Georgia State squad that gets over 45 percent of its points from the 3-point line and is hitting over 39 percent on 3-point shots could have a huge day in a high possession game with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

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Free NCAA Pick Wednesday

#790 Vanderbilt -3.5 over South Carolina 6:00 PM CT

Bryce Drew’s Vanderbilt squad has slipped to 0-3 in SEC play after a promising 9-3 non-conference start that included wins over USC, Liberty, and Arizona State for three top 100 wins. Only two losses have come at home this season and both were close games while the two losses in the last week came on the road, including a nine-point loss at Kentucky last weekend. These teams met just once last season with the Gamecocks winning 71-60 in Columbia just over a year ago while Drew’s squad won by nine in the only home meeting he had in this series since taking over the program two years ago.

Frank Martin’s squad is surprisingly 3-0 in SEC play after a 5-7 non-conference start. Known for defense, the Gamecocks have pushed the pace of play this season but not with better results as this has been a high turnover team that shoots poorly from long range. The 3-0 start has featured some good fortune in SEC play with a two-point win at Florida despite committing 22 turnovers, plus an overtime home win over Mississippi State. On Sunday South Carolina beat Missouri by 10 but that was a challenging situation for the Tigers as that game originally was scheduled for Saturday but moved to Sunday as Missouri dealt with a major winter storm and travel issues.

South Carolina is just 1-2 in true road games including losing at Wyoming this season and the Gamecocks also have a home loss to Stony Brook for two puzzling defeats. The past three wins are the only top 100 wins of the season for South Carolina and this is an absolutely critical spot on the schedule for the Commodores as a loss here could easily mean a potential 0-7 start to SEC play playing Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the next three conference games. Vanderbilt is young but possesses great size and has battled a tougher SEC schedule to this point to create the contrasting records. Vanderbilt has featured great 3-point defense numbers and efficient interior scoring while far less prone to turnovers as home court should hold Wednesday night.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#642 Oklahoma -3 over TCU 1:00 PM CT

The Sooners are 12-3 through a schedule that ranks as the second toughest in the nation. Oklahoma is a in a key spot on the schedule at home with a 1-2 start in conference play but the losses both came on the road in competitive games vs. the top two rated teams in the conference. Oklahoma’s strong record has come with just five home games, with a 4-0 mark beating five teams all rated in the nation’s top 115 and those wins have all come by nine or more points. TCU lost by nine at Kansas on Wednesday and that is the only top 50 team the Horned Frogs have faced this season. It is also the only time this season that TCU has played a true road game outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This will be a daunting spot on the schedule for a team playing without some of its top players and a team featuring zero top 50 wins on the season. TCU went just 3-6 in Big XII road games last season and lost both meetings with Oklahoma even in a down year for Lon Kruger’s squad. Jamie Dixon’s squad has struggled with free throws and could be exposed in a second straight road game vs. an underrated Oklahoma team that has eight top 100 wins on the season.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#642 Towson -2.5 over NC-Wilmington 1:00 PM CT

Towson owns a lousy 5-10 record this season but they have played one home game in more than a month spanning the past eight games. That was a competitive loss to a Charleston squad that rates as one of the top CAA squads. Now 1-2 in conference play this home date is a critical game for a Tigers team that won 18 games last season.

Towson lost in overtime in the last meeting between these teams in Wilmington last January but the Tigers won by 18 in the last home meeting in this series. NC-Wilmington won just 11 games last season and hasn’t improved its pace so far this year with a 5-10 mark. One of those wins came Thursday night in double-OT at James Madison, snapping a six-game slide. The Seahawks are now playing a sixth road game in the past seven games for a daunting spot on the schedule two days after a double-OT game.

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Free NCAA Pick Wednesday

#783 Nebraska +2.5 over Maryland 5:30 PM CT

This finally looks like the breakthrough season for Tim Miles and the Nebraska program with an 11-2 start though a good schedule, featuring wins over Seton Hall, Clemson, Creighton, and Oklahoma State. The Huskers are 0-1 in Big Ten road games however putting a lot of emphasis on this contest tonight at Maryland. Nebraska has three top 100 wins away from home this season and is one of the few teams in the nation rated in the top 30 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Maryland has a young squad that starts two freshmen and also features three other freshmen off the bench. Jalen Smith could return after missing the last game but the Terrapins have played a dramatically weaker schedule compared with Nebraska to reach 10-3 for Mark Turgeon. Maryland has just one top 50 win this season and that came narrowly with a comeback win over Penn State in the B1G opener. Maryland has lost twice at home already this season and has had issues on offense with turnovers.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#632 Georgia +3 over Arizona State 5:00 PM CT

Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State squad has started 7-1 but the team enters the season’s very first road game off a loss to highly ranked Nevada last weekend in a six-point game. The Sun Devils have a big week on tap with non-conference road games vs. SEC teams Saturday and Monday before hosting top ranked Kansas next Saturday. The seven-wins have included narrow quality wins over Mississippi State and Utah State in Las Vegas but also close calls at home vs. Cal-State Fullerton and Texas Southern. Arizona State went just 3-6 on the road in Pac-12 play last season and the Sun Devils are a risky road favorite in this game.

Georgia is just 5-3 with no wins of substance but this is a transition season for Tom Crean who looks to rebuild the program in Athens. Turnovers have been an issue but the statistical profile is encouraging for the Bulldogs and this will be a big opportunity at home for the team with by far the biggest non-conference home date on this season’s schedule. Georgia has one of the better defensive effective field goal rates in the nation and the team had had more than a week to prep for this opportunity.

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Free NCAA Pick Tuesday

#711 Providence +3.5 over Boston College

Providence was a 21-win team last season that beat Boston College by 20 in a November home meeting. The Friars played three straight overtime games in the NCAA Tournament, losing to eventual champion Villanova in the Sweet 16. Alpha Diallo and Isaiah Jackson are returning starters from that squad with Nate Watson also a returning contributor taking on a starting role in the paint this season. A pair of talented freshman have joined the starting five to give Providence great size with all starters at least 6’5”.

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Providence is 6-2 including a neutral site win over South Carolina while the losses came in a tight game with Wichita State and against red hot Michigan. Providence has good numbers on both sides of the ball as an effective outside shooting team and a very good interior defense team. Boston College is 6-1 but without playing a top 50 foe yet this season. The best win was a narrow home escape against Minnesota when the Gophers had coast-to-coast travel. Boston College lost to IUPUI while five of six wins this season have come by 12 or fewer points despite playing only two top 200 teams all season.

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The Eagles are an awful 3-point shooting team at below 30 percent while one of the nation’s worst free-throw shooting squads at just 66 percent. Boston College does limit its turnovers but this is an inexperienced squad with three underclassmen in the typical six-man rotation with the Eagles offering very little depth. Boston College lost 13 home games the previous two years and already has a home loss this season as Conte has provided a minimal advantage and Providence should be a serious upset threat on Tuesday.

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