NCAA Midwest Region First Round (All games Friday, March 19)
BEST BETS: Tennessee -7, Oklahoma State -7.5, Houston -20
BEST UNDERDOG PLAYS: Clemson ML (+105), Morehead State +13
NCAA Midwest Region First Round Predictions
1-Illinois vs. 16-Drexel
1-Illinois (-3000) vs. 16-Drexel (+1400), 1:15 p.m. EDT (TBS)
Illinois -22.5, total 143.5. The Pick: Illinois -22.5 .
Illinois could be the best team in the tournament not named Gonzaga, and this First Round game against a scrappy Drexel team that hits free throws and can knock down threes. But the Illini are third in the nation in rebounding, and 7-0 Kofi Cockburn could have a field day in the paint.
8-Loyola-Chicago vs. 9-Georgia Tech
8-Loyola-Chicago (-150) vs. 9-Georgia Tech (+125), 4 p.m. EDT (TBS)
Loyola-Chicago -2.5, total 125.5. The Pick: Loyola-Chicago -2.5.
Georgia Tech was an afterthought a few weeks ago, but made a run to win the ACC Tournament and comes into March Madness with some momentum?
The Yellow Jackets’ prize? A tough Loyola-Chicago team that has just four losses and is a few years removed from a stunning Final Four trip as an 11 seed. This should be a good game.
5-Tennessee vs. 12-Oregon State
5-Tennessee (-350) vs. 12-Oregon State (+280), 4:30 p.m. EDT (TNT)
Tennessee -7, total 131.5. The Pick: Tennessee -7.
Usually when teams make a fantasy run to a conference title, they flame out early in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon State did just that to win the Pac-12, and now get a 12th seed and a tough Tennessee team. The Beavers are awful shooting free throws, something to consider in a late game situation.
The Volunteers have been up and down, but should have enough to win this game.
4-Oklahoma State vs. 13-Liberty
4-Oklahoma State (-350) vs. 13-Liberty (+280), 6:30 p.m. EDT (TBS)
Oklahoma State -7.5, total 142.5. The Pick: Oklahoma State -7.5, Okla St. team total over 74.5 (-125).
Oklahoma State is a talented team led by maybe the best player in the nation, Cade Cunningham. The Cowboys can light it up. But this Liberty team is no joke, led by Darius McGhee.
Oklahoma State might be a little underseeded in this bracket, and could make a run if it can get past the Flames.
2-Houston vs. 15-Cleveland State
2-Houston (-3000) vs. 15-Cleveland State (+1400), 7:15 p.m. EDT (TruTV)
Houston -20, total 134.5. The Pick: Houston -20.
Houston is good offensively, and really good defensively, so should be a nightmare for Cleveland State to deal with on both ends. The Cougars pummeled their competition in the AAC, and it should be no different Friday.
7-Clemson vs. 10-Rutgers
7-Clemson (+105) vs. 10-Rutgers (-125), 9:20 p.m. EDT (TBS)
Rutgers -1.5, total 126.5. The Pick: Clemson ML (+105).
All I have heard about lately is that Rutgers is back in the tournament for the first time since 1991 (how bad is that by the way?) Well, the Scarlet Knights get a tough battle against a team just like them from the ACC in Clemson.
My worry with this game is that Rutgers is ATROCIOUS at the free throw line (329 out of 340), while Clemson is 31st. In a tight contest, the Scarlet Knights are going to make you sweat out that line. Rutgers has also shot just 26 percent from three in its last nine.
6-San Diego State vs. 11-Syracuse
6-San Diego State (-160) vs. 11-Syracuse (+135), 9:40 p.m. EDT (CBS and Fubo.tv)
San Diego State -3, total 138.5. The Pick: San Diego State -3.
This game is a bit weird. The line is pretty small, but everyone is on San Diego State. Sometimes, that would worry me, but maybe they see what I see too: The Aztecs are a very good team with a chance to go deep into the bracket
3-West Virginia vs. 14 Morehead State
3-West Virginia (-1100) vs. 14 Morehead State (+650), 9:50 p.m. EDT (TruTV)
West Virginia -13, total 137.5. The Pick: Morehead State +13; over 137.5.
Could this be a 3/14 upset? Morehead State beat Belmont (twice, actually; once in the regular season finale, once in the OVC final) to get back in the tournament for the first time in a decade. West Virginia has not been great against the spread this season (13-14), so this could be a closer game than expected.
The total could be the play here, with 13 of the last 17 going over the total in WVU games.