The 2018 NCAA tournament tips off Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, as Radford, champion of the Big South, meets LIU Brooklyn, champion of the Northeastern conference, in a First Four game. The Highlanders are just slim betting favorites; where might the smart money lie in this one?
March Madness point spread: The Highlanders opened as 3.5-point favorites; the total is at 137.5, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. (Line updates and matchup report)
March Madness betting pick, via OddsShark computer: 66.4-61.2, Highlanders (March Madness picks on every game)
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Why Radford can cover the spread
The Highlanders finished tied for second in the Big South this season, going 12-6 in conference play. Radford lost three in a row in early February but finished with four straight wins. The Highlanders then won three games in four days to win the Big South tournament, capped off by a 55-52 victory over Liberty in the championship game back on March 4. So Radford is back at the Big Dance for the first time since 2009.
The Highlanders led that Big South championship game almost the whole way, then won it on a long three-pointer by freshman guard Carlik Jones at the buzzer. Stretching back to December Radford is 17-6 over its last 23 games.
Why LIU Brooklyn can cover the spread
The Blackbirds finished tied for fourth place in the Northeast this season at 10-8 in conference play. They lost three in a row in mid-February but finished with back-to-back victories. LIU Brooklyn then won three games in seven days to win the NEC tournament, capped off by a 71-61 upset of regular-season champion Wagner back on March 6 to clinch its first NCAA tournament bid in five seasons.
The Blackbirds, as nine-point underdogs, spurted to a 15-point lead in the first half in that title game against the Seahawks and never led by less than seven points from there, pulling the upset on Wagner's home floor.
In fact, LIU Brooklyn beat the Seahawks, who were probably the best team the Blackbirds faced this season, twice this year. Also, stretching back into early January LIU Brooklyn is 12-5 over its last 17 games.
Smart betting pick
The Blackbirds get the checkmark offensively, with four guys averaging double-digit points, but the Highlanders plays better defense, holding opponents to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Plus, Radford is making its free throws, which comes in handy when trying to cover a number in the final moments. Smart money here sides with the Highlanders.
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