People fill out millions of brackets for March Madness pools in advance of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament each year, but it is also a busy time for the sportsbooks in Las Vegas. During March, it becomes an absolute zoo as bettors travel to town and place bets on games.
As noted by Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun, "bettors wagered a record $439.5 million on basketball statewide in the month of March , with sports books posting a $41.2 million win, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board."
If you happen to be one of those bettors, here is some (hopefully winning) advice on four first-round matchups. The odds are via OddsShark, and you can also find a bracket below.
Rhode Island (-2) over Oklahoma
After starting the season 12-1, the Oklahoma Sooners dropped to 18-13, losing eight of their last 10 games. While the Sooners have some impressive victories on their schedule (e.g. Kansas, Wichita State and Texas Tech), they are not entering the tournament in top form.
The same can be said for Rhode Island (4-4 in their last eight games), but the Rams' skid isn't as pronounced. Furthermore, URI is led by two experienced senior guards (Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews) who combine for 30.3 points per game. They nearly upset Oregon in the second round last year and could be poised to make another run this season.
The counterargument to a URI win is that Oklahoma guard Trae Young, who posted 27.4 points and 8.8 assists per game this year, could simply take this game over. That very well may happen, but the team's end-of-season mark is hard to ignore. Take URI to win and cover.
South Dakota State (+8.5) over Ohio State
Predicting that South Dakota State will cover is less of a commentary on the Buckeyes and more so in regards to a strong Jackrabbits team led by junior sharpshooter Mike Daum, who posts 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
The 6'9" forward shoots 42.1 percent from beyond the arc and is capable of taking over a game on the offensive end (as he scored 30-plus 12 times this year).
Furthermore, the Jackrabbits have been here before and even gave No. 1 seed Gonzaga a game in the first round last year, trailing just 26-22 at the half. The Bulldogs eventually pulled away, but the Jackrabbits still posted an impressive effort against a team that eventually went to the national championship.
While the guess here is that Ohio State wins outright, Daum's hot shooting will keep this game in doubt until the final minutes.
New Mexico State (+5.5) over Clemson
The 28-5 New Mexico State Aggies have two dominant players who can cause havoc for any power-conference team. Senior guard Zach Lofton scores 19.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting (38.2 percent from deep). He also crashes the boards, as he grabs 5.1 rebounds per game.
However, his teammate (6'5" senior Jemerrio Jones) is a master on the glass, grabbing 13.2 rebounds per game in addition to scoring 11.0 points a night. Jones has managed double-digit rebounding efforts in all but six games this season.
Clemson will counter with a balanced scoring attack (five players average in double figures), and forwards Donte Grantham and Elijah Thomas could challenge Jones on the glass.
However, New Mexico State is a good enough team to keep this one close. The Aggies will cover and could even win outright.
Seton Hall (-2) over North Carolina State
Seton Hall is a bit inconsistent. On one hand, the Pirates are capable of taking some of the best teams in the nation to the limit, as they did against No. 1 seed Villanova in a 69-68 loss. They also took down No. 3 seed Texas Tech by 10 earlier this year.
On the other hand, they have some puzzling losses, including defeats to Rutgers and Georgetown.
When they are at their best, the Pirates are quite good, though, and the prediction here is that the Dr. Jekyll version shows up. Seton Hall has a dominant rebounder (senior Angel Delgado, who averages 13.3 points and 11.6 boards per game) as well as three solid scorers in senior Desi Rodriguez (17.8 points), sophomore Myles Powell (15.4 points) and senior guard Khadeen Carrington (14.9 points).
While North Carolina State had a great bounce-back year, the Pirates' main quartet will advance Seton Hall to the second round.