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March Madness 2019: Odds and Predictions for Top Round-of-64 Matchups

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2019

Murray State's Ja Morant in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against SIU - Edwardsville in Murray, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

The primary focus for the round of 64 is typically on upsets—in terms of both correctly predicting them and having your Final Four teams avoid them.

But don't forget to savor it for the incredible hoops showcase that it is.

Thursday and Friday will serve up 16 games apiece in the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament, and there some can't-miss contests on the slate.

We'll take a closer examination at three of them below by laying out the odds, analyzing the matchups and making our predictions.

               

Top Matchups in Round of 64

No. 5 Marquette (-4) vs. No. 12 Murray State (Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS)

If you have plans for Thursday afternoon/early evening, go ahead and cancel them now. 

This might be as good as it gets in the opening round.

Each offense has a point guard ranked among the top 10 nationally in scoring: Markus Howard for Marquette (25.0 points per game, sixth) and Ja Morant for Murray State (24.6, eighth). Combined, the two have 16 30-point outings and four 40-point outbursts between them.

What makes this is even more interesting is that the star guards go about it different ways.

Morant is a triple-double threat in the Russell Westbrook mold, combining athleticism, speed, quickness, explosiveness, floor vision and a fearless attacking style. Howard, who stands just 5'11" and weighs 175 pounds, was described by NCAA.com's Joe Boozell as a "Steph Curry/Damian Lillard hybrid" for possessing a lethal pull-up three-ball that seems to have limitless range.

It's possible that Morant and Howard play each other to a draw, which would be phenomenal hoops to watch. It's also possible Murray State's three-point defense (28.2 percent allowed, fourth-best in college basketball) bothers Howard enough for Morant and the Racers to escape the opening round.

Prediction: Murray State over Marquette

                 

No. 6 Villanova (-5) vs. No. 11 St. Mary's (Thursday, 7:20 p.m. ET on TBS)

MORAGA, CA - MARCH 02:  Jordan Ford #3 of the Saint Mary's Gaels goes in for a layup over Geno Crandall #0 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game at McKeon Pavilion on March 2, 2019 in Moraga, California.  (Ph
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It's rarely a bad strategy to pick Villanova at this time of year. After all, coach Jay Wright's Wildcats have claimed two of the last three national titles.

But this year was more about survival, as the club lost its top-four scorers from last season to the NBA. Credit 'Nova for not only avoiding disaster but finding ways to win the Big East's regular-season and conference championships. Still, this is not the powerhouse you're used to seeing. The Wildcats lost to Penn, Georgetown and Furman this season.

St. Mary's, meanwhile, looks dangerous. The Gaels are coming in hot, having knocked off then-No. 1 Gonzaga to claim the West Coast Conference title last week. St. Mary's dictated the terms of play and, as a result, held KenPom.com's highest-rated offense to just 47 points.

"We know that we can beat anybody," leading scorer Jordan Ford told reporters. "Since we beat the No. 1 team in the country, and to be able to see and play against the No. 1 team in the country three times this year, we know that we can hang with anybody."

The Gaels attack the glass, defend the three-point arc and have big-time point producers in Ford (21.3 points per game) and Malik Fitts (15.3). They have the pieces needed to make this a repeat of 2010, when they bounced the then-second-seeded Wildcats from the second round.

Prediction: St. Mary's over Villanova

           

No. 7 Wofford (-2.5) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (Thursday, 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS)

A close contest won't rattle Seton Hall. The Pirates played in a whopping 20 games decided by six points or less, and they wiggled out of several thanks to the scoring exploits of Myles Powell.

The junior guard hasn't scored fewer than 20 points since Feb. 20. He cleared the 30-point mark eight different times, including three of his last six games. As Bleacher Report's Kerry Miller put it, Powell "is arguably the top Kemba Walker candidate in this year's field."

But Wofford has an elite backcourt scorer of its own in senior Fletcher Magee, who's just three triples shy of setting the NCAA's career record. For his career, he averages 3.8 threes per game and converts them at a 43.8-percent clip.

Magee isn't a one-man show, either. Cameron Jackson averages 14.6 points while shooting 58.1 percent. Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy have combined for 131 threes while each clearing 45 percent outside. It's no surprise, then, to see Wofford sitting 12th in KenPom's offensive rankings.

Seton Hall will keep things close and remain cool in the clutch, but Wofford has too much offense not to advance.

Prediction: Wofford over Seton Hall

             

Odds used courtesy of OddsShark

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