NCAA Tournament 2022: B/R Expert Predictions for First Round of Men's Tournament

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 17, 2022

NCAA Tournament 2022: B/R Expert Predictions for First Round of Men's Tournament

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    Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
    Duke coach Mike KrzyzewskiJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    With the First Four of the 2022 men's NCAA tournament complete, it's officially time to dive all the way into the first-round matchups.

    Thirty-two games over the course of about 36 hours. So many bracket implications. So many things to bet on. And so very much to consider in advance of the two greatest days on the sports calendar.

    I've spent most of my waking hours since the selection show poring over these matchups, searching for any and every spot where an underdog might have an advantage or where the predictive analytics/betting lines seem to be missing something significant.

    For each of the 32 games, we'll briefly sum up what it would take for each team to win before also offering up a spot where you might consider placing a wager.

    And, for the record, I did bet on everything suggested, with the exception of the games in my home state (for which I'm not allowed to make any wagers for who knows what legal reason). That doesn't mean the suggestions will actually turn a profit, but I do have quite a bit of skin in the game.

No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

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    Ohio State's E.J. Liddell
    Ohio State's E.J. LiddellJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola-Chicago (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Ohio State might be the major program in this one, but Loyola-Chicago has three times as many NCAA tournament wins as Ohio State dating back to 2018.

    Ohio State Wins If: More than just E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham show up. That inside-outside duo has been great, combining for 35.6 points per game in conference play. But everything beyond Liddell and Branham has been a question mark all season long. In the B1G tournament loss to Penn State, the duo had 41 and the rest of the roster had 27. With their mediocre defense and Loyola-Chicago's proven history of success in this tournament, it's going to take much more than just two guys to beat the Ramblers.

    Loyola-Chicago Wins If: Late-season Ohio State shows up. The Buckeyes were miserable down the stretch, losing four of their last five games against Nebraska, Penn State, Maryland and Hunter Dickinson-less Michigan. They didn't just back into the tournament; they free-fell into it. And Loyola-Chicago is plenty good enough to feast on a defense that hasn't been able to stop anything in nearly a month.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Loyola-Chicago -110 moneyline. This one is currently listed as a pick 'em, but Loyola-Chicago should really be the favorite. The Ramblers are a bit better in the predictive metrics, and they certainly come into the dance with more momentum than the Buckeyes. And before you worry about the whole "11 days off between games" factor for Loyola, keep in mind that Arch Madness always ends early, and this team fared more than fine in both 2018 and 2021.

                     

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Loyola-Chicago

    Kerry Miller: Loyola-Chicago

    Joel Reuter: Loyola-Chicago

No. 2 Auburn Tigers vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State Gamecocks

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    Auburn's Walker Kessler
    Auburn's Walker KesslerButch Dill/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 12:40 p.m. ET (truTV) in Greenville

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Two schools from Alabama make the trip to South Carolina with the SEC squad much more likely to advance to the second round.

    Auburn Wins If: It leans on the big men. Jacksonville State does not have much size, so 6'10" Jabari Smith Jr. and 7'1" Walker Kessler should be even more unstoppable than they usually are. Feel free to let KD Johnson and Wendell Green do their thing in fast-break situations in a game where Auburn should have quite a few steals, but make sure the bigs get touches on the majority of half-court situations.

    Jacksonville State Wins If: Auburn's issues away from home are actually that bad. The last time the Tigers won a game away from home by more than two points in regulation was more than two full months ago. For whatever reason, their offense does not travel worth a darn. And Jacksonville State does have the three-point prowess (38.8 percent) to pull off a stunner if the Tigers go out and average less than a point per possession.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Auburn -15.5. The Tigers would love to silence all the people like myself who keep pointing out their shortcomings outside of Auburn Arena. A convincing win over Jacksonville State wouldn't do much to change things, but they'll still want to blow this one wide open early on just to keep those "here we go again" feelings at bay.

                

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Auburn

    Kerry Miller: Auburn

    Joel Reuter: Auburn

No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. No. 14 Montana State Bobcats

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    Texas Tech's Bryson Williams
    Texas Tech's Bryson WilliamsEric Gay/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Montana State (West Regional)

    Details: Friday at 1:45 p.m. ET (TNT) in San Diego

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Big 12 teams occasionally figured out how to score on Texas Tech, but the Big Sky champion probably won't be so lucky.

    Texas Tech Wins If: Montana State actually thinks it can "out-physical" the Red Raiders. The Bobcats don't force many turnovers, but they average a combined 38 fouls drawn/committed. In other words, this underdog doesn't shy away from contact, which might have been a nice little X-factor against any team other than Texas Tech, which will happily push you around in a 1980s Big East type of battle. TTU's elite defense should rule the day.

    Montana State Wins If: It shoots well while Texas Tech has one of those "can't buy a bucket" nights that seem to come up every few weeks for the guys from Lubbock. The Bobcats can definitely hit some threes, and Tech's defense does allow a lot of shots from the perimeter on a nightly basis. If any No. 14 seed is going to seriously threaten to pull off the upset, this could be the game. 

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 132.5. Texas Tech's last eight games have had an average total of 120.8 points, and those were against much better offenses than what Montana State is bringing to the table. This game has 68-54 written all over it.

                    

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Texas Tech

    Kerry Miller: Texas Tech

    Joel Reuter: Texas Tech

No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers vs. No. 14 Yale Bulldogs

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    Purdue's Jaden Ivey
    Purdue's Jaden IveyDoug McSchooler/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Yale (East Regional)

    Details: Friday at 2 p.m. ET (TBS) in Milwaukee

    One-Sentence Synopsis: After sitting out the 2020-21 season, the Ivy League hopes to be responsible for the fourth mid-major to knock Purdue out in the first round in the past decade. 

    Purdue Wins If: The offense does its thing against a mediocre Yale defense. After looking completely unstoppable for much of the first three months of the season, Purdue's offense hasn't been quite the same as of late. But this could/should be where the Boilermakers wake up and have one of those 90-point performances that were commonplace early in the year.

    Yale Wins If: It outsmarts Purdue. The Bulldogs don't seem like much of a threat here. They don't have the size to deal with Zach Edey. They don't have the athleticism to stay in front of Jaden Ivey. And they got destroyed by Auburn, Saint Mary's, Seton Hall and Iona earlier this season. But maybe these Ivy League brains can figure out a way to neutralize an opponent that should score at will.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Over 143. With a 16-point spread, Vegas is suggesting the final score will be 79.5 to 63.5. But there's no way Purdue is scoring less than 80 in this one, and there's no way I'm trusting the Boilermakers defense to hold anyone below 64. Instead of 80-64, I see this as more of a 90-74 type of affairwhich will be a breath of fresh air juxtaposed with Texas Tech vs. Montana State.

                      

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Purdue

    Kerry Miller: Purdue

    Joel Reuter: Purdue

No. 2 Villanova Wildcats vs. No. 15 Delaware Blue Hens

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    Villanova's Collin Gillespie
    Villanova's Collin GillespieFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Delaware (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 2:45 p.m. ET (CBS) in Pittsburgh

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Villanova is 11-0 against Delaware over the past 30 years, although the Blue Hens did give the Wildcats a run for their money in the last meeting (Dec. 2019).

    Villanova Wins If: Threes are falling. This will, per usual, be one of the primary winning formulas for Villanova throughout the NCAA tournament, as the Wildcats take 46 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. And they should really be successful in this one against a Delaware team that allows opponents to shoot 35 percent from downtown. Davidson and Iona shot a combined 24-of-44 (54.5 percent) against the Blue Hens.

    Delaware Wins If: Its defense treats the NCAA tournament as it did the CAA tournament. Delaware held each of its three opponents last week to 56 points or fewer, playing its best/luckiest defense at the most important time of the year. If the Blue Hens can also hold the Wildcats to 56 points or fewer, a relatively rare 15-over-2 upset could happen.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Villanova over 75.5. I'm having a hard time talking myself into anything in this game, but I do think Villanova hits at least 15 three-pointers, getting itself into a rhythm after a bit of a tough shooting week in the Big East tournament.

                     

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Villanova

    Kerry Miller: Villanova

    Joel Reuter: Villanova

No. 7 USC Trojans vs. No. 10 Miami (FL) Hurricanes

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    USC's Isaiah Mobley
    USC's Isaiah MobleyLeon Bennett/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Miami (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 3:10 p.m. ET (truTV) in Greenville

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Two schools renowned much more so for their football than for their basketball will square off for a spot in the round of 32.

    USC Wins If: It utilizes a significant size advantage. Four of USC's six main players are 6'9" or taller and comprise one of the tallest lineups in the country. Miami, on the other hand, is much more of a small-ball team that struggles both on the glass and at defending two-point attempts. USC should dominate this game down low.

    Miami Wins If: The turnovers make up for the size disparity. You might recall Miami racked up 15 steals in its marquee win over Duke. It also had 10 steals and made 13 triples in the subsequent win over North Carolina. The Hurricanes can flip the script by dominating outside of the paint, and USC did just commit 22 turnovers in the Pac-12 quarterfinals against Washington.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: USC -2. As far as KenPom's predictive metrics are concerned, the only at-large team worse than Miami is Rutgers. With the exception of forcing turnovers, the Hurricanes defense is quite bad. As long as the Trojans do the smart thing and pound the paint, they might win by double digits.

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: USC

    Kerry Miller: USC

    Joel Reuter: USC

No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Alabama's Jaden Shackelford
    Alabama's Jaden ShackelfordMark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 6 Alabama vs. No. 11 Notre Dame (West Regional)

    Details: Friday at 4:15 p.m. ET (TNT) in San Diego

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The controversial selection for the last spot in the tournament field looks to silence the haters by winning a second game.

    Alabama Wins If: Threes are falling. Alabama ranks 12th in the nation in three-point field-goal rate but 305th in three-point percentage. The Crimson Tide will jack up at least 30 shots from the perimeter, but let's see if Jaden Shackelford and Co. can actually hit more than 10 of them. And to that end, Notre Dame does a pretty good job at defending the perimeter.

    Notre Dame Wins If: Paul Atkinson Jr. keeps playing like Luke Harangody. Notre Dame's power forward had just five points in the ACC tournament loss to Virginia Tech, but he was unstoppable in the paint against Rutgers, going for 26 points, including the game-winning put-back in double overtime. Outside of Charles Bediako blocks, Alabama's interior defense hasn't been impressive.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Notre Dame +160 ML. Two reasons here, and they have nothing to do with the matchup. No. 1 is that Alabama has lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi State and Missouri since it last beat a tournament team away from home. No. 2 is that one of the play-in game winners reaches the second round almost every year. Getting underdog odds on this Fighting Irish moneyline is just too nice to pass up.

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Notre Dame

    Kerry Miller: Notre Dame

    Joel Reuter: Alabama

No. 6 Texas Longhorns vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Texas' Timmy Allen
    Texas' Timmy AllenKathleen Batten/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (East Regional)

    Details: Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET (TBS) in Milwaukee

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Surprise ACC tournament champion takes on a team that surprisingly only finished in fourth place in the Big 12.

    Texas Wins If: It's a physical, defensive grind. It'll certainly be a slow-paced game. Both of these teams rank outside the top 340 in adjusted tempo. But slow doesn't necessarily mean scrappy, and the Longhorns would be much better off if it is. They have the better defense, and Chris Beard has the track record for winning those types of ball games.

    Virginia Tech Wins If: That three-point flame continues burning. Virginia Tech shot 42.7 percent from the perimeter in winning the ACC tournament, although that's nothing compared to the five-game stretch from late January into early February in which the Hokies went 66-of-124 (53.2 percent) from downtown. When Hunter Cattoor, Storm Murphy and Co. catch fire, good luck. And it's not like Texas has an offense built for keeping pace in a shootout.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Virginia Tech +1. If you want to just take the Hokies moneyline at -105 instead of going +1 with a -110 line, good for you. I've seen that one-point underdog lose by exactly one too many times and I'll take the push if it happens. But I do like the Hokies to win this game. 

                    

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Virginia Tech

    Kerry Miller: Virginia Tech

    Joel Reuter: Virginia Tech

No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No. 13 Chattanooga Mocs

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    Illinois' Kofi Cockburn
    Illinois' Kofi CockburnMichael Allio/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Chattanooga (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 6:50 p.m. ET (TNT) in Pittsburgh

    One-Sentence Synopsis: After winning an incredible SoCon championship game, Chattanooga looks to fulfill its potential as a Cinderella by toppling Illinois.

    Illinois Wins If: Kofi Cockburn imposes his will. Title contenders with multiple talented big men have been able to cause problems for Cockburn. Chattanooga doesn't fit that description. In fact, per KenPom, the Mocs have had a 6'7" forward (either Josh Ayeni or KC Hankton) at the 5 for more than 40 percent of minutes played over the past five games. Try to do that for even five minutes with Cockburn on the floor and he could score 20 in a heartbeat. Once he gets Silvio De Sousa into foul trouble, it's game over.

    Chattanooga Wins If: Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste both go off. And I mean off. Combining for 40 isn't going to cut it. They might need the 59 points that Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor had for Oral Roberts against Ohio State last year. But it's possible against an Illinois defense which has had some lackluster performances this season.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Illinois -7.5. I don't buy the Illini as a title contender, but I do believe in them to take care of business against the Mocs. Put Chattanooga against any of the other No. 4 seeds or any of the No. 5 seeds, and I'm probably picking the upset. I just don't like this matchup for them. Not only is Cockburn going to feast, but the Mocs allow a lot of three-point attempts, which is where Illinois can really hurt you.

                 

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Illinois

    Kerry Miller: Illinois

    Joel Reuter: Illinois

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 15 Cal St. Fullerton Titans

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    Duke's A.J. Griffin
    Duke's A.J. GriffinJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Cal St. Fullerton (West Regional)

    Details: Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET (CBS) in Greenville

    One-Sentence Synopsis: From here on out, every game could be Mike Krzyzewski's lastthough no one really expects Duke to lose this one.

    Duke Wins If: It starts making perimeter shots again. Duke often couldn't buy a triple in the ACC tournament, shooting a combined 20-of-71 (28.2) from deep in Brooklyn, this after shooting 40.9 percent over its final 10 games of the regular season. The Blue Devils should get back on track against a Titans team that ranks second-to-last in three-point defense among teams that made the tournament. Set up AJ Griffin early and often and cruise from there.

    Cal St. Fullerton Wins If: It can somehow turn being undersized into an advantage. Miami isn't very big, and it beat Duke by forcing all sorts of turnovers. Virginia Tech isn't big and beat Duke by raining threes. Fullerton doesn't excel in either of those areas, but if it can find a way to render Mark Williams obsolete, maybe there's some VCU/Lehigh/Mercer potential for a first-round upset of the Blue Devils.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Cal St. Fullerton +18.5. Duke is extremely likely to win, but KenPom has this one projected for a 14-point win. We rarely see Vegas differ from Pomeroy by more than maybe two points, but all hail the power of public money pouring in on Duke in March. And if you really believe in Pomeroy's projections, maybe go with Fullerton on a +14.5 alternate spread for a payout of +165.

                       

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Duke

    Kerry Miller: Duke

    Joel Reuter: Duke

No. 6 LSU Tigers vs. No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones

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    LSU's Tari Eason
    LSU's Tari EasonGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 7:20 p.m. ET (TBS) in Milwaukee

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Get your brick-laying jokes ready for this matchup between two of the best defenses and most mediocre offenses in the tournament field.

    LSU Wins If: It wins the rebounding and free-throw battles like it should. Iowa State doesn't rebound well at either end of the floor, but the Tigers are rock-solid on the offensive glass. They also draw a lot of fouls, and the Cyclones do get a little overly handsy while trying to force turnovers.

    Iowa State Wins If: Anyone can hit open jumpers. LSU allows three-point attempts at an alarming ratemost among tournament teams. But do you know who's sitting at second-most on that list? Texas Tech, against whom Iowa State shot a combined 17-of-76 (22.3 percent) this season. The perimeter shots will be there, and the Cyclones can win if Caleb Grill, Aljaz Kunc and Co. can actually hit them for a change.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Iowa State +4. I swore off betting on Cyclones games in mid-February when they, out of absolutely nowhere, shot 67.3 percent from the field against Oklahoma to narrowly ruin the under 127.5 leg of a big parlay. But if you're making me bet, Iowa State +4 seems like the move, if only because who the heck knows what to expect from LSU in its first game under an interim head coach?

                  

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: LSU

    Kerry Miller: Iowa State

    Joel Reuter: Iowa State

No. 1 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 16 Wright State Raiders

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    Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin
    Arizona's Bennedict MathurinJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Wright State (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 7:27 p.m. ET (truTV) in San Diego

    One-Sentence Synopsis: One of the favorites to win the national championship gets its run started against a team that wasn't even one of the favorites to win the Horizon League tournament.

    Arizona Wins If: It treats Wright State like Purdue did. In WSU's only game of the season against a KenPom top-125 team, the Raiders lost 96-52 to the Boilermakers, who just destroyed them in the paint. Zach Edey, Trevion Williams and Caleb Furst each had double-doubles, combining for 52 points and 36 rebounds. Arizona could do something similar with Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo.

    Wright State Wins If: Tanner Holden is even better against Arizona than he was against Bryant. Wright State's star guard went for 37 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday night's victory over the Bulldogs, giving the Raiders their first tournament victory in program history. But to make up for a defense that has been all sorts of awful for most of the season, he'll need to be at least that impactful on Friday night.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Over 156.5. One of those rare cases where they probably couldn't set this total high enough. Arizona may well score 100 by itself.

          

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Arizona

    Kerry Miller: Arizona

    Joel Reuter: Arizona

No. 5 Houston Cougars vs. No. 12 UAB Blazers

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    Houston's Fabian White Jr.
    Houston's Fabian White Jr.Gareth Patterson/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 UAB (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET (TNT) in Pittsburgh

    One-Sentence Synopsis: This UAB team might be better than any of the four double-digit seeds that Houston beat on its way to the 2021 Final Four.

    Houston Wins If: The predictive metrics are right. I noted this about Houston in our 68 team power rankings, but the Cougars have not ranked worse than 10th on KenPom since mid-November. They ended the year at No. 3 in the NET. All the data suggests that this team is a title contender. And yet it took them 34 games to finally get a quality winover a Memphis team to which it had twice lost by double digits already this season. No one knew what to do with this team when trying to project what the selection committee would decide, and now none of us know what to do with this team in our brackets. But the metrics say Houston, big.

    UAB Wins If: Jordan "Jelly" Walker does his thing against a Houston defense that allows a lot of threes. UAB ranks top 20 in the nation in three-point percentage, with Walker accounting for 115 of their makes. And he's one of those guys like Max Abmas from Oral Roberts or Central Michigan's Marcus Keene from a few years ago who can start miraculously draining contested turn-around threes if and when he catches fire.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: UAB +300 moneyline. Even if you're picking Houston in your bracket, +300 on a No. 12 seed is ridiculously good value. No. 13 Vermont is only +180 against Arkansas. Even No. 14 Colgate is only +245 against Wisconsin. And UAB is the best of this year's No. 12 seeds. (Sorry, Indiana.)

                  

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Houston

    Kerry Miller: UAB

    Joel Reuter: Houston

No. 7 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 10 Davidson Wildcats

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    Michigan State's Max Christie
    Michigan State's Max ChristieCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Davidson (West Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET (CBS) in Greenville

    One-Sentence Synopsis: An intriguing first-round matchup pitting Davidson's Foster Loyer against the Michigan State team he left this past offseason.

    Michigan State Wins If: It wins the three-point battle. As many have pointed out in the past four days, Davidson has three snipers who have each made at least 68 three-pointers this season. But do you know what else Davidson has? Horrific defense, especially along the perimeter. And Michigan State has six pretty impressive three-point shooters in its own right. The Spartans aren't as dependent on the deep ball as the Wildcats are, but they could absolutely win this game via that department.

    Davidson Wins If: It dials up the defensive intensity and dominates the turnover battle. There is absolutely nothing separating these teams on KenPom. Michigan State is No. 39 with a rating of +14.94; Davidson is No. 40 with a rating of +14.92. That 0.02 difference is, like, one bucket over the course of the entire season. So one or two extra steals could be the difference against a Spartans team that always seems to struggle with turnover issues.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Yes OT +950. One more overtime dart for the road, but why not with no separation whatsoever between these teams? Heck, if I could bet on multiple overtimes in this one, I'd probably do it.

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Michigan State

    Kerry Miller: Michigan State

    Joel Reuter: Michigan State

No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 14 Colgate Raiders

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    Wisconsin's Johnny Davis
    Wisconsin's Johnny DavisJohn Fisher/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Colgate (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:50 p.m. ET (TBS) in Milwaukee

    One-Sentence Synopsis: After a close call against Tennessee in 2019 and another against Arkansas last year, does Colgate break through to pull off a stunner against Wisconsin?

    Wisconsin Wins If: Johnny Davis goes all "National Player of the Year" against a bad defense. Davis has had some duds in recent weeks, but did you know that this will be the second-worst defense he has faced since Nov. 13? And against the worst one, he had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists vs. Illinois State after going 18 days in between games played. He should destroy Colgate.

    Colgate Wins If: It simply out-scores Davis from distance. Colgate shoots better than 40 percent from three-point range on the season and has been especially hot as of late. In their last eight games, the Raiders are at 44.6 percent and averaging 10.3 makes. Wisconsin does have a considerably above-average defense, which has held 27 straight opponents below 10 triples, but Colgate has to give it the ol' college try anyway.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Over 139. In previous years, this total in a Wisconsin game would have been laughably high. But the Badgers aren't as good on defense as they used to be, and they play at a quicker tempo. Games in the 130s were commonplace this season for them, and they should both score and allow more threes than usual in this game.

                      

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Colgate

    Kerry Miller: Wisconsin

    Joel Reuter: Wisconsin

No. 8 Seton Hall Pirates vs. No. 9 TCU Horned Frogs

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    Seton Hall's Kadary Richmond
    Seton Hall's Kadary RichmondFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 TCU (South Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:57 p.m. ET (truTV) in San Diego

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Much to the chagrin of everyone on a deadline for Round 1 recaps and/or Round 2 previews, this Seton Hall-TCU nightcap is too close to call and might need an extra five-minute period or two.

    Seton Hall Wins If: It dials up the ball pressure. TCU's sky-high turnover percentage is at least a little bit inflated by the fact that it leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage, thus playing longer possessions than most teams. But the Horned Frogs still average 14.5 giveaways per game, which is pretty bad. If Kadary Richmond and Myles Cale go hunting for steals, they can get a few and alter the trajectory of the game.

    TCU Wins If: It figures out how to score in the paint against this Seton Hall defense. At 7'2", Ike Obiagu is one of the best rim-protectors in the country, and 6'10" Tyrese Samuel isn't exactly waving guys through to the hoop when he spells Obiagu. The Pirates rank top 20 in both two-point percentage and block percentage, but with terrible three-point and free-throw percentages, TCU needs those deuces in order to do any real scoring.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 129.5. We just covered the problem TCU is going to have with getting the ball into the hoop, but Seton Hall's offense isn't any better. And I'm not sure how to factor this into expectations, but Seton Hall playing about 2,800 miles from home in the latest tipoff of the night sure feels like the type of thing that can lower a team's offensive ceiling.

                  

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Seton Hall

    Kerry Miller: TCU

    Joel Reuter: TCU

    Odds via DraftKings and accurate as of Tuesday night.

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No. 6 Colorado State Rams vs. No. 11 Michigan Wolverines

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    Colorado State's David Roddy
    Colorado State's David RoddyAAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Michigan (South Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS) in Indianapolis

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Start thinking about your excuses to leave work early, because this Thursday opener may well be the best game of the entire first round.

    Colorado State Wins If: Shots are falling. Michigan isn't going to force many turnovers, but it also isn't going to allow many second chances. That means a lot of possessions in which Colorado State gets off exactly one shot. And for a team that ranks top 20 in the nation in effective field-goal percentagefacing a Wolverines defense that isn't anything specialthat should bode well. However, we'll see how David Roddy and Co. stroke it in this early start.

    Michigan Wins If: Its recent win-loss trend continues. Michigan's schedule has been a win-loss-win-loss yo-yo for more than a month now, never stringing together multiple wins or losses. But the most recent result was a loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. So, that means the Wolverines are due for a win? It's the three-point defense that dictates that trend, though. Last three wins? Opponents shot 32.0 percent. Last three losses? 56.9 percent. So, once again, it's all about Colorado State's jumpers.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Michigan -2.5. This game feels like a coin flip, but Michigan doesn't play in buzzer-beaters. Only three of its games have been decided by fewer than five points. And if there's one thing I've learned in my lifetime of filling out brackets, it's to never trust the Mountain West. Love the Rams and love Roddy, but Hunter Dickinson and Co. win by at least two possessions.

    (Note: It was announced on Wednesday morning that Michigan point guard DeVante' Jones is out for the game due to a concussion. We're going to leave the analysis as is, but let's just say I'm less enthused with the Michigan -2.5 bet I placed on Tuesday.)

           

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Michigan

    Kerry Miller: Michigan

    Joel Reuter: Colorado State

No. 4 Providence Friars vs. No. 13 South Dakota State Jackrabbits

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    Providence's Jared Bynum
    Providence's Jared BynumFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 4 Providence vs. No. 13 South Dakota State (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 12:40 p.m. ET (truTV) in Buffalo

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The luckiest team in the country tries to prove it's more than just luck against the best three-point shooting team in a decade.

    Providence Wins If: It imposes its will against a very bad defense. Much has been made about Providence succeeding this season in spite of having no future NBA players on the roster, but we're still talking Big East players against Summit League players. Nate Watson should feast in the paint. Jared Bynum, Noah Horchler and AJ Reeves should drain their barely contested three-point attempts. But they also let 6-25 Georgetown shoot 13-of-23 from three-point range in an eight-point game at home, so who knows what to expect from Providence?

    South Dakota State Wins If: It stays red-hot. Per KenPom, the Jackrabbits lead the nation in effective field-goal percentage at 59.7. They're also shooting 44.9 percent from three-point range on the year, which currently puts them just ahead of 2014-15 UC Davis (44.7 percent) and 2011-12 Northern Colorado (44.4) for the best mark since 2010-11. They have shot 40 percent or better in 10 straight games. And even though the defense is bad, that didn't stop Oral Roberts from pulling off a much bigger upset last year.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Yes OT +950. Normally I would never mess around with an overtime bet, but how many dramatic Providence finishes do we need to watch to know there's a better than 10 percent chance that literally any Friars game might require (at least) five extra minutes?

                      

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: South Dakota State

    Kerry Miller: South Dakota State

    Joel Reuter: South Dakota State

No. 8 Boise State Broncos vs. No. 9 Memphis Tigers

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    Boise State's Marcus Shaver
    Boise State's Marcus ShaverRick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 8 Boise State vs. No. 9 Memphis (West Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 1:45 p.m. ET (TNT) in Portland

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The underseeded Mountain West champions take on a Memphis Tigers squad that might finally be who we thought they'd be.

    Boise State Wins If: The geography matters. For teams on the Nos. 8/9 lines, there's no telling where you'll end up playing. But there are going to be a good number of Boise State fans making the less-than-seven-hour drive to Portland to watch their Broncos play what they hope is two games. Beyond that, Boise State is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, which should at least somewhat neutralize a Memphis frontcourt that thrives on creating second chances.

    Memphis Wins If: It avoids the careless mistakes. Turnovers have been a major issue for the Tigers since early November. They've improved a little bit since the beginning of February, but they're still averaging more than 14 giveaways per game over the last six weeks. And while Boise State doesn't get many steals, it does force quite a few turnovers. (Drawing charges, balls thrown out of bounds, shot-clock violations, etc.) If turnover margin isn't a thing we're talking about at the end of the game, though, I suspect Memphis will win, because it is the more talented team and has tapped into that preseason top 15 hype as of late.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 133.5. In six games played against SMU and Houston in the past two months, Memphis' average total was 127.2. The Tigers love to get out and score in transition when they can, but Boise State both loves to draw out defensive possessions and is an average shooting team. This feels like a 64-61 type of ball game to me.

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Memphis

    Kerry Miller: Memphis

    Joel Reuter: Boise State

No. 1 Baylor Bears vs. No. 16 Norfolk State Spartans

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    Baylor's Flo Thamba
    Baylor's Flo ThambaEric Gay/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Norfolk State (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 2 p.m. ET (TBS) in Fort Worth

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The reigning national champions take on a team that lost by 40 at Xavier in its only game against a major-conference foe.

    Baylor Wins If: The injury bug stays away. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (knee) is out for the year, and we haven't seen LJ Cryer (foot) in 11 of the past 12 games. Baylor is more than scraping by for now, but if anything else happens, this roster situation gets dicey in a hurry. If the current seven gets through this game unscathed, though, so should Baylor.

    Norfolk State Wins If: It becomes a war of attrition. The Spartans are a physical team that will go at least eight-deep, if not 10-deep in every game. They want to draw fouls, and they don't much mind committing them. And if this is a whistle-fest, it's at least fair to wonder how well Baylor holds up, especially if it's Flo Thamba getting into foul trouble. But even if the Bears are forced to play eighth man Jordan Turner for the first time since Feb. 21, they should still be OK.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 138. I don't really buy into Norfolk State's defensive field-goal percentages (they rank second nationally in opponent field-goal percentage and ninth in opponent three-point percentage). Pretty sure that's primarily a product of the MEAC ranking 29th in effective field-goalG percentage. But for a Baylor team down to a seven-man rotation, this isn't a style-points game, it's a stay-healthy game. Once things are well in hand, the Bears will hand the reins to the bench-warmers and tell them to just run out the clock. This should be a 73-54 type of game.

                

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Baylor

    Kerry Miller: Baylor

    Joel Reuter: Baylor

No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers vs. No. 14 Longwood Lancers

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    Tennessee's Kennedy Chandler
    Tennessee's Kennedy ChandlerChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Longwood (South Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 2:45 p.m. ET (CBS) in Indianapolis

    One-Sentence Synopsis: In its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, Longwood is hoping to benefit from a well-documented history of Rick Barnes' early exits from the NCAA tournament.

    Tennessee Wins If: The defense does its thing. Tennessee excels at forcing turnovers and is well above average in the blocked shots department, while Longwood has average ball security and is terrible in terms of getting shots blocked. The Volunteers should be able to frustrate the Lancers on defense and then win the game in the paint on offense.

    Longwood Wins If: It rains in threes. And I mean pours. But this team can do that. Both DeShaun Wade and Isaiah Wilkins are excellent weapons for the sixth-best three-point shooting team in the country. Longwood has shot at least 50 percent from downtown in four of its last five games, and Tennessee does go through some occasional serious droughts on offense. 

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: First half over 62. Either Longwood is going to get into an early rhythm with three-pointers or Tennessee is going to get a lot of fast-break opportunities from steals. Either way, I see the first 20 minutes of this game being played at a bit of a frantic pace.

               

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Tennessee

    Kerry Miller: Tennessee

    Joel Reuter: Tennessee

No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 12 Richmond Spiders

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    Iowa's Keegan Murray
    Iowa's Keegan MurrayMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Richmond (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 3:10 p.m. ET (truTV) in Buffalo

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Richmond crashed the field on Sunday afternoon, and it's out to prove that it didn't steal Dayton's spot in the tournament just to get immediately eliminated.

    Iowa Wins If: It handles the on-ball pressure like it should. Iowa has one of the most turnover-averse offenses in the country, averaging just 9.2 giveaways per game despite playing at an above-average pace. Richmond's Jacob Gilyard is one of the best in the nation at generating steals, at 3.1 per game. But if he's not a factor on defense, Iowa's highly efficient offense should gradually put this game out of reach.

    Richmond Wins If: Gilyard continues to dominate on both ends of the floor. He's usually not that much of a scorer, but with the end of his five-year college career on the line, Gilyard put up 32 points against VCU and 26 against Davidson in the A-10 tournament. He also averaged 4.0 steals and 3.5 assists during that four-game stay in the nation's capital. If his star somehow shines brighter than Keegan Murray's, we could have a ball game.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Over 151. This one opened at 154.5 and quickly got hammered down to 151, but now the over is mighty enticing. Iowa has averaged 86.4 points over its last 13 games. Granted, there were a pair of 110+ outliers in there, but the Hawkeyes are scoring at least 80 more often than not. And their defense isn't exactly Fort Knox.

                     

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Iowa

    Kerry Miller: Iowa

    Joel Reuter: Iowa

No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 16 Georgia State Panthers

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    Gonzaga's Drew Timme
    Gonzaga's Drew TimmeEthan Miller/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Georgia State (West Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 4:15 p.m. ET (TNT) in Portland

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The favorite to win it all did lose in the first round in 2018, but it would take something miraculous for Georgia State to recreate that historic upset.

    Gonzaga Wins If: Season-long shooting percentages even remotely play to form. In games against D-I competition, Gonzaga is +16.2 in offensive vs. defensive effective field-goal percentage, while Georgia State is -4.6. Among tournament teams, Gonzaga has the best such mark by 4.7 points (over Arizona) and Georgia State has the worst such mark by 2.8 points (under Texas A&M-Corpus Christi). A loss here would be like UMBC-over-Virginia on steroids.

    Georgia State Wins If: It dominates the turnover battle to an outrageous degree. The Panthers do average 4.7 more turnovers forced than committed and have had a few impressive single-game margins, but we're talking, like, plus-18 to even make things interesting. Because, as just noted, this team does not shoot well at all and figures to need a lot of extra field-goal attempts to keep pace.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Gonzaga EVEN moneyline. Yeah, this is one of those "if Patrick Mahomes completes a single pass, you win!" DraftKings promos, but it's not just some random benefit for new users. It's open to everyone (if betting is legal in your state). You can throw up to $50 on it, and you better believe I already did. But if you can't get that, Gonzaga -23.5 is still a fine investment. The Zags have won 15 games this season by at least 25 points.

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Gonzaga

    Kerry Miller: Gonzaga

    Joel Reuter: Gonzaga

No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 9 Marquette Golden Eagles

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    North Carolina's Armando Bacot
    North Carolina's Armando BacotIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Marquette (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 4:30 p.m. ET (TBS) in Fort Worth

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Scoreboard operator will get a workout in a matchup between two teams who like to run and who both leave something to be desired on defense.

    North Carolina Wins If: Armando Bacot does his thing. UNC's big man has 25 double-doubles on the season, while Marquette is minus-134 in rebound margin. He should dominate on both ends of the floor, and the Tar Heels should have little difficulty scoring against a Marquette defense which has allowed an average of 76.5 points over its last eight games.

    Marquette Wins If: It takes advantage of a bad UNC defense. The Tar Heels rarely force turnovers, and in their nine losses, their opponents shot a combined 91-of-199 (45.7 percent) from three-point range. While Marquette isn't prolific from downtown, it does have five more than capable shooters and has made at least 10 triples on 12 occasions. If the Golden Eagles come out firing (and making), things can snowball in a hurry against North Carolina.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: North Carolina -3. These 8/9 games are supposed to be a toss-up, but even after watching the Tar Heels lay some serious eggs throughout the season, I fail to see how a team with Bacot is going to struggle with one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. The Tar Heels were hot until that ACC semifinal loss to Virginia Tech, while Marquette has been leaking oil to the finish line. Give me UNC by a wide margin.

                     

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: North Carolina

    Kerry Miller: North Carolina

    Joel Reuter: North Carolina

No. 5 Connecticut Huskies vs. No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies

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    Connecticut's Adama Sanogo
    Connecticut's Adama SanogoMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 5 Connecticut vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (West Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 6:50 p.m. ET (TNT) in Buffalo

    One-Sentence Synopsis: New Mexico State seeks to end 12-game losing streak in the NCAA tournament at the hands of four-time national champion Connecticut.

    Connecticut Wins If: Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley reign supreme. New Mexico State has solid numbers in rebounding, blocks and two-point attempts, but how much of that is just a product of not having faced more than one or two decent frontcourts all season? We'll find out in a big way, because Connecticut leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage and ranks top five in both block percentage and two-point defense. If Sanogo and Whaley do their thing, Cinderella might get smashed like a pumpkin.

    New Mexico State Wins If: Teddy Allen and Sir'Jabari Rice go on a scoring rampage. In NMSU's best win of the year (vs. Davidson), Allen and Rice combined for 38 points and 11 assists. They also racked up 40 points, five assists and four steals in a solid road win over Washington State. If that duo outperforms R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin, buckle up for an upset.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: New Mexico State +230 moneyline. I'm officially picking Connecticut, but this game is enough of a coin flip that getting a better than 2-to-1 ROI on a New Mexico State W is too good to pass up.

                 

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Connecticut

    Kerry Miller: Connecticut

    Joel Reuter: Connecticut

No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 15 Saint Peter's Peacocks

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    Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe
    Kentucky's Oscar TshiebweIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Saint Peter's (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET (CBS) in Indianapolis

    One-Sentence Synopsis: The Peacocks of Saint Peter's are hoping that Kentucky will be cocky enough to overlook an opening-round trap. 

    Kentucky Wins If: This year is just like every other one. Prior to this dance, Kentucky had been a No. 5 seed or better 28 times and has yet to suffer a first-round loss while on those top five seed lines. And the Wildcats should be able to keep that streak intact, so long as they don't have an absolutely dreadful day from the free-throw line. St. Pete allows more than 21 free-throw attempts per game on average, so expect to see Oscar Tshiebwe taking a lot of one-point shots.

    Saint Peter's Wins If: It saved its best for last. Against D-I opponents, the Peacocks averaged 66.1 points per game and managed more than 77 just once. This is one of the worst shooting and most turnover-prone offenses in the country. But you just never know when a player or two might catch fire, and they do have a respectable defense, should the offense decide to shoulder its half of the load for a change.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 131.5. In two of its final three games of the regular season, Saint Peter's had totals of 98 and 99. Granted, Kentucky is exponentially more capable on offense than Fairfield or Niagara, but the Wildcats are also more likely to limit the Peacocks to 50 points. Before even looking at the line, I had this game at 71-53, or 124 total.

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Kentucky

    Kerry Miller: Kentucky

    Joel Reuter: Kentucky

No. 5 Saint Mary's Gaels vs. No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers

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    Saint Mary's Logan Johnson
    Saint Mary's Logan JohnsonJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 Indiana (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 7:20 p.m. ET (TBS) in Portland

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Indiana is hoping to go First Four to Final Four, while Saint Mary's is hoping the better team wins.

    Saint Mary's Wins If: It limits Trayce Jackson-Davis. The Gaels have an excellent defense that twice in the past month completely shut down Gonzaga's frontcourt tandem of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren. If they can do that to TJDwho scored 29 of the Hoosiers' 66 points against Wyoming on Tuesday nightthat's a massive advantage, as Indiana doesn't have much offensive firepower beyond him.

    Indiana Wins If: It plays good help defense on Logan Johnson and Tommy Kuhse. The backcourt duo for the Gaels loves to penetrate before either calling its own number or kicking the ball back out to the perimeter, but the Hoosiers ate Wyoming's Hunter Maldonado alive when he tried to do that. TJD and Jordan Geronimo are solid rim protectors. Race Thompson makes a substantial impact on defense, too. And if this usually great two-point defense can protect the paint, it should advance.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Saint Mary's -2.5. It's so bizarre to see a blue blood as the No. 12 seed underdog against a mid-major, but it's also bizarre that this line is only 2.5 points. Saint Mary's is a legitimate top-20 team that excels on defense and rarely shoots itself in the foot, while Indiana had no business being in the tournament field eight days ago. 

                 

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Saint Mary's

    Kerry Miller: Saint Mary's

    Joel Reuter: Saint Mary's

No. 8 San Diego State Aztecs vs. No. 9 Creighton Bluejays

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    San Diego State's Matt Bradley
    San Diego State's Matt BradleyPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 9 Creighton (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 7:27 p.m. ET (truTV) in Fort Worth

    One-Sentence Synopsis: If the thing you love most about college basketball is when teams combine for fewer points than most individual NBA teams score on any given night, buddy, are you going to enjoy this one.

    San Diego State Wins If: The metrics were right. KenPom has the Aztecs at No. 22 overall while the Bluejays are down at No. 53. That 31-spot gap is easily the widest among the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups, as well as wider than the 22-spot difference between No. 4 Providence and No. 13 South Dakota State. And the reason for that is Creighton ekes out a lot of close wins while SDSU leans on one of the best defenses in the nation for a 72-48 type of victory every few weeks. And if that defense can capitalize on a Creighton offense still adjusting to life without point guard Ryan Nembhard, this could get ugly.

    Creighton Wins If: It gets more stops in this defensive skirmish. Suffice it to say, these are not the Bluejays of yore, when Doug McDermott and Co. launched all of the three-pointers and played no defense whatsoever. These guys actually had the most efficient defense in the Big East this season and have held five consecutive opponents to 65 points or fewer. San Diego State does have the better defense and figures to create an advantage in turnover margin, but we also didn't expect shorthanded Creighton to blow out both Marquette and Providence in the Big East tournament.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Under 120. Pretty sure this is the lowest total of the entire first round and by several buckets. But they didn't set it low enough. Creighton lost the Big East title game to Villanova by a score of 54-48 (102 total). San Diego State's MWC championship loss to Boise State was 53-52 (105 total). Two great defenses plus two mediocre offenses equals rock fight. No one would be surprised if neither side reaches 60 in this one.

                    

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: San Diego State

    Kerry Miller: San Diego State

    Joel Reuter: San Diego State

No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks vs. No. 13 Vermont Catamounts

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    Arkansas' JD Notae
    Arkansas' JD NotaeMichael Woods/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Vermont (West Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 9:20 p.m. ET (TNT) in Buffalo

    One-Sentence Synopsis: A fun little Disney hypothetical on display as we get to find out whether Pumbaa or Cinderella would win in a fight.

    Arkansas Wins If: It shakes off that 18-point loss to Texas A&M. Up until getting smoked by the Aggies in the SEC semifinals, the Razorbacks were one of the hottest teams in the country and felt like a serious threat to reach the Final Four. You don't hear many people suggesting as much now that they landed as the No. 4 seed in Gonzaga's region, but as long as they play like they did from Jan. 12 through March 11, they should be able to handle Vermont.

    Vermont Wins If: Those field-goal and rebound percentages hold up against real competition. Since the beginning of January, Vermont is shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three-point range with a rebound margin of +8.0 per game. The Catamounts have also stockpiled those statistics in a conference otherwise devoid of teams in the KenPom top 240. In a November loss at Maryland, the 'Mounts shot 35.0 percent from the field and were outrebounded by 15, so we'll find out whether they improved or simply benefited from the strength of schedule.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Arkansas -5. I like this Vermont team, but I just don't see Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu continuing to shoot better than 60 percent inside the arc and better than 40 percent beyond it against a real defense. 

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Arkansas

    Kerry Miller: Arkansas

    Joel Reuter: Vermont

No. 7 Murray State Racers vs. No. 10 San Francisco Dons

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    Murray State's Tevin Brown
    Murray State's Tevin BrownMark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 7 Murray State vs. No. 10 San Francisco (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET (CBS) in Indianapolis

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Two of the best mid-majors square off for a (presumed) second-round showdown with Kentucky.

    Murray State Wins If: San Francisco's tough luck against quality competition continues. The Dons have played six games against tournament teams since early January and were competitive in most of them, but they went 0-6 and just can't seem to get over the hump. These are two very evenly matched teams, so it may well just boil down to who's better at sealing the deal. And in that case, 30-win Murray State gets the nod. 

    San Francisco Wins If: Veteran leadership matters in March. Murray State isn't exactly young, but its main five consists of three sophomores and two juniors. Meanwhile, San Francisco has four seniors and a fifth-year junior in its starting five. If that extra experience gives USF's big three (Jamaree Bouyea, Khalil Shabazz and Yauhen Massalski) a leg up on Murray State's big three (Justice Hill, Tevin Brown and KJ Williams), the Dons will get their first NCAA tournament win since 1979.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Yes OT +950. Yeah, this is my second overtime recommendation on Thursday alone, but there is just so little separating these two teams. Also, there were three overtime games on the first day of the first round last year. This feels like the type of game where neither side leads by more than five points and it takes at least five extra minutes to decide a winner.

    (Note: It was announced on Wednesday afternoon that San Francisco's Yauhen Massalski will miss this game due to an injury. No changes have been made here to account for his absence, but it does seem more likely now that Murray State will win in regulation.)

                   

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Murray State

    Kerry Miller: Murray State

    Joel Reuter: Murray State

No. 4 UCLA Bruins vs. No. 13 Akron Zips

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    UCLA's Johnny Juzang
    UCLA's Johnny JuzangJayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Matchup: No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Akron (East Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 9:50 p.m. ET (TBS) in Portland

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Team from LeBron James' hometown with an 0-4 all-time record in NCAA tournament seeks to end that lifetime drought against a program that has won 11 national championships.

    UCLA Wins If: The 2021 tournament version of Johnny Juzang shows up. The Bruins can probably win this game even without Juzang, but they'll definitely win if he puts up the 22.8 points that he averaged during last year's run to the Final Four. He hasn't been anything close to that over the past month, but maybe he can tap back into his A game now that the "win or go home" pressure is back on.

    Akron Wins If: It stays red-hot from three-point range. During the regular season, the Zips weren't anything that special from three at 34.8 percent. But they couldn't miss in the MAC tournament, connecting on 27-of-59 (45.8 percent). They were above 52.0 percent in two of those three games. It might take at least that much to beat UCLA, which is the much better all-around team.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Akron +13.5. Though Kent State, Ohio or Toledo would have been a much more tempting Cinderella option out of the MAC, it bears noting that Akron doesn't get blown out. The Zips' only loss by 13 or more points came on an evening when they shot 1-of-18 from three-point range against Fordham. They almost won at Ohio State to open the season, and they should at least keep things respectable against UCLA.

                  

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: UCLA

    Kerry Miller: UCLA

    Joel Reuter: UCLA

No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers

32 of 32

    Kansas' Ochai Agbaji
    Kansas' Ochai AgbajiCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Texas Southern (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Thursday at 9:57 p.m. ET (truTV) in Fort Worth

    One-Sentence Synopsis: Texas Southern gets a rare home state advantage in the first round against a No. 1 seed, but that should just mean a shorter trip home after a blowout.

    Kansas Wins If: Nothing terribly out of the ordinary happens. Kansas is way better on offense, substantially better on defense, should win the turnover battle and ought to cruise to an easy win. As long as the Jayhawks don't have an impossibly bad night of shooting, they should be fine.

    Texas Southern Wins If: All those years of aggressive scheduling finally pay off. Dating back to March 2014, Texas Southern has played more games in the NCAA tournament (eight) than it has played at home against nonconference opponents (seven). And the Tigers did pull off a few major road upsets along the way, including beating Florida by 15 this season. But they have yet to finish within 15 points of a first-round opponent during that time, and that streak figures to continue.

    If I Had to Bet on Something...: Texas Southern +21.5. This is Kansas' seventh time as a No. 1 seed dating back to 2010, and four of the previous six first-round games were decided by fewer than 20 points. Only one of those four (64-57 vs. Western Kentucky in 2013) was even remotely close, but I just don't see Bill Self running up the score. The Jayhawks will be in control throughout but will win by 17-19 points.

                  

    Predictions

    David Kenyon: Kansas

    Kerry Miller: Kansas

    Joel Reuter: Kansas

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