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NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Blog
National Championship (Monday, April 8) Preview, Pick

Posted Monday, April 8, 10:05 am ET (all times Eaastern)

9:20 pm 1 Purdue v. 1 UConn (-7, 145.5) - As national championships go, this one appears to be rather obvious. Clearly, the Huskies are the best all-around team in the country. Give credit to Purdue for making it this far (and making up for last year’s first-round disaster), but this is where the redemption tour ends.

The Boilermaker’s big man, Zach Eley, will have to contend with UConn’s own rim protector, Donovan Clingan, who contests just about every shot within six feet of the bucket and has experience against taller foes. However, Clingan isn’t the only weapon the Huskies will use against Eley, whom the Boilermakers depend upon for the bulk of their offense and in the rebounding department.

Eley will likely be hounded by various other UConn defenders, double-teamed when he’s in the lane and will have to fight for position under the hoop. If he gets in foul trouble - not likely, but possible - it’s lights out for Purdue. No matter what, the Huskies have better balance in their starting five and have an x-factor in Alex Karaban, who is the Huskies’ Swiss Army Knife. His line from the semi-final win over Alabama attests to his all-around ability: 4-6 FG, 2-4 3-pointers, 8 rebounds (2 off.), 2 assists, 2 blocks, 14 points.

The Huskies also have two super subs in Hassan Diarra and Samson Johnson. Diarra will be a thorn in Eley’s side and Johnson will sub for Clingan, keeping him fresh, while also supplying a spark (7 points in 10 minutes against Alabama).

UConn is also a better 3-point shooting team than Purdue and is very reliable at the foul line. They are also extremely motivated with controlled emotions under coach Dan Hurley.

Chalk up another national title for the Huskies, their sixth. They can now be spoken of in the same breath as Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, or North Carolina. UConn is not quite at the historic level as UCLA (10 national championships under John Wooden), but they’ve entered the chat.

Rick’s Pick: UConn 74 Purdue 65

Final Four Games (Saturday, April 6) Previews, Picks

Posted Wednesday, April 3, 7:15 pm ET (all times Eaastern)

6:09 pm 11 NC State v. 1 Purdue (-8.5, 145.5) - Possibly the most interesting match-up of the tournament comes with NC State’s hard-nosed defense against the excellence of Purdue’s Zach Edey in the paint, and that’s where it becomes even more intriguing.

State’s DJ Burns is the starting center, and while large, at 6’9” and 275 pounds, he’ll be dwarfed by Edey’s 7’4” frame. Burns has excellent post-up moves for a man his size, but getting shots past the imposing presence of Edey will be a challenge.

The Wolfpack have strung together nine straight wins, including an 84-76 win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship that got their ticket punched to the big dance. They’ve also beaten Duke twice, 74-69, in the conference tourney, and, 76-64, this past Sunday in the South Region final. Their average winning margin in their four tournament games is 10. Their defense and team play is what makes them a dangerous, well-equipped opponent.

Purdue has erased all doubts from last season’s first round ouster and are now focused on winning Saturday night and advancing to the national championship game Monday night. Pudue’s gaudy 33-4 record is second only to UConn’s 35-3 mark at this juncture. They’ve blown away the competition, handling Grambling, 78-50, in the opening round, then demolishing Utah State, 106-67. Their Sweet 16 win over Gonzaga was closer, an 80-68 win, and Tennessee put them to the test in the Elite Eight. Purdue had to fight all the way for a 72-66 victory. Edey had a career-high 40 points despite missing eight of his 22 free throw attempts. Purdue made 21 of 33 free throws (64%) against Tennessee, a potential trouble spot for the Boilermakers.

The game will come down to just how dominant Edey is on the offensive end and whether Burns can be effective when the Wolfpack has the ball. If Burns is doubled - an unlikely scenario, given Edey’s presence inside - he’s an expert passer, capable of finding teammates at the three-point line or cutting to the rim.

NC State will also benefit from their excellent defense. They’ve been holding teams below their seasonal averages throughout the tourney. While the 8.5 point spread isn’t overly generous, it is enough to go with the underdog here, hoping they can keep the game within single digits or even take it right to the Boilermakers. The Wolfpack’s nine-game winning streak is second only to UConn’s 11. The fact that NC State is an 11 seed adds even more flavor.

8:49 pm 4 Alabama v. 1 UConn (-11.5, 160.5) - Anyone who witnessed UConn’s crushing, 77-52, defeat of Illinois in the East Region final knows how dangerous and talented the Huskies are. The game included one of the most remarkable feats in the annuls of sport, a 30-0 run by the Huskies that included the final five points of the first half and the first 25 of the second. Such a display of dominance at such a high level is indeed rare. UConn and Illinois were tied at 23 when the run started. The score was 53-23 before the Illini finally made a shot.

The Huskies are also on a NCAA tournament record run of 10 straight double-digit wins, dating back to last year’s road to the national championship. UConn’s tournament wins this year have come by 39, 17, 30 and 25 points. It’s hard to believe Alabama, even considering their high-scoring style, is going to come anywhere near knocking off the reigning champs, much the less keeping the game within 12 points.

The Crimson Tide comes off an 89-82 victory over Clemson to reach the Final Four. Alabama threw down 16 3-pointers in that win and will likely have to match or exceed that number if they hope to stay within range of the Huskies. Tennessee was outed by Purdue, 72-66, leaving Alabama the lone representative from the SEC, which sent eight teams into the tournament.

Alabama can score in bunches. In their four wins, they’ve scored 109, 72, 89, and 89 points, but their average margin of victory is only 8.25 points. Taking the points because of Alabama’s propensity to score high numbers is very tempting, but college hoops hasn’t seen anything like this UConn team in a long time. The Huskies will likely win by 20 and head to Monday night National Championship. Anything else would be an enormous upset.

Fourth Round Games (Saturday, Sunday, March 30, 31) Previews, Picks

Saturday, March 30, 2024, 12:05 pm ET (all times Eaastern)

Elite 8 - Saturday Games (3/30)

6:09 pm 3 Illinois v. 1 UConn (-8.5, 154.5) - Illinois took out a very good and very game Iowa State crew on Thursday, 72-69. Now they get a crack at tournament favorite UConn, a daunting task, to say the least.

The Huskies have rolled right along through the tourney field, last seen stomping San Diego State, 82-52, in a rematch of last year’s championship. The Aztecs were out-rebounded by UConn, 50-29, including 21 offensive boards by the Huskies, and center Donovan Clingan only played 23 minutes. UConn’s average winning margin thus far is 28.7 points. While the Fighting Illini is a solid team, they’ve faced nothing close to what UConn brings to the game.

In their win over the Dukes, Illinois shot 59%, led by Terrence Shannon Jr.’s 30 points. Don’t expect that kind of efficiency against the Huskies. Illinois may keep this close, but another blowout win by UConn is the more likely result.

8:49 pm 6 Clemson v. 4 Alabama (-3.5, 164.5) - An awesome ACC-SEC match-up arrives from the blown up West bracket. Clemson looked completely focused taking down #2 Arizona, 77-72, leading almost from start to finish. The Tigers were effective on defense, limiting Arizona to 5-for-28 shooting from beyond the arc. Though the winning margin was just five, this was never close.

Alabama went to war with North Carolina, emerging with an 89-87 victory in the round of 16. Alabama’s high-scoring offense matches up well with Clemson’s tight defense. Winning this game will depend greatly on fitness and bench play. Both teams appear to be able to withstand back-to-back tough games. Clemson’s bench has an edge and the Tigers will stay in this until the very end, so taking the points is essential.

Elite 8 - Sunday Games (3/31)

2:20 pm 2 Tennessee v. 1 Purdue (-3.5, 147.5) - The Vols are getting a lot of credit from the oddsmakers as slight underdogs to the Boilermakers. Tennessee took over with a 16-0 run early in the second half in their, 82-75, Sweet 16 win over Creighton and maintained an edge throughout. This is a resilient bunch, led by SEC Player of the Year, Dalton Knecht, who threw down 24 against Creighton.

In Friday night’s win over Gonzaga, Purdue broke free in the second half after leading, 40-39, at the break for a dominant, 80-68, victory. Center Zach Edey scored 27 and pulled down 15 boards. Point guard, Braden Smith, added 14, with 15 assists and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers shot 45% on 3-pointers (9-20).

Tennessee will have to find ways to deny Edey, which will not be easy. Their game against Creighton, which did everything but win, was a useful tune-up. The Vols find ways to win and may upend Purdue’s hopes for a national championship.

5:05 pm 11 NC State v. 4 Duke (-6.5, 142.5) - The Wolfpack absolutely mauled Marquette, 67-58, in their Sweet 16 victory Friday, holding the Golden Eagles to 33% shooting and 13% (4-31) from beyond the arc. The Wolfpack held double-digit leads for most of the game. NC State may be the best defensive team remaining and will give Duke fits in the paint and on the perimeter.

The Blue Devils played a patient, measured game to oust #1 Houston from the South Region, 54-51 in a hotly-contested game that Duke led the final 15 minutes. This one figures to be closer than the line indicates. The 11th-seeded Wolfpack surprised Duke, 74-69, on March 14 in the ACC tournament after losing to them, 79-64, 10 days earlier.

NC State won the conference tourney and have now rung up eight straight wins. They should not be overlooked.

Third Round Games (Thursday, Friday, March 28, 29) Previews, Picks

Tuesday, March 26, 2024, 6:35 pm ET (all times Eaastern)

Sweet 16 - Thursday Games (3/28)

7:09 pm 6 Clemson v. 2 Arizona (-7, 151.5) - The ACC is 8-1 thus far in the tourney. In addition to Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, and NC State all reached the third round. Virginia was ousted in the First Four by Colorado State. The four PAC -12 teams all made it though the first round, but all but the Wildcats suffered defeat in the round of 32, as Washington State, Oregon, and Colorado each fell.

Arizona was an 85-65 winner over Long Beach State and took down Dayton in the second round, 78-68. Once the Wildcats established a lead in both games, they never looked back. Dayton briefly got within three points, but never really threatened after the mid-point of the second half.

Clemson’s wins appear more impressive because both New Mexico (77-56) and Baylor (72-64) came from major conferences. Chase Hunter drives the offense and the whole team is solid defensively. Arizona is a big test for them, but they figure to be in it until the end and possibly upset the Wildcats.

7:39 pm 5 San Diego State v. 1 UConn (-11, 136) - This is a rematch of last year’s national championship game, won by the Huskies in dominant fashion, 76-59. San Diego State was a five seed last year, just as they are this time, but the Huskies were a four in 2023, but this year got the #1 seed overall by winning the Big East regular season and tournament.

UConn easily handled Stetson, 91-52, in the first round and were never threatened by Northwestern (75-58) in the second, at one stage up by 30 points. San Diego State survived a scare from UAB, winning, 69-65 in their opener, and got a break when Yale upended Auburn, The Ivy Leaguers were no match in the second round, falling to the Aztecs, 85-57.

Aztec head coach Brian Dutcher thinks his squad will do better agains t the Huskies this time around despite the game being played in Boston, where a partisan Husky crowd is expected. Jaedon LeDee scored 32 points in the opener and scored 26 with nine rebounds against Yale. The Huskies are playing within themselves. Center Donovan Clingan had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in the first 16 minutes of UConn’s demolition of Northwestern. This should be a quality match-up for a while, but the Huskies appear unstoppable and should pull away late.

9:39 pm 4 Alabama v. 1 North Carolina (-4, 173.5) - After knocking off Charleston, 109-96 in the first round, and the highest-scoring game of the tournament, Alabama got threatened with elimination late in their 72-61 win over Grand Canyon, but didn’t blink. The Lopes took a 58-55 lead with 6:03 to play, but the Crimson Tide cam back for a 62-61 lead at 4:05 and finished with a 10-0 run.

The Tide players showed resilience and maybe gained some respect for the rigors of tournament play. They’ll need both when the meet the Tar Heels, who have torn up the opposition, ripping Wagner, 90-62, in the opening round before knocking out Michigan State, 85-69.

While the Crimson Tide likes to run and gun, they’d better be on target because the Tar Heels play disciplined, no nonsense ball and are capable of running the table from here, not to mention a quarter of the remaining teams are from the ACC while the SEC, which put eight teams into the tournament, have just two left, Alabama and Tennessee.

Carolina should win this one handily.

10:09 pm 3 Illinois v. 2 Iowa State (-1.5, 146.5) - As the line indicates, these two teams are evenly matched, Illinois marched past Morehead State in the opening round, 85-69, the opened some eyeballs with their 89-63 rout of Duquesne to reach the Sweet 16.

Terrence Shannon threw down 30 as the Illini sizzled at 59% from the field. Iowa State crushed past South Dakota State, 82-65, before taking out Washington State, 67-65 in the next round. The Cyclones aren’t dazzling on offense and play heads-up defense. Illinois just looks like the more motivated team at this juncture. They seemed to gain a good level of confidence when they took out Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship and have kept that momentum going.

Sweet 16 - Friday Games (3/29)

7:09 pm 11 NC State v. 2 Marquette (-6, 150.5) - NC State is the lowest seed remaining, but also one of four ACC teams in the third round. While the Wolfpack had a relatively easy time dispatching Texas Tech in the first round with a 11-2 run midway through the second half, they struggled against a determined Oakland (Michigan) squad that stayed close enough to tie the game and force overtime. The Wolfpack eventually emerged with the 79-73 win.

Marquette, which played second fiddle to Big East champs UConn all season, ripped Western Kentucky in the first round, 87-69, then shook off Colorado late for the 81-77 victory. The Golden Eagles are better than their two wins indicate, and the oddsmakers see it the same way. Tyler Kolek scored 21 points in the win over Colorado, plus five boards and 11 assists. Big East teams are 6-0 in the tournament. Marquette should advance.

7:39 pm 5 Gonzaga v. 1 Purdue (-5.5, 154) - Purdue will face its sternest test of the tournament when the meet Gonzaga Friday night in Detroit. The Zags have heavy tournament experience as evidenced by their two 21-point wins, 87-65, over McNeese, and, 89-68, over a depleted Kansas team.

The Bulldogs aren’t the only team winning by he margins. Purdue dumped Grambling, 78-50, before humiliating Utah State, 106-67. Each Edey, likely the national player of the year, scored 30 points and hauled in 21 boards against Grambling and had 23 and 14 in 27 minutes against the Aggies. Gonzaga is a fine team, but this line should be closer to eight or 10. The Boilermakers are just too good.

9:39 pm 4 Duke v. 1 Houston (-4, 134) - Houston may have a problem. While they are the top defensive team in the country, allowing 57.7 points per game, outscoring opponents by 16.4 points per game, Duke has a 13.2-point differential and can score inside and from downtown.

The Cougars didn’t have any issues knocking off 16-seed Longwood in the opening round, but allowed Texas A&M to erase a 13-point lead and force overtime in their second round game, eventually winning, 100-95, not exactly the performance one would expect for the statistical defensive leader.

The Blue Devils smothered Vermont in round one, 64-47, than absolutely demolished 32-4 James Madison, 93-55. Jared McCain nailed eight 3-pointers in the win. Duke has the tournament experience and skill players to send home a #1.

10:09 pm 3 Creighton v. 2 Tennessee (-3, 144) - Tennessee has had consistency issues all season, and they shoed up in the second round, as the Volunteers nearly blew a 12-point lead to Texas, but held on for the 62-58 win. The Vols wrecked St. Peter’s 83-49 in the opening round.

Creighton come out of the Big East, which has won six games without a loss. Only three teams came into the tourney from the conference - Creighton, Marquette, and UConn - whereas the SEC sent eight, and only Tennessee and Alabama remain. One of them - South Carolina - was taken out in the first round by the Bluejays, 87-73. Creighton needed double overtime to advance, downing Oregon, 86-73. With Creighton’s disciplined play and Tennessee’s sometimes sloppy performance, the SEC may find itself with no teams in the tournament before the weekend.

Second Round Games (Sunday, March 24) Previews, Picks

Sunday, March 24, 2024, 10:45 am ET (all times Eaastern)

12:10 pm 10 Colorado v. 2 Marquette (-4, 147.5) - KJ Simpson’s baseline buzzer-beater that led the Buffaloes to a 102-100 win over Florida bounced five times on the rim before dropping. Colorado may need that kind of luck, or shot-making, as they meet the Golden Eagles, who had little trouble with #15 Western Kentucky in the first round. Marquette, tied with Creighton for second in the Big East during the regular season, got a game-high 28 points from Kam Jones. Tyler Kolek contributed with 11 assists and 18 points. Kolek will put the Colorado backcourt to the test with his ball-handling skills.

Colorado previously defeated Boise State, 60-53, in a First Four game. The Buffaloes, seemingly unfazed by the competition, have really put it together late in their PAC-12 schedule, winning eight straight before losing to Oregon, 75-68, in the conference tournament. Oregon was eliminated in the second round by Creighton, losing 87-73 in double-overtime. Oddsmakers believe that Colorado can compete at the highest levels. The PAC-12 has a solid record in the tourney thus far, 6-2. Colorado appears capable of a huge upset here.

2:40 pm 8 Utah State v. 1 Purdue (-11.5, 148.5) - The Aggies will need to contain Zach Edey to make it to the next round. Edey scored 30 points and hauled in 21 rebounds to lead the Boilermakers over #16 Grambling, 78-50. Purdue’s only defect was 13-for-22 shooting from the foul line, which could be an Achilles’ heel in what figures to be a physical game.

Utah State dropped an 88-72 bomb on TCU in their tourney opener, pulling away in the second half. The Aggies’ three-guard offense will need to hit their 3-pointers and keep Purdue on the perimeter. The 11.5 point cushion is doable. The winner meets Gonzaga in the next round.

5:15 pm 12 James Madison v. 4 Duke (-7.5, 148.5) - Duke’s Blue Devils had no problem getting rid of Vermont in the first round, defeating the Catamounts, 64-47, while James Madison did a number on Wisconsin, 72-61. Considering the quality of James Madison’s victory - the never trailed - it’s a surprise the line is this high in favor of Duke. It’s Duke vs. the Dukes. Take the points as this season’s Cinderella squad advances.

6:10 pm 6 Clemson v. 3 Baylor (-4.5, 145) - This figures to be a very heated match-up. In the opening round, Baylor dispatched Colgate with ease, 92-67, as Clemson ousted the Mountain West’s New Mexico Lobos, 77-56, holding the opponent to 30% shooting.

Both teams have consistency issues, so mismatches and tendencies may be amplified. Baylor shot 58% from the field and canned 16 of 30 3-pointers. Don’t expect that kind of performance against the Tigers, who can defend well and also scored in the paint. The ACC has been well-represented in the tourney thus far, with five wins and only one loss (Virginia). The 6th-seeded Tigers may send the Bears back into hibernation.

7:10 pm 12 Grand Canyon v. 4 Alabama (-6, 168.5) - Alabama simply out-shot and out-hustled College of Charleston in their 109-96 opener. Mark Sears led the nation’s highest-scoring offense with 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Alabama averages 90.8 points per outing and has scored 100 or more 10 times this season.

Grand Canyon shocked St. Mary’s late Friday night with a 75-66 no-doubter, expanding a one-point halftime lead with a blowout second stanza, scoring 47 points. The Lopes improved to 30-4 with the win. Never mind that they’re the WAC representative. They way they handled St. Mary’s exuded confidence. The contrast between the Lopes disciplined play and the wide-open offense of Alabama is stark, but the Crimson Tide appears to have too much firepower and is very difficult to slow down.

7:45 pm 9 Northwestern v. 1 UConn (-14, 136) - Donovan Clingan scored 19 points to lead the reigning champion Huskies over Stetson, 91-52, and they probably won’t be tested too severely by Northwestern. The Wildcats needed overtime to upend Florida Atlantic, 77-65, getting 27 points from Ryan Langborg and 22 from Boo Buie.

This probably isn’t the place to look for an upset, though the 14-point spread is tempting. UConn will be relentless the entire 40 minutes and may win by 20 or more.

8:40 pm 9 Texas A&M v. 1 Houston (-10, 134) - Kelvin Sampson has his Houston Cougars on a mission in search of the school’s first national basketball championship. The Cougars last made the Final Four in 2021, but were quickly dispatched by Baylor, 78-59. The made the championship as “Phi Slamma Jamma” in both 1984 and 1985, but were upended by NC state and Georgetown, respectively.

The Cougars’ 86-46 throttling of Longwood was little more than a walkthrough and the largest winning margin in the tournament thus far.

Texas A&M nearly reached the century mark in their 98-83 win over Nebraska, running the Cornhuskers off their feet with 58 first half points. The Aggies hit 13 of 23 3-pointers and out-rebounded Nebraska, 40-28.

It gets a little tougher for Houston in this all-Texas shootout. Maybe they’ll only win by 20.

9:40 pm 13 Yale v. 5 San Diego State (-5.5, 128.5) - Tournament runners-up last season, the Aztecs got a scare for 12th-seeded UAB in the opening round, prevailing 69-65, getting 32 points from Jaedon LeDee. Yale, unimpressed with Auburn’s #4 seeding, took down the Tigers, 78-76, led by John Poulakidas’ 28 points and 6-for-9 shooting three beyond the arc.

The waters get deeper for both squads, but Yale’s motivation may be the deciding factor in another upset for the Bulldogs.

Second Round Games (Saturday, March 23) Previews, Picks

Saturday, March 23, 2024, 11:15 am ET (all times Eaastern)

12:45 pm 7 Dayton v. 2 Arizona (-9.5, 149.5) - Making easy work of 15th-seeded Long Beach State, Arizona cruised to a 85-65 win in its tournament opener.

In their Thursday night meeting, #10 Nevada led #7 Dayton by 17 points, 56-39, with 7:36 to play. Nevada would score only four more points the rest of the game as the Flyers stormed back for a stunning, 63-60, victory. Koby Brea knocked down three 3-pointers and DaRon Holmes II added eight points down the stretch for the win.

It’s doubtful that a similar situation for Dayton would emerge in this contest. The Wildcats may be up by 17 as the second half winds down, but they will probably score more than four points in the last seven minutes. Dayton, while a good enough team, is only in this position thanks to a Nevada team that completely melted down late in the game. Arizona covers, advances.

3:15 pm 5 Gonzaga (-4.5, 151,5) v. 4 Kansas - 30-4 McNeese led Gonzaga for the first 25 seconds of their first-round match-up. After Nolan Hickman hit the first of his three 3-pointers, the Zags led the rest of the game, winning handily, 86-65. Kansas survived a serious threat from 13th-seeded Samford which got a late phantom foul called against them which may have cost them a potential first-round upset.

The Jayhawks committed 18 turnovers and 21 fouls in the game, but shot 60% from the field to slip by the Bulldogs, 93-89. In a match-up of two of the most successful coaches in tourney history, Gonzaga’s Mark Few may have an edge over KU’s Bill Self, with the knowledge that Kansas may wilt under pressure. Gonzaga is back in its familiar Cinderella-like role with a team that appears poised to make a run.

Kansas lost four of their last five games in the Big 12, finished fifth overall, and were blown out by Houston, 76-46 before being eliminated by Cincinnati in the first round the conference tournament, 72-52. The Zags will send them packing with a resounding victory.

5:30 pm 9 Michigan State v. 1 North Carolina (-4, 140.5) - Spartan coach Tom Izzo is legendary for having his teams ready for tourney time as was the case in their Thursday afternoon, 69-51, slaughter of 8th-seeded Mississippi State. Being the #9 seed gets Michigan State an early opportunity at #1 North Carolina.

The Tar Heels easily disposed of Wagner, 90-62, led by Armando Bacot’s 20 points and 15 boards. Carolina took the ACC regular season handily, with a 17-3 mark, so they’re no pushover. Are the oddsmakers giving the Spartans too much credit with the slim 4-point spread? Probably not. It’s March. Look for the upset or at least a close one.

6:10 pm 7 Washington State v. 2 Iowa State (-6.5, 129) - The Cyclones may be the best #2 in the field, ripping South Dakota State, 82-65, in their opener. Washington State held off Drake on Thursday, 66-61, despite shooting just 38% and turning the ball over 13 times.

Iowa State should handle them without too much trouble and win going away.

7:10 pm 14 Oakland v. 11 NC State (-6.5), 146) - Jack Gohlke’s 10 3-pointers kept Kentucky on their heels all night in the first big upset of the tournament, doing the #3 seed in the South Region, 80-76 in the opening round. The Golden Grizzlies may not be done yet, as they face an up-and-down NC State squad that outlasted Texas Tech, 80-67.

The Wolfpack won the ACC tournament to get into the dance, and has been on a roll, now with six straight wins after losing four straight down the stretch in conference play. Ben Middlebrooks has emerged as a star off the bench. His career-high 21 points were instrumental in the opening round win.

This game could go either way, which means those 6 1/2 points may come in handy.

8:00 pm 7 Texas v. 2 Tennessee (-6.5, 146) - After losing their final home game to Kentucky and being bounced from the SEC tournament in their first game, the Vols took the added time out to regroup and work out some issues, which resulted in a dominant, 83-49 win over Saint Peter’s Thursday night. SEC Player of the Year, Dalton Knecht, dropped in 23 points to lead all scorers.

The Longhorns held First Four winner, Colorado State, to 11 first half points and easily outpaced the Rams, 56-44. Texas finished the Big 12 regular season at 9-9, which doesn’t bode well against what is probably the best team remaining from SEC (5 of their 8 entrants lost in the first round). Additionally, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes coached at Texas years ago, and would relish a win over his former school. The Vols will win this big if they bring their “A” game.

8:40 pm 11 Duquesne v. 3 Illinois (-10.5, 148) - Duquesne upended 6th-seeded BYU, 71-67, in a nail-biter, to advance to the second round. The Dukes didn’t do anything special except play hard and make clutch shots in crunch time. They held BYU to 39% shooting, but were out-rebounded, 35-29, but cashed 7 of 18 threes.

The Illini put an 85-69 beatdown on Morehead State, as expected, helped by 26 points from Terrence Shannon Jr. and a triple-double by Marcus Domask (12 points, 11 boards, 10 assists) on Thursday and have all the weapons. Coming out of the Big 10 (4-2 thus far) after finishing second to Purdue, the Illini won the conference tournament with a 93-87 win over Wisconsin. Illinois may run the Dukes out of town.

9:40 pm 11 Oregon v. 3 Creighton (-5, 146) - The Ducks got 40 points from Jermaine Cousinard and blew by South Carolina’s Gamecocks in a 87-73 round one win. Oregon shot an amazing 60% from the field, led by Cousinard’s 14-22 (5-for-9 3s) shooting.

Creighton’s guards should manage to keep Cousinard in check after their easy, 77-60 win over Akron. The 24-9 BlueJays, which finished tied for second in the Big East, hit 10 of 17 3-pointers, but were led by center Ryan Kalkbrenner’s 23 points. The Ducks may not have an answer for the 7’ 1” senior. Watch the birdie as the Bluejays fly by the Ducks and advance to the Sweet 16.

Friday Round 1 Game Picks / Thursday Notes

Thursday, March 21, 2024

12:15 pm 9 Northwestern v. 8 Florida Atlantic (-3, 142.5) - No surprise here. The Owls are usually a hoot in the tournament. Northwestern comes out of the Big 10, which may be the best conference overall. Owls win a close one but manage to cover.

12:40 pm 14 Colgate v. 3 Baylor (-14, 138.5) - Colgate has won four straight Patriot League championships, so they’re not to be overlooked for tournament experience. If Braeden Smith can control tempo, the Raiders have a shot at a huge upset. 14 points look yummy.

1:45 pm 12 UAB v. 5 San Diego State (-7, 139) - The Aztecs made it all the way to the championship last season, so that experience suggests they will not bow out early. The UAB Blazers will probably not be sufficiently prepared for SDSU’s pressure and patient offense.

2:00 pm 15 Western Kentucky v. 2 Marquette (-14.5, 158.5) - The Golden Eagles were second best in the Big East and they’re not a #2 seed for nothing. Winning this by 15 points seems like a no-brainer.

2:45 pm 16 Stetson v. 1 UConn (-26.5, 145.5) - Probably the biggest mismatch in the tournament and the Huskies will make sure everybody sits up and takes notice of the final score in this rout.

3:10 pm 11 New Mexico (-2.5, 152) v. 6 Clemson - Oddsmakers sense an upset, but Clemson guards sense open threes. Lay the points and hope for some roaring Tigers.

4:15 pm 13 Yale v. 4 Auburn (-12.5, 140.5) - The Elis aren’t likely to punk the Tigers. Auburn has too much size, depth, and SEC experience.

4:30 pm 10 Colorado v. 7 Florida (-2, 159) - Coin flip game of the day in this Big 12 - SEC meeting. Heads says Florida wins by 5.

6:50 pm 9 Texas A&M v. 8 Nebraska (-1, 147) - The SEC put eight teams into the tournament, which seems a bit much. Nebraska finished third in the Big Ten and has something to prove here. They’re probably 6-8 points better than the Aggies.

7:10 pm 13 Vermont v. 4 Duke (-12, 132) - the Blue Devils have excellent tournament history. Being a #4 seed puts them in a good spot. Vermont is unlikely to hang with them.

7:25 pm 16 Grambling v. 1 Purdue (-26.5, 139) - Are the Grambling Tigers gritty enough to take on a #1 after their OT win in the First Four over Montana State? How good are the Boilermakers, really? They’re not likely to bow out in the first round, like last season, and should win by maybe 15-18. The pressure is on them every second of this tournament.

7:35 pm 13 Charleston v. 4 Alabama (-9/5, 173.5) - The O/U says this is going to be a lights out from three-point range kind of contest. The Crimson Tide are usually better at football than hoops, but they should run up the score a little here.

9:20 pm 16 Longwood v. 1 Houston (-24, 128) - The Houston Cougars were ranked #1 or #2 nationally for a good portion of the season. They have awesome firepower and come off a humbling, 69-41, loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 championship. They figure to be much more focused here and should roll big time.

9:40 pm 12 James Madison v. 5 Wisconsin (-5.5, 145) - James Madison comes into the tournament on a 13-game win streak on top of their gaudy 31-3 record. Never mind that they played in the Sun Belt. This is a serious team that probably shouldn’t have been an underdog. Upset special looms big here.

9:55 pm 9 TCU (-4, 151) v. 8 Utah State - Mountain West teams have proven vulnerable thus far and the Horned Frogs may just stick it to the Aggies.

10:05 pm 12 Grand Canyon v. 5 St. Mary’s (-5.5, 131.5) - Hey, tomorrow’s Saturday. might as well watch the Gaels rip the Antelopes apart in the second half. Unless you’d rather just go to bed, grandpa.

First Round Notes (Thursday)

Oops! Wolf Pack fans are going to lose sleep over this one. #10 Nevada led Dayton by 17 points, 56-39, with 7:36 to play. Nevada would score only four more points the rest of the game as Dayton stormed back for a stunning, 63-60, victory. Koby Brea knocked down three 3-pointers and DaRon Holmes II added four free throws, a layup and a dunk as he was fouled with 2:01 to play, tying the game and putting the Flyers ahead when he completed the three-point play. After Kenyan Blackshear put Nevada up by one, Nate Santos finished the job with a layup and then a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left to seal the win.

Don’t mess with Sparty. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans blitzed Mississippi State, 69-51 in the first game of the round of 64, holding the Bulldogs to 37% shooting. Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins combined for 34 points, each throwing down three treys. The Michigan State bench outscored the Bulldogs’ 17-7. As usual, Tom Izzo had his kids ready to rock and roll.

With Michigan State and Illinois winning, the Big Ten got off to a 2-0 start on Thursday, while the SEC went 1-3, as Mississippi State, South Carolina both came up short, very short, losing by a combined 32 points, as Oregon mauled the Gamecocks, 87-73. After Kentucky made the SEC 0-3 by losing to Oakland, 80-76, Tennessee came up big, downing St. Peter’s, 83-49.

Meanwhile, the PAC-12 ran the table. Colorado won their First Four match-up with Boise State, 60-53. Arizona was an easy winner over Long Beach State, 85-65, as was 11-seed Oregon, an 87-73 winner over #6 BYU. Washington State completed the Thursday trifecta late in the evening, prevailing over Drake, 66-61.

Thursday Games / Final Four Prediction

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The first thing about the regional bracket breakdown that's plain to see is that the selection committee went out of its way to assure Purdue an easy path to the Final Four. The second most obvious thing is that the selectors dearly want a championship game between UConn and Purdue, matching up the two best big men in the college ranks, Purdue's Zach Edy and UConn's Donovan Clingan, because, as the brackets evolve into the Final Four, East (UConn) plays West and Midwest (Purdue) plays South, so there's zero chance of Purdue and UConn meeting up in a semifinal game.

With the deadline to make entries for various tournament contests rapidly depleting, it's not possible to break down each bracket, but I will offer my best guess at a Final Four and eventual champion.

Here goes: East: #1 UConn / West: #2 Arizona / South: #3 Creighton / Midwest: #1 Purdue

Final Four:
East:West: UConn 74 Arizona 67
Midwest:South: Creighton 80 Purdue 70

Championship: UConn 69 Creighton 63

Round of 64
Thursday games (all times Eastern)

12:15 pm 9 Michigan State (-1, 130.5) 8 Mississippi State - Tom Izzo has plenty of tourney info that he can relay to his troops, but the Spartans were a .500 team in the Big 10 (10-10). The Bulldogs were worse (8-10, SEC), but thumped Tennessee in the conference tourney, 73-56, before losing a tough one to Auburn, 73-66 in the title game. Buh-bye, Tommy.

12:40 pm 11 Duquesne v. 6 BYU (-10, 142) - Don't take the Dukes lightly. It's been a long time since they've been in the tournament, but the kids don't want to go home early. BYU isn't exactly top-tier. Look for the upset.

1:30 pm 14 Akron v. 3 Creighton (-12.5, 141) - Blowout city. Creighton has too much heft inside and are an insider's choice for the Final Four.

2:00 pm 15 Long Beach State v. 2 Arizona (-20.5, 163.5) - See that O/U at 163.5? Arizona may score 100 of that themselves and scare the rest of the tournament field.

2:45 pm 16 Wagner v. 1 North Carolina (-25, 133.5) - Don't even think of putting down a bet on the Tar Heels. Wagner already has a win in hand over Howard (First Four), and should be lathered up and ready to rock. A scare for NC.

3:10 pm 14 Morehead St. v. 3 Illinois (-11.5, 147) - Illinois won the Big Ten championship, so don't think they're not very geared up. Morehead State is a traditional first round loser. The Illini should handle them with ease.

4:00 pm 11 Oregon v. 6 South Carolina (-1, 136.5) - There's a reason the Ducks are #11 seed. The PAC-12 was not deep at all. Gamecocks could really rip them here.

4:30 pm 10 Nevada (-1, 136.5) v. 7 Dayton - Based entirely on the history 7-10 match-ups producing a high number of upsets and having the #10 seed favored, gotta go with the Wolf Pack. But wait, there's more. Nevada has won 10 of their last 12, and lost to Colorado State, 85-78 in the Mountain West championship game.

6:50 pm 10 Colorado State v. 7 Texas (-2.5, 144) - Did somebody say Colorado State in a 7-10 game? Longhorns will get gored.

7:10 pm 14 Oakland v. 3 Kentucky (-13.5, 163) - Kentucky has eyes for bigger things. They're probably not going to let Oakland spoil their plans.

7:25 pm 12 McNeese v. 5 Gonzaga (-6.5, 150) - Not the best Gonzaga team ever, but still a tough out. The line suggests the 30-3 Cowboys are a bit underrated and can run and gun with the best teams in the country. Gonzaga gets bounced early.

7:35 pm 15 S. Dakota St. v. 2 Iowa State (-16, 135.5) - Other than whipping up on former #1 Houston, 69-41, (yes, that's not a typo) in the Big 12 tournament championship, there are plenty of reasons the 27-7 Cyclones can put a huge beat-down on the Jackrabbits.

9:20 pm 15 St. Peter's v. 2 Tennessee (-21.5, 130) - Rick Barnes Vols have had plenty of time to mull over their regular season finale loss to Kentucky and early exit from the SEC tournament losing to Mississippi State, 73-56. They're too good to get bounced here, but they probably won't cover what is the second-highest spread on the board. They might be a little tight and win by 12 or 15.

9:40 pm 11 NC State v. 6 Texas Tech (-5, 145.5) - It's obvious that the ACC isn't what it used to be when the Blue Devils and Tar Heels ruled the roost in college hoops. The Red Raiders tied Baylor for third place in the Big 12 and are 23-10 overall. The Wolfpack put it all together at the end of the season and punched their ticket by winning the ACC tournament, kicking off both Duke and North Carolina in the process. This could be one of the wilder games of the tournament, won by a buzzer beater. Take those five points and pray.

9:55 pm 13 Samford v. 4 Kansas (-7, 153.5) - You have to ask, “why is Samford only getting seven points.” Here's why: the Bulldogs blew away the competition in the Southern Conference, they're 29-5 overall, won the conference tourney and Kansas is pretty beaten up with lots of injuries. Just a hunch, Jayhawk coach Bill Self may make the earliest exit of his career here.

10:05 pm 10 Drake (-1.5, 138) v. 7 Washington State - Here's another #10 favored over the seven seed and it just happens to be a PAC-12 team. The 28-6 Bulldogs have won 10 of their last 11 and won the Missouri Valley tournament to get here. The Cougars actually finished second regular season in the PAC-12 and have a 73-70 win over Arizona to boast. They're a very inconsistent bunch, but can hold up in Omaha? Drake likes to run, Cougars are solid defensively. a real head-scratcher, but Washington State should find a way to win.

March Madness Has Arrived

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

First things first - First Four Games, Tuesday, Wednesday, March 18, 19.

The addition of four play-in games in 2011 has only enhanced the tournament's appeal. From the very start, when VCU knocked off USC, 59–46, and then went on to defeat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and #1-seeded Kansas, advancing to the Final Four, the selection committee knew it had struck gold as fans went berserk over the Cinderella match-up between #11 VCU and #8 Butler.

Butler took out the Rams, and eventually lost in the championship game to UConn. Connecticut won its third national championship, defeating Butler, 53-41, but the story of the year was how underdogs with grit and determination could now navigate through the field and reach the promised land of the Final Four.

Since those historic moments, the First Four has produced its fair share of upsets and excitement, like Tennessee in 2014, or an under-appreciated 2021 UCLA squad that ran all the way to the Final Four only to lose to Gonzaga in OT in a semifinal.

Purdue fans are probably still trying to forget the nightmare that was Fairleigh Dickinson last season, who took out Texas Southern, 84-61, and then plunked the Boilermakers, 63-58, sending home a #1 seed in the first round for only the second time in tournament history (UMBC did it in 2018, trouncing Virginia, 74-54).

Truth be told, in the 13 years of the First Four, last year was the first time two First Four teams won subsequent games, as the Pitt Panthers took out Mississippi State before topping 6th-seeded Iowa State, 59-41. Incidentally, both the Panthers and Knights got bounced in the subsequent round.

Which of the First Four teams will make a run this year?

We're dying to find out. Let the madness begin.

Here's what's cooking in the First Four Match-ups:

Tuesday, 6:40 pm: Wagner Seahawks v. Howard Bison (-3, 128 1/2) - Some mixed feelings about this meeting. Howard finished the regular season well, going 8-2 down the stretch. Wagner, despite a 6-4 record to close out the season, managed five road wins, which bodes well for their chances, plus they're 8-0 against Mid-Eastern foes straight up their last eight games.

The Seahawks also shoot a better percentage from beyond the arc and play solid defense. Despite favortism for the Bison, Wagner will depend on their defense to keep high-scoring Bryce Harris under 15 points. Tough call, but getting three points, Wagner may win it late.

Tuesday, 9:10 pm: Colorado State Rams (-2 1/2, 120 1/2) v. Virginia Cavaliers - The ACC wasn't very deep this season, putting five teams into the tourney, including Tony Bennett's Cavaliers, who are defined by tight defense and low turnovers. By contrast, the Mountain West conference has six teams in the big dance, and Colorado State, like Virginia, made a run through their conference tuornament, losing to upstart New Mexico in the a conference semifinal, 74-61.

Virginia didn't face much in the ACC tourney, topping Boston College in overtime, before falling, again in OT, to NC State, 73-65. Key to the game is the play of Rams' forward Isaiah Stevens, who can dominate. Virginia does well in close games, but the Rams simply have too much firepower and the Cavaliers not enough scoring. Colorado State may run it up a bit on Virginia and should win going away.

Wednesday, 6:40 pm: Grambling State Tigers v. Montana State Bobcats (-4, 135) - Both teams won their respective conference championships to get into the 68-team field. For Grambling State, their appearance in the tourney is their first, so, they may be a little awed atbeing there, but the butterflis should vanish once the action commences. At 17-17, Montana State enters with one of the worst records in the field, but they put together three high-scoring wins in the Big Sky tournament, including a convincing, 85-70, victory over in-state rival, Montana to take home their third straight championship and grab the bid.

The Bobcats have a big edge in experience over the Tigers and they can really light it up. They also go 10 deep, so the bench may play an outsized role. Robert Ford III (15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds) is the best player on the floor. If he has just an average game, the Bobcats should cruise.

Wednesday, 9:10 pm: Colorado Buffaloes (-2 1/2, 140 1/2) v. Boise State Broncos - For the Broncos, Dayton, Ohio is like a second home in March, this being the thrid time they've been in the First Four, losing both prior appearances in 2013 and 2015, the latter losing by a point to host Dayton Flyers.

Colorado is one of just four PAC-12 teams to make the cut, and the weakest of the bunch from a traditionally underperforming conference. Even though they are slight favorites, the Buffs may be looking up at the scoreboard in dismay as the Broncos won six of their last eight, averaging 85 points in their wins.

Though the Broncos were handled by the New Mexico Lobos in the MWC championsip, 76-66, look for them to make their third trip to Dayton a charming one, taking down the Buffs with plenty of inside scoring by Tyson Degenhart and O'Mar Stanley. Besides an advantage inside, guard Chibuzo Agbo hits at 41.7% from three-point range.

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Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through games of April 6

Conf. (#) W L
SEC (8) 8 (TENN, 3), (ALA, 4), (TA&M) 8 (MSST), (SC), (KY), (AUB), (FLA), (TA&M), (TENN), (ALA)
Big 12 (8) 7 (ISU, 2), (KS), (TEX), (BAY), (HOU, 2) 8 (BYU), (TTU), (TCU), (TEX), (KS), (BAY), (ISU), (HOU)
Big Ten (6) 10 (MSU), (ILL, 3), (NU), (PUR, 5) 5 (WIS), (NEB), (MSU), (NU), (ILL)
Mountain West (6) 4 (CSU), (SDST, 2), (USU) 6 (Boise St), (NEV), (CSU) (NM), (USU), (SDST)
ACC (5) 12 (UNC, 2), (NCSU, 4) (CLEM, 3), (DUKE, 3) 5 (UVA), (UNC), (CLEM), (DUKE), (NCSU)
PAC-12 (4) 6 (COLO, 2), (ORE), (AZU, 2), (WSU) 4 (WSU), (ORE), (COLO), (AZ)
Big East (3) 9 (CREI, 2), (CONN, 5), (MARQ, 2) 2 (MARQ), (CREI)
AAC (2) --- 2 (UAB), (FAU)
Atlantic 10 (2) 2 (DAY), (DUQ) 2 (DAY), (DUQ)
West Coast (2) 2 (GONZ, 2) 2 (SMC), (GONZ)
Others (22) 6 (WAG), (GRAM), (OAK), (YALE), (JMU), (GCU) 22 (HOW), (MTST), (MORE), (AKR), (LONG), (WAG), (SDST), (LBST), (STP), (SAM), (VT), (MCN), (DRKE), (STET), (WKY), (COLG), (GRAM), (COFC), (OAK), (JMU), (GCU), (YALE)

Rick's Picks (ATS, Against the Spread):
First Four (3/19-20): 2-2
Thursday (3/21): 7-9
Friday (3/22): 7-9
Saturday (3/23): 6-2
Sunday (3/24): 4-3-1
Thursday (3/28): 3-1
Friday (3/29): 2-2
Saturday (3/30) 1-1
Sunday (3/31) 1-1
Saturday: (4/6): 1-1
Monday (4/8): ????
Total: 34-31-1

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