NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Monday’s games

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Abilene Christian’s Joe Pleasant (32) makes a free throw to give Abilene Christian a 53-52 win over Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday, March 21, 2021.

Mon, Mar 22, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Abilene Christian’s upset of Texas delivered Talking Points a profitable start to the NCAA Tournament.

It all came down to the final game of the round of 64 to determine whether the plays in this project to pick every game got through the first set of games with a winning record. Joe Pleasant’s two free throws in the final seconds ensured that there would be no possibility of a bad beat with Abilene Christian +9 in overtime.

The Wildcats’ 53-52 win over the Longhorns made the record on plays 6-5 going into Sunday’s games — not exactly a windfall but the tournament is long and there are plenty of opportunities still to come. Maybe Abilene Christian can assist in continuing to build the bankroll further into the black because it’s a part of another play in Monday’s action.

Read below for picks on all of Monday’s round of 32 games, separated into three confidence categories and listed in rough order of confidence.

No. 11 seed UCLA -4.5 vs. No. 14 Abilene-Christian, over/under: 134. Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding had more than five days to craft a game plan for a Texas squad that his team matched up great against. Now he has less than a day to try to do the same against a Bruins’ side that creates more matchup disadvantages. UCLA passes and shoots too well to repeat Texas’ mistakes. It’s easier to trust Mick Cronin in this spot who seems to be one of the more underrated coaches in the tournament, which is fitting because the Bruins are continually undervalued. I’m taking them for a third straight game. Play: UCLA -4.5.

No. 1 Michigan -5 vs. No. 8 seed LSU, over/under: 148.5. As a sports bettor, it’s important to recognize your biases, if not completely steer clear of them. I’ve obviously got a bias against LSU, which I’ve picked against in every game since the start of the SEC Tournament and been wrong every time. I’ve got to give it one more go, though. This number just looks too low with Michigan being the far more efficient team all season. Three weeks ago, the Wolverines might have been pushing a 10-point favorite in this matchup. The adjustment is too stark. Pick: Michigan -5.

No. 2 seed Alabama -5.5 vs. No. 10 seed Maryland, over/under: 138.5. Alabama has moved into the No. 1 spot in kenpom.com’s defensive efficiency ratings. Maryland’s offenses tends to go through dry spells already and they might only be more pronounced against Alabama. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, are unlikely to go 5-for-16 on 3-point shots again like it did in a closer-than-it-sounds 68-55 victory over Iona as 17-pint favorites. The Terrapins are solid, but the Crimson Tide should at least be laying 6 points here. Lean: Alabama -5.5.

No. 2 seed Iowa -5 vs. No. 7 seed Oregon, over/under: 147. The Ducks are a popular upset pick, and it’s not difficult to see why. Oregon was healthy and peaking before a premature exit from the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, shoots as well as any team in the nation and now got extra rest with the cancelation of its first-round game. But the real mismatch in this game is Iowa’s offense, which kept clicking to the tune of 1.37 points per possession in a first-round 81-74 win over Grand Canyon, against Oregon’s wishy-washy defense. The Hawkeyes were a play at -3.5, where some sports books opened this line, and would be one again if this line drops but it appears to be going the other way. Lean: Iowa -5.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga -14 vs. No. 8 seed Oklahoma, over/under: 154.5. Some initial sticker shock is natural when seeing a former top 10 team like Oklahoma get this many points. But once you move past that, it becomes clear pretty quickly that it’s justified. Gonzaga continued blowing out expectations in the round of 64, beating the point spread by 11 points in a 98-55 slaughter of Norfolk State where it wasn’t even trying in nearly half of the game. The Sooners are much better than the Spartans, of course, but also shorthanded with swingman De’Vion Harmon out with coronavirus. Lean: Gonzaga -14.

No. 5 seed Creighton -5.5 vs. No. 13 seed Ohio, over/under: 149. Doug McDermott hasn’t covered a game with Creighton in the NCAA Tournament since most of his players were in middle school. That doesn’t hold any predictive value, of course, but it’s just an outburst of frustration considering I feel like I’ve picked the Blue Jays in all of their six straight against-the-spread losses. There’s a possibility that the banality about needing defense in March is true and McDermott’s offense-heavy teams don’t translate well. Problem is, Ohio’s defense isn’t any better. I’m still off of Creighton until further notice — it probably deserved to lose by a point instead of win by a point against UC-Santa Barbara in the first round —but this would need to get back to 6 to take Ohio. Guess: Ohio +5.5.

No. 3 seed Kansas +1.5 vs. No. 6 seed USC, over/under: 134.5. I expected USC to win this game coming into the tournament. I didn’t expect the betting market to expect USC to win this game coming into the tournament. Kansas has improved dramatically and probably deserves more of a power-rating boost than it’s getting here. The Jayhawks match up poorly with Evan Mobley, to be sure, but they’re also tenacious on defense and the best team the Trojans have seen all season. It’s a slim margin but the only way to go is taking points with whichever team is the underdog. Guess: Kansas +1.5.

No. 4 seed Florida State -1.5 vs. No. 5 seed Colorado, over/under: 140. This is the best matchup of the second round, but it might also be the toughest one to call. Colorado has been the more efficient team on the season, but Florida State has higher upside with a roster of at least a couple future NBA players. It’s close enough that the Buffaloes were probably the pick when this line creeped up to +2.5, but with the number falling back down, I’m more comfortable only virtually needing the Seminoles to win outright. Guess: Florida State -1.5.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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