2017 Masters Picks and Props

I had to come out of golf gambling blog retirement for the best tournament of the year. It was also my most profitable last year (+17.68), so it’d feel like a missed opportunity.

Let’s all try to get laid.

Picks: Individual Finishes

Rory McIlroy (Top 5: +180 / Win: +850)

If it’s possible for Rory to go under the radar, it seems like he has the last couple times here. This year, the focus seems to be on DJ and Spieth. Last year, it was Spieth and Jason day. Rory has finished in the top 7 of has last two stroke play events. He needs the Masters win for his career slam and it seems inevitable to happen. He hasn’t missed a cut here since 2010 and has three straight top 10 finishes. The conditions aren’t supposed to be perfect with the rain coming down Wednesday, which plays right into Rory’s hands.

Hideki Matsuyama (Top 5: +450 / Win: +2200)

For a stretch there last fall and winter, Hideki was playing like the best in the world. He’s since cooled off quite a bit lately, but he hasn’t really ripped up the tournaments before the Masters either of the last two years and he’s still notched back-to-back top 10 finishes here at Augusta. For a guy who hits it long, plays well at the course, and has shown his peak is as good as anyone, this is a very enticing price, regardless of his form heading in.

Justin Rose (Top 5: +600 / Win: +3000)

Let’s copy and paste from last year:

He’s played the Masters ten times and never missed the weekend. He’s finished in the top-25 eight times, including two top-5s. Last year he finished a career best second. He’s won a major before. His last four stroke play events on tour have resulted in the top-17. His game fits the course well.

He finished T10 last year. His form is about the same heading into this one.

Paul Casey (Top 5: +850 / Win: +4000)

How about another copy and paste job?

Casey’s made the weekend six times in nine tries at the Masters, including three top-10s. One of those was last year when he finished T-6 even after a rough Saturday (69-68-74-68). His last two stroke play events have resulted in top-10s. He’s not a great scrambler, but that’s okay because he’s top-10 on Tour in GIR.

He finished T4 last year. Form isn’t quite as sharp heading in this year, but it’s certainly not bad.

Lee Westwood (Top 10: +725 / Top 5: +1800)

I’ll save the C&P’s here and just tell you that I think you’re certifiably insane not to have money on Lee Westwood in some form or fashion when he rolls into Augusta National. I don’t care that he got cut in Houston. He did last year, too.

Bill Haas (Top 10: +800 / Top 5: +1800)

Billy has been like Westwood-lite at the Masters. He hasn’t finished in the top 10, but he’s Steady Eddy with seven straight cuts made, including four straight top 25’s. He’s also much less experienced on the course and is due to have a big weekend here one of these years. He hasn’t missed a cut on tour this year and recently finished third at the match play event.

J.B. Holmes (Top 10: +1000 / Top 5: +2500)

I’ll buy low on J.B. He’s only played here three times, making the cut twice, but he finished T4 here last year. I’ll be honest, no top 10’s for J.B. this year after having six of those bad boys last season. But I’m still gonna take him. Although he doesn’t have those banner top 10’s, it’s not like he’s playing terrible golf. He MC’d in Houston, but he’s gone top 35 in his other seven stroke play events with a couple top 12’s in there. He’s a long-ball hitter and the weaknesses in his game (approaches, putting) have seen an uptick this year, despite that not really showing up in improved finishes.

Charley Hoffman (Top 20: +400 / Top 10: +1050)

The resumes obviously get a little weaker down here, but Charley is 3-for-3 making the weekend here with a top 10 finish in 2015 to his name. Quite frankly, his stats for the year aren’t the most encouraging, but he’s a guy with four career tour wins and he’s played well lately. His last four stroke play events: T2, MC, T4 and a T29 last weekend in Houston when he did most of his damage on the weekend.

Soren Kjeldsen (Top 20: +500 / Top 10: +1400)

You might remember Soren from last year as the guy Twitter was making fun of because it looks like he has a fake blonde wig popping out of the top of his visor. He then dunked on everyone by finishing T7. It’s his first year with a tour card. Things didn’t start off hot in 2017 with four straight MC’s. However, he went T37, T32, and T27 in stroke play events since then and then made the quarters of match play, including a win over Rory.

Brendan Steele (Top 20: +650 / Top 10: +1700)

Not much course experience with his only appearance coming in 2012 when he missed the cut. However, he’s a great player from tee-to-green and is in really good form for the price. He hasn’t missed a cut all year, won a tournament, and has three top 10’s and six top 20’s. It’d be a stunner if he was in real contention Sunday, but his consistency this year makes him a good bet to at least make the weekend.

Prop Bets

Winning Margin: Playoff (+300)

I’ll play it every year until they day I die. The only reason to root against a playoff is if you bought a ticket on the clubhouse leader to win, otherwise you have a big dump in your pants. It’s happened five times in the past 14 years.

Hole in One Round 4 (+200)

Last year I played the Hole in One on Hole 16 at +175. It’s +125 this year, likely due to the fact that three guys aced it last year. So why the Sunday play this year? Because all three of those hole-outs on 16 last year happened on Sunday.

Top Senior Player: Fred Couples (+275)

There’s nine of them, but only four are probably really in the running for this one. The favorite is Steve Stricker at +150. The other two would be Bernhard Langer and Vijay Singh. I despise those two so they’re already out. If you’d like something more scientific, do your own damn research.

Freddy got cut at Augusta last year, but he rattled off five straight top 20s before that. His year on the Champions tour so far this year: 2, T6, Win, T4. Stricker has had a good year as well, but he hasn’t been quite as good as Couples at the Masters, recently or historically.

Top Australasian Player: Marc Leishman (+400)

Six guys, only three real contenders. The other two: Jason Day (even) and Adam Scott (+175). Obviously both of those guys are very good at golf. It’s difficult knowing what to expect from Day. He’s had his mother’s health issues to worry about off the course. Thankfully that appears to be in a better place now, but I don’t know that it’s instantly going to help his game out in a big way. He has just one top 10 this year.

Scott’s had a pretty solid season so far, but he just missed the cut in Houston and since winning the Masters in 2013, he’s gradually dropped each year in the standings and has only broken 70 twice.

Leishman doesn’t have a ton of success at Augusta, going 1 for 4 in making the cut, but that one was a T4 in 2013. He’s having a great year, though. He’s played nine events, made eight cuts, and finished top 25 in seven of those, including a win a couple weeks ago. He’s third in strokes gained: putting, a great scrambler, and hits it plenty long enough for the course (31st in driving distance).

Top Debutant: Tyrrell Hatton (+500)

Quite a few options here. Jon Rahm is the obvious favorite, but Hatton has been very consistent for months now. He’s finished in the top 25 in his last 11 events. Pretty good, imo.

Matchups

Spieth (+110) over D. Johnson

As I’m writing this, it’s still available and the news about DJ’s back has already broken. Probably would’ve taken it either way. Spieth is great here.

Jason Day (even) over Jon Rahm

I’ve explained my doubts about Day, but he’s still one of the best players in the world. Jon Rahm is hot in the streets these days, but it’s his first time. There have been guys that have torn it up in their first outing at Augusta (Day is one of them), but I’ll bet on the experienced guy who also happens to still be the better golfer when they’re at their best.

CBB Picks: Elite 8, Sunday

Florida (-3) over South Carolina

It’s hard to bet against what South Carolina has going right now, especially after watching Florida piss down their leg against Wisconsin before Chris Chiozza bailed everybody out. However, this is the first time in the tournament the Gamecocks are playing someone that’s really equipped to handle their pressure defense AND can match it on the other end. Obviously, these two teams have met before. They played a home-and-home this year. USC scraped one out at home, while Florida rolled in Gainesville. The Gators just have more guys who can make individual plays offensively. I remember that game in Columbia very fondly because I was on the Gators. Florida went 0-17 from three and 15-28 from the free throw line and lost by a whopping four points. It’s been a nice run for the Gamecocks, but I think it’s over.

Kentucky (+2.5) over North Carolina

I went back and forth on this, but I guess I’ll just stick with who I picked before the tournament started. It’s not the greatest matchup for Kentucky, but they still have the better guards and it’s not by a particularly small margin, if you ask me.

CBB Picks: Elite 8, Saturday

Xavier (+8.5) over Gonzaga

I could write a bunch of words, but there’s really not much more needed than what I’ve given the past three games for X: Chris Mack, Trevon Bluiett, ashes in a jar.

I’ve loved the Zags all year, but nothing has come easy for them recently and they’re in for a dog fight on Saturday.

Oregon (+7) over Kansas

I feel like 7 is a bit of an overreaction to what Kansas did to Purdue in the second half on Thursday. Purdue had to play damn near perfect to beat the Jayhawks due to their disadvantage athletically, but Oregon doesn’t. The Ducks are much more equipped to handle Kansas in that capacity. I don’t know that they’re any better off trying to stop Frank Mason, but Bell and Bigby-Williams at least provide a lot of resistance around the rim. Defensively, Kansas isn’t great in their rotations and that will provide some problems in trying to defend four Oregon shooters on the floor most of the time. I’d be much more confident in this play if the game was held in, say, Denver, but the Jayhawks will once again have a considerable fan advantage in KC. I’ll still stick with Oregon, though. What I know for sure is that Dillon Brooks vs. Josh Jackson is going to be awesome.

CBB Picks: Sweet 16, Friday

A winning day Thursday. Did I enjoy it? No. Watching your team get absolutely MURDERED in their final half of the season tends to put a damper on things. Could be worse, though. Can’t imagine being an Arizona fan and getting your heart ripped out year after year despite annually having one of the most talented teams.

UNC (-7.5) over Butler

Butler definitely has a chance to win this game if they can keep it in the halfcourt. They do a good job of limiting transition opportunities for opponents and UNC is probably the number one team in the country where that trait is most necessary to garner a victory. However, that’s just part of the battle. The Bulldogs are pretty solid on the defensive glass, but I’m skeptical of their ability to stop the Heels in that department. There’s also the issue of their interior defense being pretty weak and the overwhelming amount of size/athleticism that UNC brings at you. Butler’s no slouch themselves offensively, but I think their issues defensively in this game are going to put so much pressure on them to hit a bunch of shots. It’s possible, but if you’re playing the odds, I’d say it’s much more likely that UNC dominates the paint than Butler being red hot from three.

South Carolina (+3.5) over Baylor

Tough one to predict here. For one, there’s glaring issues for each side. Baylor’s not great with pressure and USC is great at applying pressure. USC struggles to clean up their consistently great defensive possessions and Baylor’s one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, although that one is somewhat negated by the sides being reversed at the other end. Baylor’s probably going to zone a lot and how do the Gamecocks handle it? They’re not a great shooting team, but frankly I just trust Frank Martin a little more to have a better gameplan and it’s not like Scott Drew will be the first to throw a zone at USC. If the Gamecocks aren’t creating turnovers and getting some easy run outs, things might be bleak. But I’ll still take them because 1) I know they’ll guard their asses off and 2) I’m a big Thornwell guy and not as high on the merits of Manu Lecomte.

Kentucky (+1) over UCLA

Feels a lot like the Michigan-Oregon game in the sense you can break it down all you want to, but it’s probably going to be close for 40 minutes and it just comes down to who makes one or two more plays down the stretch. I mean, UCLA did kind of kick Kentucky’s ass in Lexington, but that was almost four months ago and I put very little value in that game. The Bruins still aren’t very good defensively, but they’re just so overwhelming offensively that it rarely matters. With that said, UK does a great job running people off the three-point line and they’re one of the few backcourts in the nation to be quick enough, athletic enough, and prepared enough to actually present issues for the UCLA shooters. The game really might just come down to how hot Malik Monk is outside. The Cats will be able to break down the Bruins a bit with ball screens and sheer quickness, but they’ll need to make UCLA pay by knocking down some shots too. X-factor along with that issue is Derek Willis. If he can hit a couple, the Cats become pretty much impossible to guard.

Florida (-1) over Wisconsin

Would love to be wrong here, but Florida’s length, quickness, and athleticism is problematic for the Badgers. This is one where the Gators could really use Egbunu to guard Happ, but they’ve still got enough to disrupt things. Sure, Bronson Koenig could hit a bunch of shots off the dribble, but Florida has so many options to throw at him. Wisconsin isn’t a turnover prone team, which will be key to limit UF transition opportunities and really it’s an absolute necessity for them that that trend continues. The Badgers are a great defensive team themselves, but I think they’re going to have some issues with containing the quick Gator guards. If this thing turns in to a free throw contest, hold your butts if you’re a Badger fan.

CBB Picks: Sweet 16, Thursday

Ended up four games under last weekend, which turned out being not fun, surprisingly enough. Just means we’re setting up to be scorching hot (hopefully) down the stretch.

Oregon (+1) over Michigan

One of the many really intriguing matchups we’re due for this weekend. I’m really interested to see how the battle at the 4 and 5 positions goes down. Bell and Boucher – off the top of my head – would probably be the best possible pair in the country to slow down the Wilson/Wagner duo that has been looking like a pair of NBA players recently. Dillon Brooks will be able to stick with the two out on the perimeter better than Boucher, but he won’t have nearly the same effect when the Wolverines go down low. Derrick Walton has the obvious advantage at point guard, but that’s negated by how lethal Tyler Dorsey has been on the wing for the Ducks.

The difference for me in this one is Michigan’s defense. As good as they’ve been the past month and a half, their defense is still lacking quite a bit against stronger offensive-minded teams. They gave up 1.4 points per possession to Oklahoma State last weekend, but they were able to overcome by simply outscoring the Pokes by going 16-29 from three. That’s more manageable against the worst defensive at-large team in the tournament, not so much against the top 25 defense the Ducks trot out. I’ll very reluctantly take Oregon.

Gonzaga (-3) over West Virginia

First things first, the Zags should do just fine against the West Virginia pressure. However, Josh Perkins is the wildcard to keep an eye on there. He’s been prone to big turnover numbers and he might just cough it up eight times himself. The pressure doesn’t stop once the Zags are in the frontcourt, though. They’ll be going strength on strength trying to score around the bucket. The Zags have shooters, but it’s not necessarily their preferred method of generating points, which is typically the area you can punch back on the Mountaineers.

On the other end, Gonzaga really doesn’t have any major holes. They run people off the three-point line. That’s also not a big focal point of WVU’s offense, but if they’re hitting at the rate they were against Notre Dame in the second half, they’re really tough to beat. But really the reason I like the Zags in this one outside of their ability to take care of the ball (and the fact that they’re a great team) is their ability to keep the Mountaineers off the offensive glass. That’s a big key for Huggy’s group and if you’re not giving them transition and second chance opportunities, then they’re going to have to hit 10-12 threes at an efficient rate just to stay in the game.

Purdue (+5) over Kansas

I don’t know what to totally expect from the teams on the floor, but what I can guarantee you is that I will feel like dying during the entire game.

Everyone seems to want to talk about Purdue’s size against the shallow frontline that the Jayhawks have. Personally, I don’t think it’s as big of an advantage for the Boilers as it’s being made out to be. I mean, Swanigan pretty much always gets his in some form, but I don’t think Matt Painter is going to be able play him and Haas at the same time much anyway because neither of them has a shot in hell at guarding Josh Jackson at the other end. The keys for Purdue offensively are how proficient they are from the perimeter (40% for the year, shaky lately) and if Vince(nt) Edwards is able to keep up his recent production.

Kansas can shoot it, too, but Purdue is a little better at running people off the line. I can only remember a shot or two Iowa State got off from three that wasn’t contested. Anytime the Jayhawks can draw the Purdue big men out to the perimeter and make them defend anyone not named Landen Lucas or Carlton Bragg, they’ll get a good look. Frank Mason will be a problem, but when isn’t he? If the Jayhawks start getting a bunch of runouts and easy transition buckets, Purdue is essentially screwed. That’ll get the KC crowd into it and those one-to-two minute bursts Kansas goes on are killers.

Xavier (+7.5) over Arizona

Would’ve been nice to know that the Muskies have been carrying around a Walmart jar filled with ashes all March. When there’s a team that has a jar full of ashes facing a team without a jar full of ashes, you bet the house on the ashes every single time.

As for the things that might actually affect the game…I don’t know. I think it’ll largely be a halfcourt game, which should help Xavier stick around. They shot it incredibly well against Florida State, which isn’t something you can really rely on, especially against Zona. They also may not get to the line as often as they’re used to.

The interior defense looks like a real problem for X on paper, but they’ve been so damn good at guarding the perimeter lately it hasn’t hardly mattered. In their five wins over the past six games, they’ve held their opponents to under 29% from three every game.

I don’t love the matchup for the Muskies here, but I’m also not over the moon about the Wildcats in general. When in doubt, take the points, take Chris Mack, take Trevon Bluiett, and take the ashes.

The Big Ten Is Better Than You Thought And It’s Okay To Admit That

I’m wrong. A lot. I was wrong on a lot of different things that happened in the first weekend of the tournament.

I loved SMU. Didn’t make it out of the first round.

It didn’t cross my mind that Duke would lose in the first weekend, regardless of the fact that their second round opponent had a home crowd. They did and it wasn’t all that close.

I doubted Butler. They didn’t trail once in the first two rounds. Not even for a second.

But I was wrong. That’s just a sampling of the things I missed.

And I don’t have any problem saying it. College basketball is maybe the most unpredictable of the American sports. That’s partially why I obsess over it. I write these power ranking blogs trying to hone in on what to expect knowing full well that they’re largely meaningless once the 18-23 year-olds under the most intense pressure of their young lives become involved.

With that said, not much that happened this weekend is all that surprising. The only thing that really stands out is that South Carolina is suddenly awesome at scoring a lot of points. That’s it. That’s the list.

Some might point to Xavier. They beat a Maryland team that’s been scuffling for a while now and a Florida State team that is led by one of college basketball’s greatest underachievers, Leonard Hamilton. The Muskies also have Chris Mack and Trevon Bluiett.

This brings me to the Big Ten, which became a big topic over the weekend due to five of their seven participants winning their first round game and three of those making the Sweet 16.

This led to the inevitable: Big Ten fans puffing their collective chest out and those who trashed the Big Ten basically chalking it up to randomness. The more intelligent, but still stubborn will put it this way:

Also an annual tradition, the “one-off” argument. I won’t even dispute it. It’s actually sensible! A single 40-minute game doesn’t change everything, provided that one or both of the teams in said game played at a level above or below their relatively recent norm.

But a series of these 40-minute results isn’t an accident.

The Big Ten wasn’t all that great in November and December. They didn’t register many groundbreaking wins.

However, the team that ended up finished in a tie for 10th in the league beat two of the #1 seeds this year. One of their NIT teams beat the Big 12 tournament champions…by a lot. Their #13 seed Nebraska team beat Dayton.

But they lost the ACC-Big Ten challenge, tied the Gavitt Games with the Big East, and otherwise had a ho-hum non-conference season.

The Big Ten was not one of the best conferences in November and December.

But what was that built off? One might say a series of “one-off” games in those two rather meaningless months.

I’ve never understood how those series of isolated 40-minute games is somehow deemed more important than the ones that occur at the end of the season.

It’s not as if the Power 6 teams are playing an enormous round-robin early in the year. You’re lucky to see some teams play three other Power 6 teams in non-conference play.

But those early games create a whole narrative for the remaining three months of the season. Everyone just seems to get it in their head because one conference looks stronger than the other before the calendar turns it over that it’s just going to stay that way forever. It dismisses the idea that teams grow and evolve as the season goes on.Which is the whole point of a season, to get better so that you can play at your best in March when it all really counts.

Is the NCAA Tournament the perfect way to prove a conference’s strength? No, far from it. But show me a better way, please. If your argument involves games played around Thanksgiving, but not the ones played now, just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. I love KenPom, but even that system is a bit flawed when it comes to measuring conferences as a whole.

The way the system is set up now with 68 teams making the field and still a tremendous slant against mid-majors receiving at-large bids, you essentially get half of every major conference’s teams in the dance with some exceptions by a team or two. Point being, you see a lot of teams from each league matched up with the others.

And what I didn’t see last weekend was a lot of accidents happening in regards to the Big Ten. Nobody got scorching hot for one game and produced a fluky result. Wisconsin legitimately beat the #1 overall seed and defending national champion. Michigan legitimately beat the second-place ACC team in front of a pro-Louisville crowd. Purdue legitimately beat the Big 12 tournament champions in front of a pro-Iowa State crowd. Michigan State buried a Miami team that had an equal 10-8 conference record in the ACC. Even Northwestern was maybe a terrible no-call away from knocking off the #1 team overall in KenPom.

Exactly zero of them made more than the national average of 35% of their three-point shots and all five of them shot worst than their respective team averages. Nothing fluky about it.

But hey, Minnesota lost to Middle Tennessee, so we get absolutely outrageous tweets like this that have no shred of supporting evidence:

Would it surprise you to know that Terrence had the Big Ten going 1-7 in the tournament with Michigan State getting the lonely first round win?

They are currently 8-4.

I’m not even trying to tell you the Big Ten was the best league this year. I’ve never said that. I have said all year that it’s a league with no truly great teams, but a few really good teams and a few other decent ones. I wasn’t sure how they’d do as a league in the tournament because they didn’t have favorable seeds (which is largely influenced by those pesky November/December games) and would therefore have a tougher road, but most of them largely played how they have since early February.

While they may not be the best, I don’t think the gap between them and the Big 12 or ACC is quite as significant as it was made out to be either. The only real difference I see is that they don’t have a Kansas or a North Carolina.

It gets extremely tiring to see the same recycled takes over and over and even more exhausting to see that it doesn’t even occur to people that they were maybe, possibly, the slightest bit wrong. And the lengths that people will go to avoid it.

 

*Deletes entire section on why Mark Titus is a moron*

The real issue at hand is the constant need to power rank the conferences in a year where there’s a whole lot of teams at the top without many discernible differences.

 

Part of what I do to evaluate how the tournament is going to go is by looking at the tiers through adjusted efficiency margins. The “great” teams are categorized by having a margin of 28+. The “very good” teams are categorized by having a margin between 22 and 28.

Here’s how many teams fit in each category over the years. The numbers for 2017 are current, every other year is post-tourney.

28+ 22-28
2002 4 6
2003 2 8
2004 1 11
2005 2 10
2006 0 9
2007 3 9
2008 4 8
2009 4 11
2010 2 10
2011 2 10
2012 2 9
2013 3 10
2014 3 12
2015 6 8
2016 5 11
2017 3 20

Hmm, what number really jumps out in that list? 21 teams in the “very good” range, an all-time high and not by a little bit.

The breakdown of teams – by conference – in the “very good” range:

ACC 4
Big 12 5
Big East 0
Big Ten 3
SEC 1
Pac 12 3
MVC 1
American 2
WCC 1

It’s a bit of an arbitrary number set, but at the same time the range from 2003 to 2016 was a very consistent five and this year has shown a spike equal to more than double the average. Things could change over the last two weeks, but not enough to skew the numbers in a substantial manner.

My whole point in all of this is to say that every league at the top had some really good teams. And all of them only had one or two really bad teams, except the Pac-12. They had four. There’s not a big difference between the other five.

That isn’t really an opinion. It’s a summation based on cold, hard facts, Jack.

CBB Picks: NCAA Tournament Round 2, Day 2

Louisville (-3.5) over Michigan

I love the way Michigan has been playing. Derrick Walton has been outstanding and their versatility 1 through 5 is ridiculously difficult to guard. However, I think Louisville’s length and activity defensively is going to be a problem for them. On the other end, while Michigan’s defense has been better, I still have my doubts that they can guard guys on the perimeter like Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider. Also, they’re probably going to get thrashed on the boards.

Kentucky (-4) over Wichita State

This game’s being made into the “redemption game” for Wichita after what happened in 2014. That’s nice, except for the fact that I don’t think anyone that played in that game is still around. Wichita is a really good team. They’ve also been worked by every team with professional talent this year. They defend and they’ve got nice players, but I don’t see them having any answer for guys like Monk, Fox, and Adebayo.

Michigan State (+8.5) over Kansas

I was basically going to bet against Kansas regardless of who won the Miami/Michigan State battle. Maybe that’s not wise, but Tom Izzo’s crew just owned a pretty good team and they didn’t even have to shoot well from outside to do it.

UNC (-10.5) over Arkansas

Arkansas plays fast. That’s the only way they know. I think it’s going to ruin them against the Tar Heels. UNC just does it better with better players and they’re going to kill the Hogs on the glass.

Rhode Island (+5.5) over Oregon

I don’t know that I love the matchup for Rhody, but I’m not going to give up on them now.

USC (+6.5) over Baylor

I’ll also continue to bet against Baylor. Their size was too much for NMSU and that became very apparent in the first half of that game. That’s not going to fly against the Trojans. They can matchup with the Bears and they’re going to force them to make shots.

Duke (-7.5) over South Carolina

I know it’s in Greenville, but I feel like more Duke fans are going to make it down for the second round games. I also think that the Blue Devils are going to be a little more engaged than they were in the first round and they have a lot more guys that can make plays in the halfcourt than the Gamecocks do. USC put up a big number against Marquette, but they’re truly terrible defensively. Duke is not.

Cincinnati (+4) over UCLA

Cincinnati only allows teams to play fast when they’re playing scrubs. They’ll make UCLA play slow. The Bruins might hit a bunch of shots, but I’ll bet against it. The Bearcats have made great strides offensively, they’re versatile defensively, and I think they’re just a more connected team overall.

 

CBB Picks: NCAA Tournament Round 2, Day 1

Notre Dame (+3) over West Virginia

The Mountaineers are in real trouble if they can’t turn teams over and nobody turns it over less than the Irish. The good news for WVU is that they might be able to find some success with their halfcourt offense against a perfectly average Notre Dame defense. If the Irish can’t keep the Mounts off the offensive glass, it’s gonna be a long day for them.

If those two aspects play out like you’d expect, it should be a very close game. For me, I just like Notre Dame’s team more. They’ve got more offensive playmakers and they can make more things happen late in the game when it’s tight.

Wisconsin (+6) over Villanova

I think the Badgers have a very legitimate shot at winning this game. I’ve said before in one of my 100 pieces on this tournament that Wisconsin will be very comfortable in a grind-it-out game with the Wildcats. It’s tough for anybody to stop Josh Hart, but Wisconsin has a few viable options to keep him contained. I think the Badgers have a fairly sizable advantage on the glass. The X-factor for me will come down to Nova’s perimeter shooting. It sticks out like a sore thumb in this game and if the Cats are hitting at a high rate, it’s probably over.

Northwestern (+11) over Gonzaga

I don’t have a great feeling either way on this one. I think Gonzaga is a lot better, but they haven’t necessarily played like it a lot lately. It’s going to be a slowly played game for the most part and I think that always gives the underdog a better chance to stay in it. The crispness the Zags were playing with offensively for 3 months has kind of dwindled, especially their shooting. Bryant McIntosh pushed me over the edge for Northwestern in this one. Some guys just play better when the moment’s bigger and he’s one of them. NGW is a tough match for him, but I think he’ll make enough plays for Northwestern to stay in it.

Xavier (+6) over Florida State

For three reasons:

  1. Chris Mack >>> Leonard Hamilton
  2. X is going to force FSU to play in the halfcourt
  3. Trevon Bluiett

MTSU (+4) over Butler

I thought Minnesota could guard this MTSU team and that didn’t turn out to be the case. It helped that the Blue Raiders had one of their better offensive rebounding and three-point shooting games, but that’s another story for another day. I think MTSU’s combo of Upshaw and Williams is going to be a real problem for Butler’s frontcourt. Wideman, Chrabascz, and Fowler play hard, but they’re at a total mismatch athletically against those two Blue Raiders.

Saint Mary’s (+5) over Arizona

Arizona’s side has been getting pounded since it opened at 2.5. I’d value it as more of a pick’em myself, so here we are. I’ve always been a big believer of the Gaels generally, I just didn’t love the VCU matchup for them and they still were in control the whole way. Arizona has the edge in raw talent and athleticism, but I don’t see a clear advantage for them in this one.

Florida (-2) over Virginia

I honestly have no idea on this one to be totally honest. I originally took Virginia in the bracket, but I don’t know. Their offense stinks and their lack of execution against an average UNCW defense doesn’t give me faith that they can get much done against Florida’s pressure. Yes, Virginia defends really well too, but the Gators just have more quickness/athleticism to break things down and score when it’s needed.

EDIT: Turns out I picked Florida in the bracket. So in other words, I agree with me from Wednesday.

Iowa State (+1) over Purdue

*Very long, very exasperated sigh*

I try to keep a level head about Purdue. I know them better than any other team. That goes both ways.

This one presents “the contrast of styles”. Purdue’s size against Iowa State’s small ball/versatility. Generally I’ve found that it doesn’t favor Purdue when they’re playing small, but talented teams. Why? Because those teams are quick and athletic and they turn Purdue over and mitigate their size. Once the Boilers have to try and defend smaller, skilled teams in the halfcourt, it’s a disaster. Haas and Swanigan struggle in ball screen action and it’s not like they have a bunch of super quick guards to disrupt the ball handlers and, in my eyes, they’re going against the best in the country in Monte Morris.

If I’m being honest, I hope I’m ridiculously wrong on this pick, but…I really feel like I’m going to be a sad, belligerent drunk starting around midnight tomorrow.

 

 

CBB Picks: NCAA Tournament Round 1, Day 2

8-8 yesterday. Square city. Like kissing your sister.

I would’ve liked to have a better day, but I can really only remember one game all day that wasn’t in the balance in the last minute or two. That was MTSU and I was on the wrong side, but the other 15 games were largely decided by the free throw/three-point chuck game or garbage time.

The big takeaway to me was that on Day 1 the lines were extremely sharp and that is not a good thing. But we proceed.

Michigan (-2) over Oklahoma State

I can see that the Wolverine defense is getting better, can’t say the same about the Cowboys. I’m not sure there’s a more comfortable team against OSU’s pressure. Michigan doesn’t have one real turnover liability.

New Mexico State (+13) over Baylor

Baylor should considerate itself fortunate if they win the game.

Seton Hall (+1) over Arkansas

I think it’s going to be a close game and I trust Carrington to make plays late more than I do anyone on the other side.

Oregon (-15) over Iona

Boucher or no Boucher, I still think the Ducks can swallow up Jordan Washington down low. I’m envisioning Oregon getting up in the 8-12 range and Iona just getting frustrated and chucking a bunch of threes that may or may not go down.

Louisville (-19.5) over Jacksonville State

It’s been a nice story for the Gamecocks, but they haven’t faced anyone like Louisville this year. Even TCU and Maryland waxed this JSU team. Their defense matches up will with the Cardinals on paper better than it does in real life.

SMU (-6.5) over USC

I’ve planted myself on the SMU train and I’m not getting off yet.

UNC (-26) over Texas Southern

TSU can’t shoot and they’re terrible on the defensive glass. I don’t see the road for them to even remotely compete in this game.

Rhode Island (pick) over Creighton

I’ve written plenty on this game. I haven’t thought about taking the Bluejays for a second.

UC Davis (+23.5) over Kansas

I keep doubting the Aggies and they keep delivering. Combine that with the fact that I’m not sold on the Jayhawks and I’ll take the 23.5

Dayton (+6) over Wichita State

I love Wichita as much as the next guy that has a goddamn clue about things like “analytics” or “watching basketball”, but Dayton is pretty damn good themselves. They’re a veteran crew that’s good on both ends and they haven’t gotten much respect this week.

Duke (-20) over Troy

Troy isn’t terrible, but Duke is a rather young, talented group that’s starting to come together and I’m not betting against that.

Cincinnati (-3.5) over Kansas State

I think the Bearcats are going to give the K-State offense fits and they’ve made some strides this year offensively, specifically with guards/wings that can just go get points when necessary.

Miami (-2) over Michigan State

Eron Harris would be big for a team that often struggles to find points away from East Lansing, but he’s no longer available. Jimmy L’s crew has its flaws too, but they’ve got more dynamic guard play and they’re a stellar defensive team.

Kentucky (-20) over Northern Kentucky

The Wildcats tend to murder average opponents at this level. Not sure the Norse have any chance at defending in this game.

South Carolina (-1) over Marquette

It’s MU’s offense vs. USC’s defense. I’ll take the defense with a guard capable of getting his shot on his own.

Kent State (+18) over UCLA

I’ll admit, this could be a 40-point game, but the Bruins are just so often not engaged defensively that I’ll take a flyer on the Golden Flashes.

2017 NCAA Tournament Props

For your consideration:

Will Kansas Make the Elite 8? NO +110

There are land mines set up all over the place for the Jayhawks. They’re obviously a very good team, but there’s something off about them to me and they have obvious flaws. I think they’re a real threat to lose to either Miami or Michigan State in the second round. I like Miami against them better than the alternative, but the alternative is Tom Izzo.

The Sweet 16 is going to likely feature Iowa State, Nevada, or Purdue. Obviously ISU can play with them given that the Cyclones won at Phog Allen. Nevada’s got a pro or two and the guards and wings to compete with the Jayhawks. Purdue presents a monstrous frontcourt that might expose the lack of depth in that area for KU.

Will UCLA Make the Sweet 16? NO +165

I’m willing to die on the anti-UCLA hill. They’ll probably beat Kent State, but the Bruins are the most likely candidate to get overconfident and not take their first round opponent seriously. Whoever they get in the second round between Cincy and K-State, that team is gonna do their damnedest to make the Bruins grind it out in the halfcourt.

Who Has More Wins: Xavier or MTSU? XAVIER +110

In the Day 1 picks I took Xavier and bet against MTSU, so this isn’t a big surprise. You’ll get better odds if you just parlay the two, but this option at least let’s you get your money back if they both lose. I think the odds are the same they advance out of the second round, but you’d have to pay -140 for MTSU in this bet.

A-10 Wins: O/U 1.5? OVER +120

I like VCU and Rhode Island in their first round matchups and while I don’t think Dayton beats Wichita, they still have a pretty good chance. I think all of them could win multiple games.

Region to Win? SOUTH +250

Talent tends to win out this time of year and I think the South region has the most talent at the top.

Theoretically every region should be +250, but it’s Vegas and the South actually has the second worst odds.

I’m not in love with UNC, but they’re still very talented and there’s a great chance they stick around until the Elite 8. I filled out a bracket and ended up with Kentucky as my champion. I’ve repeatedly called UCLA overrated, but I could be wrong and their offensive skill could be enough to win it all. Oh, and there’s another KenPom top 10 team – Wichita – that’s in the South.

I think weird shit could happen in the other three regions. The top-end talent isn’t as recognizable.

I also liked the East region for this, but I think SMU or Wisconsin could win it and I don’t think they’ll beat the blue bloods in Glendale.

How Many #2 Seeds Make the Final Four? THREE +700

Said bracket has three 2 seeds in it, with the fourth – Arizona – making the Elite 8. Generally, I think the 2 seeds have an easier path to the Elite 8 than the 1 seeds do, largely due to my perceived weakness of the 3 seeds.

First #1 Seed Eliminated? KANSAS +240

I think there’s very little chance Gonzaga or UNC loses the first weekend, based on their draws. I also don’t value the 4/5 teams in their region very highly. I think Villanova got a pretty tough draw for being the defending national champs and the overall #1 seed, but I trust them a lot more than Kansas.

East Region Winner? SMU +600

I only see three teams possible of winning it and Nova and Duke have pretty low odds, so here we are. The Mustangs were second overall in the MLPPR.

Midwest Region Winner? MIAMI +5000

I think if there’s a region to get weird, it’s the Midwest. Might as well take a longshot and roll with Jimmy Larranaga.

South Region Winner? WICHITA ST. +1000

They’ve got a tough road, but I feel like Gregg Marshall should have our trust at this point.

West Region Winner? NOTRE DAME +1000

The weakest region by my estimation and the Irish continue to get no respect, despite their performances in the ACC regular season and conference tournament.