The first two days of the NCAA Tournament have been chalkier than a gym full of Bulgarian powerlifters. The higher seeds are running roughshod, straight up anyway. Against the spread, the results aren’t so skewed. Thursday saw underdogs cover in nine of 16 games.
Heading into the weekend, I see one underdog I really like, and one I really don’t. Here are my best bets for Saturday’s action.
Notre Dame (+3) vs West Virginia
“Press Virginia” generates more turnovers than any team in the nation (20.29 per game). They need those extra possessions because they don’t shoot a high percentage (45.5 FG%, 57th). Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, Notre Dame commits the fewest turnovers in the country (9.3 per game) and has an experienced, responsible backcourt with junior Matt Farrell and senior Steve Vasturia.
Generally, I’m a big believer in the KenPom rankings, where WVU sits fifth both overall and in defensive efficiency. But the team has boosted its defensive numbers against lesser squads that don’t have the guards to handle pressure. That’s what you saw in the first round against Belmont. If (when) they find Notre Dame much less flappable, it’s going to be hard for them to keep pace offensively.
ATS Pick: Notre Dame (+3)
Saint Mary’s vs Arizona (-2.5)
This is another instance in which I’m going against KenPom. (St. Mary’s is 14th overall; Arizona is 19th.) The Wildcats KenPom numbers include all the games they played without Allonzo Trier. They’ve been a lot more dominant since he returned, earning a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and then winning the conference tournament.
Between Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, and Kobi Simmons, Zona has a lot more high-end talent than the Gaels. Kadeem Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country and will hound St. Mary’s Joe Rahon all game.
When the Gaels are successful, they’re running their offense through big-man Jock Landale. In their three losses to Gonzaga, he was held in check (for the most part) and put in foul trouble by the Zags own bigs. Seven-footers Markkanen and Dusan Ristic pose similar problems, and St. Mary’s doesn’t have the depth to stay with Arizona if Landale isn’t at his absolute best. The Wildcat offense is scary good when it’s humming. See their 100-point performance in the First Round.
ATS Pick: Arizona (-2.5)
Photo credit: Lance Linn [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons