We've made it. The NCAA Tournament is here. It began last night with four wonderful games, and it is currently going on as you read this. I have planted myself on the couch, and I do not plan to move from this spot unless I absolutely have to. You know, emergency situations like having to use the bathroom or get something else to eat or drink.
Honestly, the first full day of the tournament has always been one of my favorite days of the year, and, although it's a bit different this time around, I'm still cherishing it. I remember being a kid and pretending I was too sick to go to school so I could stay home and watch the games. I also remember my mom pretending to believe me and letting me do it.
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Now I'm living the dream where I don't have to pretend I'm sick to watch the games; I can just sit on the couch the entire time and tell people I'm "working." What a time to be alive, my friends. Anyway, I've distracted you from the tournament long enough. Let's get to today's reading, and then our picks for tonight as well as the weekend.
- Keep up with all the latest NFL free agency news over the weekend here.
- The best MLB player at every age.
- I proposed four rule changes for college football that seem stupid but are actually brilliant. Just like me.
- The Champions League quarterfinals are set.
All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Wisconsin, 7:10 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Wisconsin +1.5 (-110): So, my initial reaction here was to jump on North Carolina because Wisconsin finished the season poorly, losing four of five games. But it served as an excellent reminder that recency bias can be a hell of a drug because once I dove into this matchup, I realized there was too much value on the Badgers to pass them up. Yes, Wisconsin comes in as losers in four of its last five games, but those losses came to Illinois, Purdue and Iowa (twice). The losses came by a combined 18 points. They were in each game against three teams rated in the top 15 by KenPom. Three teams rated higher than the North Carolina team they'll be facing tonight.
The Heels, on the other hand, made a nice run in the ACC Tournament before falling to Florida State. But if we look at their last three wins, they came against a Duke team that missed the tournament, a bad Notre Dame team, and a Virginia Tech team that snuck in on the bubble. This Wisconsin team is one of the most challenging matchups Carolina's faced in the last month.
It's also not a great matchup for the Heels. Wisconsin's offense relies on threes, as 40.8% of its shots this season have come from deep, but the Badgers make enough of them. North Carolina has done an awful job defending the perimeter this season, allowing opponents to make 34.4% of their threes (that ranks 213th nationally). North Carolina is a team that wins with defense, but it's playing a team with the capability of exposing its greatest weakness defensively. In my mind, that makes Wisconsin a terrific value play tonight on both the spread and the money line. I prefer the spread, but your life is yours, as are your decisions.
Key Trend: Wisconsin is 14-6-2 ATS in its last 22 tournament games.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Advanced Computer Model has been locked in the March Madness Bunker for a week now, simulating every single game a billion different ways. It's taken a look at this one from angles we humans don't even know exist, and it's found a strong play on one side of the spread.
💰 The Picks
🏀 College Basketball
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 13 Liberty, 6:25 p.m. | TV: TBS
The Pick: Under 139.5 (-110) -- Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to Oklahoma State unders. It's a terrible affliction, seeing as how the under has gone 8-19-1 in the Cowboys games this season, but darn it, the numbers tell me it must be done! For real, though, I am not alone in my read on tonight's game. The total opened at 142.5 and has since been bet down to 139.5. We're quickly running out of value, but I'm good with it down to 137.5. My thinking is pretty simple here. While Cade Cunningham is a stud, Oklahoma State is still a better defensive team than an offensive one.
Tonight, the Cowboys face a slow-moving Liberty team on offense that needs to hit threes to win. The Flames are fourth in the country in eFG% at 57.4% because they shoot 38.8% from three (10th nationally), and an incredible 47.4% of their shots are from three. The Cowboys do a solid job of defending the perimeter, so I'm not sure how practical this approach will be for Liberty as it steps out of the Atlantic Sun and faces a team ranked in the top 50 by KenPom for the first time since its season-opener against Purdue.
That said, Oklahoma State's cold stretches on offense and Liberty's slow pace make laying the points a little sketchy, so instead, I'm thinking Liberty's potential struggles on offense keep us under this total.
Key Trend: Liberty games average only 65.6 possessions per game. Only seven teams average fewer per game.
No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Maryland, Saturday, 7:10 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Maryland +3 (-110) -- There isn't a newsletter for tomorrow, but I can't send you into Saturday without at least one pick for the day. Keep an eye on this line before making your bet, because there's a decent chance it could move to Maryland +3.5 before tip-off, and that hook could be precious to us.
As a total of 130 suggests, this isn't likely to be a high-scoring affair. We're dealing with two strong defensive teams that move slowly on offense, as UConn ranks 301st nationally in adjusted tempo and Maryland 317th. I fully expect this to be one of those games that sees several lead changes, with neither team capable of pulling away from the other. In a game like that, between two teams that are about the same defensively, I would rather be on the better shooting team. That's the Terps.
Maryland ranks 67th nationally with an eFG% of 52.6%, while the Huskies are 194th at 49.5%. It might not be enough to get the Terps a win, but it should be enough to cover.
Key Trend: Maryland is 10-4 ATS in its last 14 neutral site games as an underdog.
⚽ Premier League
West Ham vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11 a.m. | TV: Peacock
The Pick: West Ham (+180) -- Arsenal is a better team now than they were earlier in the season, and its loss to Olympiacos in the Europa League this week was misleading. First of all, Arsenal went into the match with a 3-1 lead, so there wasn't much need for urgency. Secondly, Arsenal was extremely unlucky, as it crushed Olympiacos in the xG battle. All that said, even with the improvement, in this match, I see value on West Ham. The Hammers have lost two of three, but those losses came against Manchesters City and United. Also, West Ham had a higher xG than Man City did during their 2-1 loss. This West Ham team is still very good and very much in the running for a Champions League place. At this price, they're hard to pass up.
Key Trend: Arsenal has lost seven of the 20 Premier League matches it's been favored in this season.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: SportsLine's projection model generated selections for Friday's NCAA Tournament first-round game between Oklahoma State and Liberty and it loves plays on the spread and total in tonight's game.
💸 The DFS Rundown
PG: Luka Doncic, Mavs
SG: James Harden, Nets
SF: Jimmy Butler, Heat
PF: Kristaps Porzingis, Mavs
C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
PG: Derrick White, Spurs
SG: Andrew Wiggins, Warriors
SF: Saddiq Bey, Pistons
PF: Maxi Kleber, Mavs
C: Robert Williams, Celtics
Full lineup advice
Get winning NBA DFS picks from SportsLine pros Mike McClure and Jacob Gibbs. McClure has won almost $2 million in daily Fantasy, while Gibbs crushed the NBA last season, cashing around 65 percent of the time in cash games and nearly 45 percent of the time in tournaments. See their DraftKings advice and FanDuel lineups here.
🏀 NBA Player Props
- Jarrett Allen Over 1.5 assists (-150)
- Mike Conley Over 2.5 rebounds (-170)
- Justin Holiday Over 2.5 rebounds (-150)
- Nikola Jokic Over 45.5 Points, Rebounds & Assists (-105)