Let’s March! What a wild couple of weeks of conference tournament action. Saturday had 21 games, including 15 conference title games, starting with Hartford clinching the bid from the America East and going all the way past midnight with Cinderella Oregon State winning the Pac-12 tournament.
It is hard not to reflect, considering where we were this time last year — no selection show, no tournament, no sports. Not just for a day or a week, but for months. Anyone who likes sports usually loves the excitement of the NCAA tournament, and I think we are all probably a little bit more grateful this year being able to watch this tremendous event.
Conference title long-shot bettors were rewarded as Georgia Tech cashed in at + 1800 in the Atlantic Coast Conference as did Oregon State at + 2500 — after being + 30000 at one point this year! Fairfield (+ 5000) scratched and clawed to the Metro Atlantic Athletic title game before falling to Iona. Let’s hope for, and find, a bunch more upsets for the glorious betting weekend that awaits us.
Ohio U. (+ 8) vs. Virginia: I think this line will drop to 7, maybe even 6. It opened at 10.5 and quickly fell 2.5 points, and I don’t think it’s done moving. Virginia dropped out of the ACC tournament after a player tested positive, and the Cavaliers are unable to practice. We are also unsure who on the team is affected. A possibly short-handed Virginia team will be facing a red-hot Ohio squad that just ran roughshod over its Mid-American Conference foes, winning the tournament convincingly against three higher-seeded opponents. Ohio point guard Jason Preston will likely be the best player on the floor and has an NBA career in his future. Ohio shoots 37% from the 3-point line and will do plenty to hang well within this number, maybe even pull the outright upset. Even vintage Virginia teams typically do not win games by margin, as they play slowly and deliberately on offense and rely on exceptional defense. This style, with scoring at a premium, favors the dog, and this is a good, not great, Virginia team. Although betting Ohio now is not getting the best of the number, I don’t think that will be a factor. This line is way too high. Ohio advances.
Liberty (+ 8) vs. Oklahoma State: Another live dog with upset potential. Liberty was fourth in the country in 3-pointers, connecting on 289 at a 39% clip. Oklahoma State is more of a dribble-drive team and is not as proficient from behind the arc, hitting only 179 3-pointers at a modest 33% rate. Oklahoma State plays primarily zone defense, a recipe for allowing open shots on the perimeter to a lethal shooting team. Liberty coach Ritchie McKay will likely try to zone the Cowboys and keep their explosive playmakers away from the front of the rim, hoping to turn this into a shooting contest. His style is tough to prepare for and led to a convincing upset in 2019 as 12th-seeded Liberty cruised past Mississippi State. This one has the makings of a nail-biter. Grab the points in what could be another upset victory for Liberty.
Oregon State (+ 8.5) over Tennessee: Wow, what a run by the Beavers, who were picked 12th in the Pac-12. They lit up Las Vegas last weekend, taking advantage of the fact that Arizona was ineligible for the postseason and thus avoiding a play-in scenario, before cashing in three upset victories for a bid to the Big Dance. Tennessee’s Rick Barnes has never been regarded as an elite tactician or tournament coach. After all, this is a guy who had Kevin Durant and two other NBA players on the same Texas team and couldn’t even make it to the Sweet 16. Both teams struggle on offense but have great length and athleticism on defense. Tennessee shoots only 33% from behind the arc and will face a steady diet zone of defense, forcing long shots from a poor-shooting team. Oregon State plays good defense but can get ugly on offense, despite a red-hot shooting weekend in Vegas. Points will be at a premium, as the length of both teams will likely make for some extended scoring droughts. That gives value to the dog and probably the Under. This should be a rock fight. Take the points.