Pac-12 gets off to rough start--and it hasn't started yet!

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

March 14, 2018 11:02 PM
Forward Oshae Brissett and his Orange teammates were in the zone vs. Arizona State.
© USA Today Sports Images

Like clockwork, the Orange defense once again rose to the occasion in the NCAA Tournament as Syracuse sent the Arizona State Sun Devils back to Pac-12 purgatory. With the play-ins out of the way…the 2018 Dance is ready to swing!

Wednesday Play-in Results: Syracuse wins ugly (like usual) to close out preliminaries

It’s almost an NCAA tradition that the Syracuse Orange will limp unimpressively into the postseason only to unleash their terrifying zone defense on opponents that have no way to properly prepare. Arizona State did its best to shoot over the zone Wednesday night in Dayton. An 11-7 edge in made treys was not enough for the Sun Devils because Syracuse is built for playoff-style basketball. 

Syracuse (plus 1) 60, Arizona State 56 

Two-point Pct: Syracuse 45%, Arizona State 50%

Three Pointers: Syracuse 7/20, Arizona State 11/32

Free Throws: Syracuse 13/23, Arizona State 3/10

Rebounds: Syracuse 37, Arizona State 34

Turnovers: Syracuse 11, Arizona State 11

Estimated Possessions: Syracuse 62, Arizona State 60

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Syracuse 54-60-53, Arizona State 45-59-44

Market Watch: Arizona State opened at -1, was bet up to as high as -1.5 or -2, but sunk back on game day after UCLA missed the market by so much Tuesday vs. St. Bonaventure. The opening total of 142 was bet down to 139.5 or 140.  

A very slow game (we use shots…minus offensive rebounds…plus one-half free throw attempts…plus turnovers to estimate possession count). Arizona State doesn’t have a roster for mud wrestling. And, apparently, it has no idea how to make free throws! Syracuse won scoring on 1’s and 2’s by a count of 39-23, while also grabbing more rebounds. Turnovers were a wash. That put the onus on ASU to hit a ton of treys. Eleven wasn’t enough. 

From yesterday’s preview:

“The tricky Syracuse zone has helped them surge through the Dance in past years where the team wasn’t all that good overall…Syracuse has to hope to win grinders because they can’t play cleanly enough on offense to dominate people...If you believe that defense and rebounding rules the day in neutral court playoff style basketball, Syracuse is the obvious choice. And, if you think the Pac-12 wasn’t really a “major” conference this season (boosted by UCLA’s poor showing Tuesday), that’s an added kicker.”

Two Pac-12 teams have already been eliminated, with only champion Arizona making the formal field of 64.

*UCLA (-2.5) lost to St. Bonaventure 65-58

*Arizona State (-1) lost to Syracuse 60-56

The Pac-12 team that “should” have made the brackets easily, USC, also had an embarrassing postseason result late Tuesday in the NIT.

*USC (-14.5) had to go double overtime to beat NC Asheville 103-98

That’s three favorites going 0-2-1 straight up in regulation, missing the market by 9.5, 5, and 14.5 points. The generally held consensus that the Pac-12 stunk this year has held true so far. Among other scares: Oregon (-11) trailed Rider in the fourth quarter before rallying late. Utah (-12) trailed Cal Davis in the fourth quarter before rallying late. Still time for Arizona to carry the banner proudly in the NCAA’s, or for one of a few P12 survivors to go deep in the NIT. 

Syracuse plays TCU Friday. In the earlier Wednesday play-in game featuring #16 seeds…

Texas Southern (-5.5) 64, NC Central 46

Two-point Pct: Texas Southern 45%, NC Central 38%

Three Pointers: Texas Southern 6/24, NC Central 0/14

Free Throws: Texas Southern 16/19, NC Central 4/6

Rebounds: Texas Southern 41, NC Central 43

Turnovers: Texas Southern 14, NC Central 15

Estimated Possessions: Texas Southern 68, NC Central 67

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Texas Southern 249-242-235, NC Central 309-295-268

Market Watch: Generally speaking an opener of Texas Southern -4.5 or -5 worked its way to -5.5 before game time. Some places were outside that range for short periods of time.  The opening total of 146.5 was bet down to as low as 144 before bouncing back up to 144.5 or 145. Bad bounce! This one never had a chance to go Over. Would have needed most of a third half. 

Central was regarded as the worst team in the tournament, then played even worse than those meager expectations. That’s 0 of 14 on treys, 21 of 55 on two-point shots, while facing one of the worst defenses in the country. The full scoreboard distance came from Texas Southern’s 6-0 edge in made treys. The favorite didn’t exactly sparkle here either. Xavier up next for Texas Southern on Friday. 

Derek Stevens went 1-1 Wednesday with North Carolina Central and Syracuse. His record is now 2-2 four games into the Dance in his “play the board” challenge. 

NCAA Tournament: Thursday previews region-by-region with the Holy Trinity

If you’ve been with us this week, you know we’re focusing on the following stats in our game previews for the Big Dance…

*Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rankings from Ken Pomeroy’s website

*Rebound Rate as calculated by

*Turnover Avoidance as calculated by

Pomeroy’s defensive numbers reflect points allowed per possession adjusted for schedule strength. The other two stats account only for opportunity…as rebound rate is percentage of possible rebounds grabbed, while turnover avoidance is turnovers as a percentage of possessions…but don’t adjust for schedule strength.

It can be messy running through a full-day schedule in the Dance. Do we go by starting times? Do we go by sessions? We’ve decided to go in Nevada rotation order of the regionals, but then by starting times at each site. So, we start in Pittsburgh…then go through games 1-4 there. After that Wichita, and so on. 


Rhode Island (-2/158) vs. Oklahoma (12:15 p.m. ET on CBS)

Oklahoma: #83 defense, #207 rebounding, #96 TO avoidance

Rhode Island #38 defense, #148 rebounding, #21 TO avoidance

The Rams have had some recent defensive lapses, but graded out well for the season in terms of points allowed per possession after you adjust for pace and schedule strength. Actually, it’s a rare clean sweep of the Holy Trinity in a near pick-em game. Rhode Island was better at all of these skill sets through the season. You can see why things go south for OU so quickly when Trae Young’s shots aren’t falling. The Sooners don’t grab his misses…and don’t defend well off his misses by Dance standards. And, Young himself is turnover prone while trying to force up shots. If you watched the Sooners play late this season, does this strike you as a good “morning” team? They already play sleepy when wide awake. This stat handicapping approach is suggesting Rhode Island makes sense as a cheap favorite. 

Duke (-20.5/157) vs. Iona (2:45 p.m. ET on CBS)

Iona: #212 defense, #295 rebounding, #35 TO avoidance

Duke #7 defense, #5 rebounding, #120 TO avoidance

Big edge for the Blue Devils. Though, it’s possible Iona can hang within the number because of that turnover advantage. Key is finding good shots against the Duke zone. You can tell Iona won’t rebound many misses. The storyline when Duke switched from man-to-man to zone was that Coach K was making a desperation move because of a poor defense. Actually, when adjusted for context the defense was okay, then really started rattling opponents with a zone. 

Villanova (-23/145.5) vs. Radford (6:50 p.m. ET on TNT)

Radford: #133 defense, #92 rebounding, #179 TO avoidance

Villanova #22 defense, #64 rebounding, #7 TO avoidance

Radford at least had a game to lose its jitters. But, this is a horrible matchup for the big dog because Villanova tends to blow-and-go vs. inferior opposition. Plus, the Wildcats leave their starters in deep in blowouts to run up the score. Radford’s TO problems vs. Villanova’s elite defense looks like it’s going to cause problems. If you saved our “market” Power Ratings from Monday’s report, this line went up right where that estimate had it…with Villanova an 87 and Radford a 64. 

Virginia Tech (-2/141.5) vs. Alabama (9:20 p.m. ET on TNT)

Alabama: #13 defense, #162 rebounding, #283 TO avoidance

Virginia Tech #54 defense, #240 rebounding, #72 TO avoidance

Mixed messages there. Both teams have had some great recent results amidst inconsistency. Alabama takes two of the three categories above. But, turnover avoidance is the only squash…and that points to Tech. Let’s make a note to pay attention to how bad TO offenses fare against the best defenses. Maybe Tech doesn’t qualify for “best defenses” with a ranking out of the top 50. A chance to be a thriller in the late TV window. 


Kansas (-13.5/146.5) vs. Pennsylvania (2 p.m. ET on TBS)

Pennsylvania: #73 defense, #118 rebounding, #58 TO avoidance

Kansas #46 defense, #174 rebounding, #55 TO avoidance

This is it…the best chance a #16 seed has had against a #1 before tipoff probably…ever. This isn’t a vintage Penn team…or Ivy League champ for that matter (other entries have scored upsets in better seed spots). Kansas is extremely vulnerable for a #1 seed in the Holy Trinity stats. Lousy rebounding by Dance standards…and right around #50 in composite in the other two. Compare that to Villanova’s excellence across the board a moment ago. Playing in Wichita should help the host. History may not be knocking on the door. It’s standing out in the street and thinking about it, though. 

Seton Hall (-2.5/157.5) vs. NC State (4:30 p.m. ET on TBS)

NC State: #99 defense, #151 rebounding, #62 TO avoidance

Seton Hall #58 defense, #46 rebounding, #141 TO avoidance

The Hall wins two of our three categories, but turnover issues might be enough to take value away as a favorite. The high Over/Under is signaling a high energy battle. Some early ACC tests today to determine whether the “bulk” teams are going to offer value the same way they did in the Big 10/ACC challenge. Duke will tip earlier…but Duke’s a national superpower rather than a mid-level ACC team. If you believe the ACC is better than it’s getting credit for this season, NC State here and Miami vs. Loyola in Dallas are ways to attack that early (Virginia Tech is a night game). 

Houston (-4/142.5) vs. San Diego State (7:20 p.m. ET on TBS)

San Diego St.: #36 defense, #38 rebounding, #78 TO avoidance

Houston #18 defense, #13 rebounding, #133 TO avoidance

This one’s going to get physical. Houston has one day less preparation after finishing the American Athletic tournament Sunday afternoon. San Diego State had a tiring weekend too, winning the Mountain West tournament Saturday night. Two classic “defense and rebounding” bruisers. Will SDSU’s turnover avoidance be the tie-breaker? 

Michigan (-11/135) vs. Montana (9:50 p.m. ET on TBS)

Montana: #65 defense, #34 rebounding, #102 TO avoidance

Michigan #5 defense, #141 rebounding, #2 TO avoidance

Bad luck for Montana…because that’s an impressive stat line in the Holy Trinity that happens to run into one of the hottest teams in the country…who also happens to be truly ELITE in two of our three main areas of focus. Plus, Michigan’s rebounding was better down the stretch than its full season ranking would suggest. Maybe the long layoff will hurt the Wolverines. Tough to lay such a high number vs. the trinity numbers of Montana. You can see why Michigan is a threat to go deep if they can overcome the long layoff. 


Tennessee (-12/132) vs. Wright State (12:40 p.m. ET on truTV)

Wright State: #53 defense, #76 rebounding, #187 TO avoidance

Tennessee #4 defense, #99 rebounding, #140 TO avoidance

Rick Barnes left the state of Texas a disappointment, but has rejuvenated his career and reputation with the Volunteers. Will returning to the Lone Star state bring out the worst in his team? Fantastic defense this season after you adjust for pace and schedule. Turnovers are a concern, and rebounding isn’t a check mark today. Sometimes big favorites have trouble playing sharp in the earliest tips, particularly when arenas are mostly empty. Not a daytime doubleheader the locals are going to attend in the metroplex. 

Miami (-1.5/133) vs. Loyola-Chicago (3:10 p.m. ET on truTV)

Loyola-Chi: #24 defense, #120 rebounding, #213 TO avoidance

Miami #45 defense, #146 rebounding, #46 TO avoidance

If you watched Miami win at North Carolina, you have to be in shock that this line is so low. Problem is, Miami has trouble finding consistency. And, Loyola is the most impressive of the #12 seeds. So many bettors feel they have to support at least one #12 in an upset over a #5. Has the smell of a tight battle because the dog gets the slight nod in defense and rebounding, but might give that away with turnovers. 

Texas Tech (-11/137) vs. Stephen F. Austin (7:25 p.m. ET on truTV)

SF Austin: #67 defense, #79 rebounding, #314 TO avoidance

Texas Tech #3 defense, #47 rebounding, #149 TO avoidance

Should be a great atmosphere with both teams playing in their home state from manageable travel distances. Tech is very experienced…but not necessarily “Dance” experienced in terms of thriving in playoff style basketball. Prior SFA entries have been more dynamic. Turnovers could be a big problem for the dog. That ranking of #314 is unadjusted for strength of schedule. SFA should be even more mistake-prone against an elite Big 12 defense. 

Florida (-5.5/143) vs. St. Bonaventure (9:55 p.m. ET on truTV)

St. Bonaventure: #94 defense, #135 rebounding, #40 TO avoidance

Florida #25 defense, #253 rebounding, #6 TO avoidance

The Bonnies fared better than their stat composite and full season computer rankings would have suggested Tuesday night vs. UCLA. Now, they get a head start edge to take away first game jitters and rustiness. Florida lives and dies by the trey thanks to that awful rebounding ranking. One reason their TO avoidance ranking is so great is because they launch bombs before turnovers can happen deeper in the clock. St. Bonny’s zone stymied UCLA. Can it do the same thing here against a potentially rusty, inconsistent favorite? Note that we’ve lifted St. Bonaventure to 76 in our estimated “market” Power Ratings from 75 given this early line of Florida -5.5 (Gators are at 82).  


Gonzaga (-12.5/136) vs. NC Greensboro (1:30 p.m. ET on TNT)

NC Greensboro: #30 defense, #19 rebounding, #275 TO avoidance

Gonzaga #17 defense, #4 rebounding, #33 TO avoidance

Nice balance for Gonzaga. Definitely a team that can go deep as long as it can stay focused earlier. That’s been an issue here and there in the past. Great defense and rebounding numbers for the dog here…though the turnover category is a squash. If Gonzaga shows up overconfident, Greensboro’s toughness might make this one very interesting. 

Ohio State (-8/147) vs. South Dakota State (4 p.m. ET on TNT)

S. Dakota St.: #148 defense, #80 rebounding, #1 TO avoidance

Ohio State #16 defense, #22 rebounding, #100 TO avoidance

Ohio State’s been a popular fade team in some circles because the Buckeyes didn’t close the season well, and are dealing with a very long layoff after losing to Penn State in the Big 10 tournament. You can see here some potential to go deep because of defense and rebounding. But, how about South Dakota State being the best turnover avoidance team in the country?! You know the Idaho crowd will be cheering hard for its neighbor. OSU in a volatile spot…capable of losing this one, or upsetting Gonzaga Saturday on the way to a deep run. 

Kentucky (-5/143.5) vs. Davidson (7:10 p.m. ET on CBS)

Davidson: #115 defense, #109 rebounding, #8 TO avoidance

Kentucky #23 defense, #42 rebounding, #181 TO avoidance

Very appealing matchup with two teams coming off wins in their conference tournaments this past weekend. Davidson has been playing better than that composite lately…and TO avoidance is very important against an athletic defense like Kentucky. Wildcats really picked up the pace defensively in the SEC tourney, as we documented all weekend. Too bad these teams were matched up against each other. Davidson probably would have rather faced #4 seeded Auburn from the SEC. 

Arizona (-8.5/148) vs. Buffalo (9:40 p.m. ET on CBS)

Buffalo: #138 defense, #81 rebounding, #51 TO avoidance

Arizona #70 defense, #6 rebounding, #123 TO avoidance

If the Pac 12 is a pretender, which early postseason results are suggesting, then this one could go down to the wire. Buffalo is a dangerous floater, with the best computer ranking composite of the #13 seeds. Not a particularly scary defense though. Will take a clean offensive effort to spring the upset. That #70 defensive ranking for Arizona is poor for their seed range. In fact, if you take the 24 teams seeded 1-6, Arizona has the third worst adjusted defensive efficiency, better than only TCU and Wichita State. Something that could be a big deal Saturday if both Arizona and Kentucky advance. 

Enjoy the first full day of the 2018 Dance. Because the schedule is SO big, we’re going to run our stat summaries on twitter Thursday and Friday. VSiN City will stick with game previews using the Holy Trinity and any major market matters that come up. See you throughout the day Thursday on twitter, then back here Friday morning to crunch the numbers for the rest of the first round. 

Our expanded Dance coverage will put the NIT on the backburner for awhile. Note that Tuesday’s Under bias showed up more dramatically in Wednesday’s NIT action. And, home teams have been getting the best of it by more than the market expected thus far. 

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