St. Bonaventure stuns UCLA, vulnerable Florida up next

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

March 14, 2018 12:01 AM
The Bonnies celebrate their upset of UCLA in a First Four game in Dayton.
© USA Today Sports Images

The slipper fits! St. Bonaventure is the first Cinderella of the 2018 NCAA tournament, upsetting UCLA 65-58 Tuesday night in Dayton. Stats, ramifications, plus Wednesday previews as the madness is just beginning in VSiN City.

NCAA Tuesday Play in for #11 seeds: St. Bonaventure stuns UCLA, vulnerable Florida up next

The play-in preliminaries have been a launching pad in the past, as a dis-respected seed gains confidence, and is already up to speed for the next round. Let’s see how the Bonnies knocked out the Bruins, and if there are hints about another possible upset to come later this week against inconsistent Florida. 

St. Bonaventure (plus 2.5) 65 UCLA 58 

Two-point Pct: St. Bonaventure 46%, UCLA 55% 

Three Pointers: St. Bonaventure 4/19, UCLA 10/30

Free Throws: St. Bonaventure 15/21, UCLA 6/10

Rebounds: St. Bonaventure 31, UCLA 41

Turnovers: St. Bonaventure 6, UCLA 20

Estimated Possessions: St. Bonaventure 70, UCLA 68

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: St. Bonaventure 69-60-57, UCLA 48-44-55

Market Watch: An opener of UCLA -3.5 was bet down to as low as UCLA -2 Tuesday afternoon before bouncing back up to a closer of 2.5. Clearly sharps liked the underdog at 3 or better. Respected UCLA money did jump in when the two was temporarily breached. The opening Over/Under of 154 was bet up to 156.5 in a game that ultimately had no shot to get that high. 

Not quite the up-tempo showcase many expected. It settled into a halfcourt game that exposed UCLA’s lack of offensive discipline vs. quality. You can see the Bruins turned the ball over 20 times on just 70 possessions (using Shots…minus offensive rebounds…plus one-half free throws…plus turnovers to create an estimate). UCLA also shot 30 three-pointers compared to just 20 two-pointers. So…when the Bruins could get the ball inside, they hit 55% (11 of 20), but that was a coin flip on too many possessions. Settling for bombs didn’t help the cause because St. Bonaventure was able to get to the free throw line (15-6 scoring edge) while avoiding turnovers (only six giveaways) to score more efficiently.

Scoring on “1’s and 2’s” was dominated by St. Bonaventure to the tune of 53-28.

UCLA had performed well in turnover avoidance this season. Possibly another hint that the Pac 12 is so bad that perceived strengths by member teams will be exposed in this event. The Bruins just took Arizona to overtime late last week! Now they’re getting outplayed by a team the computers saw as NIT material at best. That’s why we’re calling St. Bonaventure the first Cinderella. An underdog with a composite computer rating in the 60’s has won outright against a Power 5 favorite.

Arizona State takes the floor next for the Pac 12, facing Syracuse Wednesday on this same floor. 

Can St. Bonaventure upset Florida and see the weekend? Florida turns mortal whenever its treys aren’t falling (partly because the Gators are a very poor rebounding team). But, Florida’s defense is much better than UCLA’s, which means the Bonnies will have to lift their game a bit more to earn a second victory. More on this down the road when we run our Holy Trinity preview stats Thursday and Friday. 

NCAA Tuesday Play in for #16 seeds: Radford wins, but doesn’t impress after late surge

Radford and LIU-Brooklyn had the honor of being “the official starters” of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Both sliced their drives into the woods. Radford scrambled late to advance. 

Radford (-5.5) 71, LIU-Brooklyn 61

Two-point Pct: LIU-Brooklyn 50%, Radford 52% 

Three Pointers: LIU-Brooklyn 7/26, Radford 6/17

Free Throws: LIU-Brooklyn 16/23, Radford 9/13

Rebounds: LIU-Brooklyn 32, Radford 38

Turnovers: LIU-Brooklyn 15, Radford 15

Estimated Possessions: LIU-Brooklyn 71, Radford 73

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: LIU-Brooklyn 251-256-239, Radford 170-191-164

Market Watch: Offshore opener was Radford -3.5, Vegas -4. Sharps liked the favorite. The public usually doesn’t get to involved in the 16-16 play-in, but any takers were looking at chalk too. The line rose as high as -6 before some buyback before tipoff. Over/Under dropped from 139 or 139.5 to 136.5. 

If you didn’t watch, it was just 61-59 Radford with about three-and-a-half minutes to go. Favorite closed out on a 10-2 run to win the game and cover. Some ugly basketball with 15 turnovers apiece. Plus, Brooklyn was just 7 of 26 on treys while losing the rebounding category. That means many trey attempts from the dog were virtual turnovers too. A strike against Radford that it couldn’t pull away until late. Neither suggested they’d give a thrill to Villanova Thursday if they advanced. 

Our Holy Trinity stats were smiling on Radford in yesterday’s preview. Worked out, but only because of the late pull away. The clear edge in rebounding potential proved meaningful. But, it wasn’t clear that LIU’s defense was significantly worse (as the full season stats had suggested), or that turnover avoidance would go to the favorite (it didn’t). 

The version of Radford that played tonight has no chance to compete with Villanova. We’ve mentioned often this season that Villanova obliterates bad teams, but can have trouble vs. decent opponents who don’t blink. Radford’s fundamentals are poor by Dance standards. Unless Villanova sleepwalks, that one’s going to get ugly fast. 

Note that Derek Stevens had Radford and UCLA for his first two selections in his “bet the board” challenge. That’s a 1-1 start with North Carolina Central and Syracuse on tap Wednesday. 

Wednesday Play-Ins: Handicapping using the “Holy Trinity” of defense, rebounding, and guard play

As we discussed Tuesday, we’re going to focus on the following stats in our game previews this week for the Big Dance…

*Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rankings from Ken Pomeroy’s website

*Rebound Rate as calculated by

*Turnover Avoidance as calculated by

Defense, rebounding, guard play. The essence of championship basketball for decades. Too many bettors focus too much on games they remember from TV, or what’s happened the past few weeks, rather than studying skill sets. This will force you to consider strengths and weaknesses before making your final decisions. 

Texas Southern (-5.5/147) vs. NC-Central (6:40 p.m. ET on truTV)

Texas Southern: #315 defense, #248 rebounding, #88 TO avoidance

NC Central: #288 defense, #68 rebounding, #308 TO avoidance

Interesting that favored Texas Southern has the lesser of two (bad) defenses, and was much worse in rebounding. Central is a turnover machine, with a horrible national ranking despite playing a very weak schedule. Get ready for some out-of-control basketball! No clear-cut handicapping angles from those numbers. If the dog can get shots off, second chance points could put them in position to score an upset. Can Central keep from throwing the ball away? 

Arizona State (-1.5/143.5) vs. Syracuse (9:10 p.m. ET on truTV)

Syracuse: #11 defense, #43 rebounding, #224 TO avoidance

Arizona St.: #124 defense, #226 rebounding, #9 TO avoidance

The tricky Syracuse zone has helped them surge through the Dance in past years where the team wasn’t all that good overall. That’s worth remembering here. Also worth noting, there’s a theory that Syracuse has trouble rebounding in its zone. Not true this year according to rebound rate. Coach Boeheim’s problem this year has been with offensive turnovers. Syracuse has to hope to win grinders because they can’t play cleanly enough on offense to dominate people. 

Arizona State peaked very early, and was abused in the areas of defense and rebounding in the Pac 12. At least they treasure possessions on offense. Fascinating dynamic where an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over will be facing a fiendish zone it hasn’t seen before. If you believe that defense and rebounding rules the day in neutral court playoff style basketball, mediocre 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. 

Tuesday NIT: Louisville starts slow, dominates late to advance to second round

You may have heard that the Louisville players voted NOT to play in the NIT after getting snubbed by the NCAA’s. The program accepted the bid anyway. Louisville’s players seemed to be on strike in a first half Tuesday night that saw them trail Northern Kentucky 30-23 (only scoring seven points in the second quarter in NIT’s experimental format). The Cards would regroup to win the rest of the game 43-28.

Louisville (-7.5) 66, Northern Kentucky 58

Two-point Pct: Northern Kentucky 47%, Louisville 43%

Three Pointers: Northern Kentucky 5/28, Louisville 6/18

Free Throws: Northern Kentucky 9/14, Louisville 16/22

Rebounds: Northern Kentucky 42, Louisville 38

Turnovers: Northern Kentucky 14, Louisville 10

Estimated Possessions: Northern Kentucky 73, Louisville 70 

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Northern Kentucky 93-105-76, Louisville 33-23-30

Market Watch: The first number up was around Louisville -10. But, early sharp interest on the dog was so clear that later stores opened at -8.5. Dog money would take it as low as Louisville -7 until it bounced back up. Some stores closed -7.5, others on -8 for a push. Generally speaking anyone who bet this should have won or pushed. Over/Under opened around 150, with stragglers opening lower around 147. Ticked up to 147.5 or 148 depending on the locale. Low scoring first half kept Under bettors safe. 

You can see that the computers thought Louisville should have been in the Dance brackets easily. The line you see above (33-23-30) is comparable to #6 seed Miami (36-32-35 entering the week), #7 seed Arkansas (37-31-37), #8 seed Virginia Tech (32-37-29), and well above the bubble teams down at #11. No-brainer if “Vegas” was setting the brackets. Someday the selection committee can tell us what “really” went on with so many quality teams getting snubbed. 

Here, free throws turned out to be the tie-breaking difference. Louisville was plus 7 points on plus 8 attempts in a game it won by eight. Also helped that NoKe couldn’t buy a trey. Game stayed Under by 24 points with the longer distance required on treys for this event. Louisville will host Middle Tennessee in the next round, on a collision course with Baylor in the quarterfinals. Baylor would host that game if both advance. 

Also Tuesday in the NIT…(results presented in Nevada rotation order)

*Baylor (-13) beat Wagner 80-59. Baylor managed 10 of 20 from the new three-point distance. Wagner was just 6 of 30 trying to shoot over the tough Baylor zone on the road. A bad draw for this particular dog in that light. Baylor did turn the ball over 19 times, which will be a problem when they face better teams in this event. Bears get the winner of Mississippi State/Nebraska in the next round. 

*Middle Tennessee (-6) beat Vermont 91-64. Another road team having trouble with treys, as Vermont was just 2 of 12. Middle Tennessee was 10 of 21. Will we find that home court advantage is a big deal with the longer trey distance? At least, in these unique circumstances where an immediate adjustment must be made? MTSU won rebounding 34-22 while shooting 72% inside the arc. A true squash from another team on a mission after getting snubbed. If Louisville’s players are still indecisive, the Blue Raiders will spring an upset next round. How about a 32-9 blitz in the third quarter!

*Western Kentucky (-5) beat Boston College 79-62. Obviously, we check treys first…and it’s no surprise that BC was 4 of 19 for the night. Hosts shot 69% on two-point shots. Attacking the basket is an even more important skill set when treys are harder to hit. Hilltoppers are in the USC region of the NIT brackets. 

*Oklahoma State (-11) beat Florida Gulf Coast 80-68, thanks largely to a monster edge from the free throw line. Okie State was 31 of 42, while FGC was just 12 of 18. Possibly some home cooking. But, superior, aggressive teams often earn free throw advantages by attacking the rim. FGC was 10 of 27 from behind the arc. Needed one more to cover. Oklahoma State will play the winner of Wednesday’s Stanford/BYU game. 

*Notre Dame (-20) beat Hampton 84-63. Hampton was 6 of 26 on treys, but the Irish weren’t much better at 7 of 27. That means the blowout margin had to come from inside. Irish won two-point shooting 50% to 33%. Notre Dame will play the winner of Penn State/Temple. 

*St. Mary’s (-14.5) beat SE Louisiana 89-45, screaming loud and clear about what the Gaels thought about the NCAA selection process. Visitors were just 1 of 20 on treys, the worst performance of the night with guests flailing badly from long range all over the country. The Gaels were an impressive 13 of 24. St. Mary’s will play the winner of Boise State/Washington, a game which was moved to Washington because the city of Boise is hosting an NCAA regional. 

*Oregon (-11.5) beat Rider 99-86. The Ducks trailed entering the fourth quarter, setting up the potential for more Pac 12 handwringing. Oregon won the final stanza 38-21, and will advance to face the winner of Marquette/Harvard. Rider was 6 of 22 on treys, Oregon 14 of 26.

USC vs. NC-Asheville was a very late finish. 

There was a line of thinking that the experimental tweaks players were dealing with in the NIT would reduce scoring and creating opportunities for Under bets. Let’s take a quick look at that…


Northern Kentucky/Louisville landed on 124, staying Under 147 by 23 points

Boston College/Western Kentucky landed on 141, going Under 160 by 19 points

SE Louisiana/St. Mary’s landed on 134, going Under 139 by 5 points

Florida Gulf Coast/Oklahoma State landed on 148, going Under 160.5 by 12.5 points

Hampton/Notre Dame landed on 147, going Under 151.5 by 4.5 points


Wagner/Baylor landed on 139, going Over 138 by 1 point

Vermont/Middle Tennessee landed on 155, going Over 137.5 by 17.5 points

Rider/Oregon landed on 185, going Over 159 by 26 points

NC Asheville/USC was a late finisher. More Unders than Overs…and one of the Overs was by a point. So, some initial bias toward the Under. If anything, there was a much clearer bias toward home teams because of very wide discrepancies in three-point shooting. Just one night, so don’t overreact. 

Back with you tomorrow to run the key stats from Wednesday’s play-ins…and to study Holy Trinity breakdowns for all 16 encounters on the Thursday Dance card. 

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