LAS VEGAS–I know everyone is concentrating on the NCAA Tournament first-round matchups on Thursday and Friday and filling out their brackets, but we do have the “First Four” (aka play-in games) on Tuesday and Wednesday to help boost our bankrolls heading into the main event.
All lines are from the South Point as of Monday afternoon.
TUESDAY (at Dayton, Ohio)
No. 16 Radford (-4.5) vs. No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn (o/u 138.5)
Tuley’s Take: Both teams got hot at the right time with Radford riding a five-game winning streak, including the Big South title, and LIU-Brooklyn winning nine straight and a bigger upset winner in the Northeast Conference. Radford relies more on defense and spreads around the scoring from a rotation of eight players in grinding out its victories while LIU gets 59 points per game from its top four scorers led by Joel Hernandez (20.1 points per game) and Raiquan Clark (17.4 ppg). This total is the lowest of the First Four games and I think it’s shaded too low due to Radford’s presence and being the favorite, but the LIU’s defensive efficiency is pretty weak at 111 points per 100 possessions, according to kenpom.com, so I expect Radford to have an easier time scoring as well and send this over the total. Best Bet: Over 138.5 (lean to LIU plus the points, but I’ll probably just go with an LIU/Over parlay).
No. 11 UCLA (-3.5) vs. No. 11 St. Bonaventure (o/u 155)
Tuley’s Take: Both teams survived the bubble as they each lost to the eventual tournament champions in their conference. St. Bonaventure had the more consistent regular season at 25-7, so it was good to see the Bonnies get in. UCLA, however, got in as only the third Pac-12 team in the tourney, probably thanks to its sweep of rival USC. Still, when comparing these two teams, UCLA has the more talent and I’m just not convinced St. Bonnie can hang with the Bruins’ Aaron Holiday (averaging 20.3 ppg) and Thomas Welsh (13 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Best Bet: Pass (lean to UCLA but not enough to lay the points, also lean to the over but it’s set pretty high, so passing all around).
WEDNESDAY (at Dayton, Ohio)
No. 16 Texas Southern (-4.5) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central (o/u 146)
Tuley’s Take: Texas Southern is the seemingly requisite team with a losing record to make the NCAA Tournament as it upset the MEAC tournament by beating top-seeded Hampton 71-63. The Tigers get a lot of credit for bouncing back from an 0-13 start and getting hot at the right time, but I still feel this spread was made too high against an NC Central team that also comes in playing its best b-ball after upsetting Hampton for the MEAC automatic bid. I have this at a virtual pick ‘em, so I’ll gladly take the points. Best Bet: NC Central plus 4.5.
No. 11 Arizona St. (-1) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (o/u 142.5)
Tuley’s Take: Both teams made it off the bubble and find themselves relegated to a play-in game. Syracuse has lost five of its last eight games, but ASU has had an even harder fall from grace, losing five of its last six after being regarded in the season as a Final Four threat. This isn’t a strong opinion, but I’m going with the lesser of two evils in taking the Orange. I’m counting on Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim having some defensive wrinkles to help send Syracuse to the first round. Best Bet: Syracuse plus 1.