Tuley's Takes for NCAA Round 1

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We hope everyone is enjoying March Madness like we are here in the Tuley’s Takes home office. Of course, how could you not be thrilled after we were all deprived of the NCAA Tournament last year?

My enthusiasm was tempered a little bit last week during Championship Week as our recommended plays were barely profitable at 4-3 ATS (but a profit is a profit). The disappointment was that several of the teams we were planning to back lost their preliminary games before they went against the teams we were expecting them to face — Xavier, Marquette, Stanford, Kentucky, SMU, Boise State and UCLA, plus Duke due to COVID-19 issues. There’s part of me that feels I made bad calls with those teams as they might not have come through as underdogs in the subsequent rounds if they weren’t able to win as favorites. However, I choose to credit the dog-or-pass approach for passing on them in those supposedly easier matchups. And the fact they flamed out early saved us money.

It’s now on to the Big Dance, where we’ve had a lot of success with underdogs over the years. However, there’s a downside to all those winning dogs as oddsmakers continue to depress the lines to make it harder and harder to find ATS winners unless you can find outright upsets. I’ve been writing about this for years, but a decade ago you could have been getting 30 points with the No. 16 seeds, mid-20s with No. 15s, low 20s with No. 14s, high teens with No. 13s and we all know how live No. 12 seeds have been. However, with all the upsets in recent years, oddsmakers have lowered the lines across the board (this is also because the public has learned to bet dogs during the tournament). In fact, most of the line moves we saw Sunday night and early this week have been on popular dogs as sharps and the public have both jumped in early to drive these lines down even further.

So if you saw my bracket in VSiN’s Tournament Betting Guide, you probably noticed that it’s pretty chalk, or at least chalkier than my reputation would suggest. We’ve seen favorites prevail in most of the major sports championships during this pandemic era (Lightning in NHL, Lakers in NBA, Dodgers in MLB, Alabama in CFB Playoff). Though the Chiefs did fall short in the Super Bowl, I think the cream will rise to the top in March Madness.

As for futures, I’m sticking with the bets I wrote about three weeks ago in this column with Gonzaga/Baylor to win the title at + 120, plus my value play on Illinois at 16-1. Of course, since I wrote that, Illinois has gone on a roll and is now a No. 1 seed and is closer to 5-1. Meanwhile, the Gonzaga/Baylor prop has been bouncing all over the place and was at + 145 for those in states with access to William Hill lines and want to join in. The odds have gone up with Baylor not being as dominant as it was earlier in the season. Gonzaga is around 2-1 for those who want to take the favorite against the field.

Without further ado, let’s get to my best bets in the first round. These are all dogs that I’m expecting to win outright and also using in most of my brackets.

VSiN programming note: Check out VSiN.com for picks from other handicappers. In addition, we’ll post over the weekend on the second-round games for Sunday and Monday.

 

FRIDAY

Virginia Tech (+ 1) vs. Florida, 12:15 a.m. ET

This is one of those games where I wish both teams were matched up against other teams as I could see myself fading both of them, especially against underrated teams from smaller conferences. Instead, we get a 7-10 matchup between teams from the ACC and SEC. Florida has failed to cover the spread in four straight games, while Virginia Tech is 1-3 ATS in its last four, so that makes the Hokies the lesser of two evils. I’m siding with the Hokies as they’re more potent from 3-point range and they also have the excuse that their season has had more COVID-19 interruptions. The move to Indiana for the tournament could work in their favor. 

Pick: Virginia Tech + 1

 

Georgia Tech (+ 3) vs. Loyola-Chicago, 4 p.m. ET

Loyola-Chicago is back in the NCAA Tournament, so cue up the features on Sister Jean. You all remember the Ramblers’ run to the 2018 Final Four with the biggest media star being Sister Jean, the team chaplain. Well, she’s now 101 years young and has been cleared to travel to Indianapolis to cheer on her team. As for the players, this is an intriguing matchup as Loyola is ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the Coaches Poll, so a lot of people think the Ramblers should have been a No. 4 or 5 seed, but instead the Missouri Valley Conference champs are just a No. 8. So public sentiment is riding on Loyola-Chicago. However, I’m not so sure the right team is favored as Georgia Tech has been playing just as well lately and won the ACC tournament title. Granted, the ACC is down this season, but the Ramblin’ Wreck is a solid team led by ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright (has there ever been an ACC POY receiving less hype?) that isn’t getting the respect it deserves. I’ll take the generous points, and I’m also looking at the moneyline that was up to + 135 as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Pick: Georgia Tech + 3

 

SATURDAY

St. Bonaventure (+ 1.5) vs. LSU, 1:45 p.m. ET

As expected of a No. 8-vs. No. 9 matchup, this is close to a pick-’em. That almost kept me away with the number being so short. However, since I’m going with the Bonnies in most of my brackets, I’m counting on the outright upset, so it's also a bet for me. There’s no denying that LSU is the more talented team. The Tigers are capable of matching up well with Michigan — if they were to meet in the second round — and making a deep run in the East Region, but St. Bonaventure is no slouch and is just as capable. The Bonnies will be expected to slow the game down to limit the Tigers with a defense that allowed just 60.4 points per game, No. 5 in the country. They also know how to fill it up from long range, led by Dominick Welch hitting 40% from 3-point range. Defense and 3-point shooting is usually the recipe for success for a mid-major. 

Pick: St. Bonaventure + 1.5

 

Ohio (+ 7.5) vs. Virginia, 7:15 p.m. ET

This is probably my favorite outright upset in the first round, though I’m a little afraid of it being a “public dog.” Virginia had to back out of the ACC tournament last week, and I can’t imagine all the uncertainty with the team’s testing and late arrival in Indiana will help in its preparations for this game. Ohio is peaking at the right time and coming off the MAC championship. The Bobcats don’t have a superstar, but all five starters average double digits and they rank No. 29 in offensive efficiency at kenpom.com. They scored at least 84 points in each of their three conference tournament games. I wouldn’t expect them to reach that level against Virginia, which plays at the slowest pace in the country, but a relatively low-scoring game certainly works in favor of the underdog covering the number. This line has been getting bet down, but I’d take the Bobcats at + 6 or better.

Pick: Ohio + 7.5

 

VCU (+ 5.5) vs. Oregon, 9:57 p.m. ET

Just like the days when Shaka Smart roamed the sidelines for VCU, the Rams are led by a defense that is ranked No. 12 at kenpom.com. VCU isn’t totally devoid on offense as Atlantic-10 Player of the Year Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland leads the way with 19.9 points per game. But VCU’s chance at the upset (or at least to cover for our purposes) comes down to its ability to take away either Chris Duarte or Eugene Omoruyi and defend the 3-pointers.

Pick: VCU + 6

 

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