Here we go. Nothing equates to March Madness — 68 teams, with four play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday and back to a 64-team bracket on Thursday and Friday. It’s going to be wild, so brace yourself. I see a dozen teams that have a pure chance to win it all on April 4 down in the Big Easy. Now pay attention and let’s make some cash.
Texas Southern (16) vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (16)
Indiana (12) vs. Wyoming (12)
Wright State (16) vs. Bryant (16)
Notre Dame (11) vs. Rutgers (11)
Games of interest: High-level octane
North Carolina (8) vs. Marquette (9)
Line: North Carolina -1.5
This is one of the games where I think the better team is the underdog. North Carolina has not impressed me in a pretty subpar ACC, and Marquette with Shaka Smart as their new head coach has the same makeup as Virginia Tech, which knocked the Tar Heels out of the ACC Tournament.
Pick: MARQUETTE +1.5
San Diego State (8) vs. Creighton (9)
Line: Creighton -1
San Diego State, after losing its Mountain West Conference championship to Boise State in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon, had to feel good about its chances on Sunday. The Aztecs made the tourney, and if they can find a new (go-to) guy and shooter for their offense may surprise a few teams. SDSU plays good defensive basketball and needs to sharpen up its free throws and continue to play hard and as a team. Creighton is a group on a mission and has awakened the last half of the season. I make this a close game, but the Aztecs win it with their defense.
Pick: SAN DIEGO STATE +1
Providence (4) vs. South Dakota State (13)
Line: Providence -8.5
Don’t go to sleep on the Jackrabbits. South Dakota State is well coached and has won 21 in a row. The Providence Friars, with the best team since Rick Pitino got them to the Final Four, is a dangerous squad under head coach Ed Cooley. Providence has tough city players and South Dakota has a completely different style. Providence should win but the 8.5-point spread is way off mark.
Pick: Take SOUTH DAKOTA STATE +8.5 points
USC (7) vs. Miami (10)
Line: USC -1
USC is trying to keep its identity moving forward after losing Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Player
of the Year Evan Mobley (Temecula) to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA draft last year. The Trojans are well coached and play tenacious defense. Miami is just another team in a very overrated conference (ACC) this season. USC runs and rolls.
Pick: USC -1
LSU (6) vs. Iowa State (11)
Line LSU -4.5
This is one of the best bets on the bracket board. LSU fired head coach Will Wade after the Tigers were bounced from the SEC tournament, a result of recruiting allegations. LSU is dangerous and the firing of Wade makes them even more so. The Tigers defend and play physical. Iowa State hasn’t showed me much and I see this as a possible rout.
Pick: LSU -4.5
Seton Hall (8) vs. TCU (9)
Line: Seton Hall -1
This matchup will take place Viejas Arena on the San Diego State campus. Seton Hall is quick and physical but goes in and out of focus during games and has trouble closing out games, and that concerns me. TCU has quickness and superb athletes. The teams mirror each other quite closely as the betting line projects, but I see TCU having some awesome offense displays here and moving on.
Pick: TCU +1
Ohio State (7) vs. Loyola-Chicago (10)
Line: Loyola-Chicago -1.5
Loyola is back and so is Sister Jean (you remember her) at age 102. The Ramblers are surprisingly favored in this matchup. The Buckeyes are another team that takes one step forward and two steps back. This Ramblers team is very good.
Pick: LOYOLA-CHICAGO -1.5
First/second round sites: San Diego, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Greenville, S.C., Milwaukee, Fort Worth, Portland, Ore., Indianapolis
Possible second-round matchups (Thurs. winners play Saturday; Fri. winners play Sunday):
Kansas (1) vs. San Diego State (8) Gonzaga (1) vs. Boise State (8)
Arkansas (4) vs. UConn (5)
Alabama (6) vs. Texas Tech (3)
Duke (2) vs. Michigan State (7)
Purdue (3) vs. Virginia Tech (11)
Arizona (1) vs. TCU (9)
Illinois (4) vs. Houston (5)
Villanova (2) vs. Loyola-Chicago (10)
Sweet 16/Elite 8 sites: Chicago, San Antonio, Philadelphia, San Francisco
Final Four: April 2 (semifinals) and April 4 (championship), New Orleans
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