100-Unit NCAA Game Of Year Wins As Maryland Knocks Off Houston 89-77
100-Unit NCAA Game Of Year Wins As Maryland Knocks Off Houston 89-77
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NCAA Favorites Go 8-7 Yesterday After Underdogs
Dominated On Thursday By 11-5 Margin
Handicappers Now Need Top Shift Gears To Win In NCAA
By Kelso Sturgeon
The NCAA Tournament to decide college basketball’s national champion becomes more interesting by the hour and it has nothing to do with the fact I won my third straight 100-unit March Madness play as Maryland (-9.5) knocked off Houston, 89-77, in my Opening Round Blowout Game of the Year. There is a strange and silent wind blowing through the Big Dance this year and I find it exhilarating.
Nothing was more meaningful Friday that Maryland’s 100-unit win but there was a tremendous degree of satisfaction on a 5-2 on which I won my three biggest plays—and got the cash with two unlikely underdogs—tiny Wofford College (enrollment 1,439) in its cover in a 53-49 loss to Wisconsin (enrollment 42,000) and upstart New Mexico State which took Michigan State to the money before losing, 70-67.
That strange and silent wind is whispering that the have-nots can hold their own with the giants of the game and can even beat them. Let me give you Cornell’s 78-65 upset win over Temple as exhibit one. For the record I was on the wrong side in that one.
Just how competitive have the have-nots been in this tournament?
--14th-seeded Ohio University buried 3rd-seeded Georgetown, 97-83, in the opening round.
--13th-seeded Murray State knocked off 4th-seeded Vanderbilt, 66-65, in the opening round.
--14th-seeded Montana took 3rd-seeded New Mexico to the money before losing while covering in a 5-point loss.
--14th-seeded Sam Houston State got the cover against 3rd-seeded Baylor in a 68-59 loss.
As one who has been watching, handicapping and betting basketball for the bettor part of 40 years, I am ready to conclude a certain degree of parity is coming to college basketball and that the day of the easy out is over at NCAA Tournament time.
If you like an underdog, bet it. It is as simply has that. As noted earlier I got the cash with two big underdogs Friday—Wofford and New Mexico State
This is not to suggest there won’t be blowouts in the first round of play, because there will be as is illustrated by all four number one seeds winning their games against 16th-seeded teams in knockout fashion. For the record, since the NCAA first began the current seeding process, number one seeds stand 104-0 against 16 seeds.
Bettors need to understand lesser known teams—those often referred to as the mid majors and the lower mid majors—have all at once become very competitive—a fact overlooked by those making betting lines. Many of these gentlemen are captive to the past and simply refuse to accept the reality that a good team can come from anywhere.
This is nothing but good news for bettors, since we can use these teams with the knowledge we are getting a point of two the best of it with their betting lines.
Tournament Facts And Figures
After 32 NCAA Tournament games, underdogs stand 18-13 against the spread (ATS), winning the battle by 11-5 on Thursday, while the favorites prevailed 8-7 (the other game was a pick’em) Friday.
All four number one seeds—Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky and Duke—are still in the tournament, as are all four number twos—Ohio State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Villanova. One number three seed—Georgetown—has been knocked out as has one number four, Vanderbilt.
The three lowest seeds remaining are number 14 Ohio University, number 13 Murray State and number 12 seed Cornell.
Three tournament teams all won in the opening round of play but sent signals they might not have the bench to go the distance. Ohio used just eight players in its upset win over Georgetown and got just 10 points from its bench. Saint Mary’s used just eight players in its victory over Richmond and got five points from its bench.
New Mexico used its starters almost all the way in its close shave with Montana and got but two points from its bench.
I have listed all of Friday’s NCAA games below, with my comments on them as they were released. There are lessons in what I had to say about each game and I sincerely believe you can up your knowledge of the game by taking the time to ready my comments.
NCAA TOURNAMENT OPENING ROUND
Friday, March 19
Opening Round Blowout Game Of Year
#4 Maryland (23-8) -9.5 over #13 Houston (19-15)
Prediction: Maryland by 18-19
Maryland 89, Houston 77
Comments: No team in college basketball was playing any better in the last six weeks of the regular season than Maryland. The Terrapins got off so a slow and scary start—even losing at home to William & Mary—but closed out 7-1 in their last eight and 9-2 in their last 11. In that run there was a 79-72 home win over Duke, home wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech and, even more impressive, road wins at Virginia Tech, 104-100, at N.C. State, 67-58, and at Florida State, 71-67. The run was good enough to tie Duke for the regular season ACC championship. The Terps lost to Georgia Tech, 69-64, in the first round of the ACC tournament and that means they are a well-rested crew, having benefited from the time off. In analyzing this match up, it soon becomes obvious Maryland has most of the edges. Houston does have the leading scorer in the country in the person of senior guard Aubrey Coleman who averages 25.6 points per game, but basically that is it. Then there is the simple fact Maryland can counter with senior guard Greivis Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year and a certain first-round NBA draft choice. The 6-6 Vasquez is the team leader and does it all, averaging 19.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. His impact is real and he is the only player in ACC history to score 2,000 points, have 700 assists and 600 rebounds. In comparing the teams’ collective ability and performance profile, Maryland finished the season ranked 21 of 343 teams in the NCAA’s all-important RPI standings while Houston checked in at 110. Maryland played the 21st toughest schedule in the land, Houston the 92nd. Maryland plays defense, Houston does not. Maryland has a solid front line to support its guards while Houston has absolutely no presence up front and thus has no inside game. Maryland can beat you from anywhere on the floor while Houston has to win from long range. One could write a book about all the edges Maryland has in this one but I think you get the idea. These teams do not breathe the same air and Maryland should win in blowout fashion.
* * * *
#5 Texas A&M (23-9) -3.0 over #12 Utah State (27-7)
Prediction: Texas A&M by 10-11
Texas A&M 69, Utah State 53
Comments: With all due respect to Utah State, those who run the athletic program in Logan make certain to pad the Aggies schedule with cupcakes and most certainly attempts to play all the good teams at home, where it has lost two games over the past three seasons. And, then, come March Madness, Utah State is ill-prepared to stand the heat a good team can bring. This one factor alone gives Texas A&M a tremendous edge. The Aggies from College Station are battle-tested against the best teams in the country, come into this off a 4-1 run, and ready to play its best. Texas A&M is 9-3 in its last 12 games and it is of more than passing interest the Aggies lost twice in that time frame to top-ranked Kansas (32-2), 79-66, on a neutral floor and 59-54 at home. The other loss came at Baylor (25-7), 70-66. This is a well-coached big-time Texas A&M team and there is no doubt in my mind it has all the edges.
* * * *
#6 Xavier (24-8) Pick’em over #11 Minnesota (21-13)
Prediction: Xavier by 7-8
Xavier 65, Minnesota 54
Comments: Xavier got off to a slow start this season but certainly has come to hand and is right now playing its best basketball. The Musketeers are the best 24-8 team in the country and this is not speculation. They finished the season ranked in the NCAA’s RPI standings as the 19th best of 343 teams. Xavier comes into the tournament standing 8-1 in its last nine games and 16-3 in its last 19 while playing the 44th toughest schedule in the country and are simply a better team that the Golden Gophers. Minnesota did what it had to do to get to the NCAA Tournament by going 4-1 in its last five games, including a 90-61 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. The biggest edge Xavier has is the fact it has two game-breaking players, superstar guard Jordan Crawford and guard Terrell Holloway. Either of these guys can wipe out a team and the Golden Gophers have no one to counter them.
* * * *
#5 Temple (29-5) -4.0 over #12 Cornell (27-4)
Prediction: Temple by 9-10
Cornell 78, Temple 65
Comments: For openers Temple has the talent to cause plenty of damage in the NCAA Tournament and without even getting lucky could land in the Sweet Sixteen round. The Owls play a very controlled offense and have a lock-down defense that brings so much pressure it wears teams down, causes them to blow their cool and then go into the melt-down mode. Cornell is a very good basketball team that has proved that by playing well on the road against the best teams in the country, including a 71-66 loss at Kansas, an 88-73 loss at Syracuse and a home loss to Seton Hall, 89-79. Cornell has the talent to stay with Temple for a while but I do believe the defensive pressure the Owls can bring will force will cause the Big Red to eventually lose it, and then lose the game.
* * * *
#2 Ohio State (27-7) -17.5 over #15 Cal-Santa Barbara (20-9)
Prediction: Ohio State by 22-23
Ohio State 68, Cal-Santa Barbara 51
Comments: UC-Santa Barbara is what it is, a decent mid-major team that wins when it plays against teams of mediocre stature. However, the true performance profile of the Gauchos is exposed anytime they step out of their league and play one of the big boys. They have done it twice this season, getting blown out at Arizona State, 69-42, and at California, 87-66. Ohio State is a dramatically superior team loaded with blue-chip players and there is no reason to think the Buckeyes won’t take care of business in blowout fashion. The back-door cover here presents a minimal risk, since Ohio State has no recent history of doing anything but keeping the pedal to the metal until the fat lady sings, regardless of whom it plays.
* * * *
#12 New Mexico State (22-11) +13.0 over #5 Michigan State (24-8)
Prediction: Michigan State by 4-5
Michigan State 70, New Mexico State 67
Comments: Just call this a vote of no confidence in Michigan State, a surly ego-driven team that lacks chemistry and because of it ranks as a major disappointment this season. The Spartans are loaded with blue-chip players but have been unimpressive from Day One this year. They come into this game 5-5 in their last 10 games and off a one-and-out appearance in the Big Ten tournament. New Mexico State does not have the talent that Michigan State possesses but the Aggies play with focus and pride and comes into this game 11-3 in its last 14 games. They are also a team that jelled rate and are much better than their record. New Mexico State is athletic and quick and has the talent to keep this one close.
* * * *
# 13 Wofford (26-8) +10.0 over #4 Wisconsin (23-8)
Prediction: Wisconsin by 4-5
Wisconsin 53, Wofford 49
Comments: There is no reason to feel sorry for Wofford, a college from Spartanburg, SC, with just 1,439 students. Yes, Wisconsin is the better team but the Badgers will be facing a lower mid-major team with prime-time players that has taken Pittsburgh to the money before losing 63-60 on the Panther’s home court, and slugged it out at Illinois and Michigan State before losing. Then there are those wins at Georgia, 60-57, and at South Carolina, 68-61. This is a good basketball team that backs off from no one and the figures say Wisconsin is going to have its hands full in this one.* * *
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