NCAA Tournament: First round best bets

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Quick caveat here, we’ve already highlighted the best first-round values in each of the 4 regions. I am not looking to double up on any of those games so this article is covering a few more contests that just missed the cut or where the line has moved since it was released to create a buying situation. 

If you are looking for a theme in these games it is that great defense can really kill this time of year. 

I am laying out these games in chronological order to make them easy to follow along. 

Round of 64 Best Bets

Thursday, March 17

#8 San Diego State Aztecs vs #9 Creighton Bluejays
San Diego State -2.5

Aztecs games are not very fun to watch. They finished 2nd in the nation in defensive efficiency this season, per KenPom, and did not score more than 63 points in any Mountain West Conference Tournament game. They fight you all over the court. In forward Nathan Mensah, they have one of the best rim protectors in the game. Bluejays big man Ryan Kalkbrenner is a very effective inside scorer, but with Ryan Nembhard out for the rest of the season they are missing their top lead guard. They are light on experience at that spot and that is very dangerous against a team like San Diego State. This winds up being a poor stylistic matchup for Creighton even though these teams might be similar in terms of overall talent. Look for the Aztecs to go on a run late and win comfortably. 

Friday, March 18

#7 USC Trojans vs. #10 Miami Hurricanes
USC -1.5

USC started the season 13-0. Then they went 13-7 down the stretch. This is a balanced team, though, finishing the season in the top 50 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Miami has the better offense but their lack of defense makes it hard to like them much at this time of the year. USC was second in the nation in defending inside the arc and that is going to be the difference-maker. If Miami has a hot game from deep the Trojans are sunk, but that is going to be the case in almost any game. If these teams are most likely to reproduce what we have seen all season long the Trojans are the play. They have size that might overwhelm the Hurricanes inside. A close game throughout comes down to who makes stops late and that is where USC can shine. 

#5 Houston Cougars vs #12 UAB Blazers
Houston -7.5

The Cougars avenged two regular-season losses to Memphis by beating them in the AAC title game. Given they are ranked 4th at KenPom this looks like a massive seeding slight that could have major repercussions for the South Region. UAB is a solid team that won Conference USA, but they have not beaten a team better than 50th rated North Texas all season long. Even with Houston missing key players for most of their conference season, the Cougars still dominated. They do not have much depth but for this first round that is going to be a total non-issue. UAB is not going to get pushed around but they are going to be forced into what could be their worst game of the season. That is just what Houston does. 



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