The long-awaited NCAA Tournament kicks off today with a loaded schedule of games sure to shake up the brackets.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, Kansas Jayhawks, Arizona Wildcats, and Baylor Bears claimed the respective one seeds in their regions, but they will be under heavy pressure from a talent surrounding field.
All of the Madness associated with March starts today in the Round of 64. Grab your popcorn and get ready; here are the best games to bet this Thursday.
Vermont +5 vs. Arkansas
The Vermont Catamounts head into the tournament riding an eight-game win streak and full of confidence. Their star pairing of Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu averages 33.3 points per night for a team that shoots the fourth-best percentage from the field in the entire nation and posts impressive numbers at the free-throw line and beyond the arc. Their defense also ranks top-20 in terms of defensive efficiency, and Vermont looks primed to continue a trend of at least one 13 seed beating a four seed in 26 of the past 36 tournaments.
Arkansas is a solid outfit that relies heavily on attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line. The Razorbacks are led by star guard JD Notae and are one of the better rebounding teams in college basketball, though they are downright awful shooting the rock from three. This matchup has all of the makings of an upset, but as long as it stays close, that is all that matters for the Vermont spread.
Marquette vs. North Carolina ML
North Carolina crashed out in the semifinal of the Atlantic Coast Conference via a 13-point loss to eventual conference champions Virginia Tech, but that does not mean that they are not capable of mounting a charge through March Madness. The Tar Heels have a matchup nightmare in Armando Bacot, an old-school big man that plays with some of the most physicality of any player in the nation, and he should be able to dominate the boards against a smaller Marquette team. UNC can be very hit or miss and tends to rely on its three-point shot more than it should for a team with such athleticism, but they get the benefit of the doubt here.
It feels wrong to pick the Marquette Golden Eagles to crash out of the tournament in the first round with their roster and after the season they had, but that is what will happen. Marquette competed admirably in a loaded Big East Conference and recorded many impressive victories on the back of its outrageously fast offensive pace. If UNC can get back in transition, they will effectively punch their ticket into the next round.
New Mexico State vs. UConn -6.5
Despite not starting a seven-footer, UConn contrasts average shooting stats with elite offensive rebounding and second-chance points. The Huskies could run into trouble against teams that shoot the three well, but against ones that don’t, they will feast with their interior defense that ranked second in the nation in blocks per game.
New Mexico State has not fallen victim to a loss greater than four points since January, but they are simply drawing a bad matchup here. NMSU gets the majority of its scoring from a pair of tall guards and likes to be active on the board, but against a more physical and better-prepared UConn team, they are heading into a battle that they are unlikely to win.