NCAA Tournament's biggest betting mismatches: Opening round

Mar 13, 2018 |

It's the betting week that most of us look forward to all year - March Madness opening weekend! Monty Andrews is here to break down some of the underlying betting mismatches for the opening two days of the NCAA Tournament, giving you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule.

South Region

Davidson Wildcats (12) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (5) (-5.5, 143)

Davidson's dead-eye foul shooting vs. Kentucky's free-throw funk

It's an all-Wildcats battle in South Region opening-round action, as fifth-seeded Kentucky looks to vanquish trendy pick Davidson. But give the underdogs a major edge when it comes to converting free throws; the school best known for producing super-sniper Steph Curry can still knock down shots, making a whopping 79.7 of their foul shots during the season - the third-best rate in the nation. Sensational senior Peyton Aldridge hit nearly 85 percent of his free throws en route to a 21.5-ppg scoring average.

By comparison, John Calipari's Wildcats were abysmal from the line, converting just 69.7 percent of their attempts - ranking just inside the top 250 nationally. While Kentucky's top two scorers - Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - both shoot better than 76 percent from the stripe, the other two Wildcats to average in double figures - PJ Washington and Ham-dou Diallo - come in below 63 percent. If Kentucky isn't better from the line Thursday, Davidson could be the next No. 12 seed to shock the world.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (11) vs. Miami Hurricanes (6) (-1.5, 134)

Loyola-Chicago's incredible discipline vs. Miami's struggles to draw fouls

Loyola-Chicago is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 32 years - and it has eyes on an upset as it takes on the Hurricanes in a game oddsmakers expect to be a close one. The Ramblers have a decisive advantage when it comes to fouls, coming into March Madness as one of the most disciplined teams in the nation. Loyola-Chicago's 13.8 personal fouls per game ranks behind only Notre Dame, while its 456 total fouls are fourth-fewest among Division I schools.

Miami showed impressive discipline itself - averaging just 16.3 fouls per game, good for 53rd nationally - but couldn't draw opposing infractions well at all. Teams averaged just 16.5 personal fouls against the Hurricanes in 2017-18, ranking outside the top 300 in the country. In a game where fouls and free throws could very well decide things, Loyola-Chicago is in terrific position to triumph in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than three decades.

West Region

UNC-Greensboro Spartans (13) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (4) (-12.5, 136)

UNC-Greensboro's slow starts vs. Bulldogs' first-half scoring bonanza

Gonzaga has become a fixture as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament - and the Bulldogs are expected to reach the second round this year as they open against the Southern Conference champions. This one could be over early if the Spartans can't overcome their early-game struggles; UNC-Greensboro averaged just 33.5 first-half points per game, ranking 201st in the country. They were saved by the fact that they allowed just 29.1 first-half points on average - but Gonzaga will present a much stiffer challenge.

The Bulldogs were relentless in the first half of games this season, averaging 40.2 points prior to the break - the 10th-best rate in the country. And Gonzaga was even more prolific in the West Coast Conference Tournament, scoring 46 first-half points in a one-sided win over Loyola-Marymount and pouring in 48 points over the first 20 minutes of a 28-point rout of San Francisco. If Gonzaga catches fire early on, there might not be anything UNC-Greensboro can do to rally in the second half.

East Region

Butler Bulldogs (10) vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (7) (+1.5, 152)

Butler's porous long-range D vs. Arkansas' sensational 3-point shooting

The Razorbacks might be the lower seed in the East Region first-round matchup, but they're a slight underdog in the eyes of oddsmakers as they take on the Bulldogs in Detroit. The 'Hogs might want to consider ratcheting up the long-range shots against a Bulldogs team that was frustratingly bad at defending shots from 3-point range. Butler allowed opposing teams to connect at a 37.4-percent rate from deep in 2017-18, ranking it outside the top 300 in the country.

Given that fact, Arkansas' best shot at advancing will almost certainly come from beyond the arc, where the Razorbacks connected on better than 40 percent of their attempts - the 15th-best rate in Division I. The only problem: of the 19 teams to shoot 40 percent or better, Arkansas was 14th in total attempts. That said, this matchup could easily come down to one made 3-pointer at the end of the game - and if that's the case, Arkansas is in much better position to convert.

Midwest Region

Oklahoma Sooners (10) vs. Rhode Island Rams (7) (-2, 158)

Trae Young's penchant for turnovers vs. Rams' elite ball security

All eyes will be on national scoring and assist leader Trae Young, as he looks to lead the Sooners past Rhode Island in a first-round encounter in Pittsburgh. But as fantastic as Young is with the basketball, he also has moments of carelessness. Many of them, in fact. Young averaged an unbelievable 5.2 turnovers per game this season, more than a full turnover higher than the field; in fact, only four other qualified players averaged at least four turnovers per game.

Capitalizing on Young's penchant for occasionally sloppy play is the easiest way for the Rams to control the game - and they're build to do just that. Rhode Island boasted an incredible plus-5.1 average turnover margin this season; only Portland State and West Virginia were more prolific. Young will need to be more careful with the basketball than he has been all season - and given that he had at least three turnovers in all but two games, bettors shouldn't expect that to happen Thursday.

Iona Gaels (15) vs. Duke Blue Devils (2) (-19.5, 157)

Iona's struggle on the boards vs. Marvin Bagley III's rebounding prowess

Duke comes into March Madness as a No. 2 seed, but is still a strong title favorite as it tangles with Iona on Thursday. The Blue Devils are led by forward Marvin Bagley III, who ranked sixth in the nation in rebounding average (11.5) while adding 21.1 points. It's the board work that makes Bagley so dangerous in this one; the 6-11 freshman was positively dominant down the stretch, averaging 15 rebounds over his final three games - two of which came against the top rebounding team in the nation in North Carolina.

The Gaels deserve plenty of credit for emerging as the MAAC champions and securing their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, but they have no hope of slowing Bagley down. Iona ranked 257th in the nation in rebounding average (33.8), with only one player - TK Edogi - surpassing 5.5 boards per game. Duke ranked eighth in the country in offensive boards (13.6) - and a similar performance Thursday should help produce enough second-chance points for the Blue Devils to waltz to victory.


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