Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to Friday’s NCAA tournament games

Rob Dauster
NBC Sports

At noon the day before every NCAA tournament game day, we will be releasing our Best Bets column, breaking down every single game in the tournament that day.

Odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.

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12:15 p.m.: No. 7 CINCINNATI vs. No. 10 IOWA, CBS

  • LINE: Cincinnati (-3)

  • TOTAL: 137.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Cincinnati 70.25, Iowa 67.25

  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 71, Iowa 70

My analysis of this game really isn’t that complicated: I do not think that Iowa is a very good or very tough basketball team. I think that Cincinnati is a pretty good basketball team that beat the hell out of Houston in the AAC title game and that is, definitively, as tough as a three dollar steak.

PICK: Give me the Bearcats.

12:40 p.m.: No. 8 OLE MISS vs. No. 9 OKLAHOMA, TruTV

  • LINE: Ole Miss (-1)

  • TOTAL: 142

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Ole Miss 71.5, Oklahoma 70.5

  • KENPOM: Oklahoma 72, Ole Miss 71

I don’t trust Oklahoma this year. That’s really what this comes down to. The Sooners went 7-11 in Big 12 play and all of the impressive wins they picked up in the non-conference look significantly less impressive now than they did at the time. Ole Miss isn’t exactly full of world-beaters, but I do think that Breein Tyree and Terence Davis are dudes.

PICK: I want to invest my money on the side that has the guards that are game-changers. If I bet this, it will be with Ole Miss.

1:30 p.m.: No. 3 TEXAS TECH vs. No. 14 NORTHERN KENTUCKY, TNT

  • LINE: Texas Tech (-14)

  • TOTAL: 136.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Texas Tech 75.25, Northern Kentucky 61.25

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 74, Northern Kentucky 61

On the surface, I love Texas Tech here simply because I think that the Red Raiders are closer to being one of the five or six best teams in college basketball than a No. 3 seed. The problem is that the way the Red Raiders defend — by icing ball-screens — is going to leave Northern Kentucky’s best player, Drew McDonald, free for pick-and-pop threes the entire afternoon.

PICK: Personally, I will likely be staying away from this line, but I do think that Texas Tech is the side that you want to be on.

2:00 p.m.:  No. 4 KANSAS STATE vs. No. 13 UC IRVINE, TBS

  • LINE: Kansas State (-4.5)

  • TOTAL: 118.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kansas State 61.5, UC Irvine 57

  • KENPOM: Kansas State 62, UC Irvine 56

This changes if Dean Wade plays, but since he is currently listed as doubtful for this matchup, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that actually leads the nation in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have a couple of big uglies in the paint that can make things difficult for a Kansas State team that will be without their best shooter and one of their best passers.

Beyond just the matchup, the Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13. With the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.

PICK: I really like the Irvine side here, but the money line right now is just +170, so I’ll probably take the points.

2:45 p.m.: No. 2 TENNESSEE vs. No. 15 COLGATE, CBS

  • LINE: Tennessee (-17.5)

  • TOTAL: 147.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 82.5, Colgate 65

  • KENPOM: Tennessee 83, Colgate 68

I will be staying away fro this game. As good as Tennessee is, there have been too many times the season where we have see the Vols play a team that was objectively worse than them closer than they should. I also have no desire to bet a No. 2 seed projected to scored 83 points not to cover. I’ll pass.

3:10 p.m.: No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. No. 16 GARDNER-WEBB, TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia (-22.5)

  • TOTAL: 130.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 76.5, Gardner-Webb 54

  • KENPOM: Virginia 77, Gardner-Webb 55

I think Virginia is going to come out with a point to prove. The Cavaliers have heard about how they lost to a No. 16 seed for a full year now. They are coming off of a loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals that reignited the “Can Virginia win in March?” debate. They are as talented as they have ever been under Tony Bennett, and I fully expect them to absolutely bury Gardner-Webb.

PICK: Not only will I be betting Virginia (-22.5) here, but I think that I am also going to be on the under. I think an angry Virginia team is going to hold GW under 50 points.

4:00 p.m.: No. 6 BUFFALO vs. No. 11 ARIZONA STATE, TNT

  • LINE: Buffalo (-5)

  • TOTAL: 156

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Buffalo 80.5, Arizona State 75.5

  • KENPOM: Buffalo 82, Arizona State 75

I really like Buffalo here. The Bulls are a tough, veteran team that is going to get out and pressure Arizona State and try to force them to turn the ball over. Where the Sun Devils are inconsistent, Buffalo churned out a 30-win season that included going into West Virginia and Syracuse and getting Ws. Arizona State lost by 16 at Vanderbilt.

PICK: I’m taking the tougher team to win here even if it means betting against the more talented underdog. I just can’t see C.J. Massinburg letting the Bulls lose.

4:30 p.m.: No. 5 WISCONSIN vs. No. 12 OREGON, TBS

  • LINE: Wisconsin (-3)

  • TOTAL: 116.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Wisconsin 59.75, Oregon 56.75

  • KENPOM: Wisconsin 61, Oregon 56

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down the zone Oregon will run, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down.

Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1), then it bounced back up to Wisconsin (-3).

PICK: I’ll lean Oregon here, and I’ll probably wait to see just how high this line will climb. If I can get Oregon (+4.5) I’ll be ecstatic.

6:50 p.m.: No. 8 UTAH STATE vs. No. 9 WASHINGTON, TNT

  • LINE: Utah State (-3)

  • TOTAL: 135

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Utah State 69, Washington 66

  • KENPOM: Utah State 68, Washington 65

This goes along with the thinking that you should fade the Pac-12 in March. Think about this: The only reason that Washington has a win over an NCAA tournament team this season is because they lost to Oregon in the final of the Pac-12 tournament, giving the Ducks an automatic bid to the dance. Washington beat Oregon in January.

PICK: Utah State has one of the most underappreciated players in the country on their roster in Sam Merrill. Craig Smith is a magnificent coach that will be at a bigger program soon. Take the Aggies.

7:10 p.m.: No. 1 DUKE vs. No. 16 NORTH DAKOTA STATE, CBS

  • LINE: Duke (-27)

  • TOTAL: 148.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 87.75, NDSU 60.75

  • KENPOM: Duke 87, NDSU 63

This spread is just so monstrous. I don’t think I really want to bet it, but if I do, it will be the Duke side. The Bison are one of the worst defensive teams in the tournament, and asking them to try and slow down Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and the rest of the Dukies is going to be a big, big ask.

7:20 p.m.: No. 3 HOUSTON vs. No. 14 GEORGIA STATE, TBS

  • LINE: Houston (-11.5)

  • TOTAL: 141.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Houston 76.5, Georgia State 65

  • KENPOM: Houston 77, Georgia State 65

Georgia State is always going to be a dangerous mid-major because of the way they run and the talent they have, but I just have too much faith in this Houston team. They aren’t the best or most talented team in the country, but I do think that they are disciplined, well-coached and good enough defensively that they are not going to beat themselves.

PICK: I’ll take the Cougars (-11.5), but I won’t feel all that comfortable about it.

7:27 p.m.: No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 12 LIBERTY, 7:27 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Mississippi State (-6.5)

  • TOTAL: 133.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Mississippi State 70, Liberty 63.5

  • KENPOM: Mississippi State 71, Liberty 65

This is a tough game to get a feel for. For starters, Liberty was the second-best team in the Atlantic Sun this season, even if they did pick up a couple of wins against Lipscomb. They also run the Pack-Line defense, which is the kind of thing that can give the Bulldogs, who are without Nick Weatherspoon, some issues.

The problem here is that Mississippi State got dudes. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Reggie Perry, Aric Holman, Lamar Peters. These are guys that, which someone inconsistent, can absolutely take a game over, especially against a mid-major program.

PICK: I’d lean Mississippi State here, especially at just (-6.5), but I also think that the under is in play.

9:20 p.m.: No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 16 IONA, 9:20 p.m. TNT

  • LINE: North Carolina (-23.5)

  • TOTAL: 166

  • IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 94.75, Iona 71.25

  • KENPOM: North Carolina 95, Iowa 70

I think that I am going to stay away from the line here. If I do bet it, I would be betting on the Tar Heels, mainly because this is a team that can put up 100 on anyone but also because I just don’t think that Iona has the horses to be able to keep up with UNC this year. I also think that I like the under. 166 is a huge number, and while Iona has the reputation for being a team that wants to run, run, run and push, push, push, they are not as breakneck offensively as they have been in the past.

PICK: I don’t love either bet here, but if I am going to have action on this game, it will be UNC (-23.5) and the under.

9:40 p.m.: No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m. CBS

  • LINE: VCU (-0.5)

  • TOTAL: 126.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: VCU 63.5, UCF 63

  • KENPOM: VCU 63, UCF 62

This best is simple for me: UCF is a great defensive team that has an elite shot-blocker in the paint and wants to funnel drivers into the lane. VCU cannot shoot threes very well, they want to drive and their best player — Marcus Evans — will, at the very least, be banged up for this one.

PICK: I like the UCF ML the play here if VCU is going to be favored. I also tend to lean towards the under. Both of these teams really, really defend, and while VCU is still going to try and force turnovers, they aren’t pressing as much as they have in the past.

9:50 p.m.: No. 6 IOWA STATE vs. No. 11 OHIO STATE, 9:50 p.m. TBS

  • LINE: Iowa State (-5.5)

  • TOTAL: 140.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa State 73, Ohio State 67.5

  • KENPOM: Iowa State 72, Ohio State 68

This line actually appears to be coming down. It opened at Iowa State (-6) and now sits at (-5.5), which is a dream come true for someone like me, that has the Cyclones in the Elite 8 despite decidedly not being back on the Iowa State bandwagon.

Here’s the truth: Chris Holtmann is one of the top ten coaches in all of college basketball, but given the talent disparity between these two teams, if Iowa State shows up to play, they should be able to cover that spread regardless of how Holtmann decides to build his game-plan. The problem is that we can never really quite be sure if Iowa State is going to show up. The Cyclones looked like a top ten team in their run to the Big 12 tournament title. They looked like an NIT team when they lost six of their last eight games during the regular season.

PICK: I think Iowa State has this figured out. I think they win with ease on Friday night.

9:57 p.m.: No. 4 VIRGINIA TECH vs. No. 13 SAINT LOUIS, 9:57 p.m. TruTV

  • LINE: Virginia Tech (-10.5)

  • TOTAL: 125.5

  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia Tech 68, Saint Louis 57.5

  • KENPOM: Virginia Tech 69, Saint Louis 58

The key to betting this game is going to be how healthy you think Justin Robinson is. He is not their most talented player but he is their most important player. The Hokies were a top ten team with him healthy and went just 7-5 after he was injured on Jan. 30th. He matters because Saint Louis is a really, really talented and tough team that can absolutely lock up defensively. They have the athletes to be able to matchup with Virginia Tech’s four-out, one-in scheme and while they have not been great offensively this year, I do think that they have the talent — Hasahn French, Jordan Goodwin, Javon Bess, Tramaine Isabell — to be able to makes plays when they need to.

PICK: I will not be picking Saint Louis to win this game in my bracket, but at (+10.5), I do think they will cover. That is a big number for a good defensive team against a Virginia Tech that wants to play slow.

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