Seth Davis’ NCAA Tournament pick: Kentucky-Kansas State, Marquette-Michigan State, more
The Sweet 16 is half full. The other half comes on Sunday. I’ve been treading water on my picks for most of this first week of the NCAA Tournament, but I’m ready to have a banner on the final day. Enjoy the games, everyone!
All lines are through BetMGM.
NCAA Tournament: 19-25
Regular season 2022-23: 45-30
No. 3 Xavier (-4 1/2) vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh, 12:10 p.m., CBS. For a team like Pittsburgh that has struggled defensively this season (108th nationally in efficiency according to KenPom.com), it was a welcome sight (and sound) that Iowa State slammed all those 3-point attempts on Friday. The Cyclones shot a gruesome 2 of 21 from behind the arc, which allowed the Panthers to advance despite shooting just 34.1 percent from the floor themselves. My predictions don’t always come true, but I’m very confident the Musketeers will shoot better than Iowa State, especially after a poor 3-point shooting performance (2 of 12) against Kennesaw State. It was significant that Xavier managed to come back from 13 points midway through the second half relying on his defense, keeping the Owls to just six points in the final 10 minutes. The Musketeers lost one of their best offensive players in 6-9 senior Zach Freemantle, a four-way streak that averaged 15.2 points on 63.6% shooting from 3-pointers, in late January, but the promotion of 6-8 senior forward Jerome Hunter starting lineup made them a much better defensive team. And Hunter had a career-high 24 points in Xavier’s first-round victory. The Musketeers were tested in the first round and passed it with force. I think they will also pass this one. The choice: Xavier
No. 3 Kansas State at No. 6 Kentucky (-1 1/2), 2:40 p.m., CBS. The fact that the lowest ranked team is favored should tell us something. Kentucky is playing better than its top seed, and it showed great heart, toughness and defensive efficiency in its 61-53 first-round win over Providence. It was the Friars’ lowest total of the season. John Calipari relies very heavily on his five starters, all of whom have played 33 minutes or more. (None of the UK’s four bench players scored.) Antonio Reeves shoots with confidence (22 points, 5-9-3), and 6-9 senior striker Oscar Tshiebwe plays like an All-Star again. American. Tshiebwe’s 25 rebounds against the Friars were the most in the NCAA Tournament since 1977, and over his last five games he’s averaging 16.4 points and 18.0 boards. I love this game for Kentucky because Kansas State depends so much on two players, 5-8 senior guard Markquis Nowell (17 points, 14 assists, five turnovers against Montana State) and forward senior 6-6 Keyontae Johnson (18 points, eight rebounds, three assists). The Wildcats have other good players as well, but those two need to have great games to counter Tshiebwe’s dominance on the glass. John Calipari will have his guys ready. Pick: Kentucky
Marquette No. 2 (-2 1/2) at Michigan State No. 7, 5:15 p.m., CBS. Marquette’s Tyler Kolek has arguably been the best playmaker in the country, so you’d think his team might need him to be at their best in order to succeed in March. Still, between foul issues and a broken right hand (which didn’t shoot), Kolek shot 3 of 11 and had eight points in 26 minutes against Vermont on Friday. No problem. Five other players scored in double digits (led by Kam Jones, who scored 18 straight points in the second half), the Golden Eagles shot 5-for-20-for-3, and the Catamounts never had a single chance. Marquette is a very entertaining and highly skilled team, and while a lack of size can leave Maquette vulnerable against larger, more physical teams, Michigan State is not one of them. Spartans starting center Mady Sissoko junior 6-9 is averaging 5.0 points in 21.6 minutes. We think Michigan State is a great rebounding program, but this team is 224th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage by Ken Pom, and they’re 334th in steal percentage. In other words, it’s like Marquette, only less good. Pick: Marquette
No. 4 UConn (-3 1/2) vs. No. 5 Saint Mary’s, 6:10 p.m., TNT. The second half of UConn’s first-round win over Iona may have been the best 20 minutes the Huskies have played all season. They allowed the Gaels to shoot 48% (6-of-11-of-3) in the first half and entered halftime late by two, but the Huskies broke out in the second half and ended up winning by 24. The strategy was not complicated. UConn continually fed Adama Sanogo into the post, and he responded by scoring 22 points in the second half. UConn is a popular Final Four pick because it can win at any pace, and it has both athleticism on the wing and size down the middle. Saint Mary’s beat VCU, 63-51, in the first round with a 34-20 advantage in the paint, but will be much harder to score inside on Sanogo and his replacement, 7-2 rookie Donovan Clingan . The Gaels should improve their 3-point shooting from 17, their worst performance of the season, but that won’t be enough to beat a talented, rising and confident UConn. The pick: UConn
No. 3 Baylor (-1 1/2) vs. No. 6 Creighton, 7:10 p.m., TBS. Throughout the season, the question about Baylor has been whether their defense would be able to match their attack. The D was key during the second half of the Bears’ first-round game against UCSB, when they held the Gauchos to 30 percent shooting and forced them to have more turnovers (eight) than field goals ( seven) after intermission. It will be much harder to defend a Creighton team that is ranked 29th in the nation in KenPom-adjusted offensive efficiency (compared to the Gauchos, who are 79th). The Bluejays are also 14th in defensive efficiency and they have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Ryan Kalkbrenner. He scored a career-high 31 points against NC State, which gave the Bluejays the win despite shooting 3-of-20-of-3. Baylor has the potential to overwhelm the Jays athletically, but that n It’s not like Creighton hasn’t faced sports teams in the Big East. For Baylor to win, Creighton will have to help by missing jumpers, and I think this team is too good to have two miserable shooting performances in a row. Pick: Creighton
No. 9 Florida Atlantic (-13.5) vs. No. 16 FDU, 7:45 p.m., truTV. In the past, I’ve expected Cinderella to suffer emotional disappointment, but we’ve seen enough examples (especially Saint Peter’s last year) to anticipate that FDU will show up ready to play. The Knights won’t have the same speed advantage they had against Purdue, but there’s no reason to believe they can’t at least keep this thing competitive. The big question is whether the Knights, who are 353rd in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, can slow Florida Atlantic’s powerful offense. Zach Edey is three inches taller than Owls center Vladislav Goldin, but Goldin is more mobile than Edey at both ends, so it will be harder for FDU (the shortest team in the country) to expose him. In the win over Purdue, FDU got 19 points from Sean Moore, who averaged 6.7 per game, but Florida Atlantic also had a chance to stage a late comeback against Memphis. Such is the month of March! The Owls also only forced the turnover-prone Tigers to spit eight times on Friday, so their defense is more effective than disruptive. I think Florida Atlantic wins this game, but it will be close. Pick: Florida Atlantic
Indiana No. 4 (-1.5) at Miami No. 5, 8:40 p.m., TNT. I’m still trying to figure out how the Hurricanes pulled that bunny out of the hat on Friday against Drake. They trailed for most of the match and lost 55-47 with less than five minutes to go. They finished the match on a 16-1 series. Does it arouse suspicion that they were at this low point or does it inspire confidence that they have managed to come back? They likely wouldn’t have been able to do it without 6-7 sophomore forward Norchad Omier, who injured his ankle early in the ACC Tournament semifinal loss to Duke. and was questionable entering the match. Omier had 12 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes, but like everyone else who plays at Indiana, he’s going to have his hands full with Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was his usual gorgeous personality as he had 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in the Hoosiers’ 71-60 first-round win over Kent State. Senior forward Race Thompson, who is usually the Hoosiers’ Glue Guy, had 20 points and nine rebounds. Miami is a gifted offensive team, but it’s adult time in the NCAA Men’s Tournament, and no one fits that description better than TJD. Pick: Indiana
Gonzaga No. 3 (-4.5) vs. No. 6 TCU, 9:40 p.m., TBS. Gonzaga is doing Gonzaga stuff again. The Zags beat Saint Mary’s by 26 points in the WCC Tournament Finals, and on Friday trailed Grand Canyon by seven with six minutes left in the first half and quickly secured an 82-70 win. TCU is a better team than Grand Canyon, but it’s a more comfortable game for Gonzaga because the Horned Frogs are playing at a faster pace (54th in tempo on KenPom, vs. 291st for Grand Canyon). It’s also harder for TCU to deal with Gonzaga’s frontline trio of Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and Anton Watson without 6-11 sophomore center Eddie Lampkin Jr., who left the team a while ago. two weeks. It wasn’t a problem for the Horned Frogs in the first round because Arizona State doesn’t emphasize post-scoring, but Timme is the toughest inside offensive game in college basketball, and he is in march mode. The pick: Gonzaga
(Top photo by Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)