March Madness Picks - Thursday 03/28
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Life has felt so empty without college ball but it's back today and we couldn't be happier.
Tennessee v Purdue
Betting on Tennessee in the first half has been a money train this season and that train should continue to chug along tonight.
Tennessee is a top-tier first half team, averaging 40.1 points while holding teams to only 31.4 points. During March Madness, they’ve absolutely demolished teams in the first 20 minutes, winning the first half against Colgate by 12 and against Iowa by 21. They’ve led at halftime in 7 of their last 8 overall and 7 of their 8 total neutral games – including against Gonzaga, the top first half team in the country.
Purdue is a solid first half team -- they average 36.7 points and hold teams to 31.5 points – and have done well in the first half thus far this tournament. However, in neutral site games prior to March Madness, the Boilermakers led at halftime in a measly 3 of 5 games – including a first half loss to cellar dweller Notre Dame.
Purdue lives and dies by Carsen Edwards’ shooting and Tennessee has the length and athleticism to give him some trouble early on. I expect Tennessee to come out of the gates hot and capture a halftime lead.
1u - Tennessee 1H ML @ -110
Michigan v Texas Tech
Texas Tech is just a better Michigan.
These are both defense-minded teams that thrive on limiting possessions and slowing the game down. Michigan barely edges Texas Tech in average points allowed – 58.2 to 59.2 – but Texas Tech wins everywhere else, including shooting percentage allowed (36.8% to 39.6%), block percentage (9.3% to 7.3%), and steals per possession (10.5% to 9.2%). Most notably, the Red Raiders are significantly better in forced turnovers, creating 15.7 turnovers per game (22.7% of possessions) to the Wolverines’ 11.8 turnovers per game (17.7% of possessions).
In addition to their ferocious defense, Texas Tech has a solid offense. They score 73.2 points per game (136th) on 47.3% shooting (34th). Michigan’s offense is mediocre to say the least, scoring 70.3 points per game (224th) on 45.1% shooting (109th). Texas Tech has cleared 70 points in each of their last 10 games, including 6 games of 80+. Michigan has cleared 70 points in just 5 of their last 10 with just 1 game of 80+.
What might prove to be the biggest difference maker here is fouling. The Red Raiders are extremely skilled in drawing fouls, forcing opponents to commit 19.0 fouls per game (27.5% of possessions, 38th in the country). The Wolverines only draw 15.0 fouls per game (22.5% of possessions, 319th in the country). In what should be a tight game, the extra trips to the line could be big for Texas Tech.
1u -Texas Tech +2 @ -110
Virginia v Oregon
This is the heftiest line of today’s slate, but for good reason. Oregon, as hot as they’ve been, has skated by a slumping 5 seed and a 13 seed for their Sweet Sixteen berth. The Cavaliers should bring the Ducks crashing back to Earth.
Everyone is aware of how suffocating Virginia’s defense is, but stats never hurt. They are first in scoring defense (55.0 points allowed per game), 4th in shooting defense (38.1% allowed), and their games feature the least amount of possessions nationwide (62.6 per game). On the other side of the ball, though Virginia’s offense isn’t putting up gaudy totals, they are the 4th most efficient team, 20th best shooting team, and 4th best 3-point team.
Oregon plays a similarly slow game (69.2 possessions) and has a pretty solid defense of their own (62.5 points allowed on 39.9% shooting). However, their offense isn’t nearly as good as Virginia’s – they’re the 59th most efficient team, 97th best shooting team, and 133rd best 3-point team.
That last tidbit is the most damning, as Virginia’s pack-line defense is designed to force opponents to take contested and/or deep shots. The Cavaliers have lost just three games all year; in two of those, their opponent shot unbelievably from the arc. If Oregon has trouble from deep tonight, they should have trouble keeping pace with Virginia.
Oregon’s win streak has come off the back of their zone defense; luckily, Tony Bennett is adept at figuring out zone defenses, evidenced by Virginia’s dismantling of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone – arguably the most daunting zone defense in college ball – in a 26-point victory. Look for some of the same to happen tonight.
1u - Virginia -8.5 @ -110