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Let's get stuck into today's picks.
North Carolina v Auburn
This is a gaudy total for a neutral site game, let alone an NCAA Tournament game.
Auburn has played 9 neutral site games this year. In those games, the total has surpassed 165 just 1 time – an early season game against Xavier in which they needed OT hit 167 points. One of their neutral games was against an ACC opponent (Duke); the total hit 150. In postseason play, none of Auburn’s neutral games have cleared 165. The average total for all of Auburn’s neutral games is 147.7.
UNC has played 7 neutral site games this year. In those games, the total has surpassed 165 just 2 times – their first 2 neutral games. One of their neutral games was against an SEC opponent (Kentucky); the total hit 152. In postseason play, none of UNC’s neutral games have cleared 165. The average total for UNC’s neutral games is 158.
While the numbers above would suggest the under is in play, the kicker is Auburn’s reliance on the 3-ball. 43.5% of Auburn’s points have come from 3, the 7th-highest in the nation. In their last 3 games (the SEC title game and the first two games of March Madness), 47.8% of their points have come from 3; that would be the most of any team if it were their season average. UNC is pretty solid at defending the arc on the season, allowing 33.3% from 3 (94th overall). However, they’ve been even better recently, allowing 32.2% from 3 (would be 58th overall if it was their season average). The Tar Heels could cause some trouble for the Tigers’ deep ball which would severely limit their ability to score.
This game should be played at a breakneck pace and both teams can put up points, but 165 is simply too much.
1u - Under 165 total points @ -110
Kentucky v Houston
The first half in this game would be Kentucky’s to lose if they had a healthy PJ Washington. Luckily, they don’t.
Washington’s status is in doubt but at best he’ll suit up and play a handful of minutes off the bench. In their games without Washington, Kentucky has averaged 33.7 points per first half – 3.6 points lower than their full season average. Meanwhile, Houston averages 36.4 points per first half.
Defensively, Houston outclasses Kentucky by a decent margin. The Cougars have the 15th best first half scoring defense, allowing opponents to only score 28.8 points in the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are 43rd in first half scoring defense, allowing 30.5 points in the first 20 minutes.
This game should be close throughout, but Kentucky has been pretty mediocre in their recent first halves without Washington. I expect the same to continue tonight.
1u - 1H ML @ -110
Duke v Virginia Tech
Duke looked extremely vulnerable against UCF and shouldn’t have come away with a win. The fact that they’re playing tonight is pure luck. Virginia Tech has beaten them once already (albeit without Zion) and I have a feeling they smell blood in the water.
Duke, to the surprise of nobody, has the scoring edge in this matchup. Duke is averaging 83.4 points on 47.7% shooting this season while Virginia Tech is averaging 73.6 points on 47.3% shooting. However, much of this disparity is due to pace: the Blue Devils play with the 28th highest pace (75.3 possessions per game) and the Hokies play with the 9th lowest pace (66.0 possessions per game). Efficiency wise, Virginia Tech is actually more efficient than Duke (1.114 points per possession to 1.107 points per possession).
Virginia Tech is also an especially dangerous 3-point team, shooting 39.5% from deep on the season. Duke has been pretty stout in defending the arc this season, holding teams to 29.8%. However, they have been extremely vulnerable recently, allowing 37.3% from 3 in their last few games (which would rank 312th in the country were it their season average) and 50.0% to a UCF team that is notably worse than Virginia Tech (36.5% on the season).
This line is overinflated a bit. Virginia Tech has already come away with a win against Duke once this season, and if they can control the pace of this game and shoot reasonably well from 3-point land then they have a chance to win this game outright. Give me +7.5 all day.
1u - Virginia Tech +7.5 @ -110