March Madness 2015: State of Texas Plundered (and Friday's Best Bets!)
The brackets came out on Sunday, and when it was all said and done, the state of Texas got five teams into the field -- Texas, Baylor, Texas Southern, SMU, and Stephen F. Austin. As luck would have it, all five were playing within hours of each other on the opening day of the tournament Thursday.
And one by one, they all went down.
Texas crumbled against Butler. Baylor surrendered 13 straight points to close the game against Georgia State. Texas Southern was manhandled by Arizona. SMU was jobbed against UCLA. And finally, Stephen F. Austin, the last hope, went down fighting against Utah.
It was not our fair state's finest hour. Don't mess with Texas...except in basketball. There, you can totally mess with us.
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Let's get to a few picks for Friday (and try to recover, since my performance picking games on Thursday mirrored the state of Texas' performance in playing them)....
New Mexico State +10.5 over Kansas If Thursday was a rough day for you getting down on games, what say we get off to a fast start on Friday? The very first game out of the chute today gives you an excellent opportunity to get the day started off on a profitable note. There's no denying that overall Bill Self has done an outstanding job at Kansas. Every single season in Lawrence since his second season there he's either won the Big 12's regular season, conference tournament, or both, and of course, he won the national title in 2008, so he's a made guy. But this iteration of the Jayhawks might be his phoniest one yet, having finished 5-4 SU and 2-7 ATS to end the season. The reward was a two seed, but is a two seed in Kentucky's region a reward or a backhanded compliment? The Aggies finished the season with 13 SU wins in a row, and Kansas tends to let lesser teams hang around early in the tournament, as they're 1-4 ATS in their last five opening round games, including a failure to cover against Eastern Kentucky last season.
West Virginia -4.5 over Buffalo An underrated opening round coaching matchup as tourney stalwart Bob Huggins goes heads up with former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley, fresh off his rejuvenated relevance from the Christian Laettner 30 for 30. Hurley is the rare "former Coach K point guard turned head coach," in that a) he didn't apprentice directly underneath the master, and b) he is successful as a head coach. This is new terrain for Buffalo, though, who finished the season on an eight game winning streak (6-2 ATS). West Virginia is 16-3 SU as a favorite this season and 6-2 ATS in opening round game since 1998. There will be a 12 seed upsetting a 5 seed somewhere in the tournament, just not here.
Wichita State -5.5 over Indiana How flimsy is this season's field of 68? Well, not only did Indiana, who was the consensus "potential at large team that should be shitting themselves if there are conference tournament upset winners" and who limped to a 2-5 record (SU and ATS) down the stretch, make the tourney, but they made it comfortably as a ten seed! With no Cleanthony Early, this is not as dangerous a Shocker team as in years past, but it's still got solid guard play with Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet. On top of that, the Shockers are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 tournament games? Indiana? 0-5 ATS in their last five. Bottom line, as a bettor, you can trust Wichita State in this spot. The Hoosiers and Tom Crean? Not so much.
UC-Irvine +7.5 over Louisville There are going to be a lot of people just penciling Louisville straight into the Sweet 16 because Rick Pitino is the head coach and they're like "Oh, didn't Louisville win it within the last couple years sometime? And oh, by the way, there's a team nicknamed the Anteaters?!?" Yes, there is. And don't be one of those people. This is one of Pitino's less formidable Louisville outfits, with lead guard Chris Jones kicked off the team for off the court issues a few weeks ago, and they stumble into the tournament on a 2-6 ATS skid. UCI boasts one of the taller front lines, including 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndaiye, who will give Cards big man Montrezl Harrell all he can handle. Put a little taste on the +315 moneyline for the 'Eaters as well.
Oregon -1.5 over Oklahoma State This is one of those lines where the most recent image of a team on a big stage skews the number. Oregon has actually been one of the most reliable plays down the stretch of this season, having gone 7-1 ATS in their last eight games, and much of that against the upper tier of the Pac-12. However, the last image we have of the Ducks is their being boat-raced by Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, something the Wildcats did to almost everyone from the middle of February on. So now their a slight favorite over a Cowboys team that is 1-6 SU and ATS to close out the season. This one just looks weird. Buy the half point down to one, or money line the Ducks, then you're protected from anything goofy, but I'd feel great in a "Ducks win, we win" wager here.
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