March Madness Preview / Buy & Sell
March is here and the Madness has returned after a one year hiatus; bringing with it the best parts about the Big Dance. There is a new crop of Cinderella hopefuls, storied programs returning to their place in the national spotlight, and Sister Jean will be in the NCAA Bubble for Loyola-Chicago.
UConn is back in the big dance during their first season back in the Big East. Michigan has received its first #1 seed since the Fab Five, which their Coach Juwan Howard was a part of. Fellow Big 10 member Illinois received its first #1 seed since its 2005 National Championship appearance with Deron Williams and Dee Brown.
The NCAA (in my mind) chose not to rule on Oklahoma State’s postseason ban appeal to enable the NBA Draft's #1 prospect, Cade Cunningham, to play in March. Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans are back, facing off against the UCLA Bruins in one of the play in games.
Sell: Big East
Villanova lost starting senior point guard Colin Gillespie, which is a nightmare scenario for Coach Jay Wright. For one, the Wildcats lost their player with the most Tournament experience. Villanova teams are typically point guard driven and during the season their offense struggled while Gillespie was on the bench. They moved Ryan Archidiacano to the starting lineup, who has played minimal minutes this season. Creighton has struggled offensively this season when starting guard Marcus Zegarowski has had poor games, reflected in their trailing first half deficit of 18 points to eventual Big East Champion Georgetown. UConn and Georgetown face the toughest region in the tournament, with teams like Michigan, Alabama, Texas, FSU, Colorado, and BYU.
Buy: 12 seeds in the first round
12 seeds are the most profitable out of the lower seeds in the round of 64 over the last several years, at +6.9 units. This year’s 12 seeds also have good matchups, with #12 UC Santa Barbara facing Creighton, #12 Winthrop facing Villanova, #12 Oregon State facing Tennessee, and #12 Georgetown facing Colorado. Personally, I have UCSB upsetting Creighton, as UCSB averaged 70 ppg during the regular season, and Winthrop beating Nova as Winthrop had the 49th paced offense in all of division 1, which will cause problems for slow-paced Nova without their star guard. Oregon State faces much NBA talent with Tennessee, but Vols coach Rick Barnes doesn’t fare well in March and this team has been rather disappointing all season. Georgetown I believe has the hardest matchup but certainly can cover the spread against Colorado. 3 #12 seeds have upset #5 seeds in the same tournament 5 times in the last 20 years. 2 #12 seeds have taken down #5 seeds in the same year 13 times since 1990. It is more likely for at least two #12 seeds to win the first round matchup than for none to win, as there are only 5 years in the 64 team tournament era where not a single #12 seed beat a #5 seed in their matchup.
Sell: Loyola Chicago’s Cinderella repeat
Loyola Chicago has lost 4 starters from their Final Four team in 2018. Although they face ACC Tournament Champion Georgia Tech in the first round who received 2 COVID byes in the ACC tourney, Illinois will likely be their opponent in the round of 32. Loyola star Cameron Krutwig received third-team national honors this season but faces a matchup nightmare against Kofi Cockburn and Georgi Bezhanishvilli. Cockburn is a massive 7’1 with the defensive chops to shut down anything Krutwig wants to do in the paint and Bezhanishvilli, at 6’11, can guard Krutwig’s perimeter attack, while both Illinois big men can punish the Loyola star on the other end.
Buy: Teams that can play both sides of the court
This Gonzaga team is the most talented team Mark Few has had and gives him the best chance to win the national title. Guards Andrew Nembhardt and Jalen Suggs can both lead an offense and provide excellent on-ball defense and the ability to jump the passing lanes. The Zags also have one of the best offenses in the country with 5 players averaging double figures on the year. Alabama shoots around 45% of their shot attempts from three, giving them the firepower to ride the offense to the Elite 8. In games where the three ball hasn't fallen, their defense has carried them to wins against the top teams in the SEC. FSU has cooled off after their 20 point win over UVA, but with Scottie Barnes picking up 94 feet and their ability to cause many turnovers for their opponents will lead to many fast break points when the offense stalls.
Although the Wolverines have their first #1 seed since the Fab Five, they will be without star wing Isaiah Livers for the Big Dance, barring a miracle. As mentioned in the Big East section, Michigan has Alabama, Texas, FSU, Colorado, BYU, UConn, Maryland, and the winner of Michigan State and UCLA as potential opponents. They face the toughest region in this year’s tournament, and with the loss of Livers, their road to the Final Four is the toughest of any #1 seed this year.
Buy: Unders in the play in games
The Under is 25-16 in NCAA Tournament play in games since 2005. On top of this, teams have had to quarantine since entering the Indy bubble, without the ability to practice with their teams or get shots up. Most teams have had almost a week since their last Conference Tournament game, so auto-bids will not likely be able to ride to their momentum into the Big Dance.