Marquette-Murray State / Nevada-Florida
MARQUETTE (-3.5) vs. MURRAY STATE, 4:30 p.m.
Pick: Murray State (+3.5)
I would deem this as my favorite matchup of the first round. The storyline surrounded around this game is the play of two elite guards. Ja Morant (MSU), who is widely expected to be a top five pick in the NBA Draft, and Markus Howard, who has been “Mr. Consistency” throughout the regular season.
The Golden Eagles (24-9, 12-6) are currently 1-4 in March, but finished second in the Big East. Howard has been playing at an elite level, averaging 25 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4 APG. Coach Steve Wojciechowski has led an underrated offense which is averaging a near 80 PPG. The Golden Eagles are 19-14 ATS.
The Racers (27-4, 16-2) are riding an 11-game winning streak. Morant is easily one of the best players in college basketball, averaging 25 PPG, 10 APG, and has made contributions on both ends of the floor. The Racers currently have the 11th best offense in the nation and are 19-10 ATS this.
The tournament always has the potential of a cinderella story. Last year, it was Loyola Chicago, who went on to make the Final Four. This year it will be the Racers behind their electric offense. However, the game should be close as the Golden Eagles are not pushovers.
NEVADA (-2.5) vs. FLORIDA, 6:50 p.m.
Pick: Florida (+2.5)
March Madness is one of the most engaging sports events to watch. It gives equal opportunity to all D1 universities to make the tournament and less of a focus on conferences. This match-up is an accurate representation of that as it figures to be a P5 versus a G5 matchup.
The Wolfpack (29-4, 15-3) fell short in the MWC Championship, but managed to snag an at-large bid. Jordan Caroline had a terrific regular season, averaging a near double-double with 17.3 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Nevada can be considered a bit untested as their best wins were against Arizona State and Utah State. The Wolfpack are 17-14-1 ATS on the season.
The Gators (19-15, 9-9) have really picked up steam despite their record looking a bit gloomy. Coach Mike White speaks highly about the Gator defense, which gives up 63.6 PPG, but the offense is still a work in progress. White has also produced marquee victories against Arkansas, Butler and LSU (twice). The Gators are 15-19 ATS this season.
This matchup reminds me a lot of UCF vs. LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. One of the few royalties in the G5 versus a mid-tier P5 school. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Wolfpack despite the recent skid. However, I’m taking the Gator’s on their outstanding defense which has managed to handle one of the toughest schedules in the nation.