NCAA Cheat Sheet: Thursday

Forget the preamble, it's almost tip-off! So away we go with Day One... These are the Court Jester's Third Sort-of-Annual March Madness selections for Thursday's games.

BUFFALO, NY

12:20 pm
4 (Midwest) Maryland   -7   13 (Midwest) Davidson

I hate when two teams on my watch list play each other. There are only 6-8 teams each year that I really like heading into the tournament from a betting standpoint; the matchup wipes out two of them instantly. With ESPN all over Stephen Curry like, uh, curry on rice, Davidson would have had a much harder time sneaking up on people anyway. 7 is a pretty juicy number for the first game of the tournament, but I have a feeling the Terrapins will be anything but tortoises out of the gate in this one. Gary Williams has one of the most impressive postseason resumes around, go against him in March at your peril. DJ Strawberry will be making the star frosh's life miserable. Davidson is 2-0 against The Citadel, Maryland is 2-0 against Duke, Duke beat Davidson by 28, do the math.

2:50 pm
5 (Midwest) Butler   -1.5   12 (Midwest) Old Dominion

Not very sporting of the committee to match two mid-major darlings against each other in round 1, what fun is that? Number is exceptionally low for a 5-12 game for a reason. Namely, Butler is fading like Hobson at the end of Arthur. They are small and clearly wearing down, particularly their backcourt stars who, combined, equal one 2006 edition Big Baby (330 between them, I checked). I also have serious questions about their competition when a 6'1", 175 lb. guard leads the team with 5.8 boards a game. Old Dominion has two things I like in a team – a former Stanford assistant as head coach and a name that sounds like something we should be sipping at the bar. The Monarchy is back.

7:10 pm
6 (West) Duke   -6.5   11 (West) VCU

I still can't get used to teams from the West regional playing in NY, but the pod system puts patooties in the seats so it is here to stay. Once the number 6 next to Duke sank in I started wondering if they were actually a sleeper this year. Losers of 3 straight, I imagine people (like me) reveling in the ability to actually fill out a bracket with the Blue Devils getting offed early. VCU and star PG Eric Maynor certainly fit the profile of a live underdog, they were another team I was all over... until the brackets were released. Sure Duke has 10 losses, but when your WORST loss is to NC State, well, to quote the guy on the cart, "I'm not dead yet." Actually hope I'm wrong, but (shudder) I'm going with Team Amex.

9:40 pm
3 (West) Pittsburgh   -10   14 (West) Wright St.

I don't get the hype with Pittsburgh. To me they are the bully that always backs down when finally facing someone with a decent amount of courage and size. In last year's tournament, Gray turned Patrick O'Bryant into a lottery pick by getting dominated; vs. Georgetown over the weekend, he turned the Hoyas into a trendy Final Four and even national champion selection. Stop the insanity. Fortunately for Panther fans they got a dream draw with the overmatched Bulldogs here followed by a finesse team in the 6-11 winner. Actually hoping they advance far enough that I can load up on UCLA against them, but might as well take the 10 and hope just to warm up.

WINSTON-SALEM, NC

12:25 pm
7 (East) Boston College   -3   10 (East) Texas Tech

All those blathering ex-coaches on ESPN and CBS complaining about which teams should have gotten in and which teams were questionable selections and not one of them mentioned the most obvious unworthy team. Texas Tech not only gets invited to the dance but gets a 10 seed? 9-7 in the completely mediocre Big 12, they were crushed by K State in the postseason. In fact, they probably have been routed more often than any other major conference team in the tourney. Back-to-back home victories over Kansas and Texas A&M way back in January is basically their resume. But Bobby is leading the ridiculous "Vitale for the Hall of Fame" brigade, so do we really expect Dick or Digger or Billy to be honest for once and say the Red Raiders are a questionable at-large? Money where my mouth is, as the Eagles don't need their missing inside presence against a team full of guards. Jared Dudley and his comical hairdo put a hurtin' on the always charming Mr. Knight. Lay it and then lay it some more.

2:55 pm
2 (East) Georgetown   -16.5   15 (East) Belmont

The other Bruins gave UCLA a game last year, for 13 minutes at least. Forgotten in the 78-44 final was the 18-12 Belmont lead with under 7 to play in the half. I mention that in case you want to be creative. They shoot the 3 and defend it but will eventually get destroyed inside. Take Belmont +8.5 for the 1st half, Georgetown minus whatever gets put up for the 2nd half. Dickie won't tell you these things...

7:20 pm
8 (East) Marquette   +2   9 (East) Michigan St.

The committee loves to create a story, this one has pupil Crean against mentor Izzo. There are bad days to stop sniffing glue and bad games to be missing a starting guard. This is both. The Warriors, err, excuse me, Golden Eagles aren't solid enough to take out MSU. They are the Spartans, so check them out... Happily lay the 2 and watch that white boy shoot.

9:40 pm
1 (East) North Carolina   -26   16 (East) E. Kentucky

This will not be pretty. Roy can't keep this close if he wanted to, a season spent playing all 12 blue chippers means that the 2nd five won't be any relief for the Colonels. They played one major this year, a 29-point loss at Ohio St. back in November. Sounds about right.

LEXINGTON, KY

12:30 pm
6 (South) Louisville   -5.5   11 (South) Stanford

More committee hijinks as the Cardinals play the Cardinal. Hate my team playing what is a 9:30 a.m. game for them; don't really mind that the crowd will be pro birds. Universally proclaimed as a "quick, short guys shooting threes vs. tall, slow guys trying to dunk" game, the truth is nowhere near as extreme. The 'Ville has quality bigs, while Stanford has respectable 3-point shooting. Hill or Goods are more likely to lead the Cardinal in scoring than a Lopi. Turnovers are key as Pitino teams always thrive on a positive turnover margin and that has been a major statistical weakness of Stanford. My mathematical copout call is actually Louisville minus the points but Stanford on the money line at 2-1. The Cardinal can clearly win this game, while there is also the threat of it getting out of hand if the perimeter pressure completely disrupts the offense. But I also don't think Louisville is a better club than UCLA or Oregon or USC or WSU or Arizona and I wouldn't expect to get killed by those teams. I'm passing.

3:00 pm
3 (South) Texas A&M   -13.5   14 (South) Penn

Quakers were 0-3 vs. Big East and kept the games respectable but got waxed at UNC (their legs were smooth for weeks). A&M has 5 losses by a total of 10 points and a 12-pointer to LSU. This team is upset-proof, the only question is what do they win by? Strictly on gut feel, I say the Aggies make a statement to the watching Buckeyes that the road to Atlanta goes through them. Lay it.

7:10 pm
1 (South) Ohio State   -21   16 (South) Central Connecticut St.

To all my friends who graduated from Central, congratulations on making the tournament. Hope the players ask for Mr. Oden's autograph while they have the chance. I bet they even call him mister, too. Can't lay that many though, backdoor cover anyone?

9:40 pm
8 (South) BYU   +2   9 (South) Xavier

I get the feeling this game has less "juice" than any other first round matchup. BYU gets no respect from the general public, so my theory is go against the herd. Rare pick of frontcourt over backcourt, gimme the unneeded 2.

SACRAMENTO, CA

2:40 pm
3 (East) Washington State   -6   14 (East) Oral Roberts

Another disappointing draw, I wanted the Bobs to be large dogs to a flashy team, not mere 6-pointers to the incredibly solid cougars (I NEVER thought I would combine those three words). They played a very tough OOC schedule, with Georgetown, Kansas and Arkansas on the slate, and wouldn't have flinched against a "name" team. Instead they get a squad that is still looking for national respect. Under 121 is probably the correct play, but when in doubt, choose Oral! Oral B the pick. All responses must be Oral.

5:10 pm
6 (East) Vanderbilt   -3   11 (East) George Washington

I really can't figure out the Commodores. Crushed by Tenn., they turn around and beat Florida 83-70, then lose to Miss St. by the identical score their next game. Knock off Kentucky, drop their final two games to Arkansas. Wait a second, location seems to be extra important to these guys, it must be the wacky gym! George is this year's George, grab the points and enjoy the upset.

7:25 pm
2 (West) UCLA   -20   15 (West) Weber State

Weber has the traditional shooter's chance as they are known for the 3-point marksmanship. UCLA is not particularly good defending the arc this year and has looked vulnerable of late. But a 271 national ranking in turnovers against THIS team? In the Big Dance? You can't shoot it if the other guy just took it from you. Ben has let his guys relax a bit; that ends here. Cover your eyes, it ain't gonna be pretty. Lay it.

9:55 pm
7 (West) Indiana   -1.5   10 (West) Gonzaga

Kelvin Sampson is giving points to Mark Few in March? As Bill Paxton once said upon seeing the Governor of California stroll naked down the street, "what's wrong with this picture?" (ok, technically he wasn't Governor yet and it was a movie, but that makes a better story). You don't have to be on shrooms to know which one is the postseason winner. Take the points and enjoy the backcourt show.


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