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NCAA Tournament First Round betting guide: UC Irvine is primed to pull an upset

After going 8-4 on Thursday we are back to keep the hot streak rolling.

March Madness Viewing Party At The Westgate Las Vegas Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

My NCAA Tournament betting guide is back for the second day, after finishing 8-4 on Thursday. We almost hit our bonus three-team moneyline parlay if it wasn’t for heartbreaking losses from New Mexico State and Belmont. That brings our postseason record to a solid 14-7 ATS. Here are our selections for Friday.

All lines received from BetOnline.AG

Trend of Tournament First Half Unders: Cincinnati vs. Iowa under 63 First Half & Northern Kentucky vs. Texas Tech Under 62.5 first half:

As mentioned yesterday, last season first half unders in the First Round went 11-0 during the afternoon slate. Yesterday, those unders went a modest 3-2. Cincinnati vs. Iowa is the perfect game to bet a first half under. Both teams are historically terrible against the spread so it’s just best to go with the under here. This is expected to be a physical basketball game, so don’t be surprised if the refs give leeway to contact during the game. Mick Cronin’s teams play at a snail’s pace and control the tempo. Outside of the Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati doesn’t have a player that can consistently score. If Cumberland gets off to a slow start, this under hits with ease.

The Red Raiders will be playing in 12:30 tip against the Northern Kentucky Norse. Both teams play at a relatively slow pace and both have good defenses. Look for Texas Tech to start out slow offensively. Texas Tech has one of the best overall defenses in the country and Northern Kentucky ranks 45th nationally in defending the three.

UC Irvine vs. Kansas State, 2 p.m., San Jose: UC Irvine +4.5 and ML +175

The Anteaters have been a popular upset pick in the NCAA Tournament for good reason. The line opened up at +6 but I still believe there is value at +4.5 because UC Irvine is going to beat Kansas State outright. The Anteaters will face the Wildcats without their star big man Dean Wade. Wade is the most consistent inside threat and he is also the Wildcats’ best shooter. Wade’s presence is going to be missed badly when facing an Anteaters defense that doesn’t give up anything at the rim. Without Wade, an already offensively inept team will be vulnerable playing against one of the best defenses in the country. The Anteaters rank fifth in the country in overall defensive efficiency and rank first two-point defense. On the other side, Kansas State shoots just 49 percent inside the arc, ranking 225th nationally. UCI is ridiculously deep and has had nine different players put up double-digit scoring performances this season. If this paragraph hasn’t convinced you to take Irvine yet I’m sure Kyle Cajero’s team preview will.

Georgia State +12 vs. Houston, 2 p.m., Tulsa: Georgia State +12

Ron Hunter and the Georgia Panthers return to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and they get to meet another power from the American Athletic Conference. The Panthers return four of their starters from last season. As a 15 seed, the Panthers gave the Cincinnati Bearcats a scare, leading the Bearcats by a possession with 10 minutes to go in the game. Georgia State eventually fell, 68-53. The Panthers have been on a roll, going 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 games. All five of Georgia State’s starters are averaging double figures and the Panthers are led by conference player of the year D’Marcus Simonds. Expect the Panthers to be competitive until late into the game, as Houston will be forced to pull it out late.

Utah State (-3) vs. Washington: Utah State -3

Fade the Pac-12 would be a fair explanation for this pick. In reality, Utah St is a matchup nightmare for the Washington Huskies. Washington has been able to dominate the Pac-12 with its stifling zone defense. Unlucky for them, Utah State as an offense that is designed to scorch Washington’s zone. Utah State has multiple shooters that can out-shoot the zone from three in Sam Merril, Diego Brito, and Abdel Porter. Utah State also has slasher Quin Taylor who can hit shots in the middle of the 2-3 zone and Neemis Queta has the ability to dominate the paint. However, the biggest mismatch in this game is going to be Utah State’s ability to dominate the offensive boards. The Aggies are a pretty good offensive rebounding team and rank in top 25 in the country in offensive rebounding differential. Washington is by far the worst defensive rebounding the team in the tournament field giving up an offensive rebounding percentage 34.5 percent, ranking 341st in the country. Utah State has greatly improved defending the three-point line and they are the hotter team coming into the game, winning 18 out of their last 19 games.

Virginia Tech (-10) vs. Saint Louis: Virginia Tech -10

Virginia Tech is probably the worst possible matchup for the Billikens. Saint Louis is one of the worst shooting teams in the country and it is playing against a defense that forces you to shoot jump shots. Virginia Tech’s opponents shoot just as many threes as twos. The Hokies’ 50.1 percent opponent three-point rate is the third-highest in the country. Saint Louis shoots just 30.8 percent from three, so if it is jacking up three-point jump shots, things aren’t going to go well for the Billikens. Virginia Tech will also be happy to get star point guard Justin Robinson back in the lineup. Expect Virginia Tech to win big in this spot.

Buffalo (-4.5) vs. Arizona State: The pick Buffalo -4.5

The narrative of this game is of course Bobby Hurley facing his former team. I like Nate Oats and Buffalo in this spot. Arizona State had 21 turnovers against St. John’s last Wednesday. Buffalo ranks 15th nationally in turnover percentage and 20th in defensive efficiency. Look for the Bulls to turn the ball over often and give ASU’s offense fits. CJ Massinburg has a big offensive game and Nate Oats beats his former boss handily.

VCU vs UCF (-1): UCF -1

I’ve been a fan of this VCU team and its “Havoc” defense all year, but I can’t trust VCU in this spot without the assurance of Marcus Evans being 100 percent healthy. UCF has two proven scorers in BJ Daniels and Aubrey Dawkins. The Golden Knights also have a human mismatch with 7’6 Tacko Fall at center. This game comes down to the wire, and I can’t trust VCU’s poor shooters to hit the necessary big shots at the end of the game.

Mississippi State (-6.5) vs. Liberty: Liberty (+6.5)

This is a matchup between an overrated 12 seed against an overrated 5 seed. I previewed this matchup in my Liberty tournament preview: Liberty’s shooting is going to give Mississippi State problems early. Look for Scottie James to create offense in the interior. Liberty plays tough defense and keeps the game close. The Bulldogs find a way to win at the end, but the Flames cover this one with ease.

North Carolina -(22) total 166 vs. Iona: UNC (-22)

Iona was an offensive juggernaut in the MAAC. However things are going to be different when they play the No. 1 seed Tarheels. Iona only knows how to play at one speed, and that’s at 100 miles an hour. Iona plays at one of the fastest paces in the country and that plays into Carolina’s favor. Teams that frustrate Carolina are teams like Harvard with a slow, efficient offense that is anchored with a stout defense. Iona doesn’t have any of that. It ranks 252nd in defensive field goal percentage and298th in defending the three. Iona went 0-9 in its non-conference games away from home. There will be a lot of points scored in this one and Carolina should run away with this one easily.