By Mike Szvetitz and Gerry Ahern FrontPageBets
Feeling lucky on St. Patrick’s Day?
FrontPageBets gets you ready for a foursome of riveting first round matchups in Thursday’s NCAA tournament.
Who do our editors most want to survive and advance?
Check out our selection here and follow the best news from FPB and our partners around the Lee Enterprises sports network every day.
#12 Richmond vs. #5 Iowa
City/region of the first round: Buffalo, NY/Midwest
Line: Iowa -10.5 (-110); Richmond +10.5 (-110)
Path to the NCAA Tournament: Both Iowa (26-9) and Richmond (23-12) won their conference tournaments by winning four games in four days. The Hawkeyes still wanted to make the NCAA tournament, but the Spiders had to win to get in. Richmond is an experienced team with its first seven players who are 22 or older, including Nick Sherod (a Richmond native) a sixth-year Grant Golden, who are both 24 and have played in 139 and 159 career games, respectively. With age comes experience, especially in big games. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch John O’Connor, the spiders have collected to win six times from deficits of 14 or more points. Golden averages 14.1 points per game, while guard Jacob Gilyard (who has attended 152 collegiate games) averages 13.3 points. The Spiders are led by Tyler Burton with 16.3 points per game, who finished fourth in the A-10. Iowa is led by sophomore Keegan Murray, who, according to Steve Batterson from the Quad City Times, set a Big Ten tournament record with 103 points in four wins in Iowa. Murray leads the team, averaging 23.6 points per game, which tops the Big Ten and is fourth in the nation. Iowa led the Big Ten with 83.3 points per game while Richmond was fourth in the A-10 with 71.7 points per game.
No. 9 Marquette vs. No. 8 North Carolina
First round location/region: Fort Worth, Texas/East
Line: North Carolina -3 (-110); Marquette +3 (-110)
Path to the NCAA Tournament: Both UNC (24-9) and Marquette (19-12) are coach-managed in their freshman years. Of course, neither UNC’s Hubert Davis (a longtime assistant to North Carolina) nor Marquette’s Shaka Smart, who took VCU to the 2011 Final Four as an 11-seed, are new to big dance. On Thursday, both coaches are looking for support and impetus for the next season. If the Tar Heels can play like they did in the regular season finals when they defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor, they can compete with any team in the country. Led by junior center Armando Bacot with 16.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game and sophomore guard Caleb Love’s average ppg average of 15.4 ppg, UNC has the talent and the pedigree. Marquette has scorers in forward Justin Lewis (17.1 ppg) and Darryl Morsell (13.5 ppg) but struggled on the track, losing three of his last five.
The selection: North Carolina, 80-74
#12 Indiana vs. #5 Saint Mary’s
Location/Region of the first round: Portland, Oregon/East
Line: Saint Mary -3 (-110); Indiana +3 (-110)
Path to the NCAA Tournament: Indiana (21-13) has made an impressive run to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament to secure an NCAA First Four bid in an otherwise bumpy season. The Hoosiers kept Wyoming, 66-58, dancing on Tuesday night in Dayton. Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to do everything for IU. The second forward had 29 points and nine rebounds as he defeated the Cowboys. He had 76 points and 25 boards in the Big Ten tournament. The Hoosiers might be a bit tired heading into Oregon in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Saint Mary’s (25-7) was the second-best team in the West Coat Conference behind NCAA No. 1 Gonzaga. The Gaels beat the Zags once by 10 points in the regular season. They fell in the other regular-season meeting and league tournament to the Conference Champions. Defensively-minded Saint Mary’s likes to play in the ’60s. Senior forward Matthias Tass (12.6 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Tommy Kuhse (12 points) are upping the pace on offense. IU is 19-15 against the spread. The Gaels are 18-11-2.
No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State
Location/Region of the first round: Fort Worth, Texas/Midwest
Line: State of San Diego -2 (-110); Creighton +2 (-110)
Path to the NCAA Tournament: San Diego State (23-8) was the third-place team at Mountain West. The Aztecs advanced into the MWC tournament title game, bowing out 53-52 to Boise State in a defensive stalemate. Senior guard Matt Bradley is the only double-digit scorer with 17 points per game. Creighton (22-11) is also a defensively oriented squad. The Bluejays showed good flow going into the finals of the Big East tournament before being KO’d by Villanova. Creighton has two dangerous players at second center Ryan Kalkbrenner (13 points, 7.5 rebounds) and senior forward Ryan Hawkins. Hawkins, a transfer from Division II Northwest Missouri State, averages 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. The Omaha World Herald Tom Schatel notes the impact Hawkins had. San Diego State is 17-14 against the spread. Creighton is 17-14-2.
The selection: Creighton, 62-60
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Mike Szvetitz is General Manager and Content Director for FrontPageBets.com. Szvetitz is a veteran reporter and editor with 22 years of experience, including 17 years as a sports editor in Florida, Alabama and Virginia, where he covers everything from prep to pro. His column “View From The Lazy Boy” won several state and national awards.
Gerry Ahern is Senior Content Editor for FrontPageBets. A veteran sports editor and digital media manager with 35 years of experience, he has overseen coverage of major sporting events, from the Super Bowls to the Final Fours to the Olympics and the Masters.