As usual, Selection Sunday had more than a few eye-rolling, head-shaking moments. Like New Mexico (29-5, ranked 10th in the country, Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament champs) receiving the same No. 3 seed as Marquette (23-8, ranked 15th in the country, upset in its one-and-only Big East tournament game). And Colorado State, which finished second in the Mountain West behind New Mexico, receiving a lower seed (8) than league rivals UNLV (5) and San Diego State (7). And Oregon (26-8), fresh off a nine-point victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship game in Las Vegas—which followed a nine-point win at UCLA in January—seeded six slots lower than … UCLA.
But the biggest surprise leading up to a tournament that figures to be loaded with them? It had to be Duke, er, I mean, Dick Vitale predicting just two tournament victories for his beloved Blue Devils! It’s true. I checked his bracket on his website. Three times. Yep, Dukie V, that noise you just heard was Mike Krzyzewski erasing you from his will.
(Have I successfully distracted you from the fact I had a worse 2012 March Madness than the aforementioned Blue Devils, who lost their opening-round game to 15th-seeded Lehigh? I have? Good, then let’s move on to my tourney selections.)
$220 on Davidson +3½ vs. Marquette (March 21): Let’s see, among the four No. 3 seeds, Florida is a 20-point favorite; New Mexico is an 11-point favorite; Michigan State is a 10½-point favorite; and Marquette is a … 3½-point favorite? I think it’s safe to assume the selection committee started ignoring the “drink responsibly” labels on the minibar bottles by the time they got around to seeding these teams. Davidson enters the Big Dance on a 17-game winning streak, and although the Wildcats got blitzed earlier this season by Duke and Gonzaga, they did beat West Virginia and Vanderbilt, and nearly won at New Mexico (an 86-81 loss).
True, Marquette closed the Big East campaign on a 10-5 run. Also true, only three of those 10 victories (Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh) came against tournament teams—and all were at home. In fact, the Golden Eagles are just 7-8 away from their gym. Davidson is 14-6 in road/neutral-site contests. Added bonus: The Wildcats shoot better than 80 percent from the free-throw line.
$66 on Belmont +4½ vs. Arizona (March 21): Two years ago, I was among many who loved Belmont—just a 4-point underdog—to upset Wisconsin in the opening round of the tournament. Belmont lost, 72-58. Last year, I was among many who loved Belmont—this time just a 3-point underdog—to upset Georgetown. Belmont lost, 74-59. So why jump on the Bruins’ bandwagon again? First, because I’m an idiot. Second, because I’m banking on the experience of the last two years paying off. I’m also banking on Belmont’s momentum (17-3 since mid-December) and Arizona’s lack thereof (5-5 in its last 10 games, all in the weak Pac-12). Two additional items to note: The Bruins are 1-0 against the Pac-12 this season (a 70-62 victory at Stanford), and Arizona is 7-14 against the spread since Christmas Day.
$55 on Florida -20½ vs. Northwestern State (March 22): From a bettor’s perspective, Florida went from ATM (12-4 ATS through January) to IRS (4-10 ATS thereafter). One thing we learned along the way about the Gators? They’ve much preferred playing from way ahead (26-1 in games decided by double digits, including 16 wins by more than 20 points) than when things get tight (0-6 in games decided by single digits). Things don’t figure to be tight against Northwestern State, which leads the nation in scoring (81 points per game) but can’t play defense (71.2 ppg). By comparison, Florida ranks third in the nation defensively, yielding just 53.7 ppg.
$55 on North Carolina State -4 vs. Temple (March 22): Temple owns wins this season over Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth. Impressive. N.C. State owns wins this year over Duke and North Carolina. More impressive. Temple is mired in NCAA tournament slumps of 1-5 overall (including four first-round losses of nine points or more) and 0-6-1 ATS. N.C. State reached the Sweet 16 last year and is 4-1 ATS in its last five tourney contests.
BEST OF THE REST: March 21: Wichita State +41Ž2 vs. Pitt ($55); Bucknell +31Ž2 vs. Butler ($44); Akron +71Ž2 vs. VCU ($44); Harvard-New Mexico UNDER 125 ($44): South Dakota State-Michigan OVER 139 ($44); Oklahoma State -3 vs. Oregon ($33). March 22: Creighton -3 vs. Cincinnati ($55); Minnesota -3 vs. UCLA ($55); San Diego State -21Ž2 vs. Oklahoma ($44); Iowa State-Notre Dame OVER 1401Ž2 ($44); Illinois -11Ž2 vs. Colorado ($44); San Diego State-Oklahoma OVER 134 ($33); North Carolina -4 vs. Villanova ($33).