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The Daily Sweat: NCAA tournament best bets for Thursday's action

Let the madness begin.

At long last, the NCAA tournament will be in full swing starting early Thursday afternoon, the beginning of a four-day marathon of college hoops that spans the first two rounds of the tournament.

There’s a whopping 16 games on tap over the span of 10-plus hours. It’s a beautiful frenzy of action. Here are my favorite plays for Thursday, with spreads courtesy of BetMGM.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Men's | Women's]

West Virginia (-2) over Maryland

The Big Ten may have tied with the SEC for the most teams in the NCAA tournament (eight), but there’s a lot of mediocrity in that conference after Purdue. The second and 11th-place teams in the Big Ten finished within three games of each other, and there are a few teams in that group that I’m pretty skeptical of. One is Maryland.

Jahmir Young has had an excellent year, but the Terps’ secondary scoring options are so inconsistent. Maryland over-achieved in Kevin Willard’s first season, and that season will end with a first-round exit. WVU is 11-6 ATS as a favorite in tournament play under Bob Huggins. Give me WVU to cover the two points.

Missouri (+2) over Utah State

Missouri feels like a square dog, but I’m going to take the points anyway. Utah State is one of those metrics darlings, but I don’t think USU can match the physicality of Missouri over the course of 40 minutes. Missouri’s Kobe Brown is one of the most underrated players in the country. USU is pretty sound defensively, but is super reliant on jump shooting. I think the Tigers can take control of the game down the stretch.

Auburn vs. Iowa over 151.5

I’m not going to overthink this one. Iowa plays fast for a Big Ten team and has so many scoring options. At the same time, the Hawkeyes are a pretty bad defensive team and are going to have trouble containing Auburn’s athleticism. The over is 7-3 in Iowa’s last 10 NCAA tournament games and 5-2 in Auburn’s last seven. I’m expecting points. Lots of them.

Iowa forward Kris Murray, left, talks with guards Connor McCaffery (30), Tony Perkins (11) and Ahron Ulis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Iowa forward Kris Murray, left, talks with guards Connor McCaffery (30), Tony Perkins (11) and Ahron Ulis during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Colgate (+8 1H) over Texas

This will be Colgate’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance under Matt Langel. In the three previous tournament games, the Raiders gave high-major opponents a scare. They can do it again.

In 2019, Colgate was within two points of Tennessee with under two minutes to play in an eventual 77-70 loss. In 2021, Colgate was a 14 seed and had an early 14-point lead over Arkansas in an 85-68 loss. And last year, Colgate had a four-point lead over Wisconsin midway through the second half before the Badgers pulled out a 67-60 win. Many of the key players from those teams are still on Colgate’s roster, so they won’t be overwhelmed by the stage.

With Texas coming off a Big 12 tournament title and possibly looking ahead to a second-round matchup with in-state rival Texas A&M, I like Colgate to come out strong. I’m worried about the Raiders’ ability to stay within arm’s length for the full game, so I’ll take them at +8 for the first half.

Penn State (+3) over Texas A&M

These are two of the hottest teams in the country as both are coming off runs to their respective conference tournament title games. Even though I think Texas A&M is better than a No. 7 seed, I think the Aggies are in trouble here.

Penn State has a schematic edge with the way it plays offense. PSU has a bruising point guard in Jalen Pickett who primarily operates out of the post. If A&M tries to defend him one-on-one, he can eat you alive with an array of YMCA moves in and around the paint. And if A&M sends double teams at him, PSU surrounds him with shooters. Including Pickett, PSU’s top five leaders in minutes shoot at least 37% from three and Pickett’s assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 3-to-1. The Nittany Lions are just a tough matchup.

What’s going on in the NBA?

There are only five NBA games on the schedule for Thursday night while college basketball takes center stage. The matchups are pretty underwhelming.

Perhaps the best of the bunch is the Sacramento Kings on the second night of a road back-to-back facing the Brooklyn Nets. The Kings won in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night in Chicago with De’Aaron Fox hitting the game-winner with under a second to play.

Sacramento has won nine of its last 11 games but is a slight underdog in Brooklyn. The Nets are favored by 2.5 points at BetMGM.

Anything besides basketball?

If basketball isn’t your thing, there’s a busy night in the NHL with 11 games on the schedule. There’s also spring training baseball and the World Baseball Classic.

And on the PGA Tour, the Valspar Championship gets underway on Thursday morning in Florida.

What’s the best bet?

Of the five NCAA tournament bets I gave out above, I’m most confident in the Iowa-Auburn over and Penn State plus the points. I think PSU will win outright, so getting three points is a nice cushion.

CORRECTS DAY/DATE TO SUNDAY, MARCH 12 INSTEAD OF SATURDAY, MARCH 11 - Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry talks with Jalen Pickett during a break win the action in the second half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Purdue at the Big Ten men's tournament, Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry talks with Jalen Pickett during a break win the action in the second half of a game against Purdue at the Big Ten men's tournament. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)