Below are our picks for the first day of the March Madness tournament.
Arkansas (-2.5, 143.5) vs Illinois
Arkansas has the talent that’s plenty appealing — Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. are potential top-10 picks — but they’ve not clicked for most of the season and enter the NCAA Tournament with virtually no momentum. They have struggled compared to expectations and lost games they shouldn’t have throughout the season. Illinois has at least flashed at times this season and won in big games, and it should be ready to go for this game.
We like Illinois +2.5
UNC Asheville (+17.5, 135.5) vs UCLA
UCLA was the best team in the PAC-12 this season, but they have ran into some recent injury trouble that cost them the PAC-12 Tournament Title. UNC Asheville has won nine games in a row and has scored at least 75 points in five of their last six games. UNC Asheville is 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games.
UNC Asheville comes into this game with one of the longest active winning streaks in the country, but will face a very good UCLA team here. UCLA does have some injury issues, which really limited their ability to play big men against Arizona, but it shouldn’t factor much into this game. I think UCLA will win this game easily, but I like UNC Asheville to keep it respectable with their very good three point shooting.
We like UNC Ashville +17.5.
Maryland (+2.5, 136.5) vs West Virginia
This game will be highlighted by two senior guards in each team’s respective backcourts. Maryland senior point guard Jahmir Young spent three seasons playing for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte before transferring to Maryland. His play was good enough to earn him All-Big Ten second-team honors.
Stevenson played two years at Wichita State then transferred to Washington then transferred to South Carolina and was a Mountaineer this season. Stevenson’s 15.5 points and 2.3 three-pointers per game earned him All-Big 12 third-team honors.
When it comes to supporting players, Maryland has senior forward Donta Scott and senior guard Hakim Hart to complement Young. Senior transfer Tre Mitchell controls the middle for West Virginia while also scoring 11 points per game.
Maryland has more impressive wins this year and has been more consistent. Jahmir Young should be able to control and possible take over this game against West Virginia.
We like Maryland +2.5.