And so, the madness officially begins.
After all of the waiting and the speculating, March Madness is finally here, as the first round play-in games mark the beginning of a three-week stretch that is arguably the most exciting in all of sports.
The NCAA has two games on tap for Tuesday, so scratch that betting itch with our point spread picks and let the madness ensue.
(16) North Carolina A&T -3 vs (16) Liberty +3
MEAC winner N. C. A&T will officially get this party tipped off in its game against the Big South champion Liberty Flames – a team that earned its automatic bid to the field of 68 with an overall losing record (15-20).
Despite going 10-20 in its first 30 games and starting the season 0-8, Liberty earned its trip to the Big Dance after winning five straight games and its conference title. However, things will only get more challenging for the adversary experienced Flames as they take on a another superior team on Tuesday for a chance to play the overall number one seed in the tournament – the Louisville Cardinals.
North Carolina A&T’s berth to the tournament was also very unlikely, as the Aggies saw huge MEAC favorite Norfolk State – who was undefeated in the league at the time – go down in the conference tournament. The Aggies then seized control, avoiding their 16th consecutive losing season to earn a trip to the NCAAs.
The two squads have obviously overcome a lot, but with little time to prepare, this game will come down to who has the most talent and that team is the Aggies of North Carolina A&T. The MEAC is a slightly stronger league and in winning it, the Aggies are a slightly stronger team, so take North Carolina A&T to advance by covering -3 today.
(11) Saint Mary’s -3 vs (11) Middle Tennessee +3
Interestingly, both of these teams earned their way to the tournament, not by winning their conference title, but via at-large bids after spectacular regular seasons were rewarded.
The Blue Raiders of Mid Tenn knocked off superior foes Ole Miss and Vanderbilt earlier this year, before going on a 17-game win streak through the Sun Belt Conference. The are entering today’s play-in game with a respective offense, as they averaged 71.2 points per game and shot 46.3% from the field as a squad on the season.
Meanwhile, the Gaels of Saint Mary’s picked up wins against tourney teams Pacific, Harvard and Creighton earlier this year, ultimately finishing second in the WCC behind the almighty Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gaels feature an even stronger offense than that of the Raiders, as they averaged 75.5 points per game and shot 47.4% from the field this year.
Even in losses, those games against Gonzaga properly prepared the Gaels for the intense battles of the NCAA Tournament and with a better offense, I like Saint Mary’s to continue its run by advancing, covering -3 today.