The Daily Sweat: NCAA tournament starts with a pair of First Four games in Dayton
Nobody should be in favor of expanding the NCAA tournament. However, bumping it from 64 to 68 didn't change the event too much, and it gives us some March Madness appetizers.
[Free bracket contests for men's & women's tourneys for shot at $25K]
The NCAA tournament officially begins Tuesday with two First Four games in Dayton. Here are the picks, with the spreads from BetMGM:
Southeast Missouri State (+3.5) over Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Texas A&M Corpus Christi is the better team, and rightfully favored. But there was a major injury for the Islanders.
Guard Terrion Murdix went down with a knee injury in the Southland Conference championship game and he'll be out the rest of the season, Islanders coach Steve Lutz told James Espinosa of SportsRush 1440. That's a big blow. Murdix, a senior guard, was the conference defensive player of the year and also averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 assists. The Islanders won the conference title game after Murdix went down in the first half, so perhaps they can win another game without him against an inferior opponent. The Islanders are a strong shooting team from the free-throw line and from 3-point range. But it's a big injury at this time of year, so I'll go with SEMO.
Mississippi State (-2.5) over Pittsburgh
This game is a great example of why the NCAA tournament shouldn't expand any further. Neither team is very good, though it should be a close game.
Pitt had a brief stretch in which it led the ACC, but eventually a good run of luck in close games ran out. Pitt went 3-4 down the stretch. Pitt isn't a bad team but it also doesn't do anything particularly well.
There is a 28-spot gap in KenPom's rankings between the teams (Mississippi State is No. 49, Pitt is No. 77). Most of that is due to Mississippi State's defense. The Bulldogs are a big team that plays at a slow pace and will grind you down on defense. The offense is bad — they're dead last in Division I in 3-point percentage — but they got to the tournament by winning a lot of rock fights. And I think they can win another one in Dayton.
Here's the rest of the sports betting slate for Tuesday:
Nuggets' slump among NBA angles
The Denver Nuggets were rolling along in the West, but then somehow lost three straight to the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls and Nets losses were at home. The Nuggets try to turn things back around as they travel to face the Toronto Raptors. Toronto is favored by 1.5 points.
There are eight NBA games on the schedule, and another worth watching is the Milwaukee Bucks at the Phoenix Suns. Milwaukee is favored by 1.5 points after a good win at Sacramento on Monday night.
NHL has 12 games
It's a big night on the ice with a few good matchups. The top matchup is probably the Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils (-135). The Washington Capitals at the New York Rangers (-175) is another game worth watching.
What's the best bet?
I'll go with the Nuggets. It's hard to take a team on a bad losing streak, but Denver has been a top team all season and these losses could be a wake-up call. I don't think the Nuggets have suddenly fallen off, and they'll start to turn things back around with a win as a small underdog on Tuesday night.