CBB Picks: Take Loyola Chicago, Belmont in mid-major tournaments

Loyola Chicago and Belmont are two of the mid-major powers that we have become familiar with over the last decade.

The Ramblers and Bruins find themselves in more vulnerable positions than previous years as they enter the final weekend of their respective conference seasons.

Loyola Chicago ended up as the No. 4 seed in the Missouri Valley and it essentially needs to win the tournament in St. Louis to make the NCAA tournament.

Belmont has played second fiddle to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference and it needs one more win to set up a rematch with the Racers in the first conference tournament final of the season.

Both teams are favored to win on Friday and they should cover the spread as they push toward two of the first automatic bids for the field of 68.

Friday CBB Picks

Overall Record: 250-271-3

Charleston Southern vs. USC Upstate (-6) (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Big South Tournament Quarterfinals

Charleston Southern was one of two No. 12 seeds to win in the last two days in mid-major conference tournaments.

The Buccaneers got a bit lucky against UNC Asheville because the No. 5 seed missed 10 free throws and had one its starters foul out with eight minutes left.

USC Upstate should be a much tougher opponent for the No. 12 seed on Friday. Upstate beat Charleston Southern by five and 13 in the regular season and it ranks 279 spots higher than the Buccaneers in three-point percentage.

There is also a gap of 211 spots between the two programs in three-point defense on KenPom.

As long as Upstate plays its game, it should cruise into the Big South semifinals.

Bradley vs. Loyola Chicago (-6) (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Missouri Valley Tournament Quarterfinals

Loyola Chicago can't afford to lose any games in St. Louis.

The Ramblers are squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble and the best way for them to alleviate any bubble concerns is to win the Missouri Valley automatic bid.

Loyola can have one of the toughest defenses to play against when it is at its best. It conceded 81 total points in its last two victories. It limited Bradley to 61 points in their last regular-season meeting.

Loyola can break away in an instant with its offense. The Ramblers rank fourth in effective field-goal percentage, sixth in two-point offense, 11th in three-point offense and 31st in adjusted efficiency.

Buffalo at Kent State (-3) (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Kent State is one of the hottest mid-major teams in the country and it has been a covering machine.

The Golden Flashes are 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 games.

On Friday, Kent State has a chance to avenge its last loss from January 21 against Buffalo. The Bulls are coming off a 16-point loss to Toledo. Toledo is the only team above Kent State in the MAC standings.

Buffalo gives up eight more points per game than Kent State and that could be the difference-maker on Friday night.

Central Michigan at Akron (-13.5) (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Akron has been on a tear over the last two weeks.

The Zips' last four margins of victory are 19, 8, 14 and 19.

Akron is much more effective in a few aspects compared to Central Michigan. The Zips give up 14 fewer points per game and shoot six percent better from the field.

Morehead State vs. Belmont (-4) (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Ohio Valley Conference Semifinals

Belmont is one win away from getting a third chance at Murray State, a team that beat the Bruins by 33 points last week.

The Bruins possess the No. 1 two-point offense in the nation and that should help it get past Morehead State in the OVC semifinal round.

Morehead State had a shaky finish to the regular season with four losses in its last six games. Belmont has a single loss since January 20, when it fell to Morehead.

Belmont's offense has been better throughout the season. It averages nine more points per game and shoots 3.5 percent better. That could help the Bruins create the necessary separation to cover in the OVC semifinals.

San Diego vs. Portland (-1) (11 p.m. ET)

WCC Tournament Second Round

Portland is one of the best stories in college basketball.

The Pilots went 17-13 one year after earning just six wins.

Portland beat San Diego by 32 points on February 17 and it comes into the WCC tournament with six wins in its last seven games.

Portland should earn a win in Las Vegas to cap off a fantastic turnaround under first-year head coach Shantay Legans.

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