March Madness Picks: Take Michigan, North Carolina in First Round Games

After a few days of research and breaking down matchups at will, I have finally settled on my NCAA tournament first-round picks.

Before I get going with Thursday's picks, I will state a few qualities I love in March. Coaching experience from deep runs in the tournament, senior guards and if a team has a superstar player rank high on my list of intangibles.

There are also some key metrics, including free-throw percentage and offensive rebounding, that I factor in with everything as well.

With that being said, here are the plays for each one of Thursday's first-round games.

NCAA Tournament Picks

No. 11 Michigan (-120) vs. No. 6 Colorado State (12:15 p.m. ET, CBS)

Let's start with an upset right off the bat.

Michigan checks a lot of the boxes I listed above.

Juwan Howard took his team to the Elite Eight last season, Eli Brooks has been a part of a few deep NCAA tournament runs and Hunter Dickinson carries the star power required to get out of the first weekend.

Colorado State has a star in its own right in David Roddy, but the Rams rank 340th in offensive rebounding on KenPom. That is an issue when your possessions can be limited against a tough big man in Dickinson.

The Rams and Wolverines do not have another drastic difference in metrics. That leads me to Michigan's experience being a X-factor.

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence (-2) (12:45 p.m. ET, truTV)

If you asked me my pick for South Dakota State-Providence on Sunday, I would have gone with the Jackrabbits based on my gut.

My brain has taken over on this pick and chosen Providence.

The Friars won a ton of close games for a reason and they have much better defensive numbers than the Summit League champion.

Providence ranks in the top 60 in two-point and three-point defense. South Dakota State is 216th and 270th in those categories.

Providence has the potential to contain Baylor Scheierman and the SDSU offense and I think the Friars will be motivated by all the critics that came out after losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament semifinal.

No. 9 Memphis (-3) vs. No. 8 Boise State (1:45 p.m. ET, TNT)

Memphis ranks fifth in the country in offensive rebounding.

The Tigers are 22nd in two-point defense and 33rd in defensive adjusted efficiency.

Boise State is a good defensive team, but it drew the wrong matchup to win with its defense. Memphis can do that in a better fashion.

No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 1 Baylor (Over 137.5) (2 p.m. ET, TBS)

Norfolk State played two games against teams in the KenPom Top 100.

The Spartans gave up 88 points to Xavier and 71 to Wichita State. As much as I'd want to trust their 12th-ranked three-point defense, they have not played quality opponents in the last two months.

Baylor ranks ninth in offensive adjusted efficiency and 46th in two-point offense, so even if Norfolk State shuts down the three-point line, the Bears can control the interior.

The Bears can get to the 75-80 point mark fairly easily, which means Norfolk State can score below 60 and still have the over hit.

No. 14 Longwood vs. No. 3 Tennessee (Over 132) (2:45 p.m. ET, CBS)

Rick Barnes' teams are 1-11-1 against the spread in their last 13 NCAA tournament games.

I don't trust Rick Barnes in March and I certainly am not picking the Vols to cover the 18-point spread against Longwood.

However, I do think the Vols take advantage of Longwood's defense. The Lancers rank 319th in two-point defense and allowed over 70 points in nine of their 19 games against Big South opposition.

Most of Tennessee's concessions in SEC play were in the mid 60s, so if you do the match on those trends, the Over 132 should hit as long as one team gets into the 70s.

No. 12 Richmond vs. No. 5 Iowa (-10.5) (3:10 p.m. ET, truTV)

Everything about Richmond's run through the Atlantic 10 tournament reminds of Georgetown last year in the Big East.

The Spiders deserve credit for getting to this spot, but there is a reason why they were the No. 6 seed in a mid-major conference tournament.

Richmond does not stand a chance against Keegan Murray, Jordan Bohannon and Co., who were hot a few weeks before the Big Ten tournament.

Iowa should cruise past Richmond thanks to its deep offense and large gap in overall quality.

No. 16 Georgia State vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Over 149.5) (4:15 p.m. ET, TNT)

Gonzaga scored 97 and 88 points in its last two openers as a No. 1 seed.

The Zags face a Georgia State team that ranks 342nd in three-point defense and 351st in two-point offense.

Those two metrics suggest Gonzaga will get plenty of fast-break opportunities off misses and it may knock down more shots from three-point range than we see in a typical game.

Gonzaga sits 350 spots ahead of Georgia State in two-point offense and I think we see the Zags run up the score on the Sun Belt tournament champion.

I'm staying away from the 23.5-point spread just in case Georgia State is in a spot to backdoor cover.

No. 9 Marquette vs. No. 8 North Carolina (-3.5) (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS)

Nothing about Marquette's play over the last three weeks suggests it will be competitive with North Carolina.

The Golden Eagles went 3-5 in their last eight games. The only victories were over Georgetown, Butler and St. John's, three of the Big East teams that did not make the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina can be inconsistent, but it has been better recently while Marquette has faded.

Marquette is 330th in offensive rebounding and it is 56 spots behind UNC in free-throw shooting.

The Tar Heels can control the game down low with Armando Bacot, who could also give Baylor trouble in the second round.

No. 12 New Mexico State vs. No. 5 UConn (-6.5) (6:50 p.m. ET, TNT)

UConn carries all the favorable metrics I like in a NCAA tournament team.

The Huskies rank in the top 40 in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency.

UConn is the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country and it ranks 67th in free-throw shooting.

New Mexico State is 262nd in free-throw shooting and only 215th in three-point offense.

The Aggies have a nice squad, but I can't put much trust in a squad that recently lost to Chicago State, who is one of the worst D1 programs.

No. 15 St. Peter's vs. No. 2 Kentucky (-18) (7:10 p.m. ET, CBS)

St. Peter's is one of the best mid-major stories.

The Peacocks have one of the smallest budgets in Division 1 and Shaheen Holloway will be a hot candidate to land a larger mid-major job.

St. Peter's will not come close to sniffing Kentucky's air in Indianapolis.

Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe can destroy St. Peter's on both ends of the glass. The Peacocks do not have a starter that stands taller than 6'7".

Kentucky won seven of its eight games against low-major teams by 18 or more points in nonconference play and it could win by 30 on Thursday night.

No. 12 Indiana (+116) vs. No. 5 Saint Mary's (7:20 p.m. ET, TBS)

Saint Mary's drew the worst possible first-round matchup for its style of play.

The Gaels love to play at a slow pace and win games in the 60s, but Indiana loves to junk it up as well.

Indiana should relish the task in front of it, and Saint Mary's slow pace may allow it to play into the game a bit after a long flight from Dayton to Portland.

If Trayce Jackson-Davis plays the way he did on Tuesday night in the win over Wyoming, Indiana will go through to the second round. Saint Mary's does not have a dominant paint player to deal with Indiana's star.

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State (7:27 p.m. ET, truTV)

Creighton and San Diego State possess a fairly even set of offensive and defensive metrics.

The difference-maker in the 8-9 game will be San Diego State's experience.

The Aztecs start five upperclassmen and they are hungry to get a NCAA tournament win after last season's loss at the hands of Syracuse.

Matt Bradley is the best player in this matchup and I think this is where Creighton finally feels the effects of Ryan Nembhard's season-ending injury.

No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Arkansas (-5) (9:20 p.m. ET, TNT)

I'm glad the odds makers gave us a short line in favor of Arkansas.

Arkansas can be notorious for its slow starts, like we saw twice in the 2021 NCAA tournament, and a high spread in its favor would have made me a bit wary of picking the Hogs.

However, I'm all in on JD Notae and Co. with a five-point line in its favor. That allows Arkansas to get off to a slowish start against a tough Vermont team and still cover.

Arkansas' experience from its Elite Eight run last season should benefit it in the second half as it tries to pull away from the America East champion.

No. 10 San Francisco (+116) vs. No. 7 Murray State (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS)

This is more of a gut play since San Francisco and Murray State have comparable numbers.

I think the Dons are more battle tested for the contest since they played Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU twice in the WCC regular season.

Murray State is a great mid-major team, but it has a single game against a power-conference team and the OVC was down a bit with Belmont and Morehead State clearly second and third behind the Racers.

I believe this will be a close game, but I have to trust my gut with the Dons.

No. 13 Akron vs. No. 4 UCLA (-13.5) (9:50 p.m. ET, TBS)

UCLA was rolling until it lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final.

Johnny Juzang, Jamie Jaquez, Tyger Campbell and Co. know exactly what it takes to win multiple NCAA tournament games and I think we see the Bruins take care of Akron.

Akron played solid defense in the MAC tournament by holding three opponents under 70 points, but it does not have the depth or experience that UCLA will throw at it.

No. 16 Texas Southern (+22.5) vs. No. 1 Kansas (9:57 p.m. ET, truTV)

Texas Southern will not beat Kansas, but it will stay within the number.

The Tigers only lost by 16 points to Michigan last season in the 1-16 matchup after a First Four victory.

Texas Southern ranks in the top 25 in five defensive metrics. That should allow the Tigers to at least hang with Kansas.

The Jayhawks should have their starters out by the final four minutes, which could also play a role in Texas Southern sneaking in a cover.

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