March Madness Picks: Take Providence and UCLA as small favorites

The upsets that occurred on the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament set up some second-round mismatches on Saturday.

The largest gap between teams could be the matchup between the Providence Friars and the Richmond Spiders.

Providence was a popular team to fade during the regular season, but it looked like a top-tier side in its first-round win.

We should expect to see the same version of the Friars show up on Saturday, which makes them one of the top plays of the day as a small favorite.

UCLA does not face a mismatch against Saint Mary's, but its NCAA tournament experience from last season should help it get over a bad performance against Akron and land a spot in the Sweet 16.

Saturday NCAA Tournament Picks

Overall Record: 17-19 (9-7 Friday)

No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Baylor (Under 148.5) (12:10 p.m. ET, CBS)

I have a Sweet 16 future on North Carolina, so I'm not taking the Tar Heels on the spread or money line.

Baylor and North Carolina both rank in the top 55 in defensive adjusted efficiency.

That is the starting point for the under to hit.

Baylor will try to slow the game down and force UNC to play in half-court sets, instead of getting out fast in space for east baskets.

James Akinjo and Adam Flagler should contain Caleb Love for stretches of the contest, and I think the Bears keep the game in the 30s at the highest going into halftime.

North Carolina has the edge in the paint with Armando Bacot and I think the Tar Heels will keep the game close, but they will need to win at a slower pace than usual.

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 1 Kansas (-11.5) (2:40 p.m. ET, CBS)

Creighton is at a significant disadvantage due to the injuries to Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner.

The Bluejays navigated the Nembhard injury as well as they could, but Kalkbrenner's injury from the first-round win over San Diego State kills their depth.

Kansas had five players score in double figures against Texas Southern, including Remy Martin, who had 15 points.

Martin, an Arizona State transfer, has played well lately and he gives the Jayhawks more depth to help Ochai Agbaji and others.

Kansas is too deep and talented for a banged-up Creighton squad to contend with.

No. 11 Michigan (+6.5) vs. No. 3 Tennessee (5:10 p.m. ET, CBS)

I'm willing to somewhat double down on my Michigan Sweet 16 future.

The Wolverines played strong defense in the first round and have more NCAA tournament experience than Tennessee.

After all, this is a team that advanced to the Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed just 12 months ago.

Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson bring plenty of experience to the floor and they are going up against a Vols team coached by Rick Barnes, who made it to the Sweet 16 once with the Vols.

No. 12 Richmond vs. No. 4 Providence (-3) (6:10 p.m. ET. TNT)

Me two weeks ago: I can't wait to fade Providence in the NCAA tournament.

Me today: I can't wait to hammer Providence on a short spread.

Say what you want about the Friars, but they took care of business against South Dakota State in the first round and should cruise past Richmond in the second round.

Providence has the defensive play to deal with Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden and it is playing with extra motivation that everyone is doubting its ability to win in March.

No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 4 UCLA (-2.5) (7:10 p.m. ET, TBS)

UCLA had its scare on Thursday against Akron.

The Bruins were still able to make shots in the second half to come from behind against the Zips.

I think UCLA comes out more focused against Saint Mary's and tries to break open the contest.

Saint Mary's loves to play at a slow pace, and if UCLA's offense escalates the pace a bit and scores well, the Gaels could be at a significant disadvantage.

No. 15 Saint Peter's (+8.5) vs. No. 7 Murray State (7:45 p.m. ET, CBS)

Saint Peter's can realistically reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed because of its defense.

The Peacocks rank 32nd in defensive adjusted efficiency, 12th in two-point defense and 14th in three-point defense.

Shaheen Holloway's team will be disciplined and it will not allow Murray State to break away with a large advantage.

Saint Peter's is also 21-9 against the spread this season, so why not take the Peacocks as a large underdog?

No. 12 New Mexico State vs. No. 4 Arkansas (-6.5) (8:40 p.m. ET, TNT)

If the best version of Arkansas shows up, it will beat New Mexico State by double digits.

Arkansas' athletic guards will give Teddy Allen problems. The Aggies guard shined against UConn, but he may face difficulties against JD Notae and Davonte Davis.

The Razorbacks have the edge in NCAA tournament experience and they hold a significant gap in free-throw shooting.

The Hogs are 51st on KenPom in free-throw shooting and New Mexico State sits at 232nd.

Arkansas should be able to close out the win and the cover at the line in the final few minutes.

No. 9 Memphis vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Over 154.5) (9:40 p.m. ET, TBS)

Memphis and Gonzaga both play at top 40 paces.

There are going to be so many athletes on the floor for Memphis so that it can play with Gonzaga for at least a half.

Memphis is fifth in offensive rebounding and that could help the Tigers earn second-chance points against Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme.

Both teams also rank in the top 90 in two-and-three-point offense, so that should give us a high-scoring contest to close out the eight-game slate.

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