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Drake among NCAA Tournament best bets, sharp plays

Updated March 19, 2024 - 3:56 pm

Wes Reynolds won the Review-Journal March Madness Challenge last year to cap a sweep of the RJ’s college football and basketball handicapping contests.

The VSiN host went 10-7 against the spread on his NCAA Tournament picks, hit both of his best bets and was the only contestant to correctly predict that Connecticut would win the national championship.

Reynolds is back to defend his title, and the Indiana graduate likes Purdue to win it all.

“Purdue could be the Virginia of 2019, where they win the title after losing as a 1 seed in the first round the year before,” said Reynolds (@WesReynolds1). “Last year, they struggled to shoot the 3. This year, they shoot it at a 40.8 percent rate, which ranks No. 2 in the nation.

“They’re an experienced team led by Zach Edey, who will be the two-time national Player of the Year. Edey has attempted 100 more free throws than any other player in this tournament. The key is how he is officiated. If he stays out of foul trouble, they are arguably the most difficult matchup for anyone in the tournament along with UConn.”

Reynolds’ best bet in the first round is Drake (-1½) over Washington State. The Bulldogs led Miami by eight with less than five minutes left in last year’s first round before the Hurricanes rallied for the win with a 16-1 closing run.

“This is an opportunity at redemption for them,” Reynolds said. “They are an experienced bunch led by (Drake coach Darian DeVries’) son, Tucker DeVries.”

Drake is one of four sharp bets in the first round reported by Westgate SuperBook director John Murray. The others are Tennessee, South Carolina and Arizona.

South Carolina (-1) over Oregon

WagerTalk owner Kelly Stewart’s best bet is on South Carolina over Oregon, which upset Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals at T-Mobile Arena before beating Colorado for the tourney title.

“While we must recognize what Oregon accomplished winning the Pac-12 tournament and ultimately stealing a bid to get into the (NCAA Tournament), this team has had its share of issues all season long. Namely from the charity stripe,” said Stewart (@KellyInVegas). “The Gamecocks have been red hot all season against the number (23-10 ATS) and are well rested with an early exit from the (Southeastern Conference) tournament.”

Kentucky-Oakland Over 163½

Systemplays.com handicapper Doug Fitz’s best bet is on the Kentucky-Oakland matchup to go over the total. The Wildcats have the fourth-best over-under record in the country at 23-9, while the Golden Grizzlies have a 21-13 over-under mark.

“Kentucky’s potent offense was 71.9 percent to the over and second in the nation in scoring at 89.4 points per game,” said Fitz (@fitz_doug). “Oakland averaged 76.4 points, so they can keep pace with the Kentucky offense.”

Long Beach State (+20½) over Arizona

Long Beach State fired longtime coach Dan Monson last week, but now he’s taking the Beach to the NCAA Tournament.

VegasInsider.com handicapper Bruce Marshall, a Long Beach State alum, made the Beach his best bet as 20½-point underdogs to No. 2 seed Arizona.

“That is way out of line,” Marshall said. “One thing we’ve seen this year and the conference tournaments should’ve convinced people, is that anything really goes. There’s not that big of a gap between these teams. Long Beach has this siege mentality now that they’re moving Monson out. The players all like him. They’re playing like hell for him.

“Physically, they don’t match up that bad with Arizona. Long Beach has got a lot of length. They’re very athletic and have some real streaky, dangerous shooters. This could be a tight game. That’s way too many points.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on X.

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