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No. 12 seed among handicappers’ NCAA Tournament best bets

I love the Drake. How could you not like the Drake?

While those lines were uttered by Elaine and Jerry about their friend, Scott Drake, in an episode of the classic sitcom “Seinfeld,” handicapper Doug Fitz feels the same way about Drake over Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Fitz, who went a sizzling 51-31-3 ATS (62.2 percent) in the last five Review-Journal Madness Challenge contests, made Drake his best bet in the round of 64.

The Bulldogs, who based on point spreads are the most likely No. 12 seed to prevail, are 2½-point underdogs to the Hurricanes at the South Point.

“Drake power-rates three points better than Miami by my numbers,” said Fitz, a retired police officer who provides all of his plays free of charge at Systemplays.com. “Drake is 7-0 straight-up and 5-1-1 ATS (against the spread) in neutral-site games. Miami is 2-2 straight-up and 1-3 ATS in neutral-site games. I expect the less famous Bulldogs to win outright.”

West Virginia (-2)

Barstool Sports handicapper Kelly Stewart has been even hotter than Fitz in the RJ Challenge, going 53-31-1 ATS (63.1 percent) while winning two of the last five contests.

Her best bet is No. 9 seed West Virginia (-2) over No. 8 seed Maryland.

“The Mountaineers have a few edges in this spot, starting with their offense,” said Stewart (@kellyinvegas, @barstoolsports). “While their defense isn’t up to par with years past, they will capitalize on Maryland’s poor 3-point shooting. Coaching nod goes to Bob Huggins over Kevin Willard.

“Icing on the cake for me, the Terps have lost nine straight as an underdog.”

Princeton (+14)

The Gold Sheet editor Bruce Marshall and I tied for first in last year’s contest after going 11-6 ATS and hitting both of our best bets.

His best bet is Princeton (+14) over Arizona.

“This is not your dad’s Princeton, as the new-look Tigers run like they haven’t since the Bill Bradley days,” Marshall said. “Expect Princeton to cause undue pressure for the Arizona bigs on the defensive end.

“Ivy League teams have not been getting embarrassed in recent Big Dances.”

Illinois (+2)

Pro sports bettor Paul Stone backed Illinois over Arkansas shortly after the lines were posted Sunday night, and fellow RJ contestant Chip Chirimbes made Illinois his best bet.

“The Fighting Illini have been a major disappointment this season,” said Chirimbes (VegasInsider.com). “But they will atone here.”

Utah State (-1½)

Oddsmakers made No. 10 seed Utah State a favorite over No. 7 seed Missouri. Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk Ed Salmons likes the Aggies to cover the slight 1½-point spread in Thursday morning’s game in Sacramento, California.

“I think they’re a better team than Missouri, and the game’s on the West Coast,” he said. “It’s a good spot for Utah State.”

Kansas (-21½)

Wizardraceandsports.com handicapper “Dr. Alan” Dumond made the defending national champion Jayhawks his best bet over Howard.

“Kansas is coming off an embarrassing 20-point blowout loss to Texas in the Big 12 conference championship game,” he said. “The Jayhawks will be highly motivated to get that bad taste out of their mouths and to make amends for their poor play. Having coach Bill Self back on the bench will further motivate Kansas.

“Last year in the first round, Kansas took care of business with a convincing 27-point win over Texas Southern. I expect to see a repeat performance against Howard.”

Gonzaga, 16-1

Dumond made Gonzaga, the No. 3 seed in the West Region, his best value bet to win the national title at 16-1 (at BetMGM). In the last five NCAA Tournaments, the Zags have reached the title game twice, the Elite Eight once and the Sweet 16 twice.

“This could be the year that coach Mark Few finally gets his squad to break through and win the long-awaited national championship for Gonzaga,” he said. “The Bulldogs possess four important qualities that I give great weight to in my March Madness handicapping.

“They have an experienced winning coach, an experienced senior team leader with Drew Timme, experience on the big stage, and they arrive with positive momentum as they won the West Coast Conference tournament and are on a nine-game winning streak.”

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

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