It's here! It's Thursday! The NCAA Tournament is here! We've all been waiting so long for its return, and it's finally here. Sure, there's a part of me that wishes this was a typical first Thursday of the tournament because I'd be watching games right now as I wrote this newsletter, but if I've learned anything over the last year, it's to appreciate whatever sports I can get, when I can get them.

And tonight, we get four NCAA Tournament games. You also get picks for three of them coming up in the newsletter. If you haven't joined a bracket pool yet, I would strongly suggest you do so now. You don't want to be the one person in the group everybody else makes fun of because you kept putting it off until the last minute and then forgot. So as soon as you've finished reading this newsletter, join a pool and fill out your bracket. If you don't I'm coming to your home. You're going to hear me knocking at your door and then you're going to open it up and see me giving you the most disappointed stare you've ever seen in your life, and you are going to feel terrible.

Just don't pick Illinois to win it all because I'm superstitious, and I'm seeing way too many people pick Illinois. Plus, I picked Illinois in all my brackets, so if nobody else picks them, it increases my chances of winning the pool if the Illini do go all the way, and that'd be pretty sweet.

And now, we dance.

All times Eastern, and all odds via William Hill Sportsbook

🔥 The Hot Ticket

UCLA vs Michigan State, 9:57 p.m. | TV: TBS
The Pick: UCLA +2 (-110)
: I can't lie to you. There's a part of me that automatically leans toward the Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament in most matchups because metrics suggest that the Big Ten was the best conference in the country this year. That's where I started with this matchup too, but the closer I looked, the more apparent it became to me that the Bruins are the right play. 

The Spartans were a disappointing team all year long, and they were disappointing because they cannot shoot. Sparty ranks 266th in the nation in eFG%, 252nd from two and 254th from three. Now, on a night when they get hot, they can beat anybody, as evidenced by wins over Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. But those nights are too few and far between.

Jonathan Coachman is joined by Mike McClure and Larry Hartstein to dish out the best bets in hoops for Thursday and their favorite plays for the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA is a much stronger team on the offensive end, and while I'd give the Spartans the edge defensively, the edge isn't significant enough to make a drastic difference here. Particularly when we consider that UCLA has proven to be a better rebounding team. I see value on the Bruins money line if you're looking for a larger payoff, but I love UCLA and the points here. Also, I wish there was a way I could bet on "UCLA covers unless Joshua Langford gets hot from three," because I see that as the most likely way we lose this bet.

Key Trend: UCLA is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 as a dog while MSU is 2-10 ATS in its last 12 as a favorite.

Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Advanced Computer Model is simulating up a storm for the NCAA Tournament and it has a couple of healthy leans on the spread and total in this matchup.

💰 The Picks

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🏀 First Four

Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary's, 5:10 p.m. | TV: TruTV
The Pick: Under 133 (-110) -- 
Don't feel bad if you haven't watched many Texas Southern or Mount St. Mary's games this year. You aren't alone. For instance, I haven't, either! But I have studied the numbers in preparation for tonight, and I can tell you that this is one of those times where you're likely to hear an announcer say, "styles make fights." It's a classic matchup of an up-tempo team in Texas Southern (41st nationally in adjusted tempo) and a slow, half-court team in Mount St. Mary's (356th of 357 teams in adjusted tempo).

This information could lead you to believe that the team that does the best job of dictating the pace will win the game, and that's probably true, but either way, I'm not all that worried about the pace determining the total. Because, whether moving quickly or slowly, neither of these offenses are good.

Texas Southern ranks 236th in adjusted efficiency on offense, while the Mountaineers are 287th. Also, while Southern moves quickly, it takes few threes (only 27.8% of the team's shots are from three, which ranks 336th nationally), and it misses nearly all of them (27.7%, 342nd). Toss all that together in a bowl, add in playing in an unfamiliar venue, and the first game of the NCAA Tournament is going to be sloppy!

Key Trend: The under is 7-2 in Mount St. Mary's last nine games as a favorite.

Drake vs. Wichita State, 6:27 p.m. | TV: TBS
The Pick: Drake -2 (-110) -- 
Alright, so remember earlier when I told you I was naturally drawn to Big Ten teams but reconsidered? Well, I was naturally drawn in one direction here, but I did not reconsider it. Don't worry; I still did the research, so this pick isn't being made in anger, even if I am still mad at Wichita State for failing to cover against South Florida and Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament.

Now compare a Wichita State team that can't cover for me to a Drake team that is 20-6-1 ATS on the season. It makes Drake more appealing, doesn't it? Well, it should. The Bulldogs might not have been playing in the country's greatest conference, but this is one of the most efficient offenses in the country. The Shockers have an offense that is nearly entirely reliant on threes. On the season, 41.4% of the Shockers shot attempts have come from three, which is a lot, but they're not great at making them, hitting only 34.5% (136th nationally).

Well, Drake has limited opponents to 30.8% from three this season, ranking 35th in the country. So Drake has the better offense, and defensively it has done an excellent job of taking away the one thing Wichita State needs. Back the Bulldogs.

Key Trend: Wichita State is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games and 0-2 ATS in the two I bet on last week.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The Advanced Computer Model has given one play in tonight's Drake-Wichita State game an A grade. I wasn't the best student, but I know that A was the best grade, even if I tried to convince may parents a C was better.

💸 The DFS Rundown

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Building Blocks

PG: Trae Young, Hawks
SG: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
SF: LeBron James, Lakers
PF: Julius Randle, Knicks
C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Value Plays

PG: Chris Paul, Suns
SG: Joe Ingles, Jazz
SF: R.J. Barrett, Knicks
PF: Isaiah Roby, Thunder
C: Cody Zeller, Hornets

Full lineup advice

Get winning NBA DFS picks from SportsLine pros Mike McClure and Jacob Gibbs. McClure has won almost $2 million in daily Fantasy, while Gibbs crushed the NBA last season, cashing around 65 percent of the time in cash games and nearly 45 percent of the time in tournaments. See their DraftKings advice and FanDuel lineups here.

 🏀 NBA Player Props


I can't leave the NBA fans without something tonight.

  • Donovan Mitchell Over 4.5 rebounds (-125)
  • Lonzo Ball Over 4.5 rebounds (-115)
  • Robert Covington Over 1.5 assists (-125)
  • LaMelo Ball Over 5.5 rebounds (-145)