I've Got Five On It: Friday's most intriguing NCAA tourney matchups
The NCAA Tournament is underway, with Thursday's first-round games serving as a great reminder of why the annual showcase makes March a magical month for college basketball. Friday brings another jam-packed day of action. Today in I Got Five On it, Rivals.com’s Rob Cassidy surveys the second-day schedule and gives five against-the-spread picks on the games he finds most interesting.
Rival Views: Reacting to the NCAA tournament bracket
2023 Rankings: Rivals150
2024 Rankings: Top 40
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago
When: 12:15 ET
Hey, it’s another trendy upset pick. You can see the logic in this one, obviously, but I’m skeptical. The Ramblers are a brand-name mid-major, but even if you toss aside the offseason coaching change this doesn’t feel like the Cinderella of old. Loyola wasn’t some Missouri Valley juggernaut. They went 13-5 in the conference this year and were 4-3 in their last four regular-season games before catching fire as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. The good news is that the Loyola defense is capable of keeping it in games when shots aren’t falling, as the Ramblers rank near the top of the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The other side of the coin, of course, is Ohio State’s ability to score in bunches. The Buckeyes rank 13th nationally in adjusted offense, which sets up an intriguing battle of wills. Loyola’s roster has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience and the fact that it has made a deep run in each of its last two appearances is hard to ignore. Trends (and nuns) are for suckers, though. I’ll take the team with two pros in a contest that otherwise seems like a tossup. Ohio State’s NBA hopefuls E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham will be the difference in a close game because talent generally wins out, right? Right?
The pick: Ohio State (pick 'em)
No. 7 USC vs. No. 10 Miami
When: 3:10 ET
This is my pet “upset” pick, as I’m of the opinion that the perception of Miami suffered based solely on how mediocre the ACC was as a whole this season. If guards really do win out in March, then the Hurricanes could have a run in them. The quartet of Kameron McGusty, Isaiah Wong, Charlie Moore and Jordan Miller all average more than 10 points per game and provide nearly unrivaled backcourt depth. Miami’s guards do more than score, however, as Jim Larrañaga’s team manages to limit turnovers and gives the ball away fewer than 10 times per contest. USC’s Isaiah Mobley, the younger brother of Evan, the NBA star with the same last name, is a future pro and will create some issues for the Hurricanes on defense. Mobley averages 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and keeping him off of the offensive glass will be key for a UM team that isn’t exactly a juggernaut in the paint. I don’t expect this to be easy, but I’ll ride with The U.
The pick: Miami +1.5
No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech
When: 4:30 ET
Two ships sailing in seemingly opposite directions will pass in Milwaukee on Friday afternoon in a game that could be painted as overachiever versus underachiever. More accurate, however, would be calling it ice cold vs. red hot. Virginia Tech played its way into the bracket by winning seven of its last eight games and an ACC Tournament title. Meanwhile, Texas arrived wounded, to say the least. The Longhorns have lost three straight games and six of their last 11. UT, of course, plays in the better league, so that trend isn’t nearly as alarming as it seems on the surface. It’s worth noting that two of Texas’ last three losses were to No. 1 seeds Kansas and Baylor. It’s also part of how I’m going to justify picking the Longhorns here. Texas’ calling card is its defense, which will need to show up on Friday. If that happens, leading scorers Timmy Allen and Marcus Carr should be able to score enough to give the battle-tested Horns an opening-round win.
The pick: Texas -1
No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Chattanooga
When: 6:50 ET
I’ve been financially investing in the Mocs for a good chunk of the season, so I admit I might be too close to this to call it accurately. Lamont Paris’ team is 17-15 against the spread this year, however, so the whole dance-with-who-brung-ya thing applies. Chattanooga, of course, is led by Malachi Smith, the best and most celebrated SoCon player since Steph Curry. Like Curry, he’s exactly the kind of scorer that could ruin a high-major team’s day. The challenge for the Mocs on Friday will be finding a way to handle certified beast and future NBA Draft selection Kofi Cockburn, who averages a double-double and will provide the Mocs with the type of challenge they have not faced this season. Still, Illinois struggles when Cockburn is not on the floor, so look out if the big man gets in foul trouble. Illinois is 13-18 ATS this season and is coming off a game that saw them falter down the stretch in a narrow loss to unranked Indiana. Asking Chattanooga to win this game outright is a big request, but it's capable of keeping it close.
The pick: Chattanooga +8
No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State
Time: 7:20 ET
LSU enters the tournament without a coach, which makes the Tigers exactly the kind of unpredictable wild card we at "I've Got Five On It" love. If we’re being honest, this probably isn’t a game on which anyone should bet, but what else are you going to do at 7 p.m. on a Friday, socialize? Yeah, right. The Tigers will be coached by assistant Kevin Nickelberry, who took over last week when Will Wade was fired for his role in an NCAA rules scandal. The Tigers should outrebound Iowa State and get what they want on the inside via forwards Tari Eason and Darius Days, who rank first and second among LSU players in both scoring and rebounding. The fact that Iowa State has looked nothing like an NCAA Tournament team in a handful of recent games should also be encouraging to Tigers fans. This is going to be a low-scoring affair, as ISU and LSU rank 151st and 89th, respectively, in adjusted offensive efficiency. Let’s take the under and hope Iowa State scores 41 points like it did on March 10 against Texas Tech or grinds out 36 like it did against Oklahoma State on March 2.
The pick: Under 128.5 points