The 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament begins this week, and for the first time there is a round of four play-in games on Tuesday and Wednesday before the main bracket of 64 teams.
The upsets we are predicting here are in the round of 64 on Thursday and Friday, which used to be the first round but is now referred to as the second round.
Wofford Terriers +8 (+330 money-line): We are starting off with our biggest upset of all as the Terriers are facing a vulnerable BYU team. The Cougars are 2-2 straight up and 1-3 against the spread since the suspension of Brandon Davies, with the lone cover coming vs. a bad Wyoming team. Not only was Davies a double-digit scorer but he was a good defender and his absence leaves the Cougars undersized. Sure, Wofford comes out of the Southern Conference, but the Terriers easily covered the spread in a four point loss to Wisconsin in the first round last season, and they can exploit the BYU defense here as they rank a good 40th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and 24th in effective field goal percentage at a nice 53.3 percent.
Penn State Nittany Lions +2½ (+130 money-line): Some eyebrows were raised when Penn State made the tournament with 14 losses, but the Nittany Lions did close the season well and the Big Ten is the highest ranked conference in the country on the Pomeroy Ratings, so they should be battle tested for the Temple Owls here. Penn State went 7-3 the last 10 games with two of the losses coming vs. top ranked Ohio State, and they covered the spread in the other loss at Wisconsin, which is no small feat. Now Temple is a fine team that went 14-2 in Atlantic 10 play, but its only statement non-conference win came over Georgetown back in December, and besides the Hoyas, the Nittany Lions are higher ranked by Pomeroy (39th) than any other team that Temple has beaten.
Memphis Tigers +5½ (+210 money-line): Memphis may not have made this tournament if it did not win the Conference USA Tournament, but this money line makes this play worthwhile vs. what we feel as an overrated Arizona team. We are not high on the Pac-10 this season, and the Arizona defense could prove to be a big liability here. The Wildcats rank 280th in the country in two point defense at a whopping 50.5 percent and they are 256th in forcing turnovers at 18.8 percent of opponents’ possessions. That makes for a difficult matchup vs. a Memphis offense that ranks 49th in two point shooting at 50.9 percent, and the Tigers are also an excellent offensive rebounding team, ranking 84th in that category.
Illinois Fighting Illini +2 (+115 money-line): We thought it was pretty slim pickings when looking for another upset, so we opt for a small upset call here with an Illinois team that is actually ranked 20th on the Pomeroy Ratings, no doubt helped by a Big Ten schedule. That Pomeroy Rating is actually two spots higher than UNLV, and the Runnin’ Rebels had a couple of questionable losses vs. UC Santa Barbara and Colorado State this season. Yes, UCSB made this tournament, but the Gauchos are still ranked only 125th by Pomeroy while Colorado State is ranked 78th overall.