First-round NCAA tournament totals are always interesting because none of the first-round games are ever rematches. That means you’re relying on the knowledge you’ve gained about each team’s preferred pace of play over the course of the year and trying to make unlike comparisons, an inexact science.
Still, there’s value to be had here if you know these teams well enough. Here are my best totals plays for Thursday’s games.
Tennessee vs. Longwood
Pick: Under 132 (-110)
Tennessee regularly holds SEC teams in the mid to low-60s, and Longwood hasn’t exactly played a tough slate this season. The Lancers faced one of the 20 weakest schedules in the nation, which won’t prepare them well to face Tennessee’s stiff defense.
The Volunteers aren’t great shooters themselves, so don’t look for the type of game where Tennessee just blows out Longwood and almost gets to the total by itself. In order for this one to hit the total, Tennessee will likely need close to 80 points. That probably isn’t going to happen, even if the Vols win comfortably.
Iowa vs. Richmond
Pick: Richmond Team Total Under 70.5 (-110)
The Spiders are getting a lot of attention right now after making a run in the Atlantic 10, but they did that with their defense, not their offense. Richmond tends not to put up large numbers of points because it isn’t blessed with good shooters or good rebounders.
Iowa’s defense is better than it’s been in past years, but it’s not getting the respect that it should because of how fast the Hawkeyes like to play. But Iowa just held Purdue to 66 points in the Big Ten tournament final, and the Spiders can’t shoot anywhere near as well as the Boilermakers can.
Murray State vs. San Francisco
Pick: Over 136.5 (-110)
The Racers actually aren’t one of the fastest teams around this year, but they are one of the more efficient offenses in the country. Murray State tends to be an under team because it spent most of the year blowing out hopelessly overmatched opponents in the Ohio Valley Conference. However, the Racers’ offense was solid, topping 70 points in 23 of 29 games this season.
San Francisco is not a great defense. The Dons might rebound the ball well, but they allow good looks at the hoop and play at a fast pace that lends itself to high numbers. They also put up great numbers themselves, and this game will not be the typical OVC blowout that has defined Murray State’s season. The Racers will have to score to win, and I think they will.
Kentucky vs. Saint Peter’s
Pick: Kentucky Team Total Over 74.5
Saint Peter’s was a cover machine and a defensive ace during the regular season. But that’s in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which doesn’t have anywhere near the height nor athletes of Kentucky. The Peacocks might have stopped the likes of Rider and Canisius, but they gave up 85 points to Providence and 91 to St. John’s in their only games against power conference competition.
Neither of those teams are anywhere near as efficient on offense as the Wildcats. Neither of those teams have a big man anywhere near as dominant as Oscar Tshiebwe, who should be able to dominate the glass all game long. Kentucky played nine mid-majors during the regular season and never failed to score 76 points against those teams, and I don’t think the Peacocks have the personnel needed to stop the Wildcats on the perimeter or in the paint.