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3 Picks for Sunday’s Early Games, Including Xavier vs. Pitt & Marquette vs. Michigan State

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Day 4 of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is here.

It was a truly phenomenal weekend, with college basketball taking the country by storm every day. But it’s not over yet.

Our staff has the three best bets for Sunday’s early NCAA Tournament games, including picks for Xavier vs. Pitt and Marquette vs. Michigan State.

Read all three of the best bets for Sunday’s early games below, and be sure to check back later today for our top late game picks.

Let’s make the most of the last day of the second round.

Sunday’s early NCAA Tournament best bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups our basketball staff is targeting for Sunday’s early NCAA Tournament games. Click on the team logos for one of the matches below to access the specific bet discussed in this article.

Xavier vs. Pitt

By Patrick Strollo

No. 3 seed Xavier (26-9) and No. 11 seed Pitt (24-11) will face off today in Greensboro, North Carolina for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

In first-round action, Xavier survived a scare from No. 14 seed Kennesaw State, posting a narrow 72-67 victory.

Today’s game will be Pitt’s third of the tournament after winning a play-in game over No. 11 seed Mississippi State, 60-59, and then defeating No. 6 seed Iowa State in the Round of 16, 59-41.

One of the prevailing stories for today’s game will be Xavier head coach Sean Miller, who was Pitt’s quarterback from 1987-92. Miller has been linked to the Pitt job through the rumor mill in recent years, and while I don’t think this will have any betting implications per se, Miller has a history and a fairly high level of familiarity with the Pitt program.

Xavier’s defense is playing its best basketball in a while, holding 10 of its last 12 opponents to 71 points or less, including high-powered attacks at Creighton and Marquette in the Big East Tournament.

Rocket defense serves as an excellent complement to an elite Musketeer offense that ranks 12th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 81.1 points per game.

Xavier has shot the ball extremely well this season and is one of the top teams in the country in effective field goal rating due in large part to its ability to shoot the deep ball. The Musketeers rank fourth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, making 39.1% of their attempts.

However, in a close first-round win over Kennesaw State, Xavier shot just 1-of-7 (16.7%) from 3-point range and 22-of-52 (46.2%) from inside the arc. I expect Miller to get his team refocused and ready for this game, and I certainly expect poor shooting performance as well.

Pitt’s defense has been a stumbling block for the Panthers this season — it ranks 108th in adjusted defensive efficiency — and now has a tough matchup today.

The Panthers struggled on the defensive glass, ranking 201st in defensive rebounding percentage. Defensively things get complicated when center Federico Federico – who is second in rebounding – is out with a knee injury.

I like the Musketeers to cover here with their great offense looking for a comeback game after poor 3-point shooting in the first round.

Look for Xavier to win the battle on the boards and the fresher Musketeers to step up.

Xavier vs. Pitt

By Doug Ziefel

The underdogs have been very much alive in this tournament, and while we’ve seen plenty of upsets, there have also been plenty of teams that shine in the first half and then fade in the second half.

This matchup is shaping up to be one of those games for the Pitt Panthers. They will be playing against a Xavier team that has struggled to slow teams down with perimeter offense.

The Musketeers are 275th in 3-point percentage allowed, and 34% of their field goal attempts are coming from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for them, those tendencies play right into Pitt’s strengths on offense.

The Panthers will shoot the 3 at a high volume, as long range attempts make up 43% of their attempts. They’ve also done a solid job of converting those shots on the season, ranking 72nd in 3-point percentage.

Although the Panthers could have success in this match, it certainly does not mean that the Musketeers will not be able to fight back. Xavier is one of the best offensive teams in the country and a big step ahead of Miss State and Iowa State.

Three-pointers will also be in the cards for the Musketeers, as over 39% of the points Pitt has allowed this season have come from downtown. On top of that, Xavier holds the fourth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country.

The Musketeers could get plenty of second-chance buckets, too. Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter have made the Musketeers a great rebounding team on offense, and thanks to their efforts Xavier is 18th in second chance opportunities.

So while everyone may be trending early first half in the early game, this matchup has all the makings to kill it.

Select: 1H Over 71.5 (Play to 72.5)

Marquette vs. Michigan State

By Shane McNichol

This game is decided by two games, one on each side of the floor.

When Michigan State has the ball, Sparty’s guards will try to penetrate off the dribble to create offense. I would expect the one guarded by Tyler Kolek, the weakest perimeter defender in Marquette’s lineup, to be especially aggressive.

Marquette, however, has been playing much better defense of late, and the Golden Eagles’ performances against UConn and Xavier in the Big East Tournament are among their best performances of the season.

Marquette played high-energy defense and used frequent, quick rotations, which led me to believe the Eagles could handle Sparty’s guards.

On the other hand, Michigan State must be prepared for Kolek’s wizardry in the pick-and-roll game. Big men Mady Sissoko and Joey Hauser must be able to cover and sustain, while Kolek and frequent partner Oso Ighodaro work in space.

I’m more confident about Sissok’s chances there, but less confident that he’ll stay out of foul trouble and keep up with Ighodar in transition.

It’s a mistake to take Shaku Smart while he’s scoring Tom Izzo in March, but Marquette is the better team here and a better fit for this matchup. Give me the Big East champions.

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