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March Madness predictions 2023: Instant picks heading into Second Round

We give our instant picks for the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as second-round matchups are made official.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Furman vs Virginia Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

The First Round of March Madness is well underway, and we already have several matchups set for the start of the Second Round on Saturday. As teams attempt to put together a Sweet 16 campaign, let’s take a look at some early picks ahead of this weekend’s games.

South region

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Maryland
Alabama -8.5

Alabama played a No. 16 seed, so they have plenty of momentum heading into this game. Maryland looked impressive in a close comeback win over West Virginia, but they were inconsistent and fell behind at points — a weakness that the Tide will take advantage of. I’ll take the Tide here. — GM

No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 13 Furman
Furman +5.5

Furman looked great against Virginia. They didn’t flinch in the face of challenge, even when they went down by 12 in the second half, even when they went down by four with very little time left on the clock. They didn’t fold under pressure. SDSU let a Charleston team with very poor shooting and rebounding hang around, and they may have trouble with this Furman offense. I’ll take the Cinderella. — GM

No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Creighton
Creighton pick ‘em

This matchup is a tossup and I’ll lean with Creighton to get the job done and advance to the Sweet 16. The Bluejays have a defense that can match the Bears’ highly efficient offense and I think they’ll get the job done in what should be a slugfest. — NS

East region

No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Duke
Duke -3

Wow, Duke. Go ahead and break the hearts of all the Oral Roberts fans from two years ago. Now that was quite a game — they did not let the threat of an upset hang around at all, and barely let the Eagles get within 20 points the entire game. Duke’s hot streak continues. Tennessee did a good job keeping a talented Louisiana team at arm’s length for most of the second half, although the Ragin’ Cajuns had a last-ditch upset attempt in the final minute. I like how Duke is moving right now, so I’m going with the Blue Devils. — GM

No. 15 Princeton vs. No. 7 Missouri
Princeton +6.5

Princeton stayed in it with Arizona, never fazed by their consistent deficit, before pulling ahead in the final minutes of the game. Can they repeat it? To be honest, I don’t think so. Mizzou pulled off a big second half as underdogs against a highly-ranked Utah State team. The Missouri Tigers got hot from the three, going 40.9% from the perimeter and 50.2% from the field. Mizzou will need to focus on shutting down the paint, but they can pull this win out. — GM

No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Marquette -4.5

Few teams have been rolling the way Marquette has as of late and its 78-61 thrashing of No. 15 Vermont on Friday marked its 10th straight victory. The Golden Eagles have been highly efficient on the offensive end and have won in a number of fashions throughout the year. They are an excellent 22-12-1 against the spread this season and I expect them to cover as they pick up the outright win to move on to the Sweet 16. — NS

Midwest region

No. 1 Houston vs. No. 9 Auburn
Auburn +5.5

Houston got quite the scare from Northern Kentucky, whose dedication to abysmal three-point shooting brought down in the end. The Cougars did not look ready to play for a national title, and will need to focus on getting through the second round against this solid Auburn team. The Tigers took advantage of Iowa’s lack of defense to pull ahead, but few teams going forward will provide so little pushback for Auburn’s shooters. I think Houston is able to pull this one off. — GM

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 Penn State
Penn State +5.5

Texas let Colgate hang around, but their offense still looked excellent, with Jabari Rice leading the way with 23 points. Penn State looked dominant against Texas A&M, winning 76-59 as 3.5-point underdogs. The Nittany Lions went 59.1% from the three — they simply couldn’t miss from outside all night. Can they repeat that production? I like Texas’ offense over Penn State’s here, but this one could be a toss-up. — GM

No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh +5

On one end, you have a Xavier team that nearly fell victim to the upset bug against Kennesaw State on Friday. The Musketeers stormed back late in the second half to eventually pull ahead. On the other end, you have a Pittsburgh team that held Iowa State to one of the worst shooting percentages in modern NCAA Tournament history to win on Friday. The Panthers have been pesky and has the second best against the spread record in the nation this season at 24-10-1. I expect Pitt to give Xavier all it can handle, but for the Musketeers to come out on top in a tight one. — NS

West region

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 7 Northwestern

UCLA rolled right on past UNC Asheville in the first round, while Northwestern outlasted Boise State. The Wildcats were 38.1% from the three and 83.3% from the free throw line. The Bruins shot 54% from the field and outrebounded their opponent 40 to 25. UCLA was very, very good in the Pac-12 this year, and while that conference may not be the best measuring stick for a national stage — especially considering what happened to Arizona — I think UCLA moves on to the Sweet 16 here. — GM

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Kansas -3.5

Kansas let Howard hang around in the first half, but buckled down and ended up covering the 22-point spread. Arkansas put together a solid campaign against Illinois, avoiding a late-game comeback but not inspiring much faith in their ability to perform against more consistent shooting teams. I like Kansas to win here. — GM

No. 4 UConn vs No. 5 Saint Mary’s
UConn -3.5

UConn has clicked into high gear in the month of March and that was on display in the second half of Friday’s win over Iona. The Huskies are rolling and it’s hard to see them going home this early. Give me UConn to cover and get the outright win on Sunday. — NS