The Memphis Tigers were ousted in last year’s second round of “March Madness” with a 70-48 setback to the Michigan State Spartans. Josh Pastner’s troops open this season’s campaign as hefty ‘chalk’ in Thursday’s NCAAB betting against the Austin Peay Governors.

Check out SBRs NCAA Basketball Pick: Detroit vs. Connecticut

Jackson, Crawford return for Tigers

Tigers guard Joe Jackson returns for his senior year, following team-highs last season in scoring (13.6 PPG) and assists (4.8 APG). Memphis is left trying to fill the void of departures D.J. Stephens (6.6 RPG) and Adonis Thomas (29.3 MPG), bringing in a solid crew of recruits.

Austin Nichols and Nick King lead the team’s incoming freshman, shaping up as a formidable duo in the front court. Nichols hopes to pay some instant dividends, turning down offers from five other contenders – including the Duke Blue Devils. King is a local prospect from East High School in Memphis, garnering five-star rankings from Scout.

Jackson is joined by guard Chris Crawford, who returns following big numbers in the Tigers’ third straight Conference USA title run. Image previewMemphis now makes its debut in the American Athletic Conference, shifting groups along with fellow rivals Houston and SMU.

Governors pull away at home

Austin Peay began its season’s action with Friday’s 84-69 victory over the Oakland City Mighty Oaks. Dave Loos’ squad put the game away in the second half, outscoring the Mighty Oaks after the break by a 44-31 margin.

Governors forward Ed Dyson hit 7-of-10 field buckets, notching a team-high 17 points. The junior’s frontcourt mates Chris Horton and Will Triggs united for 24 boards, leading their crew to outrebound the Mighty Oaks, 46-27.

Horton added three of his side’s four blocks, while guard Cory Arentsen came off the bench to drain 3-of-5 shots beyond the arc. Austin Peay’s Travis Betran and Demarius Smith each logged five assists, while they and their mates logged a subpar 20-for-36 night at the foul line.

Back the Governors as big dogs

Memphis opened as a 25-point home favorite at BetOnline, with early wagers on the Governors dropping the number a ‘hook’ to 24 ½. Both teams are off until Tuesday’s NCAAB betting odds, with the Tigers traveling to meet Oklahoma State and Austin Peay returning home against Southern Illinois.

I am taking the big number in this spot, looking for Austin Peay to cash as part of Thursday’s NCAA Basketball picks.

The Governors ranked fourth in the Ohio Valley last year for field shooting (45.7 percent), including three-point buckets at a 38.3 percent clip. Chris Horton returns as the conference’s top shot blocker (3.2 BPG), which should give just enough presence to match the Tigers’ potential octane.

Memphis has a promising lineup for its opener, but emptied wallets with a 2-7 spread record in last season’s first nine spots as  a double-digit favorite. The stretch included a tighter outing than expected in the Tigers’ first ‘board’ battle, topping the Samford Bulldogs in a 65-54 win as 25 ½-point ‘chalk.’

Austin Peay surged in the other direction with a 7-2 ATS mark in its first nine affairs as a 9 ½-point underdog or more. Horton and Co. should have enough confidence to stay within cashing range again here, while Memphis has a 2-6 spread mark in its last eight matchups against Ohio Valley foes.

NCAA Basketball Pick:  Austin Peay Governors +24 ½ at BetOnline