In one of the most exciting, unpredictable, upset-filled NCAA Tournaments of all-time, it’s been tough to pick games. The Sweet 16 lines are tight, with only one spread (Duke vs Syracuse) over six. I’m not nearly as hot as Vik, who picked every game in the 1st two rounds and went 27-18. My picks went 10-9 in the 1st Round and 6-5 in the 2nd Round. Let’s finish strong and catch last year’s torrid pace:
Kentucky -5.5 vs Kansas State. Whether Dean Wade plays or Dwyane Wade suits up, K-State is losing this, and Kentucky should cover. Kansas State is 2-8 against the Ken Pom Top 30, with both wins coming over TCU. Between the Atlanta crowd and John Calipari being 10-2 in the Sweet 16 (6-0 at Kentucky) with an average margin of victory of 11 points, UK should roll. – LOSS, Kentucky lost, 61-58
Gonzaga -5.5 vs Florida State. Xavier choked away a win over FSU by missing 11 FTs and turning the ball over 18 times. Trevon Bluiett had more turnovers (5) than baskets (2) and JP Macura fouled on on some shaky whistles. But Mark Few is way past his Sweet 16 struggles – 2-1 in the last three years, with a loss to Syracuse (which went to the Final 4) – and Gonzaga hasn’t played a one-possession game since losing to St. Mary’s on January 18th. – LOSS, Gonzaga lost 75-60
Texas Tech +2 vs Purdue. As noted here, the last time Chris Beard met Matt Painter … Beard won with a vastly inferior roster while at Arkansas Little-Rock. This time, he’s got a healthy Keenan Evans and three wings to rotate onto Vincent Edwards. Slight edge to the Red Raiders, regardless of if Isaac Haas plays or not. – WIN, Red Raiders won, 78-65.
Michigan -2.5 vs Texas A&M. One team came off a destruction of mighty UNC; the other came off two unimpressive wins over Montana and Houston (the latter of which was criminally underrated). The line opened -3.5 and is down to -2.5, which might mean this is a public dog. I believe Texas A&M is more talented; I’ll ride with John Beilein with four days to prepare. – WIN, Michigan won 99-72
Nevada -1 vs Loyola. The Ramblers won their first two games on shots in the final :30. They want to slow the game down (319th in tempo); Nevada wants this game in the 70s (104th in tempo). Loyola is a disciplined, well-coached, great shooting team … which beat two more talented teams coached by guys who have been to the Final Four (Jim Larranaga and Rick Barnes). But it feels like everyone is on Loyola. Reluctantly, I’ll go with the Wolfpack. – LOSS, Nevada lost 69-68.
Duke -11.5 vs Syracuse. I couldn’t lay double digits again vs the ‘Cuse, not after the Michigan State embarrassment. Duke won the earlier meeting 60-44 at home (which came during a stretch in which Syracuse went 1-5), so the zone won’t surprise them. Will Coach K put Marvin Bagley at the foul line against the zone? The best play here is Duke in the 1st half. LOSS, Duke won 69-65
Kansas -4.5 vs Clemson. I don’t love this Jayhawks team – nor does Ken Pom, which has it 72-71, Kansas. Is Clemson that good of a defensive team, or was Auburn just that inept? (Both.) Why I lean Kansas: They held on to beat – but not cover – against a good Seton Hall team with star Devonte' Graham going just 1-of-7 with five turnovers. Udoka Azubuike should be fully healthy, and Malik Newman is playing like the All-American he was in high school (28 points vs Seton Hall). How’s this for “battle tested”: Clemson doesn’t have one victory over a team still left in the tournament. Kansas has 10 (K-State 3, West Virginia 3, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Kentucky). – LOSS, Kansas won 80-76
West Virginia +5.5 vs Villanova. The schedule-makers did no favors to Bob Huggins – he had to travel to San Diego last week, then heads back to the East Coast and up to Boston for this one. How the refs call the game in the first five minutes will set the tone. If they let Press Virginia play defense like they do in the Big 12, WVU could win; if not, fouls will mount and the Wildcats could pull away. Villanova is susceptible to the 3-pointer – Butler and Creighton beat them by bombing away – but WVU is not a great 3-point shooting team (132nd in the nation). WVU may have to go small to get sophomore James Bolden (41% on 3-pointers) on the floor more, meaning Mikal Bridges will be matched with Daxter Miles, which should be fun. – LOSS, WVU lost, 90-78