College Basketball: Sweet Sixteen Best Bets
That's one more than Rick Pitino
The casual fan likes March Madness because, unquestionably more than any other major sports postseason, the odds are at least only stacked manageably against the Davids (as opposed to football and series-based postseasons like baseball and in the NBA). In short, when there's no personal interest, people tend to like to see underdogs win.
The result of fans getting their way in early rounds is oftentimes the bracket in subsequent rounds will be littered with games of David vs David, and the realization that the "little guy" has a finite shelf life comes too late.
This season has actually played out nicely as we have a mere smattering of double-digit seeded teams (Xavier, NC State, Ohio), but more importantly every Sweet 16 matchup involves a team seeded one, two, or three in its region.
In other words, the odds for a clunker Final Four like we got last year in Houston are very low. And that's a good thing. So for you degenerates out there, let's preview the next two nights, shall we?
THURSDAY, MARCH 22 -- EAST REGIONAL (Boston, MA)
Wisconsin +3 over Syracuse Contrasting styles is a recurring theme in some of these regional semifinal match ups and this game is one of them. While both teams hang their hat on their defense (Wisconsin first place in Division 1, Syracuse fifth place), Wisconsin goes man to man from beginning to end, and Syracuse has been playing their 2-3 matchup zone since Jim Boeheim wore short pants.
Syracuse is the more, um, athletic of the two teams, while Wisconsin relies more on the three-pointer. The one thing both coaches (Jim Boeheim and Bo Ryan) have in common is that they've tanked this round of the NCAA tournament for the better part of the last decade, with Syarcuse's last Sweet 16 win coming in their title season in 2003 and Wisconsin's last victory in this round coming in 2005. Something has to give, I think this will be the round where the loss of center Fab Melo catches up to the Orangemen.
Cincinnati +7 1/2 over Ohio State The state of Ohio houses four of the participants in the Sweet 16 round and is guaranteed at least one Elite Eight team as the Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the Cincinnati Bearcats in a matchup that has only occurred one other time since the 1962 championship game. Make no mistake, while both coaches have said and will say all the right things, allegations of dirty recruiting and elusive scheduling tactics make this the one Sweet 16 matchup where there will be some genuine vitriol between the two teams. My word to the wise for Ohio State's Jared Sullinger -- watch out for Cincy's Yancy Gates' right hook...
THURSDAY, MARCH 22 -- WEST REGIONAL (Phoenix, AZ)
Louisville +5 over Michigan State After starting off slowly at the beginning of the conference season losing four of their first six Big East games, and then hitting a midseason lull by losing another four of six, Rick Pitino has the Cardinals playing their best basketball of the season, having won six straight postseason games. This will be a classic contrast in styles as Louisville will full court press and try to play fast (insert Pitino "15 seconds of glory" joke here), while Tom Izzo's Spartans will try to grind it to a halt and use their superior size. Rick Pitino's 9-0 record in the Sweet Sixteen is enough for me to take the points here.
Marquette -1 over Florida If you like scoring and up-tempo basketball, this will be the one you'll want to tune into tonight. Both teams came into the tournament figuratively limping. Marquette went one and done in the Big East tournament, and Florida lost four of five. If you believe in experience as a catalyst this time of year (and there's plenty of evidence to support that), the Golden Eagles' two best players (Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder) are both seniors. Florida leads the nation in three-pointers with 9.8 per game, and if they're not falling it could be a long night as long rebounds equate to fastbreak opportunities.
FRIDAY, MARCH 23 -- SOUTH REGIONAL (Atlanta, GA)
Xavier +6 over Baylor In the breakdown of the Cincy-Ohio State game above, I alluded to the fight that took place back in December between the Bearcats and the Xavier Musketeers. While the "star" of the show was the Bearcats' Yancy Gates with his cheap-shot right cross on Xavier center Kenny Frease, the Oscar for Best Supporting Dipshit would have been dead heat between Xavier's backcourt of Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway (fast forward to 1:40):
Zip 'em up! If you think I'm picking Xavier because I'm praying for a Xavier-Cincy rematch in the finals, you'd be right.
(Side bar: If you wanted the whole video through to the end, then you saw Cincy coach Mick Cronin's tough talk after the game about "wondering who is even gonna be on the team" and how he "physically removed the jerseys" from some of his players. The media sheep were all lapping this guy up after that performance; in reality, Gates got a very light suspension and everyone involved had their jerseys back in fairly short order. So much hot air that is sadly hilarious now in retrospect.)
Kentucky -9 over Indiana In the past, the Achilles heel for Calipari teams had been falling in love with jump shots when the fact of the matter is they could bully almost any team around just by working the ball inside. The difference this year? Well, if they fall in love with the jumper they can actually make them. Lots of them, if they so choose. Indiana is one of two teams to beat Kentucky this season, and after Friday they may look back at that as a mistake (#RevengeFactor).
FRIDAY, MARCH 23 -- MIDWEST REGIONAL (St. Louis, MO)
North Carolina -10 1/2 over Ohio No Kendall Marshall (broken wrist, surgery this past Monday), no problem. For now. The next round might be a different story for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina State +8 1/2 over Kansas No analysis necessary here. Bill Self is facing a double-digit seed. He was lucky his team got out with a win against 10th-seeded Purdue; if the Wolfpack doesn't finish the job for the Boilermakers here, they'll come close.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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