The first 2 rounds were a gambling rollercoaster, especially after a piss-poor Friday that had me down in the dumps. But thankfully for (me) it ended UP, UP, UP on Sunday. Let’s take some of that momentum and ride it for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. And for those of you sinking like the Titanic, don’t worry… Gates has a couple lifeboats to toss your way. In the famous words of Axe:
#4 Florida (-2) vs #8 Wisconsin @ NYC
We’ve got ourselves a bit of a surprise here as people were fading Florida due to the loss of their big man Egbunu, and Wisconsin surprising SOME people with their shocker against Villanova. I haven’t seen an O/U line yet but you have to think it’s extremely low with the way these teams play D. Scoring will be hard to come by with the #3 and #7 defense going head to head, but I think Wisconsin again exposes their mismatches down low on the block. The loss of Egbunu wasn’t a factor in Florida’s first two encounters as neither opponent had a viable threat going against them in the post. Friday will be a different story, Happ and Hayes are going to do DAMAGE on the low block. We saw it time and time again in their first two games, and no play was more clear than Nigel Hayes’ game-winning drive against Villanova when he powered his way to the basket. All that time in the weight room has finally paid off for the senior.
The post is absolutely key for the Badgers, as they’re able to play inside-out basketball when teams double in the post. With Happ and Hayes each on one block, they can exploit mismatches and find open shooters like Koenig and Showalter on the perimeter when the double comes. And when it does, you can say Goodnight.
The Pick: Wisconsin +2
#3 Baylor (-3.5) vs #7 South Carolina @ NYC
Another game that should be a defensive struggle, the Bears and Gamecocks boast the #14 and #4 defenses in the country respectively. This is a tough one, as the Gamecocks were undoubtedly helped by their first two games essentially being played at home in Greenville, SC. Those crowds were raucous, and it’s going to be difficult for South Carolina to avoid a letdown against Baylor after coming down from such a high after destroying Duke (The 2nd half was a destruction, I don’t care what the final score was). With all that being said, the Gamecocks are still the pick given they’re getting 3.5 points. Baylor struggled mightily against New Mexico St in the 1st half before pulling away, and were in a dogfight til’ the end against USC on Sunday. If not for Manu Lecomte dropping buckets from the clouds including a 4 point play that changed the game, USC moves on to the Sweet 16. South Carolina has the bigs to stay even on the glass, and they have the defense to shut down this overrated Baylor offense (#20 Kenpom).
The Pick: South Carolina +3.5
#1 Gonzaga (-3) vs #4 West Virginia @ San Jose, CA
I called it a month and a half ago. Nothing has changed, the Zags are going down in the Sweet 16. We’ve seen elements of why the analytics and many pundits love this team during their first two games. The problem is their basketball nirvana has only come in stretches at a time. Gonzaga struggled mightily in the first half against a #16 seed building a mere 4 point lead, and they almost blew a 20 point lead in the 2nd half against Northwestern on Saturday. They’ll have no room for error against a Mountaineers team that just keeps coming at you. Notre Dame was #2 in the country at preventing turnovers and even they were rattled by Press Virginia. The Zags are strong in this area at #20, but they haven’t faced anything even remotely resembling the type of turnover potential Press Virginia will throw out them. They’re also nothing special on the rebounding end of the spectrum, West Virginia will gain some extra possessions on that front as well. The pressure on Mark Few and the Zags to finally come through as a #1 seed has been discussed ad nauseam, and there’s no worse team to face than the Mountaineers when it comes to facing pressure.
Oh, and if you don’t think the Huggy Bear is intimidating the refs into calling the game his way, you don’t know the Huggy Bear.
The Pick: West Virginia +3
#2 Arizona (-7.5) vs #11 Xavier @ San Jose, CA
Think I’m going Dogs all day eh?
The Wildcats are not only my pick to come out of the West region, but I got them to make it all the way to the ‘Ship. St. Mary’s was a much tougher test than Xavier will be, and even though the game was close on Saturday Arizona still won by 9. That’d be enough to cover the spread here, and the Musketeers will not be ready for what Zona has to offer. The Sweet 16 region they were in was BY FAR the worst in the tournament with Xavier, Maryland, Florida St and Florida Gulf Coast. Maryland was the most overseeded team in the field, and the Seminoles were a ship led by Captain Leonard Hamilton who knew the term Starboard as well as he knew how to run a real offense. Chris Mack’s squad had lost 6 in a row as recently as March 1st. With the game being played on the west coast, the Wildcats fans will be out in droves supporting their team to make the Final 4 for the first time in the Sean Miller era. This will be the first step, or should I say the first stroll in the park.
The Pick: Arizona -7.5
#1 Kansas (-5) vs #4 Purdue @ Kansas City, MO
The Jayhawks may have gotten some people off their scent with their loss to TCU in the 1st round of the Big12 championship, but not this guy. As I mentioned in my article from over two months ago, I was praying for a primetime loss to throw everyone off of Kansas. The TCU loss doesn’t even count to me as Josh Jackson didn’t play. Well, in Kansas’ first two games the Frosh Phenom has come to play in a BIG way. After Lonzo Ball, he’s my #2 pick in the upcoming draft, the kid can do everything on both ends of the floor. Purdue drew a matchup that suited them well with Iowa St as they had no answer on the interior for Swanigan and Ivan Drago, I mean Isaac Haas.
Even their names sound the same.
Landen Lucas, the most underappreciated big man in the country, will be the antidote to the Boilermaker frontcourt. The Jayhawks are too skilled and dynamic, and they win this one running away with it.
The Pick: Kansas -5
#7 Michigan (-1) vs #3 Oregon @ Kansas City, MO
While the Ducks made it to the Sweet 16, they come in limping as they haven’t been playing nearly as well without senior Chris Boucher. Boucher is particularly necessary in this matchup, as his defense on either DJ Wilson or Mo Wagner is crucial. Without him, one or both of these Michigan big men are going to run rampant. Considering the Wolverines had to play an underseeded and extremely hot Oklahoma State team followed by a terrible matchup considering their size, athleticism, and defense in Louisville, the Ducks are their easiest foe yet. Michigan is riding high with unparalleled confidence on a 7 game winning streak while the Ducks have been merely surviving without Boucher. Keep calling me a homer, but this homer keeps taking this streak to the bank. Jump on board now before it’s too late.
The Pick: Michigan -1
#1 North Carolina (-7) vs #4 Butler @ Memphis, TN
I’ll keep this short and sweet as I have the least confidence in this game of any on the slate. UNC was unimpressive to say the least against Arkansas and was lucky to get the W. Butler meanwhile looked good taking care of business against everyone’s favorite #12 seed Middle Tennessee. The Tarheels will win this one, but the Bulldogs are ferocious right now and should cover. A win isn’t out of the question.
The Pick: Butler +7
#2 Kentucky vs #3 UCLA @ Memphis, TN
You want to be a sharp or you want to be the losing public? That’s the question you need to ask yourself. Because sharp money is coming in HOT on the Kentucky Wildcats. The spread came out with UCLA as a -1 favorite, and even though 68% is on the Bruins the spread has moved 2 points to Kentucky -1. It’s easy to see why the public loves UCLA. They’re a really fun team who’s officially “back” with the #1 offense and the potential #1 pick in the draft in Lonzo Ball. And don’t get me wrong, Lonzo is a stud. But the Wildcats have many things going in their favor here:
- Defense. Kentucky is #8 in defensive efficiency while UCLA is #76. This will be a problem for the Bruins.
- Rebounding. While the Bruins have a plethora of bigs, they’re surprisingly subpar in this department ranking #185 and #145 in Off Reb and Def Reb respectively. Kentucky on the other hand is #45 and #93 in the country.
- 3 point defense. UCLA gets many of their points on threes, but Kentucky is extremely good at preventing the other team from raining bombs at #12 nationally in this metric.
- Location. Memphis may not be down the road from Lexington, but it’s much closer than Los Angeles. The Wildcat faithful have also proven they show up to support their team while the same can’t be said about the LA prima donnas, especially all the way from the west coast.
- Coaching. Coach Cal is nowhere near my favorite in-game coach. But compared to Alford, I’ll take him every day and twice on Friday (when they’re playing). Calipari has the experience and won big games on the biggest stages while Alford’s teams have generally fell far short of expectations in his previous tenures.
Kentucky has 3 top 15 NBA picks, UCLA has 2. They’ll match UCLA’s firepower offensively, and the rebounding and defense will put this game over the edge. Come take a ride on the sharp side.
The Pick: Kentucky -1