NCAA Basketball – Sweet 16 Quick Picks

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney is down to 16

The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are in the books. As expected, it was a wild ride, but one that came with some exciting games. Despite all the excitement, the tourney has lacked the buzzer beating shots we seem to see every year. It’s still early, so don’t rule it out just yet.

Perhaps the most dramatic result so far has been the run of St. Peters. After knocking-off Kentucky in the opener, the Peacocks beat the Murray St Racers (31-3) in the second round. Aside from the Peacocks, the Michigan Wolverines (11 seed), Miami (10 seed), and Iowa State (11 seed) are the other notable underdogs through two rounds to advance.

Last week, we managed to go 9-7 on our Round of 64 article. With the field now cut down by 75%, it should be an exciting ride into the Elite Eight. Cross your fingers for some buzzer beaters this round and hold on to those bet slips!

 

Arkansas vs Gonzaga -8.5

Gonzaga has been largely underwhelming thus far in the tourney. Following a big second half in the opener, Gonzaga ran into a wildly aggressive and talented Memphis team in round 2, and trailed for a vast majority of the game. After Gonzaga pulled ahead, Memphis simply couldn’t hit a shot from deep. If not for Drew Timme catching fire in the second half, this Gonzaga team would be back home right now.

Arkansas is the lone survivor among the SEC teams. They had a very fortunate path to this point and have done little to instill confidence in their believers. After winning the opener against Vermont by just four, Arkansas struggled in their five-point victory over New Mexico St. Facing the overall #1 seed in their Sweet 16 matchup, the Razorbacks may be at the end of their journey.

Gonzaga has it all. Their size, playmaking, and ball movement opens all kinds of possibilities for them on offense. As we witnessed against Memphis, this team can always generate offense when everything else fails, because Drew Timme is near automatic within 15 feet of the bucket. I like for Gonzaga to flip the script and finally cover a game in this tournament.

 

Michigan vs Villanova -4.5

I didn’t give Michigan much credit heading into the tourney, because they burned us on our conference tourney prediction by losing their first game. After beating Colorado State routinely, Michigan played great team ball against Tennessee. The Wolverines were sloppy (15 turnovers) but benefitted from Tennessee missing open threes all game long. Tennessee went 2 for 18 from deep, and that was enough for Michigan to advance.

Villanova played as sound of a basketball game as a team could, outside of shooting, in a tourney game. That’s the thing about Nova that can help carry them. Even with an off-shooting day, the Wildcats still won by double digits. Nova does all the little things extremely well. They move the ball well, have the best three guard trio in the tourney, and they are the best free throw shooting team in the tourney.

This game would be the classic “fundamentals vs talent” matchup if the latter (Michigan) were actually really talented. Alas, they are not, so it makes this choice much, much easier for us. This is our pick of the round, as we expect this 4.5 point spread should be safe, given Villanova’s ability to closeout games from the line.

 

Texas Tech -1 vs Duke

Texas Tech might be one of the few teams capable of going the entire game at max effort. They have blue collar attitudes and a resume full of upset victories. In the first round, Texas Tech had an offensive explosion.

Duke is the most talented team in the tournament. We know that Griffin’s ankle is injured, but we don’t yet know is his status for the game. Still, Duke looked sluggish in their opener and played well in the second round. My concern with them is the chemistry. Can they do it for an entire game, because Texas Tech can really amp things up quickly.

The talent nod in this game is not in question. What is in question is the heart. For a few years now, it seems Texas Tech brings max effort and energy for 40 minutes, no matter who the coach is. That comes with the territory for a school like Tech in a conference with Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Baylor, and TCU. I don’t think a team full of five stars will take the same blitzing approach we can expect from Tech. I expect Tech to get a lead and keep it throughout.

 

Houston +1.5 vs Arizona

I gave Houston the benefit of the doubt coming into the tourney and now, I feel like they’ve justified my faith in them. After a “soft” schedule and many pundits knocking them for it, Houston has come out and silenced the doubters thus far. In addition to their impressive win over Memphis and their big tourney wins over UAB and Illinois, Houston looks calm, composed, and well-coached. When things got tight against Illinois, Houston went on a big run to pull away.

Arizona was considered the second-favorite coming into the tournament. However, they didn’t do much in the second round to reassure Arizona’s futures bettors. After blowing a double digit lead late against TCU, Arizona was able to recover in OT and pull out the win. As great as this team has looked throughout the season, they have had some head scratchers along the way.

This line is oddly close. We love Houston and how well they’ve played lately, and Arizona hasn’t looked like the same team who was an unquestioned #1 seed when this all started. With how well Houston has played since their second loss to Memphis, it’s too hard to pick against them. Arizona has been too underwhelming for us to support them to this point.

 

St. Peter’s vs Purdue -12.5

St. Peters has been a really nice story thus far. A 15 seed has only won their opener four times in the history of the Tournament and made the Sweet 16 just three times. In their opener, St Peters shot 53% from deep and managed to hold-off the #2 seeded Kentucky Wildcats. In their next game, St Peters beat a Murray St team with only two losses on the season coming in. They’ve been hot so far. Can they keep it rolling?

Purdue may actually be stringing together wins with some semblance of chemistry. After months of seeing Jaden Ivey single handedly win and lose games for a team who probably needs the opposite of volatility, we are looking at the possibility of Purdue making the Final Four. Purdue has the size in the frontcourt and the skill/talent in the backcourt to beat anyone. The question has always been, “what’s the perfect formula for this team?”

We’ve seen St Peters shoot very well through the first game and lose the rebounding battle by just one. We saw them shoot poorly in round two and still win, thanks to a +7 rebounding advantage. St. Peters will have to do both very well to stay within reach here. I don’t believe that’s likely with these two fantastic Purdue bigs involved.

 

Providence +7.5 vs Kansas

Providence has surprised us this season. After finishing the season as the regular season Big East Champs, Providence crashed out of their conference tourney. With a lot of questions heading into March Madness, Providence responded by beating everyone’s favorite 13 seed (South Dakota State) in the opener and blowing out Richmond in the round of 32. Providence looks like a real solid team right now.

Kansas won both the regular season and conference tourney in the Big 12. They have a solid roster, as you would expect from a Bill Self team, but have had their share of putrid performances. Kansas struggled to separate from Creighton throughout their matchup in the second round, which is concerning. Now, they’ll face an even better Big East foe in the Sweet 16.

I expect this game to go somewhat like the Creighton vs Kansas game, for the most part. We’ve seen Kansas have more than a few games where the offense has stalled, and I don’t quite trust them enough on the offensive end. I expect Providence to keep pace throughout and keep this one down to a single possession in the end.

 

North Carolina +2 vs UCLA

North Carolina is playing their best basketball of the season at the perfect time. Since their run in the ACC Tourney ended, they’ve looked more like the team who ruined Coach K’s last home game than the team who sleepwalked through the majority of the regular season. After losing Brady Manek to a flagrant 2 ejection, UNC continued their collapse against Baylor, blowing a 25 point lead, only to pull out the win in OT. With the #1 seed gone in their region, the path to the Final Four goes through UCLA and likely Purdue.

UCLA nearly lost to Akron in the opening round game. It wouldn’t have been the biggest upset in the opening round, but possibly the most shocking, given the performance of this same team in last year’s tournament. After their close call in the round of 64, UCLA cruised to a 16-point victory against the Gaels of St Mary’s. Will UCLA be able to bring the magic back this time around?

As much as it seems like we should trust UCLA to find that tourney magic again, this North Carolina team looks like a well-oiled machine at the moment. After beating a decent Marquette team by 32 in the opener, UNC led by as many as 25 against the region’s top seed, Baylor. UNC is capable of beating anyone, and we can’t really say the same for this UCLA team.

 

Iowa State vs Miami -2.5

Miami just beat their region’s second-best team in the second round. Following a close opening game against USC, Miami turned things up in the second half and absolutely cooked the Auburn Tigers in the last 20 minutes. Part of why we are so high on them is their ability to protect the ball. Through two tournament games, Miami has just seven total turnovers. The down side is their rebounding (-20 in the tourney).

Iowa State, like Miami, shocked some people when they beat LSU but really raised eyebrows when they beat Wisconsin in the round of 32. A big reason for that has been how they finished the season (three straight losses). Like Miami, Iowa State isn’t a great rebounding team. Unlike Miami, Iowa State has committed a few more turnovers. They aren’t flashy or really exciting, but this team has managed victories over Memphis, Iowa, Texas, and Texas Tech.

This is the definition of a matchup between “middle of the conference Giant-Slayers”. Though neither team looks like National Championship material, both teams are just four wins away from the natty. I really think we are splitting hairs with these teams, but I feel much better about Miami’s ball protection. It’s not a prioritized stat, but it’s the major discernible difference in this matchup.

 

 

Author: Paula Dunn