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NCAA Sweet 16 Picks

 

Well the first round was rough going 1-3.  I called out the Peacocks and I got the feathers…  Having said that, I dare you to find me someone who nailed the round of 64.  This is where the betting becomes better, there’s slightly less chaos, and it becomes clearer which teams are clicking and which teams may be more susceptible for a slip up.  

 

Thursday 7:09 – #4 Arkansas vs #1 Gonzaga: Arkansas +9.5

Folks I hate to break it to all of you who have Gonzaga winning it all, but they’re extremely vulnerable.  This Zags team is NOT the same team from last year and it’s shown through the first two games.  Gonzaga starts this tourney 0-2 ATS, are 1-6-2 ATS in their last 9 games, and have looked extremely mortal.  Their sluggish start to Georgia State was quite frankly shocking and I actually went as far as picking Memphis to down the Zags.  While my pick may have been a bit too bold, the infrastructure for a Memphis win was certainly there (cite Chet Holmgren’s 190 pound body).  Arkansas is a tough, gutsy team, one stat that shows this is that the Razorbacks are 4-0 ATS in their last four games as underdogs.  Eric Musselman has created an intense and gritty environment at Arkansas and that’s been on display in their first two tourney games.  They won in very ugly ways, but that’s the name of the tournament, survive and advance.  I’m not saying the Razorbacks will win, but 10 points is an absurd margin for this game.  Arkansas has a fantastic defense, they’re opponents only score on 42.9% of their possessions (16th best in the country), and the team is ranked 25th in the nation in defensive efficiency.  Arkansas’ big man, Jaylin Williams, has 50 pounds on Chet Holmgren, plus the Razorbacks have a secret weapon on their bench, 7’3 Connor Vanover.  Vanover hasn’t seen the floor since January 18, but don’t rule out the possibility of Vanover entering the game to match up size wise with the Zags.  I’ve written all this without mentioning senior guard JD Notae who’s good for around 20 points per night and should give Gonzaga’s backcourt fits.  You have to give the Zags some respect, they deserve it, but the Razorbacks have such a tough team and SHOULD be able to keep the game within 10.

 

Thursday 7:29 – #11 Michigan vs #2 Villanova: Villanova -5

Alright Michigan, can you knock it off?  I know myself and several others said the Wolverines didn’t even belong in the tourney, now they’re making it hurt.  Now that Michigan has won their two games and proven to everyone they belonged, it’s time for them to come back down to earth now that they’re playing Jay Wright’s Wildcats.  This tournament has shown us the Mountain West isn’t all that, then Michigan was able to take advantage of a Tennessee team that greatly lacks experience.  For those who pay attention to college basketball and more specifically the local scene, we know that’s not the case…  Villanova was a DANGEROUS team going into March last year, that is until Colin Gillespie tore his ACL.  Gillespie came back fully healthy and won Big East player of the year for the second year in a row.  The revenge narrative is in full effect, and while it didn’t always look sexy, Gillespie notched 20 points, mostly in key situations, to edge out Ohio State in Villanova’s most recent tournament game.  A large part of Michigan’s defense is reliant on Hunter Dickinson dominance in the low block (averaging 24 points in two tourney games), but that should be music to Villanova fans’ ears.  The Wildcats play such fundamentally team defense and can rotate better than any team in the NCAA.  Look for suffocating double teams on Dickinson and bricked three point jumpers once he passes out.  Michigan sits at 166th in the country shooting 33.9% from behind the arc.  I am extremely confident in Nova to win outright, but -5 becomes extremely juicy based on one stat.  Villanova is #1 in the entire country in free throw shooting at 82.6%.  The Wildcats were able to cover against Ohio State by nailing all their free throws down the stretch and I expect a repeat of that against Juwan Howard’s crew.

 

Friday 9:59 – #11 Iowa State vs #10 Miami – Iowa State +2.5 & Under 133.5

The final game from the sweet 16 and it’s the battle of cinderellas.  Iowa State plays such tight defense while Miami is simply clicking at the right time by playing sound basketball and dominating the turnover game.  Through their first two tourney games Miami’s turnover differential is +24, yet somehow, I believe this plays into Iowa State’s favor.  All good defenses aren’t created equally and that’s the case here.  Iowa State is 10th in the country in forcing turnovers, while Miami is 6th best in the country in terms of NOT committing turnovers.  Based on my eye test however, I give the advantage to the Cyclones.  Iowa State plays fantastic defense without getting their hands caught in the cookie jar.  In other words, they don’t actively try to force turnovers, but they always keep their opponents in front of them, frustrating their opponents and leading them into off-balance shots and imperfect passes.  The Cyclones were able to upset Wisconsin by doing exactly that, forcing the Badgers to shoot from the outside which was ultimately their undoing.  Iowa State should be able to force Miami out of their comfort zone and get them outside where they shoot a bang average 34.4% from three.  There may not be a ton of turnovers in this game like the numbers may indicate, but there will be a lot of contested shots.  For that reason I also like the under.  These two teams have played 4 games in the tourney and the under has hit in all four.  Iowa State’s last three unders have hit, and all three of those numbers were lower than 133.5.  If gritty defensive battles aren’t for you, stay away, but I anticipate an ugly battle of the storms between the Cyclones and Hurricanes.  Take the under, and if the under is hitting, there’s a great chance Iowa State is also winning this game or at least making it a one possession contest.

 

Photo: Nelson Chenault

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