The gambling gods were not kind last night. I thought we might get lucky and escape with the Tennessee cover, but alas fouling Carsen Edwards behind the foul line is not a recommended strategy when trying to close out a game. Then I overthought things and should have just stuck with the tried and true under in a UVA game. Either way, on to the next one as we get another slate of great games to finish out the Sweet Sixteen.
I’m surprised LSU is in this position, but it’s not because they aren’t good, but losing a coach right before the NCAA Tournament is not something easy to overcome. Still, they’ve played well in beating Yale and Maryland, just not that well. My pause is with Maryland who I’ve felt is somewhat fraudulent this season. The fact that they couldn’t put the Terrapins away gives me pause as to whether or not they can take out Michigan State. Add to that a bad narrative (I’m weak minded) that Tom Izzo coached teams perform better in the tournament when they’re not the favorite and I like the Spartans to cover.
Pick: Michigan State -6
85-80. That’s the implied point total if this game goes as Vegas is projecting it. All you’re going to hear about this one going in is that it’s going to be a track meet. The teams like to get up and down, they run, they’ll jack threes, but here’s the kicker, I’m not sure that’s true. My hope is this total continues to climb. It opened at 160.5 and has been climbing ever since. Let’s just hope people will listen to Auburn coach Bruce Pearl who urged everyone to “take the over” in an interview on the Scott Van Pelt show because I like the under. While both teams like to get up and down on the offensive end, they are actually both quite slow while on defense. North Carolina plays just over 17 seconds (125th in the country) on the defensive end while Auburn plays to 18.5 seconds, a staggering 335th in the nation. Auburn will try to turn you over, but if they don’t get a quick steal, they’ll make you play in the half court. For a comparable game, I look to how the Tigers played against Duke back in November. That game started with a total of 161 and by game time was already up to 164. Actual result? The teams combined to reach only 150. In a similar vein, North Carolina has played several games in the 160s but it’s not really the norm. I know it’s playing fire, and it’s never fun to bet against points being scored, but I think as long as the line creeps up, there is too much value on the under.
Pick: Under 165
Can we just hope Capital One Arena implodes with nobody inside and nobody hurt so there is no winner? I can’t stomach who to root for in this one. On one hand, I despise Duke basketball and everything they and they’re coach stand for. On the other, I can’t stand the thought of VaTech
basketball bandwagon fans being able to brag of an Elite Eight/Final Four appearance. So, barring any sort of catastrophe (again, with nobody hurt of course), I guess this game will have to be played. Duke got a scare from UCF last week which many have suggested to be a sign that the Blue Devils are vulnerable. I don’t buy into that. However, Friday they get a VaTech team that might be one of the best at slowing them down. The key to beating Duke is to turn them into a jumpshooting team and that is exactly what the Hokies can do. They had success doing that just over a month ago in their win over Duke. But did you hear that Zion Williamson didn’t play in that game? Did you? Well he didn’t, just in case you didn’t hear. Regardless, I don’t think it matters. (And fun fact: Hokies’ own star Justin Robinson didn’t play in that game either.) VaTech can hang with Duke and while I would be surprised (after throwing up in my mouth) if they actually pull the upset, 7.5 is a lot of points for teams with this level of familiarity.
Pick: VaTech +7
When the committee listed its top sixteen teams at the beginning of February, I was insistent that Houston was included as one of those teams. I even made the case that if we were giving Gonzaga the benefit of the doubt for its schedule, and just looking at how good they were playing, we should do the same with Houston. Then they lost to UCF at home and any momentum for a two-seed died down pretty rapidly. But that hasn’t changed the fact that this is a good team. Are they good enough to beat Kentucky? I don’t think so. Not if Kentucky is playing their game. Houston was able to outlast a similarly-talented LSU team early in the year, but I’m not sure LSU had become LSU at that point. Kentucky has an extremely high ceiling that we haven’t seen yet in this tournament. If they can get PJ Washington back, they should be able to handle the Cougars.
Pick: Kentucky -2.5
Season Total: ATS (39-30-2), O/U (27-20), Total (66-50-2)