Sweet 16 Betting: Midwest Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/25/2009
Money, money, money; the remaining four teams in the Midwest have been four of the most successful teams in the country this year against the spread. As a result, it's really tough to find value betting on or against teams that have posted an unbelievable 79-46-2 record ATS this season.
Kansas (20-7-1 ATS) has been the best bet in college basketball this year and they have far exceeded the modest expectations that they came into the season with. The same can be said for Louisville (21-14 ATS), which lost several key pieces from last year's Sweet 16 team, and Arizona (20-13 ATS), which underwent as tumultuous of an offseason as any program in the nation. Michigan State (18-12-1) is perhaps the only club that entered the season with any type of title hopes, and the fact that they have still surpassed their expectations speaks to how well they have played.
But two of these teams have just one game left in their season and another has only two. So clearly the money train is reaching its final stop. Here is a breakdown of the Midwest (Indianapolis) Regional:
Arizona (+9) vs. Louisville (7 p.m., Friday, March 25)
It's tough to play the role of Cinderella when you've played in every NCAA Tournament for about a quarter-century, but that's exactly the spot that the Wildcats find themselves in.
Ironically enough, the last team invited out of the Pac-10 is also the last team standing out of that venerable conference. And this week they are the biggest underdog on the board against the Big East champions. So while they are not the traditional Cinderella I would say that the Wildcats are certainly long shots heading into this weekend.
By now you should know that Arizona has three of the top players left in the tournament in Nic Wise, Chase Buddinger, and Jordan Hill. The last two are NBA talents and Wise is one of the top five point guards in the country. This team is exceptional on offense, averaging about 73 points per game on a blistering 47.7 percent shooting clip from the field and 39.4 percent shooting from three-point land, but they lack depth and they don't defend the basket very well.
A lack of depth is particularly troubling against a Louisville team that comes at you in waves and applies pressure for a full 40 minutes. And that is what makes this about the worst matchup that the Wildcats could have heading into the Sweet 16. The Cardinals have been playing at a very high level for the past month. And even though they barely survived a late run from a spirited Siena squad last week, the Cardinals have had plenty of time to regroup and to focus on stopping Arizona's Big 3.
One disturbing trend for Cardinals backers has to be the fact that Louisville seems to just mail it in for the first half of games. If you look back at their last four outings, they were getting worked over by both Villanova and Syracuse in the first half of the Big East semis and finals, respectively. Then last weekend the Cards were up just two at the break against No. 16 Morehead State and up just seven at the half against No. 9 Siena.
However, Louisville's pressure defense and relentless attack wore down all four opponents and they ended up winning all four of those games by an average of 13 points per. It's nerve-wracking for backers, but it has proven effective.
Can Arizona shoot well enough and can they keep their stars out of foul trouble? I'm not sure that they can. I still think that Louisville is a bit overrated and that they are not a true national title contender. But I'm not sure if Arizona has enough depth to knock off the top seed and I don't know how comfortable I am betting them to "keep it close".
Kansas (+2) vs. Michigan State (9:30 p.m., Friday, March 25)
This game is the only rematch of the Sweet 16, as Michigan State laid a 75-62 beating on the Jayhawks up in East Lansing back in early January. In fact, the game wasn't even that close as the Spartans vaulted out to a commanding 37-18 lead at half time.
However, these are definitely two different teams heading into this matchup and Michigan State won't have the benefit of playing on its home court. In fact, since that game the Jayhawks have been the single best wager in the country, putting together an unbelievable 15-3-1 record against the spread. Kansas is picking up confidence with each game and has only a two-point loss at Missouri and two awkward upsets to Baylor and Texas Tech on its resume since that loss to Sparty.
Despite Kansas' role as cash cow, all of the early money has poured in on Michigan State. This game was released as a 'Pick' but was instantly bet up to Michigan State -2. Obviously there are still a lot of people that think that first meeting was no fluke.
The key matchup in this game is MSU's Kalin Lucas against KU's Sherron Collins. These are two of the top point guards in the country and they are each their team's main offensive weapon. Lucas had a small edge in the first matchup as it took Collins 14 shots to hit 25 points while Lucas managed 22 points in just 11 shots. Also, Lucas had just one turnover and no fouls compared to Collins' eight turnovers and four fouls. If Lucas wins that battle again then I don't think that Collins' mates can pick up the slack.
The second matchup to watch for is the interior strength and power of Michigan State against Cole Aldrich, who is one of the best centers and most successful post men in the country. The Spartans had a lot of trouble with Aldrich in the first meeting, as Michigan State's three top big men (Raymar Morgan, Goran Suton, and Idong Ibok) combined to use up 13 of 15 fouls while totaling just 19 points, on 5-for-16 shooting, and 17 rebounds. Aldrich alone mustered 14 points and 11 rebounds to go with three blocked shots.
Besides the players I've listed, there really aren't any "stars" on either roster. Both teams rely on depth and the play of a host of role players to accomplish a true "team" attack. For Kansas, shooter Brady Morningstar needs to be an effective perimeter option. After that, freshmen Ty Taylor and the Morris twins have to provide quality minutes and need to play well on both sides of the ball.
For Michigan State, I think that Durrell Summers is an X-Factor. And if guys like Summers, Travis Walton, Chris Allen and Marquise Gray are able to build on last year's Sweet 16 experience then I think that the Spartans will take this one down.
This game is the most evenly matched game of the Sweet 16. Both teams have elite point guards and solid, but not spectacular, role players on the perimeter. Both teams crash the boards and rely on powerful post players to control the tempo and defend the basket. Both teams are well coached, have played challenging schedules, and have played great basketball over the last two months. The line reflects the reality: this one can go either way.