NCAA Basketball 3-Point Play: Three Final Sweet 16 Opening Lines
by Alan Matthews - 3/25/2015
It's been a great college basketball season, and I close my writing part of it with this preview of the final three Sweet 16 games in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night. I now have a new Bovada prop that's my favorite for the rest of the Big Dance: Will a team with an animal mascot win it all? "Yes" is -400 and "no" +250. I would certainly think yes because you have two Wildcats (Kentucky, Arizona), a Badger (Wisconsin) and a Bulldog (Gonzaga). Those are four of the top five favorites along with Blue Devils (Duke), which I guess aren't animals.
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 4 Louisville (-2.5, 130)
The All-ACC matchup in the East Region at Syracuse tips off at 7:37 p.m. on TBS. The winner gets either Oklahoma or Michigan State in the lone region without a top-two seed left.
Louisville (26-8) was fortunate to escape No. 13 UC Irvine 57-55 in the first round, but the Cardinals looked much better against No. 5 Northern Iowa in the Round of 32, beating one of college basketball's best defensive teams 66-53. If that team shows up in this game, Louisville wins. Terry Rozier was brilliant against UNI with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He scored or assisted on 65.2 percent (43-of-66) of Louisville's points against Northern Iowa, the highest by a player in this year's tournament. It's the fourth straight season in the Sweet 16 for Rick Pitino's team. The Cardinals are +2500 at Bovada to win the tournament and +260 to win the East.
NC State (22-13) was very lucky to beat LSU in the first round and then became the first team to knock off a top seed in this tournament, ousting Villanova 71-68. Don't get me wrong, that's a nice win, but I was never a big fan of Villanova's and there's a reason the Cats were the heavy favorites to be the first No. 1 out. They tend to flop in the tournament of late. It was NC State's first win over a top seed since that memorable 1983 NCAA Championship Game against Houston. Point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber has been NC State's best player in the two games with 30 points and only five turnovers in 69 minutes of action. Turnovers will be key against Louisville's pressure.
The Wolfpack visited Louisville on Valentine's Day and pulled off a 74-65 upset. Barber had 21 points to lead the way. The Wolfpack held Louisville to 33 percent shooting. Chris Jones, who was dismissed shortly after that game, led the Cardinals with 20 points. Rozier and fellow star Montrezl Harrell combined to shoot just 4-for-16 from the field for 14 points.
Key trends: NC State is 7-2 against the spread in its past nine vs. teams with a winning record. It is 5-2 ATS in its past seven after a win. Louisville is 3-7 ATS in its past 10 games. The "over/under" has gone under in 10 of Louisville's past 14 overall.
Why take the favorite: Rozier and Harrell are the two best players on the floor, and clearly Pitino is a superior coach to Mark Gottfried.
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 1 Duke (-5, 136)
It's a South Region game from Houston at approximately 9:45 p.m. ET with the winner taking on either UCLA or Gonzaga.
I was pretty high on the Utes (26-8) until about mid-February, and then they closed the season losing four of their final seven games. Some had Utah as losing in the first round to Stephen F. Austin, but the Utes prevailed by seven before knocking out Georgetown 75-64 in the Round of 32. That's two pretty weak teams in my opinion (at least in terms of who other Sweet 16 teams have beaten). Utah did get back 7-foot center Dallin Bachynski against the Hoyas after he missed the opening-round game with a minor ankle injury. Bachynski had nine points and eight rebounds against a big Georgetown team, and he'll be needed to help slow Jahlil Okafor along with fellow 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. Those guys could cause some major problems. Utah is a great defensive team, ranking 11th in points allowed and among the leaders in blocks. The Utes are +2500 to win it all and +400 for the South Region.
Duke (31-4) has an argument as the most impressive team in this tournament so far, routing Robert Morris 85-56 and then having little trouble with a very good San Diego State team, 68-49. Scoring that many points against SDSU is rare. Okafor had his way in that game with 26 points (he has missed six total shots thus far), but the Aztecs can't match the size of the Utes. No way Duke shoots 55 percent in this game even as the Blue Devils are one of the nation's top offensive teams. Duke is No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 3 in effective field-goal percentage, No. 19 in offensive rebound rate and No. 3 in 2-point shooting percentage. The Blue Devils are +750 to win it all and +125 for the South.
Duke and Utah haven't met since the 1969-70 season.
Key trends: Utah is 5-1 ATS in its past six neutral-site games. Duke is 4-0 ATS in its past four nonconference games. The Blue Devils are 6-1 ATS in their past seven against teams with a winning record. The under is 7-3 in Utah's past 10 games and 4-0 in Duke's past four.
Why take the favorite: I was tempted to take Utah here. Very tempted. But I'm not sure the Utes can score enough for the upset. Okafor's shaky free-throw shooting could be key.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (+2, 135.5)
The last game of the Sweet 16 tips around 10:10 p.m. from Syracuse with the winner taking on either NC State or Louisville in the East Region final.
You just don't beat Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in the Round of 32 (now 13-1). I wasn't surprised in the least that Sparty beat Georgia in the opening round but very much so in upsetting No. 2 Virginia 60-54 in the second round. True, MSU ousted No. 1 Virginia from last year's tournament, but that Spartans team was much better and deeper. This year's club is essentially just three guys: Travis Trice, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine. Trice had 23 against the Cavs and Dawson 15 points and seven rebounds. Valentine had only four points, and that won't cut it going forward. None of those three can get into foul trouble, either. Izzo is now an amazing 11-9 in the Big Dance as the lower-seeded team. Sparty is +1400 to win the national title and a +160 favorite for the East Region.
I thought Oklahoma (24-10) should have been no better than a No. 5 seed, but the "experts" overrated the Big 12 all season. I'm not very impressed with OU's two tournament wins, 69-60 over Albany and 72-66 over Dayton. Trailing 56-49 with 10 minutes remaining, Oklahoma closed the Dayton game on a 23-7 run, including a 13-0 run over a 9:04 stretch. Sooners coach Lon Kruger became just the second coach to lead four teams to the Sweet 16. OU should have the best player on the court in junior guard Buddy Hield, the Big 12 Player of the Year who averages 17.3 points per game. The Sooners like to run, which is just the opposite of what MSU dealt with against Virginia. OU is +2200 to win it all and +260 for the East Region.
Key trends: MSU is 7-1 ATS its past eight nonconference games. Oklahoma is 2-8 ATS in its past 10 overall. The over is 7-2 in Michigan State's past nine overall. The under is 7-1 in OU's past eight at a neutral site.
Why take the favorite: The Spartans have generally fared better in faster-paced games this year. They are playing their best basketball of the year.
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