NCAA Basketball 3-Point Play: Three More Interesting Sweet 16 Opening Lines
by Alan Matthews - 3/24/2015
I still claim that UCLA doesn't belong in the NCAA Tournament, but the Bruins are the only double-digit seed left among the Sweet 16. I expect that mini-run to come to an end in Friday night's first game as it faces Gonzaga. The Bruins are the longest shots on the board to win the NCAA Tournament, listed at +10000 on Sportsbook.ag. The Zags are at +1500. The team with the second-lowest shot behind Kentucky is one that I think has been most impressive and should win Thursday: Arizona. The Wildcats are +500 to win it all. Here's a look at three more Sweet 16 games, with the final three coming Wednesday.
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No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin (-5.5, 141)
This West Region game from Los Angeles tips at around 7:45 p.m. ET on Thursday and will be shown on TBS. The victor probably gets Arizona for a trip to the Final Four. The Badgers and Wildcats played a great NCAA Tournament game last year.
North Carolina (26-11) is +3300 at Bovada to win the tournament and +800 to win the West. The Heels were fortunate to beat Harvard in the first round and then upended No. 5 Arkansas 78-67 on Saturday. Star point guard Marcus Paige dominated in the second half with 20 of his 22 points after shooting 1-for-8 in the first half. His back-to-back 3-pointers with eight minutes to play opened a 10-point lead -- North Carolina's largest of the game -- and really that clinched it. I worried how UNC might fare against that pressure defense, and the Heels did turn it over 16 times, but they also forced 21. UNC outscored Arkansas 26-7 in transition, and that's how it wins games. The Heels' 26 transition points were their second most in a game this season.
Wisconsin is a +800 third favorite with Duke to win it all and +150 second favorite behind Arizona to win the West. The Badgers (33-3) haven't really looked great yet in a 14-point opening round win over Coastal Carolina and a 72-65 victory over No. 8 Oregon on Sunday to reach the regional semifinals for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Frank Kaminsky had 16 points and seven rebounds vs. the Ducks, who tied the game at 52 with less than six minutes left. UW then scored six straight points and wasn't much threatened again. Sam Dekker actually has been Wisconsin's best player in the tournament so far.
Key trends: The Heels are 5-1 ATS in their past six nonconference games. Wisconsin is 13-3 ATS in its past 16 vs. the ACC. The "over/under" has gone under in seven straight UNC Thursday games. The under is 4-1 in UW's past five nonconference games.
Why take the underdog: Total opposite styles here, with Wisconsin playing slow, methodical basketball and the Heels wanting to run. I believe UNC has the better athletes, and that's the difference.
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona (-11, 136)
This game will tip 30 minutes after the conclusion of UNC-Wisconsin (approx 10:15 p.m.), also in Los Angeles and on TBS.
Arizona (33-3) had no trouble with Texas Southern in the first round and then handled a good Ohio State team 73-58 in the Round of 32. The Wildcats' stellar defense held Ohio State star freshman D'Angelo Russell to just nine points on 3-for-19 shooting in surely his last college game. Russell was vastly outplayed by Arizona senior guard. T.J. McConnell, who had 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. It's the third straight season in the Sweet 16 for Coach Sean Miller, who many think is the best active coach yet to reach a Final Four. Miller of course was the coach at Xavier from 2004-09, and Musketeers coach Chris Mack worked under Miller there before replacing him and the two remain good friends. Arizona's three losses this season came to teams that didn't make the Big Dance. The Wildcats are the -120 favorites at Bovada to win the West Region, and I believe they do.
Xavier (23-13) beat Ole Miss by nine in the first round and then upstart Georgia State 75-67 in the Round of 32, so I'm still not sure if the Musketeers are any good. They went all 1985 Villanova against GSU by shooting 13-for-16 in the second half. Xavier shot 67.6 percent overall from the field, the third-highest field-goal percentage for any team in the last 15 NCAA Tournaments. GSU had just 12 rebounds, the fewest by any team in the past 15 tournaments. It's the third Sweet 16 under Mack in six seasons. Xavier is the +1800 long shot to win the West.
Key trends: Xavier is 4-1 ATS in its past five neutral-site games. Arizona is 12-3 ATS in its past 15 against teams with a winning record. The under is 7-1 in Xavier's past eight after a loss. The under is 4-1 in Arizona's past five overall.
Why take the favorite: The Big East has flopped in this tournament, and Arizona looks on a mission.
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Gonzaga (-8.5, 143.5)
The first of Friday's Sweet 16 games starts at 7:15 p.m. ET from Houston in the South Region and is on CBS. The winner probably sees No. 1 Duke in the Elite Eight.
UCLA (22-13) was the beneficiary of a very controversial call in the opening round against SMU and then faced a pretty mediocre UAB team in the Round of 32, winning 92-75. Tony Parker was the Bruins' star against the Blazers with a career-high 28 points and 12 rebounds. The junior averages 11.4 points and 6.6 boards overall. Bryce Alford followed up his terrific long-range shooting against SMU with 22 points against UAB. The Bruins shot 60.3 percent from the field, tying their second-best mark this season. UCLA is the seventh team since 2010 to advance to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. That statistic amazed me. It is +1400 to win the South Region.
Gonzaga (34-2) beat North Dakota State by 10 in Round 1 and then Iowa 87-68 on Sunday to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. That Iowa game was over at halftime, when the Zags led by 17. Kyle Wiltjer led Gonzaga with 24 points and missed only two shots. As a team, the Bulldogs hit 61.5 percent from the field. They will beat anyone shooting like that. It's the sixth time Gonzaga has hit at least 60 percent this season, tops in the nation. It leads the country in shooting. The Bulldogs are +1200 to win it all and +150 with Duke for the South Region.
Gonzaga visited UCLA on Dec. 13 and won 87-74, hitting 58.5 percent from the field. Wiltjer was 9-for-13 for 24 points and Byron Wesley, a USC transfer, added 20. Alford led UCLA with 23 points. The Bruins never got closer than six points in the second half after trailing by 11 at intermission.
Key trends: UCLA is 4-0 ATS in its past four neutral-site games. The Bruins are 14-3 ATS in their past 17 vs. teams with a winning record. Gonzaga has covered three of its past 11 vs. the Pac-12. The under is 8-3 in UCLA's past 11 after a win. The over is 5-0 in Gonzaga's past five.
Why take the underdog: I think it helps the underdog Bruins that they've seen Gonzaga once. I still think the Zags win, but I'm not giving that many points.
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