We are quickly approaching one of the prime sporting periods of the calendar year. March Madness is in full swing and we are now down to the supposed "best" 16 teams in the country. The NBA has a mere 10 games left in its bloated regular season, and the NHL has several key playoff races to keep your eyes on over the final two weeks of the regular season. Oh, and the MLB season is lurking. What a great time it is to be a sports fan. But before we get ahead of ourselves and start looking at potential playoff matchups and opening day starters, there is business to take care of on the college hardwood.
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The Sweet 16 is set to tip off tonight at approximately 7:09 p.m. EST at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. In the opening game we get to watch the red-hot No. 7 Michigan Wolverines take on No. 3 Oregon. As of right now, the Wolverines are one-and-a-half point favorites , which shouldn't surprise anyone considering how locked in they have been since the start of the Big Ten Tournament.
The second game on the schedule takes us to the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., where the No. 4 West Virginia Mountaineers will look to upset the No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs. Tip for this game is at 7:40 p.m. EST. I expect this game to feature a lot of points, and it will be very interesting to see how the Bulldogs manage the vaunted Mountaineers' full-court press. Gonzaga is laying three points.
And, finally, the last two games are scheduled to tip off just after 9:30 p.m. EST and feature the No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers taking on the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, and No. 11 Xavier squaring up against No. 2 Arizona. The Jayhawks are 5-point favorites, while the Wildcats are 7.5-point favorites, which is the largest spread of the Sweet 16.
For those bettors who are torn on what to expect in these four games, I have a simple solution for you. Avoid picking a side or total and focus on the props. There are several options to choose from, and I am here to guide you in the right direction. As always, odds are courtesy of Bovada .
Michigan Wolverines vs. Oregon Ducks
Michigan Team Total - "Over" 74 (-115), "Under" 74 (-115)
Two months ago, the Wolverines were considered a mediocre team that couldn't quite find the right chemistry on the floor. Fast forward two months and they are one of the hottest teams in the country after winning the Big Ten Tournament and dispatching of Oklahoma State and Louisville to reach the Sweet 16.
For what it's worth, Michigan has been the beneficiary of some great shooting. Through the first two games of the tournament, the Wolverines are 22-for-46 from beyond the arc, which is just less than 50 percent. Numbers suggest that they can't sustain this clip. But even so, they have Mo Wagner on the inside, and he had his best game of the season last time out. Wagner poured in a career-high 26 points against Louisville and it was his 3-point shot that gave Big Blue the lead for good. The rest of the Wolverines have been just as productive. Three other players, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and D.J. Wilson, are averaging between 11 and 15 points per game while hauling in between four and five rebounds to boot. To sum it up, Michigan is a well-balanced team that have the key pieces for an even deeper run in this tournament.
Their opponent is Oregon, who, to put it nicely, barely squeaked by Rhode Island. Oregon has several good pieces, including Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks. The most important piece, though, is sitting in a track suit at the end of the bench. Chris Boucher is sorely missed, not only in the offensive set but more importantly as a rim protector. His absence allows teams to attack the lane and get to the rim without having to worry about Boucher being there to reject them. We saw it in the Rhode Island game, where the dribble penetration caused several problems for the Ducks in the first half. But, luckily, Oregon was able to adjust and crowd the lane and force the Rams to shoot the jumpers. That was the right adjustment as the Rams went cold from the floor and bowed out of the tournament.
Michigan won't miss the shots that the Rams did. They have been on fire and
locked in right from the Big Ten Tournament tip. As mentioned above, they
have several players playing the best basketball of the season, and Oregon
will have a tough time honing in on who to defend closely/with a double
team. If you don't believe in destiny, that's fine, but I believe that the
hotter team will win this matchup and it will be a higher-scoring game.
Take the Wolverines "Over" 74 total points
Xavier Musketeers vs. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona Team Total - "Over" 76 (-115), "Under" 76 (-115)
The Arizona Wildcats haven't won a National Championship since 1997 and
haven't even been back to the finals since. To take that thought a step
further, they haven't even been to the Final Four since 2001. Some say this
is the best Arizona team that the program has assembled since cutting down
the nets in 97, but I believe this team is capable of being held in check
and left disappointed once again.
The Wildcats come into this game after trouncing North Dakota in the opening round and then using a second-half rally to fend of Saint Mary's. We can write off the North Dakota game, but I saw some things in the game against the Gaels that made me scratch my head. Arizona relies on two key players for the bulk of their scoring. Alonzo Trier is a sophomore guard who loves to make plays off the bounce and attack the rim. He has put up 14 and 18 points, respectively, in the first two games. The other key piece is big man Lauri Markkanen. The big Fin is a beast in the post and can step out and knock down the three.
In any game, against probably any other team, those two would be licking their lips at the thought of putting up a ton of points. I say "not so fast". Xavier is the one team left in this tournament that I believe matches up well against them.
Xavier will look to take Markkanen out of rhythm by playing a more zone-based defense and make the shooters of Arizona beat them. Last time out, Xavier held Florida State to just 66 points on 40 percent shooting (19 percent from beyond the arc). That Seminoles team is just as efficient offensively as the Wildcats.
Offensively for Xavier, I expect them to slow the pace down. The slower they play, the fewer fast-break opportunities they give Arizona and the more time they have to set up their half-court defense. Typically, the Sweet 16 is lower scoring since it pits good teams against each other. The total is currently 145.5, so to me that says it will take at least 75 points to win. I don't think Arizona wins, so take the "under" 76 team total points.
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