NCAA Basketball Expert Betting Advice: Three Interesting Opening Lines 3/22/2018
It's West and South Region action on Thursday night as the Sweet 16 gets underway in what has been an incredibly memorable NCAA Tournament. It was arguably the most upset-filled first two rounds in history. Of course, No. 16 UMBC had the biggest one, dominating vastly overrated No. 1 overall seed Virginia (great regular-season team, but not the same in the Big Dance). The South doesn't have a single top-four seed left, and that's a first for any region in tournament history since seeding began in 1979.
No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 7 Nevada ( -1.5)
A 7:07 p.m. ET tip from Atlanta in the South Region with the winner facing either No. 9 Kansas State or Kentucky. If you had a Loyola-Nevada Sweet 16 matchup, you are flat-out lying. I actually thought Loyola would upset No. 6 Miami in the first round simply because the Hurricanes were running on fumes at the end of the season and were without maybe their best player in guard Bruce Brown. The Ramblers won that on a last-second 3-pointer, 64-62, and then beat SEC regular-season co-champion and No. 3 seed Tennessee on a last-second 2-pointer on Saturday, 63-62. That I didn't see coming. The one by Donte Ingram against the Hurricanes was a no-doubter, but the one by Clayton Custer against the Vols was an incredibly lucky bounce. Hey, it counts. The last time Loyola-Chicago was in the Sweet 16 (or NCAA Tournament overall) was 1985, when it lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. With UMBC out, I think this is the underdog everyone is now rooting for. Plus, there's the whole Sister Jean angle if you are religious.
I knew how good Nevada was; the Wolf Pack are a mid-major school from the Mountain West, but all of their good players transferred in, including star twins Caleb and Cody Martin from NC State. Nevada, though, has no right being here. Its OT win over Texas was fine, but how do you rally from a 22-point mid-second-half deficit against a Cincinnati team that was maybe the second-best defensive team in the nation this year (behind Virginia)? That was freaking stunning and the second-biggest comeback win in tournament history. The final score was Nevada's only lead of the night. The Wolf Pack's only previous regional semifinal appearance came in 2004. Too bad one of these schools has to lose.
Key trends: The Ramblers are 21-8-1 ATS in their past 30 overall. The Wolf Pack are 11-4 ATS in their past 15 nonconference games.
The pick: Nevada.
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Michigan (-2.5)
This would be a great football matchup in 2018. West Region game at 7:37 p.m. ET from Staples Center in L.A. on TBS. The winner faces either No. 4 Gonzaga (which would be my expectation) or No. 9 Florida State. While the West Region didn't implode in the first two rounds like the South, it certainly got easier with the Round 2 losses by No. 1 Xavier (my call as easily the worst top seed in the Dance) and No. 2 and defending National Champion North Carolina. The Aggies aren't flukes as they have a few NBA big bodies on the roster, led by 6-foot-10 junior Tyler Davis and 6-foot-10 sophomore Robert Williams, who would have been a lottery pick last year had he left school. Height is where A&M will have a huge advantage in this matchup. It sure caused problems for the Tar Heels, who were outrebounded by 14, outblocked 8-0 and shot just 33.3 percent. Davis and Williams combined for 26 points (10-for-12 shooting), 22 rebounds and five blocks.
Michigan had perhaps the shot of the tournament so far, freshman Jordan Poole's near impossible-angle flayed-leg 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat No. 6 Houston, which absolutely deserved to win that Round of 32 game. Devin Davis, who had been great from the free-throw line, missed a pair with 3.6 seconds left. The Cougars played good defense after that, it was just a lucky shot in Michigan's 11th straight win. If I'm a Wolverines backer, though, their offense has to be a concern through the two games. They are just 13-for-46 from deep. UM will not win this game without shooting well from the perimeter.
Key trends: The Wolverines are 7-2 ATS in their past nine following a ATS loss. The Aggies are 5-2 ATS in their previous seven after an ATS win.
The pick: Texas A&M.
No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky (-5.5)
South Region matchup of Wildcats from Atlanta at 9:37 p.m. ET on CBS with the winner, in my opinion, facing No. 7 Nevada for a trip to the Final Four. I think this is the mismatch of the Sweet 16, even more so than Duke-Syracuse even though the Blue Devils are -11.5. First off, it's going to be all Kentucky fans in Atlanta. Big Blue Nation travels well regardless, but that's a short jaunt. Second, K-State star Dean Wade has missed the past three with a foot injury. Do I think he plays Thursday? No doubt, and he says he's "98 percent" sure he will. But, how effective can Wade be against a bigger, better, faster opponent? And that's my final reason: UK is just better across the board and rounding into form late in the season as John Calipari's teams usually do. Kentucky's only loss in the past 10 was its only true road game in that stretch: at Florida. Sure, UK could have lost to Davidson in Round 1, but it overwhelmed Buffalo (which upset Arizona) in Round 2. No player has likely improved his NBA draft stock in this tournament than Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 27 points (10-for-12 shooting), six rebounds and six assists against Buffalo.
K-State's a solid enough team, beating an average Creighton side by 10 in Round 1 and then winning an ugly slugfest, 50-43, over UMBC in Round 2. If KSU's players thought the Retrievers played good defense, just wait. It's the first time in the Sweet 16 for K-State since 2010. KSU and Kentucky last played in the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, with No. 8 UK prevailing 56-49 over No. 9 K-State on the way to the national championship game. This year's Kentucky team reminds me a lot of that one.
Key trends: K-State is 1-5 ATS in its past six nonconference games. UK is 5-0 ATS in its past five.
The pick: Kentucky.
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