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Well, that was fun. After a year like 2020, are any of us really surprised at these upsets? It’s safe to say that my bracket is fairly busted, but I did hit on a few things! The Sweet Sixteen starts this weekend, so here are my thoughts on the final teams in the big dance.
Gonzaga v Creighton
Creighton is known for their scoring, and they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders vs Gonzaga’s solid D. The Bluejays put up 76 ppg, and they shot 42.9% from 3 vs Ohio. That said, their biggest issue is rebounding. They have been out-rebounded in both wins in the tournament, which doesn’t bode well against the Bulldogs. Zags are 48th in the country in total rebounds, and 10th in the nation for Opp. Total Boards. Whereas, Creighton ranks 109th and 253rd in the same categories, respectively. If the Bluejays aren’t making shots, then don’t expect them to get many second chances. I feel confident that Gonzaga advances here, but not sold that they cover 13 points.
USC v Oregon
One of my Dark Horses from my first Bracket article is looking pretty good right now. Yes, Evan Mobley and the Trojans have rolled their way through the first two rounds. USC enters their Sweet 16 matchup after an absolute beat down of the Jayhawks, where they shot 61% from 3! The Trojans had similar success vs the Ducks in February, where they came out the gate with a 15-0 run. I remember watching this game. The Ducks looked overwhelmed by USC’s size and their defensive presence within the arc. Speaking of, let’s look at the numbers. USC is 1st in Opp. 2pt %, and 3rd in Opp. overall shooting %. That said, they’re only 160th in opp. 3pt%. On the flip side, Oregon is a good shooting squad. They are 15th in 3pt%, 47th in 2p%, and 24th overall. Regardless, the game will be won on the boards. As you’d expect, USC is one of the best teams in the country at collecting their misses, while Oregon falls much closer to the bottom. If USC gets more chances to score, then the Ducks might be headed home. This is very similar to the Gonzaga matchup vs Creighton. Oregon will need to shoot well to compete with USC’s length. I think Trojans advance, and a 2 point spread is worth a play.
Michigan v Florida State
This is one of the few matchups that was expected. LSU gave Michigan a run for its money, but the Wolverines took advantage of the Tiger's shaky offense in the 2nd half. FSU just handled Colorado, as they overwhelmed them with their size and athleticism. This is a game that could go either way. Both teams have shown moments of greatness, and they are led by strong coaching staffs. Personally, I want Hamilton to get a chance at a Final Four. I’m not going to dive too deep into this one, as I’m really torn. I will look at the gambling side of It though. It’s at -2.5 as of Thursday. Although Michigan has covered well all season, they are 1-1 so far in the tournament. On the other hand, FSU only covered about 54% of their games, and have only done so once this tournament. If you’re betting on FSU, you might as well just take the Moneyline at +120. If they lose, history this season says they may not cover.
UCLA v Bama
First off, the Pac12 has been great in the tournament. If you had told me that they would have more teams in the Sweet 16 than the Big10 and Big12 combined, I would have called you crazier than Bill Walton. UCLA began their run by making a comeback vs MSU in the First Four, upsetting 6th seeded BYU, and then playing a controlled game vs the tenacious D from ACU. They now have their toughest test, as they face an Alabama squad that absolutely blew the doors off of Maryland. Nate Oats’ has done an excellent job with the Tide this season. Alabama can beat you from beyond the arc, as well as by driving to the hoop. They’re also very stout on D. The Tide are 8th in the nation in opp. 3pt %, and 35th in opp. overall shooting %. The Bruins shot decent against ACU, but their 3pt% has decreased each game. They went 50%, 42%, and 36% in each of their last 3 games, respectively. UCLA will need to trend in the opposite direction if they want to beat Alabama. The spread is currently 6.5. The Tide only cover 57.1% as the favorite, but UCLA is the exact same number as the dog. I’m therefore focusing on non-conference numbers. Alabama is 40% ATS, while UCLA is 77.8% ATS. My gut says Bama advances, but I think UCLA takes the 6.5. The numbers would suggest the same.
Baylor v Nova
Is anyone really surprised that Jay Wright has his team in the Sweet 16? Despite the loss of Gillespie, the Wildcats have proven the doubters wrong in each of their last 2 games. More impressively, their defense has stifled two offenses that were dangerous throughout the year. They now face the Baylor Bears, a team many have (including myself) winning the title. Similar to Gonzaga, the Bears have depth and elite talent. Butler and Mitchell each had 16 points vs Wisconsin, and the team shot 47% from 3.
Speaking of threes, let’s recap the Wildcats’ recent run. Winthrop shot 31% from 3, while N. Texas finished at 30%. As I mentioned in my Preview piece for Nova’s second round game, Wright’s defense is 238th in opp. 3pt%, and 186th in overall opp. shooting %. That may prove to be their Achilles heel vs Baylor, who is 1st in 3pt% and 12th in shooting%. Beyond shooting, the Bears have a knack for the ball. Yes, they are effective off the glass, but they are also ranked 6th in the country for opp. turnovers per game.
Nova can protect the ball as you’d expect from a Jay Wright team, and Robinson-Earl is an emerging star that can certainly handle himself down low. That said, this will need to be a Team effort from Villanova. The spread has jumped from 6.5 to 7.5. The Wildcats have covered 62.5% against non-conference opponents, while Baylor is at 70%. That said, the Bears are only 50% ATS in the Tournament, and were 0-2 in the Big12 Tournament. May want to wait for the tip-off before placing a bet on this one, or see if the steam continues to go toward Baylor.
Arkansas v Oral Roberts
Alrighty, this is one I’ve been itching to talk about. I previously wrote about Arkansas being the Dark Horse of this tournament, as I had them facing Baylor in the Elite 8. They fought off the high-scoring Colgate Raiders, and then survived (barely) against Texas Tech. Yes, they did play 2 Raider squads, weird. Anyway, the Razorbacks now find themselves in a matchup with Oral Roberts. The 15th seeded Golden Eagles have battled their way to this point. They first took down OSU, who was without Kyle Young. Next, they had a gutsy performance vs the Gators. As much as these were team efforts, Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas have been scoring machines. The pair scored 59 pts combined vs the Buckeyes, and 54 combined against Florida. Cinderella’s usually have one player stepping up, but the Golden Eagles are riding a duo that is on an offensive tear. This is one where statistics may not properly predict what could happen here, but I'll do my best to piece something together.
The spread as of Friday morning at midnight is 11.5, with the Moneyline at +460. Let’s look at their history. Oral Bob has played tough non-conference opponents throughout the season, including Arkansas. They lost by 27 to Mizzou, lost by 5 to Wichita State, lost by 5 to Oklahoma State, lost by 14 to Oklahoma, and lost by 11 to Arkansas. In their last meeting with the Razorbacks, ORU actually had a 10 point lead entering the second half. Obanor had a solid outing, putting up 21 points and 10 boards. That said, Abmas shot 4-11, 1-6 from 3, and only put up 11 points. As I mentioned before the Razorbacks’ Sweet 16 win, they are strong off the glass. This was shown against the Golden Eagles already, as they out-rebounded them by 26.
Finally, let’s look at the ATS totals. Oral Roberts is 85.7 %(6-1) ATS against non-conference opponents, 78.6% (11-3) as a dog, 64%(16-9) overall, and 62.5% (10-6) after a win. On the flip side, Arkansas ATS numbers are the following: 66.7% (6-3-1) vs non-conference, 71.4% (15-6-1) as the favorite, 67.9% (19-9-1) overall, and 66.7% (14-7-1) after a win. Both teams can cover fairly well, in various situations!
This is March, and the duo of Abmas and Obanor are playing at a different level. My brain is telling me that Arkansas takes care of business, but the fan in me wants the Golden Eagles to get their revenge. I’m taking Oral Bob at 11.5! Why the hell not. Even if they lose, I am hoping they give Arkansas a tough 40 minutes.
Loyola Chicago v Oregon State
The Ramblers have been one of my favorite teams all year, and I’m very happy I picked them advancing over Illinois. That said, the Beavers have been a gambler’s best friend, as they cover really well. 70% (21-9-1) in all games, and 75% (15-5) as the dog. The Beavers have been on a roll. They out-rebounded Oklahoma State by 20, and shot 91% from the charity stripe. Their senior leader, Ethan Thompson, had a nice game, as he scored 26 points and grabbed 7 boards. They now face a LUC squad that used their defense to force 17 turnovers vs Illinois. Additionally, the Ramblers held Ayo Dosunmu to 9 points, even though he was averaging 20 ppg. Krutwig performed well against Kofi Cockburn, as he had 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. He will have his hands full again with 7’1” Roman Silva, who gave the Cowboys and Vols some issues in the paint. I would argue that the Ramblers are probably one of the best coached teams Oregon State has seen all season, and certainly one of the better defenses. The spread as of 1am on Wednesday was 6.5, but at midnight on Friday morning it is now at 7. Loyola Chicago is the better team in my opinion, and bettors certainly believe that as well. That said, if the spread grows to 7.5 or 8, you better believe I'll be taking that. Hard to bet against these cover machine Beavers!
Syracuse v Houston
Oh great, the Orange. Just the team I wanted to talk about! I’ll put my dislike for Syracuse aside and give them credit. Their zone proved to be difficult for West Virginia to overcome, and they have unsurprisingly made another run as a double digit seed. Buddy Boeheim has been absolutely unreal. He scored 30 and was 70% from 3 vs SDST, and put up 25 with 46% from beyond the arc against WV. The zone continues to cause problems, and they’re playing solid basketball. That said, Houston has quietly been the team on the rise. After dismantling Cleveland State, they survived a strong Rutgers team. The Cougars will now have to figure out how to stop Buddy, and they’re well equipped to do so. The Cougars are 12th in opp. 3pt%, 5th in opp. 2pt%, and 1st in overall opp. shooting %. In my opinion, this one is going to be a defensive battle. I’m not an over/under bettor, but 140 is intriguing. Overall, I think Houston’s shooting is capable enough to take care of business, especially if they can stop Buddy. I don’t think I trust a 6.5 point spread, but would certainly watch for a Live Play!
I hope this sheds some light into our Sweet 16. Best of luck!
- Mike Barrera