I know you're probably sick of reading about it by now, but this is a really fascinating Sweet 16 this year. You have a little bit of everything. You've got eleven different conferences represented. You've got your small conference upstarts (Northern Iowa, Cornell, St. Mary's), your big conference upstarts (Kansas State, Baylor), your small conference dynasties (Xavier, Butler), your traditional powers (Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse), your underachieving squads starting to put it together (Tennessee, Washington), team's dealing with injuries old (Purdue) and new (Michigan State, West Virginia), and the best team god ever assembled (Ohio State).
You've got the two best players this year (John Wall, Evan Turner), media darlings (Omar Samhan), precious little white boys with a hometown angle (Ryan Wittman), transfers who flourished (Denis Clemente, Ekpe Udoh, Jordan Crawford), cheaters (John Calipari, Bob Huggins), slime balls (Coach K, Calipari), and spazzes (Izzo, Frank Martin). You've got lightning quick guards (Jake Pullen, Isaiah Thomas, Terrell Holloway), do-it-all wings (Durrell Summers, David Lighty, Wes Johnson, Devin Ebanks), dead-eye shooters (Farokhmanesh, Jon Scheyer, Scotty Hopson), and monster big men (JaJuan Johnson, Matt Howard, DeMarcus Cousins).
Seriously, I'm really fired up for these next four days. It should be awesome. Here are my picks, gambling-wise, ranked from least amount of units vs. most amount of units wagered.
WEST VIRGINIA -4 vs. WASHINGTON: I'm more than a bit surprised that I'm not more confident in the Mountaineers, but I think the injury to Truck Bryant is going to play a bigger role than you'd think in this particular match up. WVU has zero answer for Isaiah Thomas, and he can completely control the tempo of a game, as New Mexico found out. Since WVU likes to play a slower-paced game, that could become an issue. Still, in the end, Washington doesn't have the athletes to play with WVU beyond Thomas and Quincy Pondexter, so they'll probably run out of gas in the end - assuming Huggy Bear doesn't orchestrate another one of his teams' patented choke jobs. THE PICK: West Virginia -4, 1 Unit
SYRACUSE -7 vs. BUTLER: Another tough game to read. One of the ways Butler beats more athletic, more talented teams is by being so fundamentally sound, but this year's Syracuse team won as many games as they did by being equally fundamentally sound. Still, I doubted Butler this year, and that waxing they put on a very good UTEP team tells me I might have underestimated them. I expect this to be a pretty hard fought, low-scoring affair between two good teams, and in that kind of situation you go with the points. THE PICK: Butler +7, 1 Unit (Bonus Pick: UNDER 138.5, 1 Unit)
DUKE -8 vs. PURDUE: Not really sure how to call this one. Duke is the better team, and Purdue can't win on emotion forever, but there are some reasons to believe in Purdue here. With or without Hummel, they are a very tough defensive squad. Couple that with a Duke team that relies monster-heavily on the three-pointer for the offense, and one cold night, whether because Duke can't hit or because of tough Purdue defense and the door is suddenly open for an upset. With the Johnson and Moore it's possible, since they're tough match ups for Duke, and if Kramer can get under Scheyer's skin it could be a long night. Something tells me this is either going to be a blow out or a Purdue upset, so the spread does me no good. THE PICK: Purdue to Win @ +340, 1 Unit.
KANSAS STATE -5 vs. XAVIER: If you've read this blog leading up to the tournament, you know I'm a big fan of Xavier this year, and not a believer in Kansas State, so this pick is pretty easy. Nothing has really changed through two rounds, since X has looked good in their two wins while K-State has been less than overwhelming. Still, any team with two good guards is a danger at this point, so I can't go to heavy. THE PICK: Xavier +5, 3 Units (Bonus Pick: OVER 152, 1 Unit)
OHIO STATE -4.5 vs. TENNESSEE: The Vols are the kind of team who have been up-and-down all year, and now that they're in the Sweet 16 they probably have you thinking they have it all together now. Well you're wrong. They barely beat a San Diego State team that barely bothered to show up, and then lucked into a second round game against the least deserving team in the field in Ohio, and couldn't really get it going until the second half against them. No my friends, the Vols are doing this with smoke and mirrors and they are about to be exposed. If you really feel the need to gamble on Tennessee, take the money line, because they have just as good a chance at winning as they do at covering 4.5. THE PICK: Ohio State -4.5, 3 Units (Bonus Pick: OVER 134, 2 Units)
KENTUCKY -9 vs. CORNELL: I feel a bit weird here, because part of me says that Cornell just got lucky, matching up against two slow-it down, grind it out, non-super-athletic, non-super-quick teams, but another part of me says that this is the kind of team that could take the youngsters on Kentucky completely out of their game. And it's not like Trevon Hughes or Jordan Taylor are slow. Not to mention, and I hate referencing something that happened in January and was a loss, but they did hang with Kansas right up until the end and that's a pretty athletic team. I think this is going to be a fascinating game. In the end, Kansas probably wins, but those are a lot of points, and Cornell seems to be all business right now. They don't think they're done yet. THE PICK: Cornell +9, 3 Units
BAYLOR -4 vs. ST MARY'S: I'm still not 100% convinced Baylor is all that terrific, but I think more than anything the Gaels are riding easy matchups. Well, by beating overrated teams, at least. Richmond had me convinced, but they didn't even come close to coming close to showing up, and it was clear to everyone, pre-bracket even, that there was no way in hell Villanova was a legit 2-seed. Maybe more than anything else, and I'm going to bring this up again later, but did it sort of feel like St. Mary's won their Super Bowl already? Not to mention that Baylor is the same team as St. Mary's, but only if St. Mary's got an upgrade. Good interior player - but Udoh is better than Samhan - surrounded by good perimeter players - but Baylor's guards are head and shoulders better than St. Mary's guards. It's hard to see how St. Mary's keeps this much of a game, Baylor should win by ten. Oh, and the game is in Houston, so it's pretty much a home game. THE PICK: Baylor -4, 5 Units (Bonus Pick: OVER 143, 1 Unit)
MICHIGAN STATE -1.5 vs. NORTHERN IOWA: Ok, tell me this line isn't fishy and media driven. First, Kalin Lucas is hurt, and it's being played up as a big story. Second, UNI just knocked off the major favorite in the tournament, and everyone knows it and can't stop talking about it. These two facts alone have probably swung this line by about two points. And there's more. UNI's coach just agreed to a 10-year deal a couple of days ago, while the tournament is still going on. Farokhmanesh is the darling of the tournament - hell, the whole team is the darling of the tournament. It just feels like they're good and done and fat and happy and basking in the glow right now. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo, notorious advancer in NCAA tournaments, has the team locked down in the gym, going over the game plan without Lucas over and over and over, and making sure his team knows that they haven't accomplished jack shit just yet. Not to mention Bill Self has clearly established himself as the kind of guy who makes chocking out of the tournament into a routine, while Izzo is the complete opposite, and this feels like the line should be more like 7. THE PICK: Michigan State -1.5, 8 Units
I know my bracket picks haven't been doing that well (although I still have all my final four teams left), but the gambling has been successful thus far, so I highly recommend that you follow these picks blindly.