Friday, March 28, 2014

Sweet Sixteen Predictions (Friday)

Well I couldn't have read that Wisconsin/Baylor game any worse.  I expected Frank Kaminsky to get killed, but instead he did the killing.  It was like watching The Others and being like, man this is way creepy poor Nicole Kidman but then bam it turns out Nicole Kidman is dead the whole time.  Oh, spoiler alert.  Anyway thanks to Florida coming through, a couple over/unders, and hitting two middles with second half bets I overcame the big Baylor loss and made a little bit of money.  Hopefully there's more to come tonight.

#11 Tennessee vs. #2 Michigan.
Advanced metrics absolutely love Tennessee.  They rank 16th in offensive points per possession and 17th in defensive points per possession.  The only other teams to rank in the top 20 in both this year are Wichita State, Florida, Virginia, and Louisville.  That's a pretty damn impressive group.  However I think this is a classic case of beating up on bad teams.  The Vols have a win over Virginia back in December, but do you know their next best win?  That win over a fading Iowa team.  Next up?  A win over a fading and overseeded UMass.  Then Georgia, LSU, and Arkansas.  See what I'm saying?  Yeah they've won three games to get here and that's impressive, but I am not loving them.

Michigan, on the other hand, seems to be peaking at the right time.  They destroyed both Wofford and Texas and everybody's clicking.  Tennessee has overwhelmed their opponents with their size and rebounding so far, but that won't happen against Michigan.  Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford might suck offensively but they can play defense.  From there I think Michigan's perimeter guys can out score Tennessee's.  I just think Michigan is a far superior team, so I'm going with Michigan -2 for four units

#7 UCONN vs. #3 Iowa State.
The loss of Georges Niang didn't hurt Iowa State against North Carolina, but it very well could against UCONN.   Without him the Cyclones are very small, and although Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue play bigger than their size would suggest I'm not so sure that gets it done against a more rough and tumble former Big East team.  It will also allow UCONN to go small with what is probably their best lineup, and one they have only been able to use about 5% of the time over the last 5 games because they generally need to have either Amida Brimah or Phillip Nolan in there at center for extra size.  That's not really a concern against a Niang-less Iowa State, and Brimah's foul issues become much less important.

Then of course there's the whole Kemba Walker thing Shabazz Napier has going on right now.  He's put up 24-8-6 against St. Joe's and 25-5-3 against Villanova despite missing a huge chunk of the first half.  And man did you see some of those shots against Nova?  Right now he's fearless and he's hot, and that is a dangerous combination to run up against.  DeAndre Daniels seems to be peaking at the right time, and Ryan Boatright played as well as I've ever seen him play against Villanova.  It wouldn't shock me to see this team make the Final Four.  Sorry Clones.  UCONN +2 for 3 units, and also a unit on the over 146 - ISU likes to get up and down, and I expect UCONN to get in the spirit.

#8 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville.
Easily my most anticipated match-up of the weekend, and also the hardest to read for me. Before the tournament started I would have gone with Louisville -4.5 without hesitation, but Kentucky's win over Wichita was one of the most impressive top to bottom games I've seen anybody play this year. Everyone said at the beginning of the year that Kentucky was the most talented team in the country and if their talent came together they'd be the team to beat in the tournament, and that is still the case with at least five guys who are likely to be NBA first round picks in either this year's draft or the next.  So that's the question, has this team now come together enough to beat the defending champs who, with the exception of the Manhattan game, have been rolling?

Well, it was just the sixth time this year a team scored 70+ against Wichita, and Kentucky shot 54% while doing it so they played pretty much a perfect shooting game on the offensive end.  With Andrew Harrison's six turnovers and a total of 11 for the Wildcats vs. just 11 assists that tells me they didn't suddenly "get it" and considering six of those assists came from Julius Randle it's pretty clear the Kentucky guards still don't really know how to run a team.  Another big piece of Kentucky's win was their 22 offensive rebounds, but the presence of Montrezl Harrell for Louisville should guarantee that at a minimum that number is cut in half, and the rest of Louisville's guys should be able to keep Kentucky off the boards better than Wichita did.  Plus when it comes down to Calipari vs. Pitino with  almost a week to prepare, I'll take Pitino every time.  Louisville -4.5 for one unit and another unit on the over 139.  Louisville tries to speed teams up and that should work beautifully against Kentucky.

#4 Michigan State vs. #1 Virginia.
People really seem to underrate Virginia this year, but a 16-2 run through the ACC, an ACC Tournament Championship, and a thorough thrashing of Memphis (with a mini scare against Coastal thrown in there) is one hell of a run.  They've mainly done it with an incredible defense and a slow pace that left them allowing the fewest points per game in the country at 55.5.  They also score at an efficient rate, a top 10 in the country rate, although they don't shoot the ball particularly well and can be prone to shooting slumps.

The Spartans should be able to handle them, however, because they're one of the best shooting teams in the country (13th by eFG%) and the execute extremely well and move the ball well (62% of baskets come from an assist, also 13th).  I tried to find teams that have a similar profile that Virginia played this year and the closest two I could find were Duke and Wisconsin, team's that gave Virginia two of its six losses this year, and Michigan State is both a better rebounding and defensive team than either Duke or Virginia.  Plus the Spartans put up those impressive numbers while rarely being healthy, and now they are.  The pace shouldn't bother Sparty either, they can grind it out with the best of them.  One unit on Michigan State -2, and two units on the under 127.

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