(11) Loyola-Chicago vs (7) Nevada – 7:07PM EDT, CBS
Loyola Chicago needed last-second shots to pick up the victory in both of their opening weekend games, and Nevada went to overtime against Texas in round one and followed it up with a comeback victory against 2nd-seeded Cincinnati where the Wolfpack had to come back from down 22 points. The spread on this game is just one point, so Vegas sees it as a virtual tossup, but after Donte Ingram’s buzzer beater on Thursday and Clayton Custer’s shot that seemed to take the weirdest bounce imaginable on Saturday, I just can’t pick against the Ramblers, who have won 19 of their last 20.
The Pick: Loyola Chicago +1
(7) Texas A&M vs (3) Michigan – 7:37PM EDT, TBS
The spread on this one is Michigan by two and a half, which I jumped on immediately. I had Michigan pegged for a final four run from the start, whereas I had A&M losing in the first round to Providence. Obviously, that upset didn’t come to fruition, but I am still much more confident in John Beilein and the Wolverines, who have won 11 in a row, ten of which by three or more points. I’d expect the Wolverines, who are 23-12-2 against the spread this year, to continue proving Vegas wrong.
The Pick: Michigan -2.5
(9) Kansas State vs (5) Kentucky – 9:37PM EDT, CBS
Kansas State is a little underrated by some, they finished 4th in the top conference in the country, but they will run into the buzzsaw that is the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16. Kansas State has been consistent, and they generally don’t lose games that they shouldn’t, but they only have two wins against the KenPom top 30 this year (both against TCU). Kentucky on the other hand, has won nine of their last ten, and their margin of victory has averaged at over 13 points in the nine wins. Big Blue should cover five and a half.
The Pick: Kentucky -5.5
(9) Florida State vs (4) Gonzaga – 9:59PM EDT, TBS
We have the same spread of five and a half for the nightcap on Thursday. Florida State upset Xavier in the round of 32, Gonzaga bested Ohio State, and now the two teams face. I would warn people not to fall into any sort of trap with Florida State after beating a one seed, as the Musketeers were the lowest-rated one seed in the history of KenPom. Before that Xavier game, FSU had only beaten one other top-35 team away from home all year, Florida all the way back in early December. Gonzaga on the other hand, has been consistent, winners of 16 in a row and 22 of their past 23, I’d expect the ‘Zags to take care of business.
The Pick: Gonzaga -5.5
(5) Clemson vs (1) Kansas – 7:07PM EDT, CBS
Clemson impressed me during the opening weekend. They controlled a 28-win New Mexico State team that I had pegged as a sweet 16 sleeper from start to finish, and then went on to beat the injury-ridden Auburn Tigers, but not only did they beat Auburn, they dominated, winning by over 30. Kansas, on the other hand, faced a tough test from Penn (at least for the opening 20 minutes), and then needed late-game heroics to escape against Angel Delgado and Seton Hall. Clemson has been consistent all year, and have only lost by double digits once, to #1 overall seed Virginia. I expect them to at least keep it within four, if not outright pull the upset.
The Pick: Clemson +4.5
(5) West Virginia vs (1) Villanova – 7:27PM EDT, TBS
I hate doing this but I have to. This is probably my biggest against the spread lock of the week. I have been on the West Virginia bandwagon practically all year after they beat Virginia back in the non-conference. I consistently had them about five spots higher than the AP Poll, I picked them to win the Big 12 Tournament, and I had them in my sweet 16, but they got a really bad draw with Villanova. The Wildcats have the best offense in the country, they’ve got fantastic ball handlers and some of the best shooters in the tournament. This team is perfectly tailored to beat the press, and I don’t think it will be especially close.
The Pick: Villanova -5
(11) Syracuse vs (2) Duke – 9:37PM EDT, CBS
While I agree with Vegas that this is likely to be the biggest margin of victory in the round of 16, eleven and a half seems like a lot of points to be giving up for a game between two sweet 16 caliber teams. Syracuse’s defense has allowed just 56, 52, and 53 points in their three tournament games so far, and when you limit the number of possessions in a game, it is a lot harder to get blown out. Give me Duke to win this one straight up, but I trust Jim Boeheim to keep it within single digits.
The Pick: Syracuse +11.5
(3) Texas Tech vs (2) Purdue – 9:57PM EDT, TBS
The final game of the sweet 16 will emanate from The Garden in Boston, and it might be the game I am most excited to see. Purdue star Isaac Haas is still questionable to play. He was expected to play in the round of 32 against Butler but was not wearing an NCAA-approved elbow brace. Assuming he gets his elbow brace situation sorted out, the question as to how much of himself he will be if he has to play through a broken elbow still looms large.
Despite the injury to Haas, I’m going to take him and the Boilermakers to outsmart Texas Tech’s fourth-ranked defense. The real key to this game will be Purdue’s perimeter shooter Carsen Edwards, who has fallen into a bit of a slump as of late, shooting under 27% from the field in his last three games. I’m betting on Edwards, who is a 45% shooter on the year, to get out of his groove and lead the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight.
The Pick: Purdue -1.5