The Madness is real folks.
The wildly entertaining first weekend of the Big Dance is in the books. Now it’s time to focus on which teams can actually win this thing (which teams can cover the spread anyway; after all, isn’t that what really matters in amateur sports?).
Today, I break down each match-up in the Sweet 16.
(5) Maryland v. (1) Kansas (-7)
Maryland matches up well with Kansas at every position and has a slight edge in athleticism. The Terps tend to turn the ball over too much but Kansas is not built for takeaways. The Jayhawks are the most complete team in the tournament but face a treacherous path. The South Region features a quartet of Final Four-caliber teams. KU’s slight edge in depth and chemistry will likely be irrelevant over the course of 40 minutes.
Pick: Maryland +7
(3) Miami FL. v. (2) Villanova (-4.5)
This is an interesting match-up between two veteran teams. Their personnel are similar but their styles of play differ greatly. Miami won’t get rattled when Villanova attempts to take the game to a frantic pace. The Wildcats’ solid team defense will be nullified by the Canes’ ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. This one should be decided in the final minutes. Take the points.
Pick: Miami +4.5
(4) Duke v. (1) Oregon (-2.5)
This is a tough draw for the Blue Devils. Their lack of depth and suspect defense will eventually get the best of them. Duke will get open looks from three-point land early and is a live first half bet. However, the Ducks have a dynamic arsenal of offensive options and will ultimately take control.
Pick: Oregon -2.5
(3) Texas A&M v. (2) Oklahoma (-2.5)
The Aggies don’t defend the three-ball very well. This is a significant problem when squaring off against the Sooners. OU coach Lon Kruger will emphasize rebounding and ball security all week long. His veterans will get the message and take care of business. The Sooners are flawed but their favorable draw means their run continues for one more game.
Pick: Oklahoma -2.5
(4) Iowa St. v. (1) Virginia (-5.5)
It would be hard to find two more contrasting styles than the high-scoring ISU Cyclones and soporific Virginia Cavaliers. The Cyclones have the athleticism and ability to knock down shots which could prove problematic for the Cavs. ISU’s defense is shaky at best, but it’ll do everything it can to limit open looks from UVA stars Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill. The Cyclones have proven they can be patient on the offensive end, so Virginia may control the pace but not necessarily the scoreboard.
Pick: Iowa St. +5.5
(11) Gonzaga (-4.5) v. (10) Syracuse
The late-season improvement of the Gonzaga guards has led to another successful March. However, the Zags have not seen the combined quickness and length of the Orange since the preseason. Gonzaga will likely find itself in an uncomfortable offensive flow throughout. If the Zags take control it will be by attacking the offensive glass … Jim Boeheim is aware.
Pick: Syracuse +4.5
(5) Indiana v. (1) North Carolina (-6)
The East Region turns out to be the postseason version of the Big 10/ACC Challenge. IU can win by shooting lights out from three-point land and forcing UNC to shoot from long range. However, these teams both live in transition and the Heels are simply better at it. UNC baskets may only count as two but there will be many more of them.
Pick: North Carolina -6
(7) Wisconsin v. (6) Notre Dame (-1.5)
The lowest ranked teams remaining – according to KenPom – square off in this doozy. The Irish offense and the Badger defense are Sweet 16 caliber but both teams struggle on the other side of the ball. ND has a slight edge in experience and consistency which should prove to be the difference.
Pick: Notre Dame -1.5