Heading to the Sweet 16


The odds-on favorites to win it all in this man's NCAA Tournament - the Duke Blue Devils (+ 225) - sure got scared silly in Sunday's epic 77-76 non-cover victory against 13-point underdog UCF. Folks, never has a basketball rolled off a rim in the "Big Dance" with more on the line than when the UCF Knights had its final tip-in attempt slide halfway 'round the cylinder and fall out as it not only kept the Dookies alive but, in essence, likely sabotaged the championship hopes of several other Sweet 16 survivors.

Consider that Mike Krzyzewski's squad starring the great Zion Williamson (32 points / 11 rebounds / 4 assists against UCF) will be - without a doubt - the betting favorite in each and every one of his team's remaining games in this tourney and you know that failed tip-in by UCF star Aubrey Dawkins (32 points) was met with major groans in places like Blacksburg and East Lansing and Baton Rouge ... and all points in between. Maybe we're all about to experience what late/great Marquette head coach Al McGuire used to say every tourney and that's the champion team always at least has one moment / one game that it sweats out en route to the title. If Duke wins it all on the night of Monday, April 8th, you can be dang sure lots of folks will be thinking back to that UCF miss at the buzzer.

Meanwhile, the tourney overall has lacked buzzer-beating drama - for the most part - but we ain't lacking for the high-profile teams:

As we head towards Thursday and the Sweet 16 round, the #1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds are alive and standing in the East; Ditto in the West bracket where #1-thru-#4 seeds survived the first week of tournament play; The #1, 2, 3 and #12 seeds have made it to the Sweet 16 in the South; And it's pretty chalky #1, 2, 3 and #5 seeds that make up what's left in the Midwest bracket.

The #1, 2 and 3 seeds bull-rushed their way to these regional semifinals while joined by two #4's, a #5 seed and a #12 and so you might reason that the NCAA Tournament Betting Favorites are kicking booty but that's not exactly the case. In fact, when the dust finally settled on last night's action - at 11:42 p.m. Eastern time, we might add - NCAA Tourney Betting Favorites were a dead-even but vig-losing 26-26-0 ATS (against the spread) after six days/nights of hoops action. Okay, so here's the NCAA Tournament day-by-day look at the Betting Favorites:

March 19    2-0-0
March 20    1-1-0
March 21  7-9-0
March 22  5-11-0
March 23   6-2-0
March 24  5-3-0
Total     26-26-0

As you see, the chalk / cream was rising to the top in Round of 32 action with favs going a collective 11-5 against the odds this past Saturday /Sunday and just a quickie note that among the Sweet 16 teams the following have posted 2-and-oh spread starts so far in this tourney:

That's Houston, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Purdue and Texas Tech ... and may we remind y'all that last year's champion Villanova Wildcats went a scintillating 6-0 versus the vig with a whole bunch of easy covers. For what it's worth, Houston's wins by 29 and 15 points over Georgia State and Ohio State, respectively, ranks as the best overall covers by one team thus far.

NCAA Sweet-16

EAST - at Washington, DC / Fri & Sun
#1 DUKE (31-5) vs. #4 VIRGINIA TECH (26-8) - Good point made by CBS/Turner studio analyst Seth Davis who reminded viewers that the Hokies' 77-72 win over Duke back on Feb. 26th didn't include the above-mentioned Williamson but also V-Tech played without lefty PG Justin Robinson. P. S., Duke was a 3-point favorite in that meeting in Blacksburg (a Jim Hurley Network winner, we might add!).

#2 MICHIGAN STATE (30-6) vs. #3 LSU (28-6) - Say what you will about Tom Izzo's Spartans and finally snapping that three-year dry spell of not making it to a Sweet 16, but this club already rocks the glass and that was never more evident than a 40-to-16 board advantage in the Round of 32 blowout over Minnesota.


WEST - at Anaheim / Thurs & Sat
#1 GONZAGA (32-3) vs. #4 FLORIDA STATE (29-7) - Gonna be hearing all week long about how the 'Zags were trounced 75-60 by Florida State in last year's Sweet 16 round but who's gonna clue you in that foul woes and an injured Killian Tillie (hip) really helped sink Gonzaga in that tilt.

#2 MICHIGAN (30-6) vs. #3 TEXAS TECH (28-6) - You could make the case that T-Tech's Jarrett Culver (16 points / 10 rebounds in Sunday's walkover win against Buffalo and 29 points / 8 rebs / 7 assists in a 72-57 opening-round win/cover against Northern Kentucky) is the best player in this tourney who's not named Zion Williamson.


SOUTH - at Louisville / Thurs & Sat
#1 VIRGINIA (31-3) vs. #12 OREGON (25-12) - Talk about a "house money" game for the Ducks! From the seventh seed in the Pac-12 Tournament to the lowest surviving seed in the Sweet 16, Dana Altman's crew can go from zero-to-60 in a heartbeat and fifth-year senior G Ehab Amin does all the intangibles ... the Wahoos have reason to worry.

#2 TENNESSEE (31-5) vs. #3 PURDUE (25-9) - Now you see why folks get scared of backing Vols' head coach Rick Barnes at tourney time? How on earth Tennessee ever blew a 25-point lead to Iowa on Sunday is beyond us and any moments of trepidation here could be costly now that Boilers' G Carsen Edwards (career-high 42 points versus Villanova) has his confidence back.


MIDWEST - at Kansas City / Fri & Sun
#1 NORTH CAROLINA (29-6) vs. #5 AUBURN (28-9) - Here's an observation: The UNC Tar Heels are averaging 84.5 points through two NCAA Tourney wins and yet we don't get the sense that the run-run game is at peak efficiency. It was frosh PG Coby White's 3-point shooting in the first half that helped to extinguish Washington but something tells us this ACC crew could score 50 fast-break points here.

#2 KENTUCKY (29-6) vs. HOUSTON (33-3) - Loved the post-game response of UH Coogs' coach Kelvin Sampson following Sunday night's 74-59 win/cover against Ohio State when informed this was the school's first Sweet 16 trip since 1984: "My guys don't even know who Phi Slamma Jamma was". Gut feel is Houston's the best #3 seed out there - but is Kentucky possibly plus soph PJ Washington (should be back here after not playing in Jacksonville) the best #2 seed around?