Thursday Sweet 16 Previews


Okay, so it's hard to find a bigger story in Thursday's pair of NCAA Tournament doubleheaders than this still-scorching Michigan Wolverines' team - the Big 10 Tournament champs already have dunked Oklahoma State and Louisville in this "Big Dance" and now they're actually a slight betting favorite over mighty Oregon - but might a couple of other teams in action here on this first night of Sweet 16 play be ultra-dangerous as they operate under the proverbial radar?

Take West Virginia, who have a shot to bop #1 West seed Gonzaga - the 'Neers are in tremendous physical shape and might be the surprise team to get to Glendale next weekend while Purdue didn't wind up in many folks' Final Four brackets but the Boilermakers are mentally tough and ain't likely they're gonna back down from Midwest #1 seed Kansas.

So, in a tourney where there have not be all that many real surprises -- note that 38 of the 48 higher-seeded teams have prevailed in their games even though NCAA Tournament Betting Favorites are a sub-par 23-29 ATS (against the spread) thus far - there could be some true upsets come Thursday/Friday.



Sprint Center - Kansas City, MO

#7 MICHIGAN (26-11) vs. #3 OREGON (31-5) - 7:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Not often you get to the Sweet 16 stage of an NCAA Tournament and a lower-seeded team is favored but that's the case (for now) as Michigan's a slim 1-point choice against an Oregon bunch that was forced to make a roaring comeback to best Rhode Island 75-72 in last Sunday's round-of-32 game in Sacramento. The Ducks - as everyone knows by now - is minus shot-blocker Chris Boucher for this tourney but there's still plenty of firepower on this squad and more than a couple of truly clutch players in F Dillon Brooks and second-round star Tyler Dorsey (see two key made triples late against URI). Maybe it'll come down to who makes the shots late here ... Brooks/Dorsey or the Wolverines' tandem of G Derrick Walton Jr. and newfound star Moe Wagner?
Pointspread Fact - Oregon is 5-2-1 ATS in its last eight games versus Big 10 competition.

#4 PURDUE (27-7) vs. #1 KANSAS (30-4) - approximately 9:35 p.m., CBS
For the record, the Kansas Jayhawks are the lone #1 seed to have won and covered their opening-week games (see 38-point win against UC-Davis and 20-point victory against Michigan State) and so for all of you Bill Self-haters out there, take that! Now, the J-Hawks get the "home-neutral" advantage of playing here just 35 miles from their Lawrence campus but can the Big 12 regular-season champs handle all that Boilermaker size?
No doubt Purdue's Caleb Swanigan is a load but what about 7-footer Isaac Haas who sets a mean screen and might be the ultimate "garbage man" here with double-digit points off missed 'Maker shots. Ask us and we believe Kansas will attempt to make this a 78 rpm-type game from the proverbial get-go and so that means the more points scored, the advantage goes to Kansas. If this one is played in the low 70s, Matt Painter's Purdue guys could steal it.
Pointspread Fact - Kansas has covered six of its last eight games this year.

Sap Center - San Jose, CA

#4 WEST VIRGINIA (28-8) vs. #1 GONZAGA (34-1) - 7:35 p.m. ET, TBS
Does this Las Vegas price tag look a little "short" to you? The top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs are "only" a 3-point betting favorite for this clash on the left coast and everyone wants to know how Mark Few's crew is gonna handle this always-pressing West Virginia unit?
The Mountaineers turned over Notre Dame some 14 times in last Saturday's wire-to-wire 83-71 win/cover and not enough credit goes to long/lean Nathan Adrian who guards ballhandlers all over the floor. If Gonzaga's do-it-all PG Nigel Williams-Goss can flash his way past "Press Virginia" here, than there should be some easy hoops for big man Przemek Karnowski (12.4 ppg) but if this becomes a rag-tag affair, then it becomes advantage WVU.
Pointspread Fact - Gonzaga is 22-9-1 ATS overall this 2016-17 campaign.

#11 XAVIER (23-13) vs. #2 ARIZONA (32-4) - approximately 10:05 p.m. ET, TBS
Forgive us for asking but are the Arizona Wildcats "peaking" at just the right time? Sean Miller's club copped an emotional Pac-12 Tournament title and then followed that up with solid wins in this "Big Dance" against North Dakota and Saint Mary's ... and those 'Zona bigs are taking no prisoners along the way with frosh Lauri Markkanen really putting his stamp on this tourney.
If 7.5-point pup Xavier is gonna survive one mo' round, than junior Trevon Bluiett must be a stat-sheet stuffer and that paint defense must be stout. If Arizona shoots below 40 percent from the floor, than this could be a real "white knuckler" ... remember that famous Al McGuire tourney phrase?
Pointspread Fact - Xavier's covered its last six in a row; Arizona's 5-1 versus the vig in its last half-dozen tilts.