A Breakdown Of Tonight’s Sweet 16 Action And The Best Bets You Can Make Against The Spread

Was anyone else disappointed in the basketball last night? We had four potentially great match-ups and yet none of them ended up being close games. It was very surprising given what we’ve seen in the tournament advanced. Hopefully Saturday’s regional finals turn out much better. Maybe we’ll get some redemption in the quality of Friday’s hoops. Let’s check things out.
Midwest Region: #1 Virginia vs. #4 Iowa State – 7:10 p.m.

Here we have the classic offense meets defense situation. Virginia has long been amongst the best defensive teams in the country and this year is no different. Iowa State once again finds themselves as one of the country’s top offenses. The difference between these teams comes on the other end of the court as Virginia has shown off an improved offense this year, while Iowa State is still run-of-the-mill defensively. They always say it’s easier to slow a team down than it is to speed them up and that’s exactly the scenario that’s presented here. It’ll be easier for Virginia to slow down Iowa State than it will be for Iowa State to speed them up. The match-up between Georges Niang and Anthony Gill should be an interesting one as Gill has the athleticism and strength to take on Niang defensively. That will force a lot of the offensive generation to come from Monte Morris, which might be a problem against a defensive stalwart like Malcom Brogdon. Virginia will get the stops they need and pull away in the final few minutes.
Midwest Region: #10 Syracuse vs. #11 Gonzaga – Approx 9:40 p.m.
The second game of the Midwest region pits the only remaining double-digit seeds in the tournament against each other. Syracuse’s path got easier when Middle Tennessee State upset Michigan State in a game America is still trying to come to grips with. The Orange, nonetheless, did what they needed to do to get here by thumping their unexpected opponent after a convincing first round victory over Dayton. Their 2-3 zone has been at its best through two games and they’ll need it to continue in order to make it to Sunday. Gonzaga’s perimeter players don’t have that much experience in facing the zone, but look for the bigs of Kyle Wiltjer and Damontis Sabonis to help solve things for the Bulldogs. Either player can slip into the middle of the zone at the top of the key (the easiest way to attack a 2-3 zone defense) and pass or score effectively.

Gonzaga’s guards may lack experience, but they certainly aren’t pushovers as they’ve proved through two games. Eric McClellan will once again get a chance to show his defensive chops as he likely gets matched up against Michael Gbinije. As Gbinije goes, so does Syracuse’s offense. With McClellan putting the clams on him, Syracuse will struggle to score in what I’m expecting to be a low-scoring game. Gonzaga wasn’t expected to return to the Elite 8 for a second year in a row, but that’s where they’ll be headed after this one.

East Region: #6 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wisconsin – 7:27 p.m.

Chances are you weren’t expecting a match-up between the Fighting Irish and the Badgers when you filled out your bracket over a week ago. We almost didn’t even get here as both teams had to make buzzer beaters to advance to this stage. Wisconsin’s trip to the Sweet 16 wasn’t expected a couple months ago, but they really came on at the end of the season and have the methodic style of play that keeps them in every tournament game they play. Notre Dame’s half-court offense is decent, but Zach Auguste won’t see as much success as he had in the earlier rounds with Ethan Happ going head-to-head with him. Things will rely heavily on Demetrius Jackson initiating Notre Dame’s offense and to be fair he should have a quickness advantage over Wisconsin’s guards.

As is the case with the battle between Notre Dame and Wisconsin above, Wisconsin will reduce the amount of possessions in this game, which means it’ll come down to the final few minutes and who can get a stop. I’ve got more faith in the Badgers doing that. Notre Dame got lucky Stephen F. Austin went heavy isolation down the stretch rather than using the ball-movement that got them the lead. Wisconsin’s offense is heavily predicated on ball-movement, so Notre Dame won’t be as lucky here as Wisconsin sneaks out a close win.

East Region: #1 North Carolina vs. #5 Indiana – Approx. 9:57 p.m.

I need to give credit where it’s due. Most people (myself included) didn’t think Indiana would be able to handle Kentucky’s depth and their perimeter duo. Indiana found a way to force Jamal Murray into one of his worst shooting games of the season leaving Kentucky with a lack of offensive output in the last five minutes. Can they have the same effect on Carolina’s Marcus Paige? It’s definitely possible as both players represent similar threats. The x-factor down the stretch for Indiana was freshman Thomas Bryant, who has Syracuse fans cursing his de-committed from the Orange these days as Bryant leads Indiana to the Sweet 16. Bryant, however, will face a much different beast this weekend as he goes up against post players that are actually living up to their expectations in Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks. The trio has the ability to limit Bryant’s offensive game and potentially get him into foul trouble as well.

The lights will be on Joel Berry here as he goes head to head with Yogi Ferrell. He’s the type of player that will relish the opportunity to outshine the All-American. Add in Marcus Paige’s newfound ability to shutdown guards offensively as he did to Malcom Brogdon in the ACC Tournament and there are a lot of warning signs for Indiana. I’ll take the warning and advance North Carolina to Sunday’s regional final in Philadelphia
Vegas Best Bets:

Virginia -6 over Iowa State – The defensive edge should allow Virginia to get a comfortable margin when it’s time to close the game out 

North Carolina / Indiana First Half Under 75.5  Carolina notoriously comes out of the gates a little slow, so that

North Carolina / Indiana Under 159.5 – For the same reasons as mentioned directly above, plus Indiana’s inability to get the easy buckets inside should limit the offense. 

Syracuse / Gonzaga Under 135 – Between the Syracuse 2-3 zone and Gonzaga’s ability to shut down Syracuse’s perimeter weapons, we could have an ugly affair down in Chicago.