The NCAA Tournament gears back up tonight with four awesome Sweet 16 matchups and some even more compelling story lines. Yes, two of the four games feature double-digit favorites, but even those games are must-see television. Kentucky is a fourteen point favorite, but that didn’t stop West Virginia from predicting they’d be “36-1 after tonight.” Will they? Probably not. But I know most of the country will be watching just in case… Also, Arizona is an eleven point fave, but Sean Miller facing off against his former school and longtime assistant with Chris Mack and Xavier makes the late game worth staying up to watch as well.
The two early games is where the game drama could reside. Wichita State and Notre Dame is a toss-up between two schools with big names and recognizable players while Wisconsin and North Carolina could be the best matchup of the tournament provided Kennedy Meeks can go (that’s the main reason I’m staying off this game as a pick tonight. I liked UNC all week IF Meeks can go at full strength. Without him? It’s a real question if they can stop Wisconsin’s great size, especially Kaminski)
Let’s dive in with a pair of pick for tonight’s exciting action.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Wichita State Shockers -2 vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It is interesting that Wichita State is actually the favorite tonight against #3 seed Notre Dame despite their own #7 seed “upset” status. Vegas could very well be on the mark this time, as the Shockers were criminally under-seeded but rectified the situation by laying the lumber to instate (we wish you would be our) rival, Kansas.
Notre Dame has done the requisite minimum of a Sweet Sixteen team, survived and advanced. Barely. And that is probably the large reason why the line is flipped tonight with the “favorite” being the “underdog.”
Notre Dame’s coach Mike Brey lost his mother before the Butler game and didn’t tell his players until after the game was over. It made for an even bigger sentimental story, and it will be interesting to see if the extra emotion of wanting to win for Coach is a distraction or motivator. I think Notre Dame is mature enough to remain focused on the game and play even more inspired than they would regularly. Wichita State matches up well with them as Tekele Cotton can give whomever he covers fits, but Notre Dame counters well with the hyper-athletic Demetrius Jackson covering Fred Van Vleet.
This is a pretty even matchup, but I like the Irish. I’ve been big on this team all year, and watching what they did against Duke and North Carolina last week shows me they have “beat anybody” level of play within them. We didn’t see it in the opening weekend, but I’m betting we will tonight.
This is going to be a great game, but I’ll take the Irish in a narrow win.
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Kentucky Wildcats -13
Perhaps it would be wise not to rattle the cage of a semi-resting giant. I wouldn’t call Kentucky “sleeping” but if there was any doubt the Wildcats would be focused and energized tonight, it was erased by the boastful prediction of the Mountaineers.
Could the press rattle Kentucky? Possibly. But with the size of the Harrison twins, the ball handling of Tyler Eulis and the huge array of seven footers who can flash to the middle to be a safe outlet, it is every bit as likely that the press is broken most every time and easy baskets and increased tempo is the result. I don’t think West Virginia will be able to score enough against UK to counter all the easy transition baskets that could very easily be coming tonight.
Kentucky is a double digit favorite all the time, yet they still have a winning record ATS. Kentucky is holding opponents to 35.1% shooting. West Virginia, for all the havoc they create on defense, is allowing over 46% shooting on the season, and that includes a bunch of games against lesser competition in the pre-conference schedule.
You do the math. This one could be ugly. Don’t let everyone selling you on how this could be an upset brewing. They are just trying to fill airtime with something interesting and provocative. Big Blue wins big tonight.