Things turn quick in the NCAA Tournament. Thursday night, the Big East was the toast of the town after going 4-0 with Georgetown, Butler, and Xavier turning in three of the most impressive performances of the opening day. Friday was less kind, with St. John’s and Providence both losing by decent margins. Yesterday was an outright disaster. Georgetown got blitzed by Utah, Butler lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame, and top-seeded Villanova got bounced in the opening weekend for the third time in five years as a top-two seed.
That leaves Xavier, a bit of a surprise and a bit of the beneficiary of a nice draw, as the only Big East team still standing. Meanwhile, the ACC remains perfect at 8-0 and the PAC-12 perfect at 7-0 (though I can’t see Oregon winning tonight).
So who will be the final teams punching their tickets into next weekend’s Sweet Sixteen? Let’s find out with tonight’s free picks.
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Tonight’s Free Picks: NCAA TOURNAMENT ROUND OF 32 – EVENING SESSIONS
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Maryland Terrapins -1
West Virginia will likely have the crowd advantage, as Morgantown is only about three hours from Columbus and their fan base travels far better than Maryland’s, but will it be enough to propel Bobby Huggins back to the Sweet 16. The Big Twelve has been a disaster this tournament, but West Virginia and Oklahoma have a chance to salvage the tourney for the beleaguered conference on the same floor in back-to-back games.
However, I still give a slight edge to Maryland in this contest. West Virginia was able to rattle Buffalo with their pressure. I don’t see the same pressure panicking Melo Trimble, especially with a talented crew around him to help alleviate some pressure. Dez Wells, Pack, and even Layman can help break pressure and more importantly finish at the rim once it is broken.
This is a good matchup for an athletic team that handles pressure and likes to push tempo like Maryland. I think they will fare better than many expect today and get the win.
Dayton Flyers vs. Oklahoma Sooners -4
OK, the Mountaineers travel well and will have some support in Columbus. But the rest of the building will be loud and partisan to the Flyers and the second edition of their magical run. Dayton has plenty of talent and has been on this stage before, but they will have their hands full with the athletic Sooners and Buddy Hield. Hield was a second or third team All-American (depending upon the publication) and will be a tough cover for the Flyers, but the team in general should benefit from a favorable crowd and good team defense.
Both teams are right around .500 this season ATS, so no real advantage in terms of lines moving irrationally. It opened at -5 for OU and shrunk a half-point, likely because people not familiar with the Midwest began to realize just how much of a home game today is for the Flyers.
Oklahoma is a better team, but as we’ve seen in this tourney, once the crowd gets behind the underdog, some interesting things can happen. Don’t be surprised if Archie Miller and company win it straight up, but I’ll definitely take them with the four and a half points.