The Sweet 16, where the proverbial men are separated from the boys, and where the Cinderella’s slipper likes to fall off for the teams looking for upsets. The first weekend is all about madness, the second weekend is where we find the teams that can actually win the national title. In what was a historically chalky first weekend, we saw all of the one, two, and three seeds survive and advance. That is just the second time that has ever happened since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985. So, while the first round wasn’t all that exciting, it set us up for a bunch of blockbuster matchups this weekend.
Last night, we saw the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Purdue Boilermakers, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the Virginia Cavaliers all punch their tickets to the Elite Eight. Both of those Elite Eight matchups will feature one seeds, Gonzaga and Virginia, squaring off against three seeds, Purdue, and Texas Tech on Saturday. Today we have four more games on the slate, and as has been the case all tournament long, they all feature highly seeded teams.
The LSU Tigers will play the Michigan State Spartans. The Auburn Tigers will play the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Virginia Tech Hokies will try and knock off the Duke Blue Devils for the second time this season. And for our daily pick, we will head to Kansas City where the Houston Cougars match up against the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Kentucky Wildcats, a two seed out of the SEC, will play the Houston Cougars tonight, the three seed out of the AAC. The Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country and are a sexy pick to win it all. Kentucky hasn’t lost a game to a team not named Tennessee since early February. The Cougars spent most of their season rampaging through the AAC, playing against inferior competition, and running up one of the best records in the country at 33-3.
The Wildcats are -2.5-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 133.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:59 PM PST from the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The Kentucky Wildcats will likely be without their leading scorer tonight, P.J. Washington. Washington missed both of Kentucky’s first weekend wins, and if he does manage to play tonight, he will be very limited. Without Washington on the floor, the Wildcats really struggled to score the ball against Wofford, as they scored just sixty-two points, one of their lowest scoring totals of the year. It will be interesting to see what Kentucky can do to score the ball the tonight against a Cougars team that has one of the best defenses in the country.
Houston’s defense looked fierce in their wins over Georgia State and Ohio State. They didn’t allow more than fifty-nine points in either game, and both wins were blowouts. That has been the trademark of this team all season long as they finished the season ranked number twelve in the country in defensive efficiency per kenpom.
Houston has just three losses all season long. But two of those have come in March. Both were to solid teams, UCF and Cincinnati, but neither of those teams has the front-line talent that Kentucky has. The key to this game to me comes down to whether or not Houston has the raw athletic ability to hang with the horses of Kentucky.
We saw with last night’s games what a game can look like between two elite defenses when Michigan and Texas Tech combined for just forty points in the first half. These squads don’t have quite that much defensive firepower, but it’s close. We talked about Houston having a great defense, but Kentucky actually ranked higher on kenpom for defensive efficiency, coming in as the number eight best D in the land.
Throw in the fact that P.J. Washington will be absent or very limited, and I think this is going to be a very low scoring game. To me, the first one to sixty points wins tonight. So, when I look at the game total, I am surprised to see that it is so high, at 133.5 points. Last night, three of the four games came in well below the 133-point total. And while you never want to look at other matchups to gauge this game too much, this can be a typical result late in the tournament as the defensive intensity always gets turned up to ten during the second weekend of the madness.
So, I will take the under 133.5 points and expect a low scoring, grinder of a game. I think the first half will be particularly low scoring, and by halftime, our bet will be in great shape. If I had to take a stand on a side, I would likely end up backing Kentucky. They are just so physical and have a lot more overall talent. But this Houston team is no joke, and a lot of the sharp action has been coming in on Houston, so don’t sleep on them. So, I will stay away from the side and bet the total instead. Give me the under 133.5 points tonight from Kansas City!