What an absolutely thrilling night of basketball! I’m not thrilled about taking a pair of losses, but certainly can’t complain about the action last night. Three of the four Sweet Sixteen games were final-possession affairs, and even the Kansas blowout was breathtaking as the Jayhawks turned a four-point lead into a thirty-point one in about ten minutes in the second half. It’s real hard not to bet the ‘Hawks to cut down the nets right now…
Alas, two of our Regional Finals are set: #1 Gonzaga will meet #11 Xavier, and #1 Kansas will meet #3 Oregon, paving the way for either a perfect #1 bracket or a pair of pretty big underdogs (yes, the Ducks were a #3 seed, but most left them for dead after the injury to Boucher). Two more matchups will be set after tonight’s quartet of action.
Here’s my favorite play on tonight’s board as we look to continue our solid NCAA Tournament after last night’s hiccup.
Today’s NCAA Tournament Picks:
South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Baylor Bears -3.5
At the risk of facing Frank Martin’s terrifying glare, I’m still not completely sold on the Gamecocks. Their second half against Duke was one of the most spectacular performances of the entire college basketball season, scoring a whopping 65-points in their ousting of one of the Tournament’s overall Vegas favorites. But this is still a team that struggled to score much of the season and one that seems pretty far removed from their defensive identity that defined the team up through January. They lost five of their last eight regular season games including allowing 90 points to Alabama and 83 to Arkansas.
Meanwhile, Baylor also seemed to have peaked to early. They reached #1 in the polls for the first time ever early in the season, but a late swoon – losing five of their last ten regular season games to slide back into a #3 seed. In fact, very few people liked them to do much damage in this bracket, and many, me included, thought SMU would send them packing last weekend. But, the difference to me between them and South Carolina is two-fold: first, Baylor’s losses were all REALLY close, mostly one possession, and all to Tournament teams with the exception of a road loss to Texas Tech. They lost to Kansas twice by a combined five points.
The second difference is personnel. The Bears are a little bigger and a little longer. Sindarius Thornwell will be the best all-around player on the floor, but no one on South Carolina is a good matchup for Jonathon Motley. Add in Baylor’s seven-foot Jo Lual-Acuil, and the Gamecocks are at a size disadvantage. Baylor lines the floor with good floor-spacing shooters everywhere. A month ago, I’d have had more faith in the Gamecocks’ defense. But in their current shoot-out mode? The edge goes to Baylor.
Today’s Pick: BAYLOR BEARS -3.5