March Madness Picks Against The Spread – Sunday March 20th

The Butler did it again. Mack the Knife. The Butler in the Arena with the Dagger. Pick your favorite cheesy headline, but no matter how you parse it; Butler is back.

Butler’s latest victim, Pittsburgh, became the first top seed to bow out of the tournament. It’s a familiar end for Jamie Dixon’s squad; leaving the NCAA Tourney in white jerseys, but the circumstance this time was certainly unique. Butler appeared to have won the game on a lay-up with 2.2 seconds to go and both teams out of timeouts. If you’re reading this article on our site – you probably know how it finished, so I’ll skip the play-by-play – but as a true, insane college hoops junkie who can lireally recite every Sweet Sixteen bracket for the last twenty five years from memory, I can’t honestly remember a game that ended in that exact fashion.

My condolences to any Pitt fans; if my team went out that way, I’d literally be catatonic right now.

Elsewhere, we are starting to see some truly fantastic pairings setting up for next week’s Regional semis and finals. Florida held off UCLA in Tampa to set up a dynamite match-up with the BYU Fredettes. Gonzaga was only the second #11 seed to be favored over a #3 (to the best of my personal recollection), however, that line ended up looking laughable as the Bulldogs got “Jimmered” to the tune of an 89-67 beatdown.

Kentucky, behind yet another tournament point-guard jaw-dropper, this time turned in by Brandin Knight, avenged last year’s Elite Eight loss to West Virginia with the six point win, and will likely set up a Midwest delight in the Sweet Sixteen against Ohio State.

It’s been a thrilling tournament already, and the matchups for Sunday are setting up for another dynamite slate of games. At the time of writing, I’m 12-7 ATS for the entire tourney, so let’s keep it cranking with another complete day of picks.

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#7 Washington v. #2 North Carolina -4

The Tarheels are long, athletic and simply exploding with talent. Harrison Barnes has blossomed the last six weeks into the superstar he was expected to be from day one. Tyler Zeller has become a reliable, consistent low-post scoring option and John Henson’s stellar play has made him one of the most uniquely difficult covers in the country.

And despite the dazzling resumes of their three likely NBA talents, the key to North Carolina continues to be emergent freshman point guard, Kendall Marshall. As Marshall goes, so goes the Carolina offense. Three times this season UNC has topped the 100-point mark, and all three times were after Marshall was inserted into the starting lineup in favor of the since-departed Larry Drew III.

Washington is one of the few teams in the country who won’t be intimidated by the tempo the Heels prefer to play at. In fact, that breakneck tempo is the Huskies best chance to be competitive in this game – get Isaiah Thomas out into the open floor where he can create, both for himself and teammates, in the open floor.

This is going to be a wonderfully entertaining game, but in the end, Carolina simply has too many weapons for the Huskies to account for. I love UNC laying the four.

FREE PICK: North Carolina -4

#8 Michigan v. #1 Duke -11.5

Kyrie Irving certainly looked healthy to me in Round One’s scrimmage against Hampton. Michigan will provide a more telling test, though I view this matchup as exactly that; a test. Duke should have no difficulty defending the perimeter-oriented Wolverines, and I like them to advance with ease.

Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone is a unique look that flusters many teams, but it caters to the Blue Devils biggest strengths; a stable of shooters and slashers, all who can shoot or put the ball on the deck and make offense for themselves or teammates. Another vulnerability of a 1-3-1 zone is the pressure it puts on the weak side guard to drop down and rebound. Duke has the ability to place four scorers and shooters on the floor along with one of the Plumlee brothers inside. Asking a guard like Zack Novak to rotate down and block out the Plumlee’s is a tall order.

I like Duke to not only score in bunches, but also be able to get some back-breaking second chance points to further demoralize the Wolverines’ hopes. I like Duke to cruise with relative ease in this game, covering the 11.5 point spread and marching on to yet another Sweet Sixteen.

FREE PICK: Duke -11.5

#8 George Mason v. #1 Ohio State -10.5

I’ve been banging the drum for George Mason and the Colonial League all season long. The Patriots are not just a good “mid-major”; they are a very good basketball team period. If they were matched with just about any other team left in the tourney, I’d take 10.5 points and run.

But not against the Buckeyes. Ohio State is the most complete team in the country, with their only discernable weakness being a lack of real depth. That lack of depth could come to hurt them at some point in this tournament, but not tomorrow. Mason doesn’t have an answer for Sullinger with doubling; which is difficult to do because Thad Motta runs most of the post-feeds to Sullinger through Diebler’s side of the floor. Diebler is the best open-look shooter in the country, a stone-cold assassin from distance (playing the “Lee Humphrey” role from Florida’s back-to-back champions, only playing it even better).

And if that isn’t enough, Ohio State has the best pair of lengthy perimeter defenders in David Lighty and William Buford. I like the Buckeyes advance comfortably, setting up a great Sweet Sixteen match-up with Kentucky.

FREE PICK: Ohio State -10.5

#5 Arizona v. #4 Texas -5.5

This is my favorite Round of 32 matchup in the entire tournament. I can’t wait to see how Derrick Williams handles the inside defense of Texas, particularly freshman big man Tristan Thompson. This should be a competitive game, but in the end I like the offensive firepower of the Longhorns to be the difference. Arizona’s guards will struggle to score against the tremendous man-to-man defense prowess of Texas. Give me the Longhorns minus the five and a half.

FREE PICK: Texas -5.5

#11 Virginia Commonwealth v. #3 Purdue -9.5

It’s been one heck of a tourney for the Colonial League already, especially for the Rams of VCU. One of the most controversial selections, they legitimized the Committee’s logic with their play-in game win over USC. Last night’s shellacking of heavily-favored Georgetown was the icing on the cake. It’s been an impressive performance for Shaka Smart’s club, but I think it comes to an end tomorrow against the Boilermakers of Purdue.

Matt Painter’s squad has been largely overlooked all season, expectations nearly invisible after the pre-season season-ending injury to forward Robbie Hummel. However JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have made the most of their senior-season and remains a legitimate Final Four contender.

I think Purdue get’s this win, but laying nine is a lot for a team that isn’t an offensive juggernaut, especially facing a hot opponent on a neutral floor. I like VCU getting the nine and a half


#11 Marquette v. #3 Syracuse -4.5

UConn vs. Cincinnati was the first ever match-up of conference foes in the Round of 32; but only because they faced off a day sooner than Marquette and Syracuse. Then again, when a conference sends a tourney-record eleven teams to the field, it makes it tough to split them all into separate pods.

It’s a good thing for Big East fans that they play each other, as things have otherwise not gone so well for the mighty BEast. So far five Big East squads have lost in the favored white jerseys, including popular Final Four picks Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Syracuse loses some of the tourney advantage that their matchup zone often provides, given the familiarity between these two teams. That is probably what accounts for the slightly slimmer-than-expected four and a half point spread. This will be a good game between two familiar foes, but in the end, I like Syracuse’s perimeter firepower of Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph to be the difference.

FREE PICK: Syracuse -4.5

#9 Illinois v. #1 Kansas -8.5

Illinois turned in one of the three or four most impressive opening round performances of the Tournament against UNLV. The Illini moved the ball, their bigs scored at will and Demetri McCammey looked more like the All-Big Ten leader he was during his sophomore and junior seasons that the often-disgruntled senior whose spent much of the season in Coach Webber’s doghouse.

However, UNLV ain’t Kansas. Tomorrow things get much, much more difficult. The key to the game will be how well Illinois’ Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis can handle the Morris twins of Kansas. If they can play them to a near-draw, I like the Illini’s chances to hang with the Jayhawks.

Kansas has some recent history of tourney flame-outs. I’m not sure tomorrow is another one, but I also don’t see them being able to run away and hide from the Illini. Give me U of I and the eight and a half.

FREE PICK: Illinois +8.5

#10 Florida State v. #2 Notre Dame -5

The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups. And this is a really lousy one for Notre Dame. A five-point spread is very slim for a #2/#10 game, so Vegas agrees with me that FSU presents some interesting challenges for the Irish.

With Chris Singleton back, and looking great, Florida State is back to the full-strength team that knocked off Duke early in the season. Florida State is not really too much better than their seed – it is simply that their strength: physical, quick and tough defensive guards, matches well with Notre Dame’s strength: a lineup of shooters that can spread the floor and bury teams from distance.

However, perhaps Vegas is overlooking some of Florida State’s season results. Against NCAA Tournament teams, FSU was just 2-6 on the season. All but one of those losses came WITH Chris Singleton in the line-up, and only one of them was a true road game.

Notre Dame will have to work for it, but eventually I think the poise of this veteran-laden ballclub will be enough to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

FREE PICK: Notre Dame -5

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