Sweet 16 Primer

Published on March 19 at 3:10 p.m. Eastern

By Brian Edwards

The field of 68 has been reduced to 16. We’ve yet to see a buzzer beater or an overtime game, but we’ve certainly been treated to great comebacks, stunning upsets and excitement galore. Let’s get you ready for the Sweet 16 with a few early thoughts.

Florida became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to score 70-plus points and limit its opponents to 50 points or less in its first two games. The Gators thumped Virginia 71-45 and then dealt Norfolk St. an 84-50 shellacking.

UF advances to its sixth Sweet 16 during Billy Donovan’s tenure and will take on third-seeded Marquette. Most books are listing the Golden Eagles as 1 ½-point favorites with a total of 146.

Buzz Williams’s team had zero luck against SEC squads this year. Marquette got beat at LSU when the Tigers were playing without one of their best players in Johnny O’Bryant. Also, Vandy went up to Milwaukee and cruised to an easy win by 17 points that wasn’t close from the start.

In the other West region semifinal clash in Phoenix on Thursday, top-seeded Michigan State will collide with No. 4 seed Louisville. Most spots have the Spartans installed as 4 1/2-point favorites with a total of 125. The Cardinals are plus-180 on the money line (risk $100 to win $180).

This is a rematch of an Elite Eight contest in 2009 when Tom Izzo’s team stunned a top-seeded Louisville squad by a 64-52 count as a 6 ½-point underdog.

U of L has won six in a row both SU and ATS, including wins over Davidson (69-62) and New Mexico (59-56) this past weekend. Meanwhile, Michigan St. eliminated LIU Brooklyn and Saint Louis, although it failed to cover the number in a 65-61 win over the Billikens as a 7 ½-point ‘chalk.’

Something has to give in this tilt because Rick Pitino has never lost a Sweet 16 game and Izzo’s teams have made the Final Four every time it has been a No. 1 seed.

The East Region semifinals will go down at TD Garden in Boston, where top-seeded Syracuse will face Wisconsin on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern. Most spots have the Orange tabbed as a four-point favorite with the total in the 121-122 range. Gamblers can take the Badgers to win outright for a plus-170 return (risk $100 to win $170).

Syracuse trailed 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville at halftime of its tourney opener, but it was able to squeak past the Bulldogs. Then on Saturday, Jim Boeheim’s team looked much sharper in disposing of Kansas St., 75-59. Nevertheless, we should note that the ‘Cuse is mired in a 2-7 ATS slump.

Wisconsin blasted Montana on Thursday and then won a 60-57 thriller over a red-hot Vanderbilt team. The Badgers have three major factors working in their favor. First, they have one of the nation’s premier coaches in Bo Ryan. Secondly, Jordan Taylor is one of the best point guards in the country and, last but not least, Wisconsin is as stingy as always at the defensive end of the court.

Ohio St. will play Cincinnati as a seven-point favorite with a total of 130 ½. The Bearcats are plus-300 to win outright. If the Buckeyes and Badgers win, we’ll have an all Big Ten showdown in the East Region finals.

On Friday, let’s start in Atlanta where third-seeded Baylor will face Xavier at 7:15 p.m. Eastern on CBS. Most books are listing the Bears as six-point favorites with a total of 140. The Musketeers are plus-230 on the money line (risk $100 to win $230).

Scott Drew’s squad scratched past a scrappy South Dakota St. squad by a 68-60 score as a 7 ½-point favorite this past Thursday. Then on Saturday, Baylor broke open a tight game with a huge run midway through the second half and cruised to an 80-63 triumph over Colorado.

Brady Heslip did his best Jeff Fryer imitation (LMU over Michigan circa ’90) against the Buffaloes, bombing away from 3-point land at a 9-for-12 clip. Also, Pierre Jackson was fabulous with 15 points, 10 assists and five steals.

As I’ve stated quite a bit recently, Xavier was one of the country’s most disappointing teams this season. But as I also indicated last week, I felt that getting into the tournament – which looked very sketchy for several weeks – could put the regular-season disappointments in the rearview mirror.

I said last week that now that the expectations had subsided, Xavier could just go out and play without feeling any pressure. The Musketeers did just that in wins over Notre Dame and Lehigh, which had stunned second-seeded Duke on Friday night.

After playing horrible in a loss to Marquette in last year’s NCAAs, Tu Holloway bounced back and enjoyed a great weekend. But it was senior center Kenny Frease who was the catalyst against the Mountain Hawks. Frease led Xavier back from a double-digit first-half deficit to capture a 70-58 win. Frease finished with a career-high 25 points and 12 rebounds.

But Frease will face an athletic Baylor frontcourt that features Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller. They key for Xavier will be Holloway and backcourt mate Mark Lyons. Both will have to produce special performances for the Musketeers to get to the Elite Eight.

In the late game at the Ga. Dome, there’ll be no shortage of resentment, tradition, excitement and drama when a pair of the nation’s most storied programs collide…again!

Kentucky will get its chance to avenge a buzzer-beating loss in Bloomington when it squares off against Indiana. The oddsmakers expect the Wildcats to do so as they’ve been installed as nine-point favorites with a total of 145. The Hoosiers are plus-400 on the money line.

UK snapped out of a 0-4 ATS slide in Saturday’s 87-71 win over Iowa St. as a 12-point favorite. Marquis Teague led the way with 24 points and seven assists against the Cyclones. Anthony Davis added 15 points and 12 boards.

After thumping New Mexico St., Indiana trailed nearly the entire game but rallied to edge VCU by a 63-61 count. The Hoosiers got 16 points apiece from Christian Watford and Cody Zeller.

When these teams met on Dec. 10, Watford scored a game-high 20 points and hit the game-winner from the left wing as time expired. A big factor in that game was Davis being in foul trouble. The SEC Player of the Year logged just 24 minutes and finished with only six points, nine rebounds and one blocked shot.

The Midwest Region semifinals will be played at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. North Carolina will face Ohio in Friday’s lid-lifter at 7:45 p.m. Eastern.

The big question facing the top-seeded Tar Heels is the status of point guard Kendall Marshall, who suffered a broken bone in his wrist and was expected to have surgery Monday. Nevertheless, there’s a chance he’ll play and it’s important to note that the injury is to his right wrist and Marshall is a southpaw.

The other wrist of note belongs to John Henson, who missed Friday’s win over Vermont but returned to the starting lineup in Sunday’s 87-73 win over Creighton. Henson looked good with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. All five UNC starters scored in double figures against the Bluejays with Marshall leading the way with 18 points and 11 assists.

Ohio is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1964. The Bobcats won the MAC Tournament and kept that momentum going with upset wins over Michigan and South Florida. They have a stellar backcourt with D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt, who combined for 40 points in the win over the Bulls.

There’s another double-digit seed in St. Louis besides Ohio, but North Carolina St. hasn’t looked anything like a Cinderella in recent weeks. Mark Gottfried has a big, strong and athletic unit that won’t be intimidated by Kansas in the least.

Most books are listing KU as an eight-point favorite with a total of 141 ½. Bettors can take the Wolfpack to win outright for a plus-300 payout.

N.C. St. is in the midst of a 7-0-1 ATS run that’s been loading the pockets of its backers. The Wolfpack knocked off San Diego St. and Georgetown to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Purdue senior forward Robbie Hummel left it all on the court in Sunday night’s gut-wrenching loss to Kansas. The Boilermakers did everything right for 38 ½ minutes and was on the cusp of eliminating second-seeded Kansas, but they had a pair of terrible offensive possessions and ended up on the short end of a 63-60 decision. Hummel scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out three assists. He drained 9-of-13 shots from the field. Here’s a tip of the cap to Hummel, who had an outstanding, albeit extremely unlucky, career for the Boilers. I wish nothing but the best for him and hate that Purdue didn’t beat KU so his collegiate career could’ve continued for another week.

–Although Stan Heath and USF have to be sick about being eliminated by 13th-seeded Ohio, the future is bright for the Bulls, who won their first two NCAA games in school history by smashing Cal and Temple.

–I’m sure this is a stretch but I’m hard pressed to remember a recent game in which I saw more defensive intensity than Sunday’s Cincy-FSU war, especially in the second half. There was about a six-minute stretch in which every dribble and pass by every offensive player was tenaciously contested. I’m not sure the Bearcats had any possessions during said stretch in which at least one (if not two or three) passes were deflected by the Seminoles. Fortunately for Mick Cronin, his players stepped up and made several tough shots that were well defended.

–The Gators won their two games by 60 combined points.

–College of Charleston head coach Bobby Cremins announced his retirement Monday. Cremins, who had a legendary run at Ga. Tech in the 1980s and ’90s, took a medical leave of absence from the Cougars on Jan. 27.

–RIP to legendary sportswriter Furman Bisher, who died Sunday at the age of 93. Bisher worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1950-2009 and was an icon in the industry. He scored the only post Black Sox interview ever with ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson in 1949 and he often sipped sweet tea on Ty Cobb’s front porch. Bisher was best known for his golf coverage and he played many rounds with Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. Selah.

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