March Madness lived up to its name in one of the most exciting, stunning and incredible opening weekends of the NCAA Tournament that I can remember.
Sunday was a dog day in the tournament to be certain. Underdogs were 7-1 ATS in Sunday’s games with five of those teams winning outright (Syracuse, Texas A&M, Nevada, Clemson and Florida State). That was just a small part of what was a weekend loaded with upsets across the board. UMBC made NCAA Tournament history becoming the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed in the opening round of the tournament.
The Retrievers beat Virginia by 20 points as a 21-point underdog and cashed at +2000 on the ML. I mentioned Loyola Chicago being a potential deep sleeper in last week’s column and the Ramblers have lived up to the billing in notching a pair of thrilling last second victories both as underdogs against Miami, Florida and Tennessee.
Nevada pulled off the second biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history as the Wolfpack, who trailed the Cincinnati Bearcats by as many as 22 points in the second half of that game, came all the way back to win 75-73, closing the game on a 32-8 run. The Bearcats were ice cold in the last 10:50 of the game, shooting just 3-for-19 down that final stretch of the game.
Nevada was as much as +2200 on the moneyline in live in-game wagering when they were down by 22 points in the second half. Each of the top four seeds in the South Region got knocked out (Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Arizona), making it the first time ever all four seeds in the same region have not advanced to the Sweet 16. That was just some of the highlights of what went on in one of the most memorable opening tournament weekends I can recall.
Here is my early look at some of the Sweet 16 matchups coming up on Thursday and Friday that interest me the most.
Loyola Chicago vs. Nevada tips off the Sweet 16 round on Thursday night in a matchup of the 11 seed Ramblers against the 7 seed Wolfpack. This is an interesting contrast in styles as Loyola Chicago has tended to play a more half court deliberate style in their first two games while Nevada prefers to play fast and get up and down the basketball court, featuring an array of NBA level talent and shooters that can knock down big shots from anywhere on the court. This should be a fascinating matchup and this improbable journey is set to continue for one of these teams.
Florida State vs. Gonzaga: The Seminoles enter this game on the heels of a terrific rally down the stretch on Sunday night to knock out the West Region’s No. 1 seed Xavier, as FSU won that game outright as a 5.5 point underdog. The Seminoles, with that win, are now 5-1 ATS in the NCAA Tournament as an underdog under their current head coach Leonard Hamilton, and they won four of those five games as a dog in outright fashion. Gonzaga didn’t play their best in their first tournament game against UNC Greensboro but played better against Ohio State and managed to make all the clutch plays at both ends of the floor offensively and defensively late in that game to close out the Buckeyes and advance to the Sweet 16 once again, which has been a regular occurrence for the Zags in the Mark Few coaching era.
Duke vs. Syracuse: The Orange under Jim Boeheim enter this Sweet 16 game on a tremendous 7-1 ATS streak in the NCAA Tournament over a span of their last two NCAA Tournament appearances (2016 when they went to the Final Four and this year) and the parallels with the 2016 Syracuse Final Four team and this one are very clear to see. Syracuse is a double digit dog to Duke in this game but the problem here for Syracuse is they are facing a Duke team that is also thriving, playing a very tough-to-score-against zone defense and the Blue Devils simply have more depth and superior athletes all over the floor to that of Syracuse, which could make all the difference here.
West Virginia vs. Villanova: These teams were as impressive as any could be in their opening two tournament wins and they will do battle against one another in the Sweet 16. The key handicapping factor here is whether West Virginia’s press and ability to force turnovers in bunches will work against the veteran and experienced Villanova guards led by Jalen Brunson. Bob Huggins has done a great job coaching this Mountaineers squad and WVU was able to turn over Murray State and Marshall relentlessly, but it won’t be as easy for the press to be as successful against a team that handles the ball as well as Jay Wright’s team.
The Sweet 16 should provide us with some great games but it will be hard pressed to match the shock and awe factor of maybe the single greatest opening weekend in NCAA tourney betting history.