Wiscons-in: Badgers, Marquette join Sweet 16

Mar 25, 2003 6:22 AM
The winner of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament will come from the left side of the bracket."Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas are better than any other team on the other side of the bracket," said Mike Seba, head college basketball oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Seba likes Pittsburgh and Arizona as his best selections in Thursday’s slate, with Michigan State and Texas-UConn OVER 151 as his top Friday plays.That would be bad news for Syracuse and Connecticut, two of the four Big East teams on the right side of the Sweet 16 brackets. The Big East is a perfect 8-0 through two rounds. Pitt and Notre Dame are among the eight schools remaining on the left front. "I think Pitt plays the best defense in the country," Seba said. "Marquette (a five-point underdog to the Panthers) is overmatched. Pitt can score when it has to. They have value." Seba believes Arizona will copy Kansas and bounce back from a near defeat to easily cover the 8½-point spread against the Fighting Irish. "Arizona will overpower Notre Dame," he said. "I think they will do what Kansas did after getting a scare from Utah State." Seba likes the inside strength of Michigan State, a 3½-point underdog, to send defending champ Maryland home. Also, the great transition attack of both Texas and UConn makes the total points a better selection than the side. "The one game I would avoid is Oklahoma/Butler," he said. "I have no real favorite. You’re looking at two good defensive teams. The total opened at 125 and went down to 123. I would stay away from this one."Then, of course, there are the trends. Wisconsin is well represented, with both the Big Ten Badgers and Conference USA’s Marquette Golden Eagles making the regional semifinals. Indiana also has two left and none are called Hoosiers. Butler, No. 12 in the East bracket and only true Cinderella outside Dixie, posted a 2-0 mark along with Notre Dame.The Irish are part of a Big East quartet that includes Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut. Give the Orange a big advantage over the next two rounds, since their games are only 250 miles away in Albany, N.Y. Syracuse opens against Cinderella South, the No. 10-seeded Auburn Tigers (aka War Eagles). The SEC’s other team besides Kentucky upset No. 2 Wake Forest, but opened as an eight-point underdog against Syracuse.All four No. 1 seeds - Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona are still alive. The best NCAA quarterfinal matchup is in the West Region at Anaheim, where Duke and Kansas square off. Kansas opened as a three-point favorite over the Blue Devils. The tourney’s dominant team appears to be Kentucky, with 25 straight wins including a pair of easy double-digit victories in the Midwest Region. The Wildcats, a 12-point favorite over Wisconsin, are making their ninth Sweet 16 appearance in 11 years.The Big 12 has lived up to the tourney committee’s confidence as the top conference in the land with two No. 1 seeds (Oklahoma, Texas) and No. 2 Kansas still alive.For history buffs, the last six national champions all made the Sweet 16. They are (in descending order from 2002) Maryland, Duke, Michigan State, Connecticut, Kentucky and Arizona. Other past champs remaining are Kansas (1988), Marquette (1977) and Wisconsin (1941). Syracuse (1996) and Oklahoma (1988) were runnerup finalists. The winner this year? If Seba is right, go with the Kentucky-Pittsburgh victor. "Whoever comes out of that game, will go all the way," he said.