The first weekend of the Madness is in the history books and only 16 teams remain standing in the NCAA Tournament.
The two best conferences in the regular season – the Big Ten and the Big East – proved it in the Big Dance, sending seven teams to the Sweet 16 between them. The ACC and the PAC-12 were the only two sending multiple teams onto the second weekend.
This week: A look at those 16, assessing their chances for tournament success as the field gets reduced to the Final Four this coming weekend. Teams are listed in rotation order.
Syracuse is drawing comparisons to the UConn team that won it all two years ago. The Orange, like the Huskies, slumped down the stretch of the regular season. Like the Huskies, they came on strong in the Big East tournament, rebuilding their confidence in the process.
Also like UConn, Syracuse has all kinds of NBA ready talent. Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche are all expected to be drafted this spring. Don’t sell the Orange short just because their regular season record wasn’t noteworthy!
Indiana had more turnovers than assists against Temple last weekend and was outrebounded by the Owls. IU failed to sniff a point spread cover despite a significant edge at the free throw line.
This is nothing unusual for Tom Crean’s squad – they’ve notched only two covers in their last eight games; unable to win by the margins the betting markets are asking for.
Marquette squeaked out a pair of nail-biters over the first weekend of NCAA tourney action, winning their two games by a combined total of three points. This Buzz Williams’ quote speaks volumes about their attitude heading into the Sweet 16:
“Our character, toughness and the resiliency of our guys is maybe unlike any team I’ve ever been around. I stand at attention and respect for how those kids are...We’re not good enough to blow anybody out…If we can turn it into a fight and make it ugly, then it probably trends toward it helps us the most.’’
Miami-Fla. is the best ATS team remaining in the field, still cashing at a 68% clip for the full season even after their non-covering win against Illinois in the Round of 32.
Jim Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four, but shockingly, the ACC has only sent three teams to the Final Four in the last seven seasons. Of course, two of those ACC schools (Duke in 2010 and North Carolina in 2009) went on to win the title.
Arizona and the rest of the PAC-12 were dramatically undervalued coming into the Big Dance, resulting in a 6-2 ATS mark for the conference as a whole over the opening weekend.
The Wildcats will get the rare benefit of being a lower seeded team in a crowd-friendly environment playing at the Staples Center in LA on Thursday.
Ohio State has proven it can win grind-it-out affairs in the Big 10 tourney and push-the-pace games here in the NCAA tourney. With three Big 10 tourney titles in the last four years and three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, Thad Matta is clearly a tournament coach worthy of respect!
LaSalle was the only team to win three games on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, all three in upset fashion. The Atlantic-10 conference opened the tournament on a 6-0 ATS run, but then proceeded to go 1-3 ATS in the Round of 32 before the Explorers’ come-from-behind win against Ole Miss.
Wichita State also pulled off a pair of upsets over the first weekend of the tourney, and the Missouri Valley Conference went 3-0 ATS before Creighton’s loss to Duke on Sunday night.
The Shockers upset win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga was propelled by a barrage of second half three pointers; not normally an area of strength for a team that finished the regular season connecting on only 33% of their tries from beyond the arc.
Oregon has been a tale of three seasons. The Ducks were a major non-conference surprise and opened the season with an 18-2 SU record. Then point guard Dominic Artis got hurt, and the Ducks struggled even when he returned to the lineup, a woeful 2-11-1 ATS over a 14 game span down the stretch of their PAC-12 campaign.
Oregon has turned up the intensity here in the postseason with five straight impressive wins and four straight point spread covers.
Louisville remains the team to beat, as far as I’m concerned – they’re the top overall seed for good reason; the best team in the country heading into March Madness.
The betting markets really haven’t caught up with Rick Pitino’s squad – they’ve won and covered nine straight heading into the Sweet 16, playing their best basketball of the year right now!
Michigan State took advantage of the very friendly crowds in suburban Detroit for their first two tourney victories, and their defense was positively stifling in wins over Valpo and Memphis.
The crowds in Indy next weekend won’t be quite as friendly, and the level of competition increases significantly. Still, I don’t know of many bettors who have banked significant profits betting against Tom Izzo in March!
Duke suffered four of their five losses this year when stretch the floor 6-11 forward Ryan Kelly was hurt; missing nearly two full months of ACC play. Since scoring 36 points against Miami in his return to the floor, Kelly has had just 25 in his last four games combined; and the Blue Devils are just 2-2 ATS in the process.
Michigan was as good as any team in the country for the first three months of the season, but they slumped down the stretch. From the beginning of February through the end of regular season play, the Wolverines went 5-5 SU, 1-9 ATS, a dramatically overvalued commodity.
The Wolverines sure looked like the team they were earlier in the season in the first two rounds of the tourney, blowing out VCU and South Dakota State. Of course the friendly crowds at the Palace of Auburn Hills certainly helped!
Kansas was downright flat in its tourney opener against Western Kentucky, and looked even worse in a sluggish first half against North Carolina. Of course, the second half against the Tar Heels was at the opposite end of the spectrum – complete domination on both ends of the floor, despite a 0-9 shooting performance from leading scorer Ben McLemore.
With four senior starters back from the team that reached the championship game last year, this No. 1 seed has the talent, resume and experience to make a return trip in 2013.
Florida Gulf Coast took my money on Sunday, just one game after pulling off the biggest shocker of the opening round of the tournament, knocking off the 2 seed Georgetown. History told us to be very wary of lesser tournament teams coming off a major upset – all three previous 15’s this century that pulled off an opening round upset were bounced out in the next round, suffering SU and ATS losses.
Not these Eagles. They were once again the better team on the floor in their win over San Diego State, shooting 56% from the floor with point guard Brett Comer dishing 14 assists with only three turnovers.
Florida is 0-6 SU this year in games decided by six points or less, repeatedly unable to pull out tight wins. But the Gators are so good, they don’t play in many tight games; 28-1 SU in games decided by more than six points! This team has been to the Elite Eight in each of the last two years, blowing a second half lead and losing to Louisville by four last year following a three point OT loss to Butler the previous season.
Head coach Billy Donovan has two national championship rings already and as well as another trip to the title game in a losing effort against Mateen Cleaves’ Michigan State squad. This year’s deep, veteran team has similar upside.