After a day like Thursday, it was kind of inevitable that we'd have a day like Friday, which was just about the chalkiest day we've ever seen. Both UC-Irvine and Valparaiso came extremely close to upsets, and Buffalo was close as well, but none of them quite pulled it off.
One of the downsides of all of the upsets on Thursdaay is that we have a somewhat weaker set of games today. Instead of Iowa State/UCLA we get UAB/UCLA, for example. In contrast, incredible games like Virginia/Michigan State and Kansas/Wichita State are set up for Sunday. But we've got some excellent games to look forward to today anyway. Arizona/Ohio State in particular could be really high-quality basketball. Utah/Georgetown could be a a very close, physical game. Butler/Notre Dame will be a real contrast in styles. And of course, we all want to see if Cincinnati can play Kentucky close.
As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.
Let's get to the games:
Yesterday ATS: 9-7-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 20-16-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3
UCLA (-6) over UAB: Somehow, UAB held Iowa State to a 41.5 eFG% and 0.86 PPP, both of which were lows for Iowa State since January 3rd. And I say "somehow", because I don't think it's anything special that UAB did. Pomeroy rates them just the 101st best defense in the nation. Iowa State was just out of sorts, not hitting shots, and having an all-around nightmare game. UAB is still a team that can't shoot the ball and relies on offensive rebounds and free throws, going up against a huge UCLA team that led the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. The way to beat UCLA is over the top, as they were 2nd-to-last in the Pac-12 in defensive 3PA/FGA, yet UAB was dead last in conference USA in offensive 3PA/FGA.
Cincinnati (+16.5) over Kentucky: The trend we're seeing so far this NCAA Tournament are ridiculous Kentucky lines, and there's no reason to expect that to change. The public loves them. But Cincinnati is a low-tempo, defensive, physical team that tends to play low scoring, close games. And they can get after the offensive glass, too. It would be stunning if Cincinnati actually pulled the upset, of course, but I doubt this game turns into a 25 point rout.
Arizona (-9) over Ohio State:
This is a tough call against the spread. Ohio State is Arizona's toughest foe before the Elite 8, but they're also a team that has been fading a little bit down the stretch this season and that doesn't shoot the ball well. I'm nervous about a team whose offense depends so much on D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott attacking the rim from the perimeter against a defense as sound and athletic as Arizona. I'd recommend not betting on this game at all, but if I have to take a side I'll take the Wildcats.
Georgia State (+7.5) over Xavier:
I think all of America, other than Xavier fans, will be rooting for Georgia State here. They're this year's Cinderella. But they're also a team that has a ton of talent and seemed to disappoint all season until they finally played against Baylor like we had expected to see back in November. And they could be getting back Ryan Harrow, also, who appears to be aiming for a return. Xavier is the much bigger team, but they're also slower. And Georgia State, despite being undersized, finished 19th in the nation in 2P% defense. There's a real chance that they could head to the Sweet 16.
Villanova (-9.5) over North Carolina State: One of the stories we're going to hear as we head into the Sweet 16 this week is "Villanova is for real". The Big East has been disrespected all season, and so Villanova's domination of the league was dismissed. But they are a true championship contender, as much as Duke or Wisconsin or Arizona is. They annihilated Lafayette, and I doubt they'll have too many troubles with an NC State team that, above all else, is strong defensively in the paint. Villanova will torch them from outside, and the Wolfpack aren't strong enough offensively to keep up.
Utah (-4.5) over Georgetown:
Utah was the better team this season, which is why the spread is where it is. Utah's defense is one of the best in the country, and their offense is based on hitting threes (they led the Pac-12 in both 3P% and 3PA/FGA) playing against a Georgetown defense that is much stronger inside than on the perimeter. That said, Georgetown led the Big East in FTRate while Utah was just 9th in the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. If Georgetown pulls the upset, it's going to be because the refs had a quick whistle and Utah got into foul trouble.
North Carolina (-4.5) over Arkansas: I wrote here why I believe North Carolina is the deserved favorite here. These teams match up well against each other, and we should see a fast-paced, high-scoring game. But unless Arkansas forces a ton of turnover, the Tar Heels should love the high tempo and have a layup line on offense.
Butler (+4.5) over Notre Dame: This is a very even game. Notre Dame is a great offense, but Butler quietly has one of the best defenses in the nation. Butler doesn't have any great shot blockers, but Kam Woods can go one-on-one with Zach Auguste, and they've got the strong perimeter defenders to limit Irish penetration. Also, even if Butler gets out-shot, they led the Big East in OR% while Notre Dame was 14th in DR%. We all saw against Northeastern how small the Irish get anytime Auguste is not on the floor. In my view, this is the type of game that could come down to the final 30 seconds, so I'll take the points.