This half of the bracket doesn't have the top end quality teams that the other half of the bracket has (the top three teams, according to both Sagarin and Pomeroy, are Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin), but we should have some exciting finishes tonight. Other than Gonzaga/UCLA, the other three games are extremely even.
One note on that forthcoming Wisconsin/Arizona that I looked up this morning is that it will be the first time since the 2008 title game that two of the top three Pomeroy teams will play each other in the NCAA Tournament. And of course, unless Notre Dame pulls the huge upset, we'll get a repeat scenario in the Final Four. I also believe, to the best of my knowledge, that Wisconsin/Arizona will be the first time two 34+ win teams met outside the Final Four.
The past few seasons of college basketball have seen a ton of parity, and the result has been some low seeds making the Final Four, but this year we have some really elite, great teams, and the result is a much chalkier bracket.
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.
Yesterday ATS: 2-2-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 33-23-0 (59%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)
Gonzaga (-8.5) over UCLA:
This is a fair line, so I don't feel too strongly about it. But Gonzaga has the advantage at basically every position, and is one of the few teams actually bigger and stronger than UCLA is. Also, Gonzaga has a significant outside advantage against a UCLA team that doesn't shoot threes well (though they did against SMU), doesn't defend threes well, and doesn't draw a ton of fouls by attacking the paint from the perimeter. Unless they have another 50% three-point shooting day like they did against SMU, I don't see how UCLA can have a realistic chance to win this game.
North Carolina State (+2.5) over Louisville:
The one thing that NC State really does well is block shots and defend the paint. They led the ACC in defensive block percentage and were 2nd in 2P% against. Yet if there's one thing Louisville can't do it's shoot. And while Louisville likes to force turnovers and get out in transition, NC State was solid at preventing that as well. The Wolfpack were 5th in the ACC in turnover rate. And while NC State isn't a good shooting team either, they can get after the offensive glass and get some easy putbacks. So this game has all the makings of a low-scoring toss-up, and I'll take the points.
Utah (+5) over Duke:
This line is ridiculous. Pomeroy has the spread at 1 and Sagarin has it at 2. Utah's defense is superb, and they feature a pair of 7-footers who are capable of defending Jahlil Okafor, while also sporting one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation. Delon Wright can defend Justise Winslow, while the rest of the team excels at preventing three-pointers. Of course, Duke's defense is well built to handle Utah as well. They led the ACC in defensive 3PA/FGA and Utah's offense relies heavily on threes (they led the Pac-12 in 3PA/FGA and 3P%). But with a Vegas line with this much of a "public" spread, the smart play is always to fade the public.
Oklahoma (+1.5) over Michigan State: Speaking of "public" spreads, both Sagarin and Pomeroy actually have Oklahoma as a 1 point favorite here. Also, while the announcers will hammer the idea that Michigan State is a great defensive team, the reality is that they were better offensively than defensively this season (Pomeroy actually rates Duke's defense a bit better than Michigan State's). Their path to victory here is a clear one: Dominating the glass. Oklahoma had the best defense in the Big 12, and Michigan State is going to struggle to generate offense, but the Spartans were top three in the Big Ten in both OR% and DR% while Oklahoma was 8th and 7th, respectively, in the Big 12. If they don't dominate the glass, Oklahoma has the defensive intensity and speed to turn the Spartans over and score in transition. Also, if it comes down to free throws in the final minute, I'd rather bet on Oklahoma's 74% to Michigan State's 63%, which almost cost the Spartans that win over Georgia.