It was a day for chalk yesterday, which isn't so bad. It means that we're set up for some absolutely epic Elite 8 games on Saturday. A game like Kansas vs Villanova would be better than quite a few National Title games in recent seasons.
Oregon's rout of Duke puts into perspective again the importance of bracketing. Arizona outplayed Oregon during Pac-12 play, but got stuck with an incredibly difficult Round of 64 game against Wichita State. Give them Oregon's draw (or a fellow 6 seed like Notre Dame) and they might still be alive. But that's why it's bracketing that is more important than seeding.
To give another example, Syracuse earned a 10 seed, which meant that they ended up playing a weak 7 seed and a 15 seed to make the Sweet 16 - a far, far easier draw than they would have had as, for example, the 8 seed drawn against Cincinnati. In the end, there's not much that can be done to balance that out, even with a good Selection Committee. Who could have foreseen Middle Tennessee knocking off Michigan State? But it's just another reminder of why NCAA Tournament success, in any given season, is so luck-dependent.
Anyway, let's get to today's games:
Yesterday ATS: 3-1-0
2016 Tournament ATS: 29-26-1
2015 Tournament ATS: 39-28-0 (58%)
2010-14 ATS: 181-139-11 (57%)
Virginia (-5) over Iowa State: There aren't any clear match-up advantages here, other than that Iowa State's offense likes to attack the paint both with the dribble and pass. They are 4th in the nation in 2P%, and were 2nd in the Big 12 in the fraction of points scored on two-pointers. The pack-line defense tends to push teams out and to force them to hit outside jump shots, where Iowa State is strong, but not as strong as they are inside. Considering how efficient Virginia's offense is, and how ugly Iowa State's defense has been at times this season, Iowa State will have to be nearly perfect offensively to pull this upset off.
Wisconsin (+1) over Notre Dame: This Vegas line is confusing to me. Pomeroy has Wisconsin as a 1 point favorite. Sagarin has Notre Dame a very slight (less than 1 point) favorite, but Wisconsin has typically gotten a little benefit of the doubt from Vegas the past few weeks since they've clearly improved significantly as the season has gone along. Notre Dame, in contrast, has basically squeaked past a couple of not-quite-elite teams in the NCAA Tournament thus far. In terms of match-ups, I do think Notre Dame matches up pretty well in that they take care of the ball and do not commit fouls. Wisconsin has proven the ability to get after the offensive glass, though, and to draw fouls in the paint. Notre Dame is always at a huge disadvantage if Zach Auguste gets into foul trouble. In other words, I don't see enough of a mismatch in this game to overcome the fact that Wisconsin has been playing better basketball than Notre Dame the past two months.
Gonzaga (-4) over Syracuse: You want to pass the ball well, and you want to shoot the ball well from outside, if you're going to take on the Syracuse zone. The Zags can do both of those, and they can also get after the glass against a Syracuse team that struggles with defensive rebounds even more than Jim Boeheim teams usually do. The concern with picking Gonzaga here is that Syracuse loves to chuck threes (they led the ACC in 3PA/FGA). The Orange don't hit threes at a great rate (36% for the season), but they have the ability to get hot, and most of their best performances this season involved hot outside shooting. If they can get hot against Gonzaga, they have the capability to take them out. But I wouldn't bet on it.
North Carolina (-5.5) over Indiana: The amazing part of Indiana's performance against Kentucky wasn't that they won, but that they won despite poor outside shooting. Indiana's defense has been transformed this season with the additions of Thomas Bryant and Max Biefeldt, and they have the ability to win even when they're not shooting well (something they couldn't do against quality teams last season). That said, Kentucky's offensive execution was approximately "tire fire", and the Tar Heels will pose a much stiffer test. North Carolina is rolling into form, as arguably only Villanova has played better than them in the NCAA Tournament thus far. They can score in so many different ways, and they can attack the glass against a Hoosiers team that has been inconsistent there all season long. The key match-up will be Marcus Paige vs Yogi Ferrell. For Indiana to win, Yogi will need to significantly outplay his counterpart.