The story of the tourney for the picks has been a great day followed by a bad day and once again this trend prevailed as the picks went 4-0 Thursday only to be followed up by 1-5 on Friday. We took a real bad beat on the Kansas game as the Jayhawks led 72-57 with 4:45 to go, only to see Clemson pull out the 1 pt cover and lose 80-76. Both the Friday night unders looked really good until late game free throw shooting became the theme and they both narrowly lost. So the record now stands at a frustrating 29-28-1 for the tournament. So on to the Elite 8, we go…
Saturday, March 24
Kansas St -1 vs. Loyola-Chicago
This game is the best bet for Saturday and I have a futures ticket for K St to win the South and I will not be hedging. KSU will win comfortably. Both these teams are well coached and play very good halfcourt defense. Loyola employs a ball-screen motion offense reminiscent of the Rick Majerus offenses of the past, which you would expect since Porter Mosher is a Majerus disciple. K St forces you late into the shot clock and does not allow you to get out in transition. They also play very good ball screen defense and was able to turn over the young Kentucky guards. So this looks like strength on strength right? In the words of Lee Corso, Not so fast my friend.
First, let’s go back a little and talk about the Loyola- Chicago Ramblers. They defeated two-time defending champion Cincinnati in 1963 to win their first and only national title. Then in 1979 they were a charter member of the Horizon League and won their only conference championship in 1985 until they let the conference in 2013. So in 37 years as a member of the Horizon League, they won the league title once. During that span, they had an overall winning percentage of 45.7% and that included the banner 1985 year where they went 27-6. In 2011, Porter Mosher took over and in his first year, Loyola was 7-23. There are 2 takeaways when looking at the history of Loyola-Chicago basketball. Porter Mosher is a fantastic coach who has performed one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent memory. Somewhere Rick Majerus is smiling down on his protege and unfortunately, this will most likely be the last year for Porter at Loyola. But secondly, Loyola has been a pretty awful basketball program for the better part of the last 50 years and that is at the low-mid major level.
Porter has recruited well but he does not have the athletes that a middle of the pack team in arguably the best conference has. Miami really should have beaten the Ramblers in the first round as they had a 5 point lead with 2 minutes to go. Then in round two, Rick Barnes reverted to his old bad habits and Tennessee did not play a smart game despite being a defensive team with good athletes. Nevada plays an up and down and I really like Musselman as a coach but it was a virtual layup line after Nevada raced out to an early 12 point lead. K St has the better, more athletic players, they play a very similar style and there is no discernable coaching advantage. As long as Bruce Weber doesnt pull a Rick Barnes I see the run for Cinderella coming to an end today.
Michigan vs. FSU, Under 143.5
I really have no idea what is going to happen in this game so tread lightly. No way would I be betting on this game if I weren’t picking every game in the tournament so I have to give a pick. I think Michigan wins but which Michigan will we see? The one that went 13-46 from 3 versus Montana and Houston or the team that shot 14-24 against Texas A&M? What I do know is that this is the best defense I have ever seen from a John Beilein team and Michigan allows the 10th lowest FG attempt rate near the basket and that will be important against a big, athletic team like Florida St. I think FSU will struggle to score and Michigan will be closer to 40% from 3 so I lean the under here.
Sunday, March 25
Texas Tech +6.5 vs. Villanova
With an overwhelming amount of the bets and money on Villanova, this number should go up so, I would wait and see if you can get 7. Villanova has been on absolute fire through the first 3 games of the tournament averaging 87 points per game while making 44 3-pointers shooting 47.8%. Texas Tech, on the other hand, is back to playing outstanding perimeter defense with no opponent scoring more than 66 points in the tournament. I side with the exceptional defense and hope they can keep Villanova under 40% from long range and keep this game in the low 70’s. If the game is played in the 70’s, as Vegas expects with an over/under of 144, then I really like Tech to cover.
Duke -2.5 vs. Kansas
This is the best bet of the Elite 8 games and I love Duke -2.5. After squeaking out a win against Syracuse last night I think the Dookies get back on track versus an overachieving Kansas team. This is not your typical KU team and while they are still good, they don’t have the athletes and shooters that Duke has. We are getting more value with this line after the close call with Syracuse where Duke shot just 19% from 3. Kansas allowed opponents to shoot 42% from 3 this year and Duke averaged 49% this year from long range. This should be a fast-paced, up and down game where the best offense in the country should get close to their season average of 84 points per game. I see Duke getting back on track and winning comfortably to advance to the Final 4.