After a wild and unpredictable opening two rounds of play, where a Michigan State loss destroyed almost every bracket in the country, we move on to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The field is now heavy on favorites and short on Cinderellas, and unfortunately for the upset-minded, two of those glass slipper teams wind up having to play each other. If you’re having a hard time picking between #11 Gonzaga and #10 Syracuse in the Midwest regional semifinals, you’re not alone. There’s not a heavy favorite in either direction, with the latest odds showing that Gonzaga is a slight favorite at -190 on the money line, and Syracuse a small dog at +165. Is it so unlikely for the Orange to advance to the Elite 8? 13 losses and a low seeding suggest mediocrity, but this is also a streaky team that has gone on 5 or 6 game runs before that have included wins over top 25 teams UConn, Duke and Notre Dame. Their achilles heel is senior and leading scorer Michael Gbinije – if he has a bad night then a well balanced Gonzaga team will have a good night and prove why four players averaged double digit PPG this season. Other games played Friday are as hard to call if not harder. #6 Wisconsin and #7 Notre Dame are virtually a coin flip on the money line at -103 and -117 respectively. If you want to make that one pay it’s probably best to find some kind of parlay or take a line that involves the point spread. North Carolina and Virginia are the only really sizable favorites, with the former -245 over Indiana at +205 and the latter -230 over Iowa State at +190. There’s good news if you want to bet the dog in the latter though – the Cyclones played in the toughest conference in the country (the Big 12) and they hold season wins over teams like Oklahoma and Kansas. With an average of over 20.2 PPG, George Niang is the Buddy Hield of their team – when he’s poppin’ you can’t stop him. Speaking of Hield though Oklahoma is in action in the West regional semifinal on Thursday, and as you might expect the #2 seed is a favorite over #3 Texas A&M, but not by a wide margin at -160 to +140. The Aggies amassed an impressive record during the regular season, filled with quality wins over Gonzaga, Iowa State and Kentucky to name a few. I wouldn’t bet against Oklahoma given Hield’s single-handed ability to take over a game at any time but if a #3 beating a #2 is an “upset” then the Aggies can look to the leadership of junior Danuel House and senior Jalen Jones, who led the team to a double OT win over upset minded UNI. Other action on Thursday includes #1 Oregon as a slight favorite over #4 Duke at -160 to +140. It’s hard to bet against the Blue Devils — but I would. #2 Villanova is the favorite over #3 Miami at -190 to +165 and I look the favorite here too. The sleeper game may be Kansas vs. Maryland. A lot of people have the Jayhawks as a Final Four team, but remember they’ve been beaten by West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan State this year. They have been known to falter and have a bad night against top 25 schools – I like Maryland as a +220 dog as a result. Bet only what you can afford though and enjoy the Sweet 16!
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