Rebound sought after early NCAA air balls

Will Ferrell has to live with Land of the Lost. Van Halen has to live with the Gary Cherone experiment. And Carrot Top has to live with, well, his entire career. Point is, we’ve all flopped at some point, and boy did I have my crash-and-burn moment with last week’s picks. Seven selections and only two winners? A .286 winning percentage may be acceptable for, say, the UNLV football team, but not me.

If that wasn’t bad enough, two of my four “futures” plays from the previous week on teams to win the NCAA Tournament—Wisconsin and UNLV—bowed out quickly. (Note to my editors: Didn’t you get my e-mail telling you to switch Wisconsin to Northern Iowa and UNLV to Cornell? You’re killing me, guys!)

That performance lost me another $675 and dropped my bankroll to $5,935. Needless to say, I can sense that monkey they’ve got warming up in the bullpen mocking me. Much like Carrot Top, I better get my act together and fast!

$440 (to win $400) on Northern Iowa (+1.5) vs. Michigan State (Friday, March 26): Ali Farokhmanesh. Undoubtedly you still don’t know how to pronounce the name, but surely you’re aware of it by now. Lord knows UNLV and Kansas players will be seeing the mad bomber in their sleep for months. Farokhmanesh drained the 3-point daggers that sent the Rebels and top-ranked Jayhawks home early and moved Northern Iowa from “sleeper” status to legit contender.

Of course, there’s more to the Panthers than the baby-faced point guard with the funky name. This is a veteran, fundamentally sound, well-coached team that plays defense as well as any team in the country. Because of that, Northern Iowa has been hanging around the top 25 for much of the last three months (and thus should never have been considered a “sleeper” at all).

As for this matchup against Michigan State, the Panthers caught a huge break when Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury in the first half of their buzzer-beating, second-round win over Maryland. Six weeks ago, Lucas went down with a knee injury early in a game at Wisconsin, and Michigan State got clobbered, 67-49. He missed the ensuing game four days later at Illinois, and the Spartans lost, 78-73. Lucas returned at less than 100 percent a few days later, and the Spartans suffered a 12-point home loss to Purdue.

Given those results, I think it’s safe to say the following: No Lucas, no chance for the Spartans. The pasty white boys from Cedar Falls, Iowa, move on with a comfortable win (by at least seven points).

$220 (to win $200) on Ohio State (-5) vs. Tennessee (Friday, March 26): Speaking of catching breaks, how happy do you think Tennessee was to see No. 3 seed Georgetown go down in the first round? Rather than face the athletic, dangerous Hoyas in the second round, Tennessee—after a three-point, opening-round win over San Diego State—got to feast on 14th-seeded Ohio (the Vols rolled to a 15-point victory). No such luck in the Sweet 16, though, as Tennessee runs up against Evan Turner and Ohio State, which has won nine straight games and 18 of 20 (the only two losses were to West Virginia and Purdue—two Sweet 16 entrants—by a total of eight points).

After a surprisingly poor performance in a first-round rout of UC Santa Barbara, Turner came to play against Georgia Tech and tallied 24 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals in a nine-point Buckeyes win. You know how much I like Ohio State in this tournament (they were one of my “futures” plays to win it all). And now that they don’t have to go through Kansas, I love the Buckeyes more than Charles Barkley loves butchering the English language.

Tennessee easily covered a nine-point spread in its win over Ohio, but is still just 7-12-1 ATS in its last 20 games since mid-January. Not once during this stretch did the Vols cash in consecutive contests.

Bonus plays (all $55 to win $50): Take Butler (+7) over Syracuse (March 25); Purdue-Duke UNDER the total of 129.5 (March 26); Suns (-8) over Timberwolves (March 28).

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