Moving on to the Sweet 16 after tripping over myself to start the Big Dance


CX-310-092 width=”630″ height=”433″ /> Photo by Getty Images | The state that gave us Steven Spielberg, LeBron James, seven U.S. presidents, the voice of Bart Simpson and Cleveland owns 25 percent of the Sweet 16 spots.

Did you hear that Peyton Manning has decided to play for the Broncos? And did you hear that in doing so, Manning passed the nauseating where-will-he-end-up torch to Tim Tebow? And what about Duke and Missouri—a pair of No. 2 seeds favored by a combined 33½ points—getting bounced in the first round of the Big Dance? Then there was the horrific NCAA tournament showing by the Mountain West Conference, whose four teams (three of which had better seeds than their opponents) recorded half as many wins as 13th-seeded Ohio! And speaking of Ohio, are you aware that the state that gave us Steven Spielberg, LeBron James, seven U.S. presidents, the voice of Bart Simpson and Cleveland owns 25 percent of the Sweet 16 spots?

What’s that, you ask? Am I stalling like a sixth-grader who doesn’t want to tell his parents he failed his math CX-310-105 exam? You’re damn right I am!

Wow, on a scale of epic disasters, my opening-weekend tournament performance rates somewhere between Ryan Leaf’s NFL career and John Carter. The gory details: 14 selections, seven wins, 0-for-4 with my four highest-rated selections and nearly $800 lost.

During last week’s games, as I watched one loser after another roll in from the balcony of the jam-packed LVH Theater, I thought for sure someone who wagered actual cash on my picks would recognize me and do his best John Wilkes Booth impersonation. Fortunately, I made it out alive. Unfortunately, the boss man refused my request to turn this week’s column over to somebody who actually knows what he’s doing. (Now is when I mention that I fell on my face to start last year’s tournament, too, then rallied to go 11-3 over the final two weeks. And now’s when you reply, “Who gives a shit?”)

Ready or not, on to my Sweet 16 picks …

$330 (to win $300) on Cincinnati +8 vs. Ohio State (March 22): Feb. 11. That’s how far back you have to go to find the last time Cincinnati lost a game by more than six points. Since that 95-78 debacle at Marquette, the Bearcats are 9-2 straight up and against the spread. Even better, Cincinnati has lost by more than seven points just twice all season.

Now, am I going to deny that Ohio State is better than any foe Cincinnati has faced this season? No more so than I’m going to deny that Duke fans are obnoxious, politicians are crooked and broccoli—as Newman from Seinfeld once put it so eloquently—is a vile weed. But here’s the thing about the Buckeyes: In their last 14 games, they have four outright losses and five wins by fewer than eight points.

In 6-foot-9, 260-pound Yancy Gates, the Bearcats have a physical presence down low who won’t back down from Ohio State beast Jared Sullinger. And check this out: Ohio State has lost its last two Sweet 16 games—both as a favorite.

$220 (to win $200) on Syracuse -3½ vs. Wisconsin (March 22): Fact: Syracuse’s Achilles’ heel is rebounding. Fact: Syracuse’s biggest inside force—leading rebounder Fab Melo—is ineligible for the tournament. Fact: Wisconsin’s roster includes five players who stand 6-8 or taller. Fact: Those five Badgers average a grand total of … 7.5 rebounds per game.

This is a bad matchup for Wisconsin, which simply doesn’t have Syracuse’s athleticism. And while it’s true that the Orange haven’t exactly been money in the bank lately (2-7 ATS in their last nine games), it’s also true that the one team Wisconsin faced this season that’s most similar to Syracuse is Michigan State, which blasted the Badgers twice by 13 and 14 points.

$110 (to win $100) on Indiana +9 vs. Kentucky (March 23): Kentucky apologists are going to point to the Wildcats’ two dominating victories last week and the revenge angle (Indiana handed Kentucky its only regular-season loss Dec. 10 on a miracle last-second shot). I’m going to point to Indiana’s 10-2 record in its last dozen games, including two solid tournament wins—a 13-point blowout of New Mexico State and a gutsy two-point come-from-behind victory over VCU. Also, the Hoosiers have cashed in 10 of their last 15, while Kentucky (13-21-1 ATS this season) is back to its money-burning ways, going 3-7 ATS in its last 10.

Oh, and Tom Crean vs. John Calipari, in March, with five days to prepare, is college basketball’s equivalent of Manning matching wits against Tebow.

BEST OF THE REST (March 22): Marquette -1½ vs. Florida ($77); Syracuse-Wisconsin OVER 121 ($44); Louisville-Michigan State UNDER 125 ($44). (March 23): Baylor -6 vs. Xavier ($77); North Carolina State +8 vs. Kansas ($66); Ohio +6 vs. North Carolina, first half ($55); Indiana-Kentucky OVER 146 ($44).

LAST WEEK: 7-7 (-$789); Bankroll: $6,069.