Trust me this time (no, seriously): Ohio State is a slam dunk to reach final


Photo by Getty Images | Will Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger be the difference-maker?

Over a three-week stretch in March, I had a lengthy sit-down with former baseball star Frank Thomas, saw the hilarious Daniel Tosh at The Mirage, spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend (and the opening days of March Madness) with friends on and around the Strip, played Shadow Creek for the first time, had a face-to-face conversation with Mike Tyson (and made it out alive) and went bra shopping with Holly Madison.

OK, I made up that last one. Still, all in all, that’s a solid 21-day run right there.

Alas, as with most things in life, the good is usually offset by the bad—or, in the case of my NCAA tournament selections, the downright dreadful, as I’ve pissed away nearly $1,500 the last two weeks. Oddly, my overall record (11-13) hasn’t been that bad. The problem? I’m 0-for-7—0-for-freaking-7!—with my top plays.

Put it this way: Had I pulled a Costanza and bet the opposite of all those picks—for the same suggested amounts—I would’ve cleared $1,600. And if I had put down a $100 seven-team parlay, I would’ve cashed out an additional $7,500. Now excuse me while I grab the nearest bottle and proceed to make Don Draper and Roger Sterling look like teetotalers.

With one last opportunity to make something out of this March Madness—and with solid line value in one of the Final Four matchups—it’s time to live up to this column’s name: It’s time to go for broke!

$1,100 (to win $1,000) on Ohio State -2½ vs. Kansas: At the risk of ticking off the (roughly) 2 million Kansas fans in Southern Nevada—seriously, they’re everywhere!—I’m obligated to tell it like it is: I haven’t seen a luckier Final Four entrant in years. To review the Jayhawks’ road to New Orleans: In their first three victories—including a pair of come-from-behind, three-point wins over Purdue and North Carolina State—they shot 39 percent from the field. Then, in an 80-67 win over North Carolina—a very misleading final, by the way; it was a one-point game with 3½ minutes to go—Kansas took advantage of a Tar Heels squad whose leader (point guard Kendall Marshall) was on the sideline with a broken wrist. With Marshall’s backup also injured, UNC put the ball in the hands of a third-string point guard who looked (and played) like Justin Bieber.

Now contrast Kansas’ relatively easy Final Four path to that of Ohio State. Like the Jayhawks, the Buckeyes opened with a cupcake, then took down Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse (combined record: 86-21).

Here’s where the Jayhawks fans scream, “Hey, moron, we whipped Ohio State 78-67 on Dec. 10, remember?” Yeah, I do. I also remember the game was at Allen Fieldhouse (where Kansas has won 49 straight against nonconference opponents). And I recall that All-American Jared Sullinger—the Buckeyes’ top scorer and rebounder, and, for my money, the top player in the country—sat out with a back injury. All Sullinger has done in this tournament is average 18 points and 8.3 rebounds.

One more thing about that December meeting: Kansas shot a blistering 58 percent. Over their last five games, the Jayhawks are shooting 41 percent, including 22 percent from 3-point land (and now they get to chuck it up in the cavernous Superdome).

Kansas deserves credit for getting as far as it has in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But this is easily the toughest, most complete opponent the Jayhawks—2-11 against the spread in their last 13 against Big Ten foes—have faced in the Big Dance. As long as Sullinger stays out of foul trouble—and Buckeyes coach Thad Matta stays out of the way—Ohio State (6-2 ATS in its last eight) wins going away.

(To all you Kansas alums: You’re welcome!)

$220 (to win $200) on Kentucky-Louisville UNDER 138: Since its 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament title game, Kentucky has averaged 88 points in four straight wins (topping 80 in each contest). Now for the “yeah, but …”: None of those four opponents played defense. Louisville does. The Cardinals have limited nine of their last 12 opponents to 60 points or less. And when they went to Lexington on New Year’s Eve, the Cardinals held Kentucky to 69 points (on 17-for-57 shooting) in a 69-62 loss.

The “under” cashed that day—just as it has in 11 of the last 13 meetings between these bitter rivals. Furthermore, the “under” is 10-2 in Louisville’s last 12 contests, and each of the last four Final Four games has stayed under 136 points.

BEST OF THE REST: Louisville +9 vs. Kentucky ($77); Ohio State -1½ vs. Kansas, first half ($66); Louisville-Kentucky UNDER 64½, first half ($66); Ohio State-Kansas UNDER 63½, first half ($55).

LAST WEEK: 4-6 (-$689); Bankroll: $5,380.

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