Marching On

As the unpredictable NCAA tournament resumes, bank on Michigan in Sweet 16

Tim Hardaway Jr. gives Michigan a decided edge in the backcourt against Kansas.

Tim Hardaway Jr. gives Michigan a decided edge in the backcourt against Kansas.

As you continue to clean up the confetti that once was your NCAA tournament bracket, just realize you’re not alone—not by a Florida Gulf Coast long shot. How’s this for some opening-week madness:

Gonzaga goes down … but the other three No. 1 seeds survive.

Georgetown goes down … but the other three No. 2 seeds survive.

New Mexico goes down … but the other three No. 3 seeds survive.

Matt’s Bankroll: $1,797

College Basketball: 30-23 (+$167)

Last Week: 8-9 (+$103)

In February 2010, we gave Matt $7,000 to wager. When he loses it all, we’re going to replace him with a monkey.

In addition to that, No. 4 seeds went 3-1 in the first round, but No. 5 seeds went 1-3, while No. 6 seeds went 3-1. Furthermore, double-digit seeds are still alive in three of the four regions. And five teams from the overlooked Atlantic 10 went 7-4, while five teams from the overhyped Mountain West went 2-5.

I knew going in that this year’s Big Dance would be more difficult to predict than an earthquake, but this is ridiculous. And lest you think the insanity has been confined to the bracket sphere, try venturing into the head-pounding-against-the-wall world of your average sports bettor, who has to somehow make sense of these statistics:

In the 52 opening-week NCAA tournament games, favorites went 27-25 against the spread, and the “under” went 28-24. (And in the 16 Saturday/Sunday games, eight favorites covered, eight underdogs covered, eight games went “over” the total and eight stayed “under.”)

So please excuse me while I pull a rib-cage muscle as I pat myself on the back for delivering a profitable week. OK, so an 8-9 record isn’t something to celebrate, but I did hit five of my seven biggest plays (thank you, Davidson!). And $103 won’t get you past the velvet ropes of a Vegas nightclub, but it will allow you to survive and advance—which is more than you can say for Gonzaga or Georgetown … or the entire Mountain West.

Let’s move on to my Sweet 16 selections …

$220 on Michigan +2 vs. Kansas (March 29): Michigan didn’t exactly sprint out of the gate to start the tournament, holding a shaky 30-26 halftime lead against 13th-seeded South Dakota State. But in the 60 minutes since, the Wolverines have been operating at full throttle, outscoring South Dakota State and Virginia Commonwealth, 119-83. Conversely, Kansas, which barely escaped No. 16 seed Western Kentucky, has looked like a No. 1 seed for exactly a single half, outscoring North Carolina 49-28 over the final 30 minutes after trailing by nine points at halftime.

Those who know what it takes to win in March—no, I’m not looking in the direction of the Thomas & Mack Center—will tell you that superior guard play is key, and the Wolverines have that with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Meanwhile, I trust the Jayhawks’ erratic backcourt about as much as I trust Shabazz Muhammad’s birth certificate.

$110 on Miami -5 vs. Marquette (March 28): The case for Marquette: It is on a 6-1 tear. The case against Marquette: Those six victories were by a total of 22 points, including the last three (St. John’s, Davidson and Butler) by a total of five points—and those three wins would’ve all been losses if college basketball was a 38-minute game.

To say the Golden Eagles are lucky to be here is an understatement, but that luck will expire against Miami, a vastly superior and more athletic opponent that has peeled off six consecutive victories (five by double digits). Don’t fret that Miami barely escaped against Illinois (63-59); the Illini, who beat Indiana, Butler, Ohio State and Gonzaga this season, are better than Marquette.

$110 on Florida -13 vs. Florida Gulf Coast (March 29): In the last five weeks, Florida Gulf Coast has defeated No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State (combined record: 48-18) … and lost to Lipscomb and Stetson (no, that’s not a country-music duo). So which Florida Gulf Coast team shows up in Cowboys Stadium against Florida? I say the one that spent all week basking in the spotlight of its sudden new fame.

Put it this way: There’s a reason the tournament’s Cinderella story is the biggest Sweet 16 underdog—and it has something to do with Florida, after two blowout wins last week, now being 28-1 in games decided by double digits, including 17 victories by 20 points or more. (And if you don’t think it hurts to pick against this Cinderella, well, then you haven’t Googled “Florida Gulf Coast coach’s wife” … )


March 28: Wichita State -4 vs. LaSalle ($66); Syracuse-Indiana UNDER 135½ ($55); Indiana -5½ vs. Syracuse ($44); Arizona +3½ vs. Ohio State ($44). March 29: Michigan-Kansas OVER 136 ($55); Oregon +10 vs. Louisville ($44); Michigan State-Duke OVER 134 ($44); Duke -2 vs. Michigan State ($33).

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