By Tony George
Here we go gents. After all the heart attacks, cussing in public bars, and violent tossing of remote controls, and throwing up of excess beer and chicken wings after Thursday through Sunday games in March Madness, it boils down to the Sweet 16. Yes, many improbable results and teams like VCU, Marquette, Richmond and Arizona take their place alongside the most storied basketball programs in sports like North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, and U Conn which these unlikeliest aforementioned teams killed many a bankroll from a sports gaming perspective along the way. Morehead State killed more brackets than Attila the Hun did people!
I would count Butler in there as a “out of nowhere team”, but remember, they are the NCAA runner up champions and not to my surprise, are still hanging around like a bad head cold. Many of you cannot see the forest because of all the trees in the first 2 rounds, but the picture, while much clearer, it still slightly cloudy with a chance of rain.
I will break down a few games and throw in some stats and takes here that might open your eyes. Teams that lay 6 points or more in the Sweet 16 are an amazing 31-2 Straight up in wins and covered the spread 21 times out of those 33 games. What does this mean? That means that Cinderella’s sometimes face reality. But then again it is all about matchups, and while power teams like Duke, NC, Kansas and U Conn prevail more times than not, there are teams like VCU and Butler that are like a cold sore, they appear at the worst time and are hard to get rid of.
At day’s end in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, the matchups are much easier for a pro handicapper like myself to handicap. You do not have a 2 day turn around to either play the game or handicap. You time to breakdown teams with stats and film, just like coaches and the results many times are more predictable. Better teams win more times than not. Do not count out Mr. Fisher and the Aztecs, however the noose is tight now and we are not playing Mountain West teams anymore. So many scenarios to consider and so little time.
One other factor to consider. Look at the list of experienced coaches who have huge success in the post season. Who can coach and win big games, you need to seriously consider this when looking and handicapping the remaining games. There are some newbie’s in the pool and some veteran studs in the mix as well. The one wildcard is Marquette who is hot at the right time, but loaded with JUCO players, and against the nation’s elite now, you may see some separation. VCU simply does not know any better are kicking peoples butt with sheer hustle and no fear, and Butler thinks they are suppose to be here, again! Jimmer Ferdette simply thinks he can shoot three’s from any point across the half court line, and he does and makes them. Oh how sweet it is!
A Few Takes on upcoming Sweet 16 games
Duke -8.5 vs. Arizona – So going with the fact that Duke struggled to beat an average Michigan team where they let them hang around, that could be the game they talk about after potential national title win as the one that woke them up. One thing about Arizona, they are deep and rotate, not sure that matters against Duke who’s second string 5 players on the bench could start for Arizona with the exception of Williams. Better team here is Duke by far, and unlike Texas who is very poorly coached, Duke has the best big game coach in history. Duke may win by 15 or more.
Ask yourself this question? Does one player carry a team this late in the season on the biggest stage in sports or does a complete team win Sweet 16 games? Enter BYU and Butler into this equation and you may in fact have a fat wallet. North Carolina will garner a lot of public attention and money, but they are young and at day’s end cannot beat either Kentucky or Ohio State. Duke showed everyone who is any good at coaching how to dismantle them in the ACC Championship. Did I mention Wisconsin yet? Well I won’t for long because there is a serious question about their offense now that they are this deep, but Butler provides one of the most interesting matchup’s of all, a real coin toss.
Kansas looked as good as anyone in the second round outside of VCU who has dominated every single opponent they have played, even USC in the play in game. VCU a 4 point puppy against Florida State in a mismatch of styles, and defense more times than not wins in a game like this, just an FYI. Then again how do you really stop VCU and their style of play?
Kansas is a potential blowout in the making against a Richmond team that does rely heavy on sharpshooters from the outside, and KU will defend that well. I am leaving Kentucky out of the mix here, they are too young and have just skimmed by the entire way, that does not hold water now. Ohio State gets over on Kentucky, but one big man in the paint cannot win from this point forward.
Final Four Projections – Un-Point Spread Related
Kansas, Florida, Ohio State and Duke. That’s right, three #1 seeds and a # 2 seed, rare but not impossible this year! You cannot discount U Conn and their huge run the Big East Tourney and having the best player in College Basketball is a huge plus. Kansas is in for sure here, Florida should end Butlers run and U Conn and SDSU should be epic if they meet in the South Region, but I lean to Duke to beat U Conn with an easier path. All Good teams and it is anyone’s game in the Final Four as all teams who make it here are massive studs and well coached. Since I had Pitt winning it all and they took a pee down their leg, I will stick to my first love, the Big 12 and a Kansas national title, the Morris twins are a handful! You ask for a wild card shocker to end up here as a long shot, I would lean to VCU over Butler and Marquette, they are impressive to this point.