I’ve been following March Madness for a long time. Never have I been more surprised by the events of the first weekend than I am now. At this point I’m convinced Sister Jean needs to be awarded the #1 overall seed every single year no matter what. You’re probably feeling crappy after smashing beers and watching your bracket bust all weekend, but there is hope. Before I list out some of my favorite bets to place before the Sweet 16 begins on Friday, listen to some of these crazy facts:
- The average seed in the Midwest is 8.25
- There are only six teams left seeded 1-3, and four teams seeded 11-15
- Some guy in my bracket pool picked Oral Roberts to go to the Final Four and has yet to be proven wrong
Creighton To Cover vs. Gonzaga (+13.5)
Yes, Gonzaga is undefeated, and that is impressive. But they play in the West Coast Conference, which is a joke. The only other team from the WCC in the tourney was BYU, who lost to UCLA by 11 in the first round. The last time the Zags played a ranked team was December, and all of the ranked teams they played in the regular season have been eliminated from the tournament.
Don’t get me wrong, this team is great. They have three All-Americans and lead the country in scoring and field goal percentage. I think they will win the game, but I expect Creighton to make it closer than people are expecting. Gonzaga wins by outscoring you and dominating on offense. Creighton is a talented offensive team with two sharpshooters in Zegarowski and Ballock. The Blue Jays ability to shoot the three and avoid fouling on defense should bother the Zags.
Baylor To Win The National Championship (+400)
I’m always a fan of teams that have demonstrated an ability to beat top-tier opponents in the regular season. Baylor absolutely steamrolled such teams this year. They had seven wins vs. ranked opponents in the regular season and only lost two games overall. Both losses came against top-20 ranked teams. So far, they have powered through the tournament with ease. Winning by 44 in the first round and by 13 in the second round (against a talented Wisconsin team).
I believe their path to the Final Four is relatively easy. They have to go through Villanova, who are injured and ended the regular season losing three out of four games. After that they will likely take on Arkansas, who struggled in both of their first two games and looked extremely vulnerable against Texas Tech. Baylor has the best 3PT% in the country and averages an impressive 12.6 offensive rebounds per game. Davion Mitchell is one of the best defenders in college basketball, and Jared Butler is a first team All-American. Their resume and talent make them my pick to win it all.
USC To Cover vs. Oregon (-2.5)
I know Oregon turned a lot of heads with their win over Iowa, but that game had the feel of a massive fluke. The Ducks shot well over their season averages in FG% and 3PT% and scored 22.5 points more than their season average. But they also gave up 80 to an Iowa team that had three starters combine for zero points. Iowa was always a threat to exit early, as they were inconsistent all season. Iowa wins by being unstoppable on offense, and when met by another unstoppable offensive force, they struggle. That is exactly what Oregon was on Monday.
The USC Trojans have the feel of a team that is red hot and scary to face. They are coming off of a 34 point win against 3-seeded Kansas, and have given up only 107 points total in their first two games. Oregon is undersized against the Trojans, who have the Mobley brothers locking down the paint. The last time these teams played, USC won by 14 and only gave up 58 points. Since Oregon relied on lights out shooting to beat the weak Iowa defense, I can’t see lightning striking twice for them against the strong USC defense in the Sweet 16. I think the Trojans will easily cover and likely win by double-digits.
Loyola-Chicago To Win The Midwest (+170)
Was there ever any doubt I was going to advise you to bet on Sister Jean’s Ramblers in the Sweet 16? Loyola should have been higher than an 8-seed, and Illinois had the unlucky task of facing an incredibly strong team in only their second tournament game. The Ramblers give up an NCAA-best 55.8 points per game, and have an average victory margin of 15.7. They also shoot 50.4% from the field, playing through Cameron Krutwig in a way that is difficult to defend given the strong 3-point shooting of their guards.
The Ramblers already made a big splash when they defeated Illinois by 13 points to advance to the Sweet 16. They also held All-American Ayo Dosunmu to only 9 points and forced him to turn the ball over 6 times. Nobody has more confidence than this team right now, and I don’t see anyone posing a serious threat to them in the Midwest. Oregon State and Syracuse both have two big wins, but the Ramblers are the more talented team. Houston is certainly a threat, but they looked vulnerable against Rutgers and may have some trouble against Syracuse. Loyola-Chicago is full of swagger and faces little resistance on the road to a Midwest region title.
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