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Bernie Fratto (@BernieFratto): Oregon State +7
After watching the Ramblers put on a defensive clinic against the #1 seed Illini in the Round of 32, I got to thinking. How do teams in Loyola-Chicago's position follow that type of act? Well, as it turns out, the teams who upset a No. 1 seed as a dog are 41-31 SU and 42-28-2 ATS in their next game, including 9-7 SU and 9-6-1 ATS in the Sweet 16 round. They’re just 1-3 ATS, however as a favorite of more than six points. It’s one thing to be an underdog, but now Sister Jean and company are all dressed up as seven-point favorites against Oregon State in the Sweet 16. I have to grab the +7 points with the Beavers.
Dave Essler (@Dave_Essler): Syracuse +3 in the First Half
This one truly is about the Syracuse zone. Houston couldn't handle the Rutgers defense the first time they faced it and trailed at the half. The Cougars were only up eight at the break against Cleveland State in the first round as well, and they were also behind at the half to Frank Martin's Gamecocks, who can't score. On the other side, Syracuse led both WVU and San Diego State at the half. In the ACC tournament they led Virginia at halftime before losing, and in fact the Orange have led at the half in six straight games. The Cougars shoot a ton of three's, and Syracuse has the second best perimeter defense in the ACC, not to mention they have a massive length advantage and shoot nearly 80% from the free throw line. Look back just two years ago, and you'll also see that when Houston lost in the Sweet 16, they were down by 13 at the half to Kentucky. History on both sides will repeat itself on Saturday night in this game.
Justin "Smoove" Everett (@Smoove702): Baylor -7.5
In order to advance deep in this tournament you have to have great guard play, and Baylor might have the best trio of guards between Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Villanova, on the other hand, will be without their best guard and senior leader in Collin Gillespie. The Baylor guards are upperclassmen and all average14+ PPG a piece while shooting 40%+ from three. The Bears have the third best offensive efficiency in the country and also rank third best in effective field goal percentage. They’re also a great defensive team that forces a lot of turnovers, again ranking third in the country in opponent turnover percentage. Villanova does have a pretty solid defense, but that's super dependent on playing at a slow tempo. The Wildcats don’t defend the three well either, ranking 238th in opponent 3PT% and 204th in opponent 2PT%. I expect the Baylor guards to take advantage of that, and while Villanova was able to get by in its first two games against Winthrop and North Texas, Baylor is just in a different class. And Villanova being without its best player here? That’s a position of strength for the Bears, which won't do the Wildcats any favors. I like Baylor to win by double digits on Saturday afternoon and advance to the Elite 8.
Sleepy J (@SleepyJ_Pregame): Oral Roberts +11.5
I'm not certain if the Golden Eagles can continue to win games in this NCAA Tournament, as the Sweet 16 has finally arrived. Oral Roberts has knocked off some good teams, don't get me wrong, but it's the line that worries me. It seems a little fishy that a team which beat #2 seed Ohio St. is getting these amount of points. Oral Roberts started the big dance with 500-1 odds to win it all and that is a concern as well, being the oddsmakers looked at the Golden Eagles as one of the weakest teams in the field. The stats almost verify this line is correct, but the motivation aspect is something I can't get past. Oral Roberts was playing with house money, but now the pressure might be mounting as the Golden Eagles are the true Cinderella story left in the Big Dance. Having said that, this +11.5 has me hook, line and sinker. If I'm going down, I won't feel bad doing it with the Golden Eagles getting double digits, even if their NCAA story ends.
Dan Rivera (@DanRivera_228): Alabama -6
Roll Tide! I like Alabama here and I believe they win this game by 10+. UCLA is 1-6 SU vs. teams ranked 25 or higher off Ken Pom, and its lone win in that area was vs. Colorado at home. We know Colorado is very average without its altitude advantage after being drubbed by Florida State in the Round of 32. UCLA has beaten Michigan State, a borderline tournament team, as well as a BYU team which was a fraudulent 20-6 (told by someone I very much respect) and Abilene Chrisitan off its greatest win in program history. For Alabama, its lone bad loss was back in December when it lost to Western Kentucky. Alabama only lost to Missouri and Arkansas on the road during conference play. The Crimson Tide are 4-1 SU vs. teams ranked in the Top 25 with the lone loss coming to Arkansas. The Bruins aren't supposed to be this far and they have far overachieved while Alabama is a team which can score points - and I am not sure if UCLA will be able to keep up. To my surprise, Alabama is #3 in defense and top 30 in offense. UCLA is #63 in defense and #12 in offense but hasn't looked good vs. quality competition. I believe Alabama will very likely score 80+ and UCLA will have to be very efficient to keep up. I project Alabama wins this one 83-71. #RDT
Greg Frank (G_Frank6): USC -2
I've felt for most of March that USC is one of the more underrated teams in the country. Andy Enfield's squad buys in on the defensive end of the floor, and you know offense comes easy at times when you look at the fact that the Trojans scored 85 against a decent defensive team in Kansas in the last round and only got 10 from their best player, Evan Mobley. Meanwhile, getting back to the sound defense USC often plays - the Trojans are fifth nationally in KenPom's defensive efficiency metric, while Oregon ran through a below-average defensive team in Iowa in the last round. Don't expect the Ducks to sniff the 95 points they scored in their last game here. USC won the regular season meeting between these two teams by 14 points and not enough has changed since then to make me think the Trojans aren't the better team now as well. I only have to swallow two and the hook to back USC? Sign me up ATS for the Trojans -2.
Steve Rieder (@AvoidTheVig): Houston -6.5
Houston received its wake up call against Rutgers and learned a much-deserved lesson about not taking any team for granted in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars have been a statistical powerhouse all year, finishing 7th nationally offensively, 11th defensively and 4th overall - and they should absolutely feast on the offensive glass against Syracuse's 340th ranked defensive rebounding metric. The Orange are playing over their heads, hitting 55% and 45% from three in their last two games, respectively. My only concerns for the Cougars are playing against Syracuse's defensive length and Houston's own seemingly weak schedule. However the small sample of the Rutgers game creates actionable value on Houston -6.5.
Chris Dell (@MaddJournalist): Baylor/Loyola-Chicago ML Parlay (-125, DraftKings)
At this point of the NCAA Tournament we're seeing an extremely efficient market and it makes all the sense in the world. Heading into last weekend we had 48 games in four days (32 in the first two days!) to choose from, be it game props, player props, sides, totals, you name it. Now we're down to just four games a day for Saturday and Sunday, then two games a piece on Monday and Tuesday. I say all this because the bookies aren't asleep at the wheel like they might've been on a game or two (or three) last weekend. I do love #8 seed Loyola-Chicago to win outright on Saturday afternoon against #12 Oregon State, but betting a -300 money line is not something I'm a fan of. I do also love me some Baylor Bears advancing to the Elite Eight against a Villanova Wildcats team that seems happy to be here and has overachieved based on pre-bracket prognostications. Did I mention Jay Wright's squad beat Winthrop and North Texas to get here? I have the utmost respect for coach Wright and the men's basketball program at Villanova, but I expect their run to end here in possible blowout fashion. I'd rather count on two teams I see as locks to advance, then run into the chance one of them wins a tight game or is back-doored by opposing free throws in the end. That's why I'll gladly take the simply two-team ML parlay here as my best bet of the Sweet 16 round. You can still find it at -125 on DraftKings and a few other places in the -130's.
Bonus Best Bet: Loyola-Chicago to make the Final Four (+170, FanDuel)
Too much juice to pay for ya in the Villanova/Loyola-Chicago ML parlay? Well in that case I'll throw in a bonus bet of Loyola-Chicago at plus money odds to win the Midwest Region and get to the Final Four. I simply don't see the Ramblers being challenged by Oregon State in this round, and when they advance to the Elite 8 it could actually be as favorites against a Jim Boeheim-led Syracuse squad whose zone could cause all sorts of fits for #2 seed Houston on Saturday night in the Sweet 16. We could always do a ML parlay rollover with Loyola, sure, but if Syracuse happens to win and face the Ramblers in the Elite 8 then grabbing the +170 now could wind up being our best EV. These Ramblers have a bunch of players who have already made a deep run, and they are eerily reminiscent of tose Butler teams of year's past that made two national title appearances. Is Porter Moser the next Brad Stevens? I believe he already is, and don't be surprised to see a few NBA teams calling Ramblers headquarters this summer in search of a new head coach. The fact that Loyola-Chicago received a #8 seed despite being the #9 ranked team in the entire nation on KenPom (!) should tell you all you need to know - the Ramblers' seeding was a crime.
By that math they should be a borderline #2 seed (#3 seed at worst) and are fresh off a beat down of what many saw as the second best team in the entire country in Illinois. The Ramblers also sport the country's second-best defensive effiency rating via KenPom, as well as elite national ranks in opponent FTA/FGA (sixth) and opponent offensive rebound % (second). On offense they're not too shabby either, ranking ninth overall in effective field goal % and fourth in 2PT%. The last stat I'll leave here is one that's often very overlooked as well - minutes continuity. This isn't just outright experience in terms of how many juniors and seniors are on the roster, but minutes continuity can tell us how close these guys on the roster actually are, how well they play together, how much they trust each other when adversity strikes.
The only other team in the tourney with a higher minutes continuity is Villanova (seventh), which is skewed due to the loss of Collin Gillespie. The next closest teams in this area are Creighton (18th), UCLA (29th) and Baylor (32nd). The teams Loyola must beat to win its region and earn its second Final Four berth in three seasons? Syracuse (67th), Houston (107th) and Oregon State (154th). This type of continuity matters in such unprecedented times, and especially the matter in which COVID-19 has affected so many aspects of the NCAA Tournament. The coaching, the continuity - and maybe Sister Jean's good karma/magic? - all matter here, and all it could take is two wins against teams with orange jerseys and double-digit seeds (Syracuse and Oregon State) to be one of four programs left standing come Tuesday night. Full disclosure - I own a ticket for the Ramblers to win it all from before the tourney at 60:1, but I'm still all in on them to make the Final Four, especially now with the Illini out of the way. -Chris Dell (@MaddJournalist)