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The Matchup: #8 Loyola Chicago vs #12 Oregon State
Where to Watch: Saturday, 2:40 p.m. EST on CBS (@ Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
The Odds: Loyola Chicago -7 (-295 ML), Oregon State +7 (+240 ML), 125 O/U
Does Loyola Chicago owe its March Madness success to its second ranked defense, 35th ranked offense, or superfan Sister Jean? This basketball triumvirate has catapulted the Ramblers back into the national spotlight. If you excuse their one-point loss to Drake in overtime, then Loyola Chicago has run off 19 straight wins. Many slammed their #8 seeding as disrespectful. If Loyola Chicago felt slighted - and well, they should - then they certainly have taken it out on their opponents so far through two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers beat Georgia Tech by 11 in round one and absolutely destroyed top-seeded Illinois by 13 in a game that was never really close in the Round of 32. The Fighting Illini were the second favorites overall to win the entire tournament, but also they quickly found out why Kenpom has the Ramblers as the ninth-ranked team overall in the nation. If Loyola Chicago’s defense continues to be this stout, they will punch their ticket to the Elite Eight with a victory over Oregon State on Saturday.
Certainly, the Beavers have to be excited to be in the position they are in here. After all, they are a #12 seed playing a #8 seed in the Sweet 16. Oregon State is just three wins away from the NCAA National Championship game and finds itself on a five-game winning streak after beating Tennessee by 14 and Oklahoma State by 10. The Beavers' 41st ranked offense hasn’t scored less than 70 points in eight consecutive games either, and Kenpom's opening line made them a 7-point underdog with some books flashing +6.5. Loyola-Chicago makes for a better national narrative, sure, but Oregon State is certainly not a team to sleep on this weekend either. The Beavers find themselves in a familiar role yet again, after having been underdogs and winning outright in their last five postseason games dating from the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend and to the start of the Pac 12 Conference Tournament.
The Matchup: #11 Syracuse vs #2 Houston
Where to Watch: Saturday, 9:55 p.m. EST on TBS (@ Hinkle Fieldhouse)
The Odds: Houston -6.5 (-295 ML), Syracuse +6.5 (+235 ML), 141 O/U
Syracuse head coach Jim Boheim has his Orangemen playing their best basketball when it matters most, and despite having up and down season, Syracuse was able to upset San Diego State by 14 and West Virginia by three on the back of an improved defense and three-point shooting through the first two rounds of the tournament. But there are still many questions heading into the Houston game for the Orange. Can they continue to hit double-digit three-pointers per game? Can their 340th ranked defensive rebounding withstand the second best offensive rebounding team in the country in Houston? Will Syracuse’s defense also be able to slow down Houston’s 7th ranked offense. This is a bad matchup for Syracuse, and as the line moved from the -5.5 opener to -6.5, it appears the betting market agrees.
Before the tournament started, most expected Houston to at least make it to the Sweet Sixteen. After all, the Cougars were 26-3 and American Athletic Conference Champions. After a dominant win versus Cleveland State, however, they were seemingly foiled by Rutgers in the Round of 32. Nevertheless, the inexperienced Scarlet Knights were able to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory, which allowed Houston to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. After nearly losing their March Madness life, Houston will not be looking past anyone, especially the much pedigreed Syracuse Orangemen. The Cougars have been a force to be reckoned with throughout the year, ranking seventh in the nation in offense, 11th in defense, first in FG%, second in offensive rebounding % and fifth in both defensive 2PT% and FT% - and this list does little to truly magnify the brilliance that Houston is capable of achieving. On the other hand, according to Kenpom, Syracuse is in fact the second most difficult team Houston has faced all year. Was the Rutger’s game a harbinger of things to come, or merely the catalyst for a National Championship run? I like Houston -6.5 as my best bet of the Sweet 16, if that helps answer anything.