I’ve got to go with the Wolf Pack
College basketball’s national championship tournament always lives up to its billing of March Madness. After one weekend, already two No. 1 and two No. 2 seeds have been sent packing, and one-third of all the games have been upsets. The second round was especially upsetting with underdogs going 12-4 against the point spread and winning nine of the 16 games outright. Only the 2000 NCAA tournament was more unpredictable when two No. 1s and three No. 2s lost in the second round.
This year’s biggest surprise, of course, is our own Nevada. By reaching the Sweet 16, the Wolf Pack has become the nation’s Cinderella story, and the only western team left in the competition. Unfortunately, with the success comes the possibility that head coach Trent Johnson and junior Kirk Snyder will be moving on to “$ greener” pastures, which would be sad, but at least many more people around the country now know how to correctly pronounce Nevada.
Predictions: The picks should be a little tougher this week, but my 6-2 record on last week’s point spread selections has given me the confidence to bet every game.
Third round – When looking at the past six years, it appears that handicappers should be leaning towards taking the underdogs again in the third round. Last year the dogs went 4-4 against the spread, in 2002 and 2000 5-3, and in 1999 and 1998 5-2-1. Only in 2001 did the favorites do well, going 6-2.
Wake Forest vs. St. Joseph’s – At 84 points per game, Wake Forest is the second-highest scoring team in the nation, but the Demon Deacons lack the perimeter defense to fully contain St. Joe’s potent three-point attack. Looks like Over 157 total points in this one.
Pittsburgh vs. Oklahoma State – Pittsburgh has been winning with its defense, shooting only 33 percent and allowing a mere 99 points in two games. Oklahoma State also plays great defense, but the Cowboys shot 51.4 percent over the course of the season. The pick is Oklahoma State -2.
Alabama vs. Syracuse – No. 8 seeds like Alabama are 5-3 in this round, while No. 5 seeds such as Syracuse have gone a dismal 4-22. But Alabama has never won a Sweet 16 game, going 0-for-7, and Syracuse is the defending national champion. This is a tough call, so I’ll just guess the Over 135.
Vanderbilt vs. Connecticut – Obviously controversial Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan was wrong when he said Vanderbilt was “too white” to beat Western Michigan, and eventually the Commodores earned themselves a spot in the regional semi-finals. Connecticut was among the nation’s elite in field goal defense percentage, rebounding margin and blocks, while the Huskies offense led the Big East in scoring and assists. I’ll take Connecticut -8 1/2.
Illinois vs. Duke – Illinois likes to move the ball quickly downcourt, yet the Fighting Illini commit very few turnovers. Both teams have great shooters with Duke averaging 93 points in the tournament, and Illinois 82. I’m going with Over 146.
Xavier vs. Texas – In the Atlantic 10 tournament Xavier gave St. Joseph’s its only loss in dominating fashion, then the streaking Musketeers easily handled powerful No. 2 seed Mississippi State last Sunday. Texas is a big, deep, tough, experienced and talented squad, but Xavier is just too hot to go against right now. I’m taking Xavier +2 1/2.
Alabama-Birmingham vs. Kansas – UAB head coach Mike Anderson is a disciple of Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell,” which usually means there will be plenty of fast-paced action. Kansas was built to run by ex-coach Roy Williams, but current head man Bill Self likes play to be a little slower. I’ll try UAB +4 1/2 and Over 155.
Georgia Tech vs. Nevada – Georgia Tech’s great athletes whipped Connecticut, won at Duke, and led the ACC in field goal defense percentage. But Nevada’s dismantling of Gonzaga has me jumping on the bandwagon. Go Wolf Pack! Nevada +4.
Regional Finals – Again it would seem that handicappers should lean a little toward the underdogs in the fourth round. The dogs went 3-1 against the spread last year, in 1999 and 1998. Favorites and underdogs finished 2-2 from 2000-2002.
Final Four Notes – At least one No. 1 seed like Duke or St. Joseph’s has made it every year except 1980. Never has a No. 10 like Nevada or a No. 7 like Xavier got that far. Except for 2000, only two seeds below No. 4 have advanced. The last five seasons two teams have come from the same conference, like the Big 12 in 2002 and 2003, and no teams like Alabama or Vanderbilt have come from the SEC in the last three years. Anyone who has all Final Four picks still alive in pre-tournament pools should be commended. For those of you who had Kentucky, Stanford, Mississippi State, Gonzaga, North Carolina, etc., don’t feel bad. Only one so-called expert went unscathed last weekend – ESPN’s Digger Phelps.
Final Four – Duke, Connecticut, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech.
National Champion – Never has a No. 5, 7, 9 or 10 won it all. My pre-tourney pick of Duke is still alive.
Note – The sports betting column will return to Fridays beginning next week.
Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.