7:09 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU, CBS
- LINE: Michigan State (-6.5)
- TOTAL: 148.5
- IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 77.5, LSU 71
- KENPOM: Michigan State 80, LSU 72
I think Michigan State is the play here for one, simple reason: Tom Izzo.
Look, I love the talent on this LSU team. I think their bigs pose a real matchup problem for the Spartans. I think the idea of Tremont Waters running ball-screens against Cassius Winston and Nick Ward is the kind of thing that should keep Michigan State fans up at night. It’s very clear that LSU has the more talented roster.
But here’s the thing: Michigan State is second nationally in 2PT% defense, and LSU is such a bad three-point shooting team that it doesn’t really matter. The rebounding edge probably favors Michigan State. LSU will get their’s on the offensive glass, but the Spartans are also a terrific offensive rebounding team, and LSU has not seemed to think defensive rebounding is all that important this year.
All of that matters.
The truth, however, is that Tom Izzo is going up a guy that couldn’t get North Texas going.
PICK: My play is going to be betting the LSU first half line and Michigan State second half line. But if you’re looking to make a play at the start of the game, I’d bet Sparty.
7:29 p.m.: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn, TBS
- LINE: North Carolina (-5.5)
- TOTAL: 165
- IMPLIED SCORE: North Carolina 85.25, Auburn 79.75
- KENPOM: North Carolina 82, Auburn 78
A matchup between North Carolina and Auburn, two teams that love to run and gun as much as any team in college basketball, has the chance to get crazy.
What Auburn wants to do more than anything is to turn defense into offense, forcing turnovers, grabbing defensive rebounds, running the floor and getting a quick, spot-up three against a defense that isn’t set. They lead the nation in steal percentage. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. They shoot 38.2 percent from three and take nearly 50 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. More than 20 percent of their possessions were logged as transition possessions, according to Synergy, and only six high-major programs had a higher number.
One of those six, however, is North Carolina. Another one of those six is Duke, and I mention the Blue Devils because I think that it’s relevant to this conversation: When Auburn and Duke played earlier this year, it ended up being a 71 possession game, a number that is not all that high. Auburn ran when they had clear chances to, but for the most part, they slowed the tempo of the game down and tried to execute in the halfcourt. They knew that trying to beat this Duke team at their own game was not going to work.
I think the same thing is going to happen on Friday night.
PICK: And that’s why the under is my favorite play in the Sweet 16. I fully expect that Auburn is going to take their foot off the gas, because you cannot beat North Carolina playing the game that Roy Williams’ teams play better than anyone. The fact that the Tigers are going to have to throw more bodies at the defensive glass, limiting the number of quick transition opportunities that they get, only solidifies that take.
If I had to pick a side to bet here, I would probably take North Carolina, but that’s assuming that Coby White is going to be able to handle the pressure put on him by Auburn’s defenders and that Nassir Little, who has the flu, is going to be totally healthy.
9:39 p.m.: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech, CBS
- LINE: Duke (-7.5)
- TOTAL: 143.5
- IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 75.5, Virginia Tech 68
- KENPOM: Duke 75, Virginia Tech 70
This matchup is interesting because both teams were without their best player the last time they played.
We know how important Zion Williamson is to Duke, but I think that you can make the argument that Justin Robinson is just as important to the Hokies. Not only is he one of the best point guards in the country, Robinson moves Nickeil Alexander-Walker off the ball, which is where he is more effective for the Hokies. See, Buzz Williams runs a ball-screen heavy offense that is perfectly suited to the roster he has built. He has shooters everyone on the floor, he has a pair of point guards that are elite at running ball-screens and he has a big man in Kerry Blackshear that can make threes, beat defenders off the dribble and overpower people in the post.
PICK: The key here to me is going to be whether or not Coach K makes the decision to play Zion Williamson at the five. That is the key to stopping Virginia Tech, and slowing the Hokies down is what Duke is going to have to do to win this game. The first time they played was the worst defensive performance of the season for the Blue Devils, and they cannot afford a repeat performance on that end of the floor.
I’m honestly not even all that worried about what Virginia Tech is going to do because I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact on how this game plays out. I don’t think they have the personnel to matchup with Duke with a healthy Zion. The Blue Devils are going to be able to sore much more easily than they did against UCF.
The question is whether or not they are going to get stops.
Krzyzewski has opted to play Zion at the five when other things aren’t working, so I can see it happening. I’d lean towards betting Duke (-7.5) in this spot.
9:59 p.m.: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston, TBS
- LINE: Kentucky (-3)
- TOTAL: 134
- IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 68.5, Houston 65.5
- KENPOM: Kentucky 68, Houston 66
It’s tough to know exactly what to bet here because we have no idea just how healthy P.J. Washington is right now.
Yes, he was in a cast until Tuesday because of an injury to his foot. No, Kentucky provided no clarity regarding his situation or how they will use him. Yes, Kelvin Sampson is preparing as if P.J. Washington is going to be healthy. No, I don’t trust anything that is currently coming out of the Kentucky camp.
PICK: I will not be betting this line myself unless we get some clarity on Washington’s status. If he does play, I’ll be on Kentucky, but if he’s only good for 10-15 minutes of limping around, then Houston is the obvious play here.