What an absolute roller coaster ride Thursday night's Sweet 16 games were. Kansas State's double-overtime win over Michigan State was an instant classic, and then we had Gonzaga and UCLA add another chapter to the insanity that has been their history against one another in the tournament.
Oh, and FAU knocked off Tennessee, because we all had the Florida Atlantic Owls reaching the Elite Eight this year.Also, UConn beat Arkansas by like 50 points. Maybe less, I don't know. Nobody was watching that game (nor was anybody watching the team bus).
It was an odd night for me, though. As I wrote in yesterday's newsletter, I didn't take any joy in picking Gonzaga. While it was the "right" play, it wasn't the outcome I preferred. So there I was sitting at home watching the end of that game cheering on the Bruins improbable comeback in the final minute and rooting against my bet. Sports are weird, and they only get stranger when you've bet on them. Let's hope tonight's games are just as exciting, but not as emotionally conflicting.
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To the hardwood we go.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 San Diego State, 6:30 p.m. | TV: TBS
- Key Trend: The under is 14-3 in San Diego State's last 17 games and 5-1 in Alabama's last six.
- The Pick: Under 137.5 (-110)
Alabama's Brandon Miller gets a lot of attention for what he does on the court offensively. He's averaging 19.1 points per game while shooting 39.5% from three, and with his size and skill, NBA scouts are salivating about his potential at the next level. But Miller's offensive prowess overshadows how solid he is defensively and how great Alabama is as a team on the defensive end.
They put the clamps down on Maryland in the second round, holding a good Terps offense to 0.76 points per possession and 35.2% shooting. When Alabama wants to defend, good luck scoring against it. The same can be said about its opponent tonight. San Diego State has been one of the best defenses in the country this season, as it ranks sixth in KenPom's defensive efficiency. In its first two tournament games against Charleston and Furman, it held the Cougars and Paladins to 0.83 points per possession.
Yes, there are no Brandon Millers on those teams. That said, the Aztecs have faced five Quad 1 teams this season, and their defensive efficiency in those games ranks fifth nationally, according to BartTorvik.com, another college basketball analytics site.
Want to know who ranks fourth? Yep, Alabama (by the way, Princeton ranks first and is also in the Sweet 16). So tonight we've got two of the most challenging teams to score against going at it for a chance to reach the Elite Eight. With Miller involved, there's always a chance Alabama goes off and lights it up anyway, but the more likely scenario is a lower-scoring affair. Plus, there's always the chance Alabama builds a big lead and slows things down because it knows the Aztecs will struggle to cut into the lead.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model can't find any noticeable value in this game, and none of our SportsLine experts seem to agree on the outcome, either. So what matters is that I'm better-looking than all of them, and I'm the one you should listen to because of it.
💰 More Sweet 16 picks
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 5 Miami, 7:15 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Houston -7.5 (-110) -- The Hurricanes are not strong defensively but can put up points quickly. As a result, no matter who they take the court against, the plan is simple: let's see if they can outscore us. The Canes have the 11th most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom, so it's often a good plan.
However, there are limitations to it, the biggest being that it's not as effective against very good defensive teams, which wasn't often a problem in the ACC. According to KenPom, there are only two top-25 defenses in the ACC: Duke and Virginia. The Canes lost twice to Duke and were held to a season-low 66 points in a win over Virginia. Tonight they'll face a Houston team that ranks 4th in defensive efficiency and has the guards to defend Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack.
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Xavier, 9:45 p.m. | TV: CBS
The Pick: Xavier Team Total Under 72.5 (-115) -- This is more of a gut play than a numbers play. There's just something about Xavier that I'm not fully bought into They were run out of the building in the Big East final against Marquette. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, they looked awful for most of the game against Kennesaw State but got their act together late. In the second round, they faced a Pitt team playing its third game in five days that wasn't impressive in wins over Mississippi State or Iowa State.
Tonight the Musketeers face a Texas team that's been outstanding defensively, and I believe will pose some serious problems for Xavier. However, Xavier's size advantage in this matchup concerns me when it comes to taking the Longhorns to cover the spread. As I said, this isn't a numbers play but a gut play based on what I've seen from Xavier lately. Either of these teams can win tonight, but I don't see Xavier reaching the mid-70s in points, not against this Texas squad.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: The Projection Model's favorite Sweet 16 play tonight is an A-graded play on the total between Houston and Miami.