Ben Jacobson and Northern Iowa wiped out a lot of brackets with the upset over Kansas. Now the Panthers look to keep it going in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis.
Kansas wasn't supposed to have any serious challengers during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 among the No. 1's, the Jayhawks' first test was to come in the Midwest Regional Finals where they would have their rock-chalking fans behind them in St. Louis.
Ben Jacobson and Northern Iowa changed those plans on Saturday with a 69-67 upset of Kansas. Instead of the Jayhawks playing for their second national title in three years, the Panthers will be representing the Missouri Valley Conference in the Sweet 16.
Bill Self's squad was favored by 11 in the game, and trailed by 11 with just under 10 minutes to play. Ali Farokhmanesh canned a three with 35 ticks left on the clock to send the game 'over' the 127 ½-point 'total.' The senior guard sank two free throws a short while later to end Kansas' rally effort.
Northern Iowa's upset gives the MVC its first team in the Sweet 16 since Indiana State of the Larry Bird era in 1979. The Panthers' last four tournament appearances – 2004-06, 2009 – all ended with opening-round defeats. Seeded ninth this year, NIU's victory on Saturday reportedly dealt over 40 percent of brackets in ESPN's contest a blow with those participants picking Kansas to go all the way.
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The Panthers (30-4 SU, 23-10 ATS) rolled to the MVC regular season crown with a 15-3 mark before dispatching Drake, Bradley and Wichita State in the conference tourney. All three of the conference games were 'covers' for Northern Iowa backers.
NIU topped UNLV in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, 69-66. The line opened with the No. 8 Rebels one-point favorites before closing as a pick 'em. That contest also went 'over' the 115 ½ closing 'total.' The two 'overs' so far in this tournament go against the Panthers' season trend. The 'under' cashed at a 20-7 clip before the UNLV and Kansas games.
As for who Northern Iowa will be going up against in St. Louis, the Panthers will face the Spartans while Tennessee takes on Ohio State. Is an All-Big Ten regional championship looming?
No. 5 Michigan State (26-8 SU, 13-20 ATS)
They don't get much better than Sunday's showdown between the Spartans and Terrapins. Just when it looked like Greivis Vasquez had put Gary Williams and Maryland into the Sweet 16, up steps a new hero for Michigan State in the Tom Izzo era.
Korie Lucious' three at the buzzer gave the Spartans (plus one) the 85-83 win over Maryland. Vasquez was amazing in bringing the Terps from a 15-point deficit with eight minutes to go. 'Over' 147 bettors counted their winnings with 6:19 left on the clock. The victory was tempered by star Kalin Lucas injuring his left ankle early in the contest and not returning to action.
The win at the window stopped three consecutive ATS losses for State, and it was just the fourth 'over' for the Spartans outside of East Lansing. Michigan State is 17-13 'under' on the season (9-4 'under' away).
No. 6 Tennessee (27-8 SU, 14-17-1 ATS)
Bruce Pearl's Vols are in the Sweet 16 on the easiest rail in terms of seeds played. Tennessee (minus three) managed a 'push' in its 62-59 win vs. No. 11 San Diego State in the opening round. That contest stayed below the 129-point mark to continue a season-long trend for the Volunteers (20-8 'under').
Tennessee punched its ticket to St. Louis on Saturday with an 83-68 triumph vs. No. 14 Ohio. The Vols were favored by 8 ½ against the Bobcats. Tennessee's previous ATS win came in its 76-65 win vs. Mississippi as 2 ½-point favorites in the SEC quarterfinals.
No. 2 Ohio State (29-7, 18-16-2)
The Buckeyes are a scary team, in more ways than one. Ohio State, and its star Evan Turner, got off to a slow start Sunday against Georgia Tech and still managed to win and cover the 6 ½-point spread with a 75-66 victory. Turner committed a pair of early turnovers, part of a nine TO game, and missed his first three shots before finding his way with a game-high 24 points to go with nine boards, eight assists and three steals.
The final score made 'over' backers happy to bring the Buckeyes' record on the season 'totals' board level, 16-16.
The 'cover' against Georgia Tech gave Ohio State just its second ATS win in the last five games. Buckeye backers just missed cashing by a hook in the tourney opener on Friday vs. UC-Santa Barbara, a 68-51 win as 17 ½-point chalk. They also missed by a hook in the conference semis a week ago with an 88-81 victory over the Illini as 7 ½-point favorites.