NCAA Tournament Picks For Friday: Elite Eight Field To Be Set

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, March 24, 2016 4:31 PM GMT

Friday is the final NCAA Tournament night with at least 4 games on the schedule. Here are my two East Region picks on the NCAA basketball odds. 

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame
Tipoff at 7:27 p.m. ET from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, with the winner facing the winner of the below game Sunday. I suppose you have to say No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 10 Syracuse, facing off in the Midwest Region also Friday, are the two most unlikely teams in the Sweet 16 just because of their seeding. But the Badgers (22-12), who are trying to become the first team this decade to reach three straight Final Fours, were 9-9 at one point and 1-4 in the Big Ten, not to mention weathered the loss of long-time head coach Bo Ryan to retirement.

But everything changed with a comeback win over No. 4 Michigan State in Madison on Jan. 17. Interim coach Greg Gard did a terrific job and got the fill-time gig. UW's defense has been stellar in this tournament, holding Pittsburgh to just 43 points in Round 1 and high-scoring Xavier (18th nationally) to only 63 in the Round of 32. The Badgers won that game on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Bronson Koenig. If there's cause to worry, it's that Wisconsin's offense hasn't looked very good at all and the team's best player, Nigel Hayes is just 5-for-27 from the field in the two wins. Wisconsin is a +700 long shot to win the East Region at sportsbooks.

Notre Dame (23-11) is also somewhat fortunate to be here. The Irish didn't look great in a first-round win over a blah Michigan team, trailing by 12 at halftime. And they probably should have lost in the Round of 32 against Stephen F. Austin but got a tip-in in the final seconds from a very unlikely source: Rex Pflueger. The freshman averages 2.5 points on the season and hadn't even made a field goal since March 5. Notre Dame has one of the most efficient offenses in the country but has had a problem with turnovers thus far.

On possessions where they don't commit a turnover, they're scoring a crazy good 1.58 points per possession in this tournament. But they have given it away 29 times. Notre Dame has never won six NCAA tournament games over a two-year span but would with a victory here. The Irish always play a few Big Ten teams out of conference each season -- they beat Iowa and Illinois and lost to Indiana this season -- but have played Wisconsin just once since 1968 and that was in 2010. Notre Dame is +600 to reach the Final Four.

Love the 'under' with that UW defense and the fact Notre Dame has held its first two opponents to a combined 33 percent shooting. Irish win. They are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 vs. the Big Ten. The 'under' is 10-1 in Wisconsin's past 11 games. Back the  'under' as your  NCAA Tournament picks. Notre Dame has covered 7-3 in the past 10 games.

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NCAA Basketball Free Pick: Under 131.5.
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

 

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina
This game is set to tip at approximately 9:57 p.m. ET from Philadelphia and it's easily the best Sweet 16 matchup of them all between storied programs and Power 5 conference regular-season champions -- and the winner will  be favored Sunday against either the Badgers or Fighting Irish. At least one player every NCAA Tournament hugely raises his draft stock, to the point that said player who might have been on the fence about leaving school early then does.

That brings me to Indiana freshman center Thomas Bryant, who might be playing himself into a 2016 lottery pick. Bryant was 5-for-7 from the field for 13 points in the easy Round 1 win over Chattanooga and was the difference in the second half of Saturday's 73-67 win over No. 4 Kentucky. He finished 6-for-8 from the field for 19 points with five rebounds. Guy is shooting nearly 70 percent on the season. Bryant might find it much tougher going against a big, veteran frontcourt of UNC. The leader of IU is senior guard Yogi Ferrell, who has to go down as one of the better players in school history. He's averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists in this tournament and is +2000 to win the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. IU is +300 to win the East. It hasn't reached the Elite Eight since 2002.

Ferrell will go against one of the better point guards in UNC history in fellow senior Marcus Paige, who is +1200 to win tournament MOP. However, Paige hasn't played great in a 16-point win over No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast or a 19-point victory over No. 9 Providence. He's only 7-for-21 from the field. Frankly, the Heels (30-6) played down to their competition in the first half of both games before turning it on after intermission. Indiana is too good to think that might happen again.

The tournament MOP favorite right now is Heels All-American forward Brice Johnson at +500. He has totaled 39 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks in the two games. UNC has more depth than any team left in the Big Dance. Five players are averaging double-figure points in the postseason, counting the three ACC Tournament games. No one has taken more than 56 shots in those five games. North Carolina is the -140 favorite in the East.

This is the highest total of any Sweet 16 game and should be between two of the country's Top-10 offenses. Go 'over' and give the points. Indiana is 2-5 ATS in its past seven vs. the ACC. UNS is 5-1 ATS in its past six games. Grab the 'over' on the NCAA basketball odds boards because North Carolina has hit the mark 6-1 in the past seven non-conference games.

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NCAA Basketball Free Pick: Over 158.5
Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle