We are down to final 16 teams in the Big Dance, and the early NCAA Tournament betting odds have already been released. Which lines stand out most?
North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Wisconsin Badgers
It hasn't been an easy road for the Tar Heels through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but they've gotten the job done and have subsequently earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen alongside some of the powerhouses in the nation.
One of those top dogs is Wisconsin, who will be looking to advance to the Elite Eight as one of the overall favorites in the competition. The Badgers have opened as 5 to 5.5-point favorites on the board, while we see a relatively high total of 142, which is no surprise considering North Carolina likes to play at a high tempo and there will a lot of good scorers on the court. The Badgers cruised in their first round matchup and then survived to win by seven over Oregon in the Round of 32, whereas the Tar Heels barely won over Harvard before stepping it up in a nine-point win over a talented Arkansas squad.
So where's the value in this intriguing matchup? North Carolina has beaten some good teams this season, but Wisconsin is one of the clear contenders for the title and it's hard to pass up the chance to back them at this reasonable number. We don't see how the Tar Heels will be able to stop Frank Kaminsky here.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Wisconsin Badgers -5
Utah Utes vs. Duke Blue Devils
So far so good for the Blue Devils, who have looked dominant through the first two rounds.
No one expected Robert Morris to provide much resistance, but some thought Duke could have some trouble with San Diego State in the Round of 32. That wasn't the case at all though, as the Blue Devils cruised to a 68-49 victory over the Aztecs. Jahlil Okafor proved to be unstoppable, racking up 26 points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a steal, but Duke was most impressive defensively throughout.
Will Duke keep it going as a 4.5-point favorite against Utah? The Utes have beaten Stephen F. Austin (57-50) and Georgetown (75-64) in the first two rounds, but the level of competition will take a big step up Friday. And, with our sports picks, we're loving the Blue Devils to prove their superiority by easily covering this number. We should once again see Okafor take over inside, and while Utah has been sound defensively, containing a team as talented as Duke is a different story.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Duke Blue Devils -4.5
UCLA Bruins vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Few saw the Bruins making this kind of run, but here they are. They've surprised a lot of people by showing that they did infact deserve to get an invite to the madness, beating SMU in the first round and then UAB in the second. They are 8.5 point underdogs in NCAA Tournament odds.
The 11th-seeded Bruins were dominant against the Blazers, especially Tony Parker, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the big win, while also swatting three shots for good measure. UCLA shot a ridiculous 60.3 percent from the field overall on their way to 92 points against UAB, and they're going to have to be equally efficient offensively in order to have any chance of keeping up with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.
As you most likely know, the Bulldogs have been killing it once again, They took care of North Dakota in their opener and then ran away from Iowa en route to a 87-68 victory on Sunday. Kyle Wiltjer has been hard to stop and should pose more matchup problems for UCLA on Friday, yet we get the feeling UCLA will once again show up and surprise people. That's why, at first glance, the value NCAA Tournament pick appears to lie with a talented, yet inconsistent Bruins team that seems to be putting it together at the right time.
NCAA Tournament Pick: UCLA Bruins +8.5 at Pinnacle