The reason I write these too risky stories was summarized in the Oklahoma State-Michigan Round 1 NCAA Tournament Game. The Wolverines were -2.5 but lost a cover on the Pokes’ meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer. Here are three risky games in the Sweet 16.
This West Region game is Thursday. We are reaching the point of the tournament where Gonzaga usually falls apart as the school looks for its first-ever trip to the Final Four. Gonzaga has dropped three of its past four in this round. Last year in the Sweet 16 against a former Big East team (Syracuse) as West Virginia is, the Zags lost 63-60. They did beat UCLA in the regional semifinal two years ago, but also lost in this round in 2009 & ’06. Obviously, no players from this team were involved with those, but it still appears to be a trend. In addition, this year’s group didn’t cover in Round 1 vs. No. 16 South Dakota State or in the Round of 32 vs. No. 8 Northwestern. That latter game might have ended very differently if the Wildcats hadn’t gotten hosed on a key goaltending call. One thing that bothered Gonzaga in that game as it blew a big lead -- and in its lone regular-season loss -- was pressure defense and turning the ball over. No team forces more turnovers than the Mountaineers, who press all game. WVU usually loses (when it does) because it’s not a great shooting team from the perimeter yet has hit 52 percent from long range in this tournament, best of any team left. The Mountaineers shot just 35 percent from deep during the season. Gonzaga is the better team, but WVU has that unusual scheme and a proven coach in Bob Huggins.
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 3 Baylor (-3.5)
East Region game on Friday. No offense to these two, but they are better-known both for football and, frankly, their strong women’s basketball programs. This is the least-appealing matchup of the Sweet 16. Be honest: You know next to nothing about the Gamecocks because you didn’t expect them to be here. They rallied in the second half to beat both No. 10 Marquette and No. 2 Duke. USC’s 65 second-half points vs. the Blue Devils were a school record. This is the same team that entered the NCAA Tournament on a 3-6 stretch. It surely helped USC that its first two games in the Big Dance were in nearby Greenville, S.C. No such one-sided fan support at Madison Square Garden. Baylor, meanwhile, entered the NCAA Tournament having lost six of 11. I’m not convinced this team is very good with wins over No. 14 New Mexico State and then No. 11 USC, which was playing its third game of the week and led much of the way. Baylor has the best interior offense among teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament in putting up 45 points per game in the paint, while South Carolina features the top interior defense in allowing just 19 per game.
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky (pick’em)
South Region game on Friday, and isn’t a pick’em automatically too risky? If the sportsbooks can’t even decide on a favorite, how should I? Actually, I usually jump all over pick’em games because if you can’t handicap the right side a good 65 percent of the time with no spread, then you shouldn’t be in this business. The main reason it’s tough to pick a side here is that both teams rely so much on freshmen, and you never know how teenagers will react in the biggest game of their careers to this point. For the Bruins, it’s Lonzo Ball, who might be the best Pac-12 passing point guard since Jason Kidd, and T.J. Leaf. For Kentucky, it’s Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo. Those five all have one thing in common: they will be first-round picks this summer if all declare as expected. I would likely side with the home team if they played in Pauley Pavilion or Rupp Arena, but this game is in Memphis. Slight advantage Kentucky with the proximity to Lexington. Then again, UCLA won at Rupp in early December 97-92 when the Cats were No. 1 in the country and on a 42-game home winning streak. All the freshmen were great that day. I think UCLA wins here, but the only thing I’m sure of is that this will be wildly-entertaining and the highest-scoring game of the Sweet 16. The total of 165.5 on NCAA basketball odds is by far the highest of eight matchups.Bet On NCAA Tournament Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks