By Mike Ivcic
(2) Ohio State vs. (6) Tennessee, 7:05 EST
A few years ago, during Greg Oden’s only season in Columbus, these two teams met in a Sweet 16 game for the ages, won by Ohio State. This year’s Buckeye club is led by a similar college superstar in Evan Turner, while Tennessee continues to overcome the suspensions enforced earlier this season on a handful of players that has left the Vols shorthanded. Combine that with the fact that Ohio State might now be second only to Kentucky as the favorite to win it all, and they should be able to win AND cover the five point spread.
Pick: Ohio State -5
(10) Saint Mary’s vs. (3) Baylor, 7:25 EST
Sure they beat Richmond and Villanova, but that was in Providence in what was, for the most part, a fairly non-partisan crowd. Don’t expect Houston to be as kind to the Gaels, as a large contingency of Baylor fans are expected to crash the city and give the Bears a major homecourt advantage. That said, St. Mary’s won’t be intimidated, and has excellent guard play, a vital component to success in March. It’s been rare that the underdog has covered without winning in this tournament thus far, but I’m sticking to the rule of picking the underdog if there’s a chance they could win outright.
Pick: Saint Mary’s +4.5 **TOP PLAY**
(9) Northern Iowa vs. (5) Michigan State, 9:35 EST
I may not know how to spell his name, but I know I don’t want Ali Farokmawhatever anywhere near an open three-pointer with the game on the line (and for accuracy purposes, it’s Farokhmanesh). After the Panthers stunned the tournament’s overall seed Kansas, the expectations might now be a bit higher than anyone had expected at the start of the tournament. Expectations are the norm at Michigan State, who dispatched Maryland on a last second shot (not only did it give Sparty the win, it also ruined a lot of gambling pushes who had Maryland -1) and now have the chance to set up an all-Big Ten regional final. But I learned my lesson with one point lines in games that involved Michigan State.
Pick: Northern Iowa +1
(1) Duke vs. (4) Purdue, 9:55 EST
No Robbie Hummell, no problem for the Boilermakers. They survived a double overtime thriller with Texas A&M and now get one of only two top-seeds remaining in the field. The Blue Devils have yet to be challenged, in part because no one has been able to guard the – dare I say it – underrated Jon Scheyer. I expected another big day from him and the delay of the annual Duke choke for one more round – that will come against either Baylor or Saint Mary’s on Sunday. In this one, Duke wins going away to cover the largest spread of the night, though in the interest of full disclosure I was wrong on Purdue twice in the first weekend…
Pick: Duke -8
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