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Butler (5) vs. Syracuse (1), 7:05 ET: For the second time in 3 years, the Butler Bulldogs are back in the Sweet 16. This time riding a 22 game winning streak, the Nation’s best. Big free throws late propelled the Bulldogs past Murray State 54-52 to set up a date with Syracuse. The Orange completed throttled Gonzaga on Sunday 87-65 behind the hot shooting of Big East Player of the Year, Wesley Johnson, who scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Syracuse shot 60.7% in the first half and never looked back. The Orange have much more athletic players than Butler and after their performance on Sunday, it’s hard not to take Syracuse. I look for the Syracuse zone to stifle the sharp-shooting Bulldogs much like they did to Gonzaga and win this game easily.
Pick: Syracuse -6
Washington (11) vs. West Virginia (2), 7:25 ET: The big news heading into this contest is the injury to West Virginia guard Darryl Bryant. He broke a bone in his foot at practice the other day and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Joe Mazzullla. Bryant was averaging 9.9 points a game. While Mazzulla has seen increased playing time off the bench, this will hurt the Mountaineers depth. Da’Sean Butler is still WVU’s go-to-guy. He poured in 28 points and hit 12 of 13 free throws in West Virginia’s 68-59 win over Missouri to reach the Sweet 16. The 11th seeded Washington Huskies have surprised most people by making it to the Sweet 16. This team has mega talent led by Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, but struggled in a poor Pac-10 this year. After 9 straight wins with a run-and-gun offense, they have me thinking that they’re playing like a number 3 seed and not an 11. The Huskies will try to keep the tempo going against West Virginia tonight and advance to the Elite Eight.
Pick: Washington +4 **TOP PLAY**
Xavier (6) vs. Kansas State (2), 9:35 ET: For the 3 third straight year, Xavier has advanced to the Sweet 16, matching Michigan State as the only two teams to do so. Jordan Crawford has led the way with 2 huge games averaging 27.5 points a game. He’s the type of player that can carry a team all the way to the Final Four. The Musketeers also have a nice presence in the middle with big man Jason Love. He grabbed 8 rebounds and had a key block down the stretch to beat Pittsburgh last weekend. Kansas State is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 22 years thanks in part to Jacob Pullen. He scored 20 of his 34 points in the first half against BYU to help erase a 10 point deficit and defeat the Cougars 84-72. This is a tough one to call. Xavier has a ton of experience, but Kansas State has a very good physical defense that can wear them down. I like experience in this spot, so I’ll take Xavier to cover a close game.
Pick: Xavier +4.5
Cornell (12) vs. Kentucky (1), 9:55 ET: The most anticipated matchup of the night is the Ivy League vs. the SEC. How good is this Cornell team? Well, considering the crushed both Temple and Wisconsin, I’d say pretty good. They have 8 seniors on the roster and potentially a few NBA players in Randy Wittman and Jeff Foote. Louis Dale is a pretty good player also. Kentucky also cruised to victory in their first two games as well. This is a pretty young but talented Kentucky squad. I think Cornell’s experience will keep this one closer than the linesmakers think.
Pick: Cornell +8.5
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