After a great slate of games on Thursday the NCAA finishes off the Sweet 16 with four more games on Friday night. Unlike Thursday there’s no teams seeded in double digits and the 8th seed and 7th seed both knocked off two of the favorites to win the entire tournament.
With each round comes a whole new set of possibilities and any preconceived notions are thrown out the window. Each game needs to be looked at from a fresh perspective in order to make sure you’re exploring each angle to get the most out of your bet. Lucky for you, we’re here to take the hard work out of it. Let’s get to it!
#4 Butler Bulldogs vs. #1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Butler (+7.5) vs. North Carolina (-7.5)
The Bulldogs are no strangers to upset in the NCAA Tournament and yet they’re going to need to pull out all the stops to beat the number on seeded Tar Heels in the South Region semifinal on Friday in Tennessee. The 4th seeded Bulldogs are attempting to knock off a number one seed for the third time in their school’s history after doing it very recently back in 2010 and 2011. In both of those years Butler made it all the way to the national championship game and they certainly won’t be considering themselves underdogs when the game tips off.
It’s been a relatively easy tournament so far for this Butler team. They didn’t trail in either of their wins over Middle Tennessee or Winthrop and won both games by a combined score of 21 points. They spent just over a minute tied in either game and have looked as strong as advertised through their first two games. The Tar Heels meanwhile have had a tougher time despite being a higher seed. North Carolina had to come back stuck five against Arkansas over the final three minutes in their last game and will try and use that as a learning experience with the competition only ramping up during the Sweet 16. They’re back in that coveted spot for the third straight year and ninth in their last 13 seasons and if anyone knows what it takes to go deep in this tournament it’s the Tar Heels.
North Carolina enters with a 29-7 record overall and were almost ousted by the Razorbacks’ frantic style of play in their last game. The Tar Heels play fast and that style should match up much better against the Bulldogs. The Tar Heels come locked and loaded with some of the most electric players in the country including Justin Jackson who averages 18.1 points and 4.7 rebounds. Joining him are Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks who combined for 25.1 points and 14.8 rebounds.
Butler counters with a 25-8 record and have shown their offensive skills early in the tournament. They’ve connect on over 50 percent of their shots including a scalding hot 47 percent from deep. Their hottest shooter is Memphis transfer student Avery Woodson who is eight of 14 from downtown during the tournament. That shooting is going to need to continue if they want to keep up with the Tar Heels’ offense. The Bulldogs are excellent at taking care of the basketball and turn it over just 10.2 times a game. That will need to continue with how quickly the Tar Heels can get up and down the court.
Joel Berry II vs. Kelan Martin. We all know how good of a player Jackson is but Berry is equally important to this team. He’s averaging 14.4 points a game to sit second in scoring for North Carolina but is dealing with an ankle injury. He was just two of 13 during the near loss against Arkansas and now needs to go up against the very skilled Martin. The Bulldog is is leading the team with 16.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and will be heavily leaned on to jumpstart the offense.
North Carolina has won 12 of their last 13 Sweet 16 games and while we expect them to come out on top in this one as well the spread seems large for a team that had some much trouble with Arkansas. Take Butler on the spread and hope the Bulldogs have a little magic left.
#7 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. #3 Baylor Bears
South Carolina (+3.5) vs. Baylor (-3.5)
For the first time ever the Gamecocks will experience what a game is like in the Sweet 16. South Carolina is playing in its first game this deep into the tournament in the school’s history and despite being a 7th seed they like their chances against this 3rd seeded Baylor bunch. The two will swore off on Friday night in the Garden and the game will be jam-packed with action and athleticism.
The Gamecocks didn’t just get lucky to get here either. South Carolina is coming off what many are already calling the biggest win in school history when they upset Duke by seven points. Now that they’ve tasted what it’s like to win big against a big schoo,l they’ve got Baylor in their sights. Despite having waited 44 years just to win a game in the national tournament the Gamecocks and their coach want to win the entire tournament. They knocked off Marquette in the first round in a huge 20 points win and after dealing with Duke this team seems capable of making some more noise.
Baylor isn’t going to just stand there shaking in their boots. The Bears are seeded 3rd after all and enter with a 27-7 record overall this season. It’s the fourth time in the last 14 years this team has made it to the Sweet 16 and in two of those trips they made it all the way to the Elite Eight. Put that against the inexperience of the Gamecocks and the Bears start to seem like a pretty safe bet. The Bears are led by Johnathan Motley who had played well enough this season to be considered a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
He stands six foot ten and leads the teams in scoring with 17.3 points. He’s also nasty on the glass and was the best rebounder in the entire Big 12 this season with 9.9 a game. He had 19 points, 10 boards and two blocks when Baylor held on against USC and the Bears will lean on him heavily again on Friday night. Manu Lecomte has been big for Baylor as well and is the only other Bear to average double digits this season with 12.3 a game.
The Gamecocks have a star of their own and he’s a big reason why South Carolina enters this matchup with confidence. Sindarius Thornwell is the SEC player of the year and a huge contributor to South Carolina’s 24-10 record this season. He leads the team in scoring with 21.4 points, rebounding with 7.3 boards a game and steals at 2.2 swipes per contest. He shoots just under 40 percent from downtown and his defense is arguably just as good, if not better than what he does when the basketball is in his hands. The Gamecocks were feisty against the Blue Devils and made Duke commit 18 turnovers.
Chris Silva against Jo Lual-Acuil. Lual-Acuil may not have a lot of tough around the rim but he can sure protect it. He averages 6.8 rebounds and an enormous 2.5 blocks a game for the Bears and will need to try and shut down Chris Silva who has emerges as a go-to scorer for the Gamecocks in this tournament. He scored 17 points with 10 boards against the Duke and can be sneaky effective if he’s given room
The Bears are 9-1 against teams from the SEC since 2012 and two of those wins came against the Gamecocks. Baylor has a lot to prove after many people wrote them off with their struggles midway through the season but the have an excellent shot to move on against a team not-named-Duke. Take the Bears on the spread.
#3 UCLA Bruins vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats
UCLA (-1) vs. Kentucky (+1)
The marquee matchup of the night is upon us when he Bruins and Wildcats too off on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis Tennessee. Number three seeded UCLA takes on number two seeded Kentucky in the first round of the Sweet 16 with some history on the Bruins’ side. UCLA beat Kentucky back in 2015 and in 2016 and both times the Wildcats were ranked number one the nation. The Bruins will try to upset the Wildcats again although the teams are a little more evenly matched this time around.
The Bruins are trying to beat Kentucky for the second time this year after earning their last win the same way they’ve beaten almost every other opponent this season: offense, offense, offense. UCLA uses a well-rounded attack from all spots on the floor and get production out of every single one of their starters. During their win over Kentucky back in December UCLA had every last one of their starters score between 14 and 19 points and when your attack is that lethal it’s hard to stop.
Kentucky can score as well and has some incredible athletes on their side of the ball. The Wildcats are led by both of their guards in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Monk averages 20 points a game this season and dropped 24 against the Bruins in that loss back in December. Fox averages 16.1 a night and also hit the 20 point mark in that loss back in December. If these two can feed off each other gain they could come out with the win.
The Bruins respond with arguably the story of the tournament in Lonzo Ball. While his dad does all the talking for him, he does all his talking on the court. In their big win over Cincinnati the freshman and NBA-bound guard almost triple-doubled with 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. He had just one turnover and continue to prove that he can play with style and creativity while taking care of the basketball. During UCLA’s win earlier against Kentucky, Ball was strong with 14 points, seven assists and six boards and he knows how to run the country’s most potent offense.
T.J. Leaf against Isaiah Briscoe. Both of these players are excellent and yet they often get forgot about with all the other talent on the team. Leaf actually leads the Bruins in points per game with 16.2 and is an incredible rebounder at 8.2 a game. He’ll be asked to keep an eye on Briscoe who is the third guard for Kentucky but just as lethal as the other two when he gets going. He has four double doubles this season and can take over a game if the Bruins aren’t careful with putting someone on him.
UCLA leads the country in points per game, assists, assist to turnover ratio and field goal percentage. They can straight up score and sometimes that’s all you need in a tournament this deep. Take the Bruins on the spread in what should be a thrilling Friday night game.
#8 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #4 Florida Gators
Wisconsin (+2) vs. Florida (-2)
Well their seeds may not be high their play certainly has been during the tournament and we expect more fireworks when the Badgers and Gators tip off on Friday night in New York City. Both the Gators and Badgers have been two of the best-looking teams during the tournament so far especially given their seeds. Florida is well known for winning back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007 but they’ve also had some recent success by making it to the Final Four in 2014.
As nice as that success is Wisconsin has been to the Final Four in back to back years and are looking for their third straight visit. The Badgers became the only team in the country to make it to four straight Sweet 16 appearances with their most impressive win of the season against the number one overall seed Villanova Wildcats to earn the right to play Florida.
While the Badgers have some history and experience on their side the Gators have been playing as well as anyone recently. They enter with a 26-8 record on the year and are 8-1 all time in Sweet 16 appearances. Devin Robinson has been excellent for Florida this season and during the tournament and they’ll need him to be strong again with all the experience the Badgers have. He had 14 points and 11 boards against Virginia in Florida’s last win and is averaging 19 points through the tournament which shatters his regular season average of just 11.4.
The Badgers counter with their experienced seniors who have led them all season long. Bronson Koenig has been a beast in his first two games of the tournament with 11 three pointers already on his way to a whopping 45 points. Nigel Hayes is the other experienced senior who has been lighting it up with averages of 17.5 points and nine rebounds through his first two games of the Madness. Wisconsin’s bench has struggled and that could be a problem if their starters can’t get it done early.
Ethan Happ against KeVaughn Allen. Happ lead the Badgers in almost every category this season and has at least ten points and eight rebounds in five straight games. He contributes all over the court with 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks as well and he’ll be asked to lock down Allen who has struggled in the tournament. He is just one of 13 from deep and a brutal three of 21 overall in the tournament. If he finds his stroke the Gators become that much more lethal.
The Badgers have the experience and history to win another big game and with both teams so evenly matched we’re going to side with the team that has been here before for two straight years. Take Wisconsin on the spread.
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