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Updated on 09/17/2011 2:16PM
March Madness: Friday's NCAA plays
There are stunning upsets in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament every year, but usually by the time the Sweet 16 is whittled down to the Final Four, form takes over again and logical contenders remain.
That's what I was counting on when I submitted a bracket to be posted on www.drf.com prior to the tournament starting. My boss commented that it was "chalky," which it was if you just looked at my Final Four of Oklahoma St., Duke, Connecticut and Kentucky. But in the early rounds, I nailed a few outright upsets with Nevada over Michigan St. and Manhattan over Florida in the first round and Alabama over Stanford in the second round. I misfired with Louisville over Xavier and BYU over Syracuse in the first round, but I have stayed in contention in my bracket contests because three of my Final Four teams have survived, including my eventual champ, Oklahoma St. (my chances will be slim pickins' and none if the Cowboys lose Thursday).
The point of all this is that I fully expect the favorites to exert their dominance in the round of 16. In Thursday's action, I went with three favorites - St. Joseph's -2 1/2 over Wake Forest, Oklahoma St. -2 over Pittsburgh and Connecticut -8 1/2 over Vanderbilt - with the only underdog being the shortest dog of the day, Alabama +1 1/2 over Syracuse.
On Friday, I'm split with Georgia Tech as a favorite and Illinois as an underdog with my bankroll plays, and Texas as a favorite and Alabama-Birmingham as an underdog with my non-bankroll picks. However, with the points being given to the dogs, the favorites could win all four games and I could still be correct on all four against the spread.
Let's take a closer look at the matchups. I prefer the later games in both sets of regional semifinals.
9:40 p.m. EST at Atlanta
When the lines for the Sweet 16 matchups came out, this was the first one to jump off the board at me. When I talked to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, they confirmed that a few weeks ago this line would surely have been around 7. I understand why they had to shade this number lower given Nevada's impressive upsets of Michigan St. and Gonzaga - both of which saw me backing the Wolf Pack - but I just feel it's an overadjustment and I have to lay the devalued line.
Georgia Tech wins with defense. For proof besides the fact they led the ACC in defensive field goal percentage (38.2 percent) and 3-point percentage (29.4 percent), you would just have to have seen the closing seconds of the Yellow Jackets' 57-54 win over Boston College. Leading by 1, guard Jarrett Jack made a steal and a breakaway dunk to put Georgia Tech up by 3, and then the defense denied a good shot at the buzzer.
The key will be stopping the ball at the point of attack, and the Yellow Jackets certainly have the defenders to do that. Jack will probably draw Nevada's Kirk Snyder. In addition, Tech has had success against better big men than they will face vs. Nevada.
On the offensive end, B.J. Elder (16 points per game) should be able to match Snyder point for point and also get help from the supporting cast of Jack (12.7 ppg), Marvin Lewis (11.6 ppg) and 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher (8.7 ppg), as well as strong bench play from Will Bynum (10.1 ppg) and Isma'il Muhammad (9.8 ppg).
It's that overall depth that should prove the difference.
PLAY: Georgia Tech for 1 unit.
9:57 p.m. EST at St. Louis
This is the only underdog I'm playing in the Sweet 16, and it's no small coincidence that it's the second-highest line (behind UConn -8 1/2 vs. Vanderbilt). Duke obviously has the edge in tournament experience, but Illinois has the athletes to hang with the Blue Devils.
Illinois' big men, primarily James Augustine and Roger Powell, weren't supposed to match up with Cincinnati's front court, but they did. They're in for an even tougher task against Duke. But, as the saying goes, they don't have to stop them, they only have to contain them.
If that happens, the Illini will be able to get out on the break as their guards have an athletic edge on Duke. To the casual observer, that might sound like sacrilege because Duke's J.J. Redick and Chris Duhon get so much media coverage with the Blue Devils seemingly on TV every other night, but keep an eye on Illinois' Deron Williams and Dee Brown.
In the end, if Duke plays to its potential, the Blue Devils will probably win by double digits, but any lapse and the Illini will be right there until the end and are fully capable of winning outright.
Play: Illinois for 1 unit.
Other Friday games
Before getting to my non-bankroll plays, a quick note to say that my analysis of Saturday's regional finals will be available at www.drf.com by Friday afternoon, and the Sunday games will be posted by Saturday afternoon.
Alabama-Birmingham (+4 1/2) vs. Kansas: It was so hard not to add this as a third bankroll play. I just feel I needed 6 or 7 points for true betting value on this matchup. UAB's "40 minutes of hell" will give Kansas fits just as it did Kentucky, but the main concern is if Kansas is able to slow down the tempo - which is coach Bill Self's modus operandi - and work the ball inside to Wayne Simien, the Jayhawks could grind out another spread-covering victory. That's what they did against Cinderella wannabe Pacific, which was tied with Kansas with 10 minutes remaining and just couldn't keep up.
Texas (-2 1/2) vs. Xavier: Xavier is one of those teams that I just can't seem to get a handle on and prefer to pass on this game. I give a slight edge to Texas because of its potential to dominate in the paint with its impressive frontcourt depth, plus its tournament experience as most players went to the Final Four last year before losing to eventual champion Syracuse. The key will probably be if Texas's Royal Ivey can stop the penetration of Xavier's Lionel Chalmers.
Bankroll record through first two rounds: 12-8 for a net profit of 3.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Record on non-bankroll plays: 12-16-1. Record on all tournament games: 24-24-1.
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