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NCAA Tourney: A Look Back and Look Ahead

In one shining moment, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett rescued Duke from disaster. The favorite to win the NCAA Tournament suddenly faced unfavorable odds and the specter of elimination in the second round.

The Blue Devils needed luck — and the best player in college basketball — on their side to survive and advance from an historic weekend.

Chalk this up: All 16 betting favorites won in the second round, something that never had happened since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The result is a Sweet 16 without a Cinderella.

“You would like to see a Liberty or a Buffalo get through, but the next round’s matchups are incredible,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “All of the matchups are quality.”

Duke essentially needed a miracle to top Central Florida 77-76 on Sunday. After Williamson’s layup cut the Blue Devils’ deficit to one point with 14 seconds remaining, he missed the potential tying free throw. Barrett’s rebound basket was the go-ahead score, and UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins narrowly missed a putback with two seconds to go. Williamson finished with 32 points.

Gamblers who danced with the Devils had a story to tell. Duke closed as a 13½-point favorite with a moneyline price that was bet from -1,100 to -1,600 by tipoff.

“We had a huge amount on Duke moneyline parlays,” Bogdanovich said. “Duke could lose the next game or win it all. It’s certainly not an invincible team like the pundits have said all year.”

Favorites finished the second round 16-0 straight up and 11-5 against the spread. Tennessee needed overtime to survive against Iowa, but most of the Saturday and Sunday games were blowouts. Even with favorites cashing at a record clip, bookmakers called it a winning first week with a stunningly high wagering handle.

“It didn’t slow down for four days,” Bogdanovich said. “No huge, huge bets like the Super Bowl, but it adds up. It was incredible.”

Duke is a 7½-point favorite over Virginia Tech in a Sweet 16 matchup of Atlantic Coast Conference rivals. Also on Friday, Gonzaga is a 7-point favorite over Florida State.

“I don’t know why Gonzaga is seven over Florida State. That number looks huge,” Bogdanovich said. “That jumps out at me.”

It’s a lineup of blue-blood teams also headlined by North Carolina, favored by five points over Auburn, and Kentucky, which is laying 2½ against Houston.

Oregon, the sole survivor from the Pac-12, is the hottest team in the field. The Ducks are riding 10-0 straight up and ATS streaks as they prepare to face Virginia, which is favored by 8½.

Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet, said Oregon is his best bet in the Sweet 16 mostly due to the coaching mastery of Dana Altman and superb play from point guard Payton Pritchard.

“Oregon’s late-season ascent shows no sign of leveling,” Marshall said. “Altman’s team has buried Wisconsin and UC Irvine in near-identical fashion, choking off foes on the defensive end with a collection of 6-8 and 6-9 jumpers on the frontline, while Pritchard pulls the strings adroitly.

“This matchup is troubling for Virginia, whose offense has been misfiring, especially beyond the arc, where the Cavaliers are hitting barely 26 percent in their past three games. With the Ducks likely closing off the paint, the Cavs’ perimeter weapons will have to carry much of the scoring burden, which appears a dicey proposition at the moment. Virginia is going to be hard-pressed to win this game, much less handle this considerable spread.”

Tennessee is the shortest favorite in the next round, with the Volunteers laying one point against Purdue.

The Big Ten has three teams still standing, including the Boilermakers. Michigan is a 2-point favorite over Texas Tech, and Michigan State is a 6-point favorite 

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