Before we get to this week’s column, I have a very important personal announcement to make ... ORAL ROBERTS!!! That’s it, that’s the statement. From inappropriate innuendos to massive moneyline paydays, Oral Roberts reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed is the story of the tournament. As + 1100 dogs against Ohio State and + 400 versus Florida (+ 1600 live at one point), Oral Roberts’ two victories are everything we love about the NCAA tournament. Oregon State is not far behind, with two double-digit victories, capturing both wins against opponents who were touchdown-ish favorites.
The Big Ten has flopped, and the Pac-12 appears to be the new ruler of the free world, going undefeated straight up and against the spread before Colorado bowed out Monday night against Florida State. The Pac-12 had won all eight of its tournament games by double digits. It has been a bizarre, exhilarating 100 hours of hoops, and we still have a precious 15 more games to come. Let’s continue the madness and find some winners to make this next week truly sweet for our bankrolls.
Oregon State (+ 7.5) vs. Loyola-Chicago
Not sure if Sister Jean reads PSW (she should, obviously) and I’m not picking her beloved Ramblers to lose, but this line is a touch high. Buy low/sell high is a good approach to live by, and there is no “high” like beating a No. 1 seed that many picked to go all the way, and doing so convincingly in a standalone game in front of the nation.
It’s being overshadowed a bit by Oral Roberts’ magnificent run, but this Oregon State squad is one hell of a story as well. Picked dead last in the Pac-12, the Beavers were 300-1 in some places to win the conference tournament. They erased a 16-point deficit against fellow Sweet 16 member UCLA en route to three consecutive upsets just to get in the NCAA tournament. They blew out Tennessee and built a big lead against Oklahoma State before letting it get away and then pulled away late. Those teams were uber-athletic but were stymied by Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle and his mix of zone defenses, forcing his opponents to take outside jump shots.
Loyola is an excellent defensive team, it doesn’t foul and it doesn’t allow second-chance points. Both teams win with defense and prefer to play at a slow pace, opting to get back and deny easy buckets rather than crash the glass and give up fast-break opportunities. The Under is certainly worth a look as points will be at a premium. Look for a slog, a game in which the winner may barely hit 60. In this kind of low-scoring affair, 7.5 is a bunch of points to be laying. I much prefer to take the points, although I suggest being greedy and holding out for a possible 8, considering how the public will be looking to back Loyola after such a high-profile win.
Gonzaga (-13.5) vs. Creighton
The two original mid-major powers of my youth square off for a ticket to the Elite Eight. I was shocked to learn that Creighton, which has made a dozen trips to the tournament since 2000 and has become something of a mainstay in March, is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1974. This weekend will be the end of the line, though.
It is unusual for a team to be getting this big of a number in a game this deep into the tournament. Just for reference, in 2013 Florida Gulf Coast was a 12-point dog in this round against Florida as the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Oral Roberts, the second No. 15 seed to play into the second weekend, is getting 11 points against Arkansas. Creighton has enough name recognition to entice many bettors at this price who will see this line as inflated and create the rare scenario where the dog is the public side.
Gonzaga is a lot like Alabama football was last season — they dominate to such an extreme level that their games get out of hand, and they empty the bench/take their foot off the gas. Being so close to winning their first title, I sense that Gonzaga is going to start to smell the finish line after a long, unblemished season and ratchet up the intensity even more so going forward.
It’s only a matter of time before there is a minus sign after Gonzaga’s name on the futures board for odds to win the title, especially after Illinois was eliminated Sunday. Look for the Zags’ best effort against an overmatched Creighton team that was a missed layup away from being eliminated by UC Santa Barbara in the first round.
Oral Roberts (+ 11.5) vs Arkansas
What did you think I was going to do, pick against them? What fun would that be? This should be a hell of an entertaining game. All season Oral Roberts has been a 3-jacking, high-powered offense that has played just enough defense to get by. The rebounding and defense was subpar for most of the season but has ascended to a level of respectability that makes them a handful for just about anyone.
Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor are an incredibly dynamic pick-and-pop duo, and will face an Arkansas team that loves to run up and down the court. This will be a track meet with a basketball thrown in, and we could see both teams score in the 80s, with the winner almost certainly reaching 90. The Over is definitely worth a look as well, but I am going to ride America’s darling getting this juicy number. My gut tells me they will lose a heartbreaker and this ride will come to an unfortunate halt, but getting 11.5 is plenty to get us to the window.