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SEC shows Elite status with 3 teams in final 8

By Staff
VSiN.com

FloridaWhite
Florida, coached by Mike White, is one of three SEC teams still alive.
© USA Today Sports Images

The Big Dance music continues to blast as we review Friday’s NCAA Tournament results and outline Saturday’s expectations in this special bonus edition of VSiN City, our newsletter. Plus an NBA player scored 70 points(!), and we have Sweet 16 golf openers from the World Match Play Championships.

North Carolina and Kentucky advance to South Finals
A lot of blue-chippers on the floor between Carolina blue and the bluegrass boys from Kentucky. The Tar Heels and Wildcats both scored impressive wins to set up a dream Elite Eight matchup Sunday.

North Carolina (-7) 92, Butler 80

  • Two-Point Emphasis: N. Carolina 58%, Butler 55%
  • Two-Point Shooting: N. Carolina 67%, Butler 56%
  • Rebound Rate: N. Carolina 59%, Butler 41%

North Carolina jumped to a big early lead. So, the full-game stats don’t exactly reflect two teams who were breathing fire for 40 minutes. You can see that the Tar Heels controlled the inside game. They almost grabbed 60% of the games rebounds while making two-thirds of their shots inside the arc at 22 of 33). Funny because they were only 21 of 33 on unguarded free throws! Pretty much in line with yesterday’s preview comments…

You can expect a North Carolina onslaught inside. Coach Roy Williams knows his team can score off putbacks from strong rebounders even if they don’t nail that first shot. Butler will try to slow things down and frustrate the Tar Heels to keep the game within reach. They’ll likely have to win the battle of treys to steal the upset. On paper, Carolina controls its destiny. But the fact that their inside defense isn’t particularly stingy by championship standards might make things interesting.

North Carolina’s inside defense was a bit soft, but Butler was only 8 of 28 on treys and had no chance through the evening of stealing an upset. That early flurry helped trigger an Over, with the final scoreboard count of 172 clearing the market expectation of 155 by 17 points.

Kentucky (plus 1) 86, UCLA 75

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Kentucky 63%, UCLA 58%
  • Two-Point Shooting: Kentucky 53%, UCLA 63%
  • Rebound Rate: Kentucky 51%, UCLA 49%

Certainly not the final nail in the coffin for “the West was overrated this season.” Gonzaga and Oregon are still alive, and can still make statements. UCLA was not as competitive as had been hoped as a small favorite, missing the spread by a dozen points. This, a night after Arizona was shocked by Xavier and almost missed by double digits.

From yesterday’s preview…It’s interesting that Kentucky is seen as having a significantly better defense…and grades out in efficiency as being clearly superior…yet, when you only look at two-point denials, it’s UCLA that rates much better. Why? For one, Kentucky forces more turnovers, while UCLA doesn’t pester opponents very well (ranking #313 nationally in that skill).

You can see above that UCLA got the best of it percentage-wise on two-point shots. What you don’t see is the turnover category. Kentucky only lost the ball SIX times in an often hectic, intense battle. UCLA turned the ball over more than twice as often with 13. In a matchup like this…where both teams score so efficiently when not turning the ball over…those are basically all service breaks. Kentucky was three-points better on treys (10 of 23 to 9 of 23), with the rest of their victory margin fueled by a large turnover advantage.

The game stayed Under the high market total of 168 because festivities never really got out of control. Kentucky slowed things down with a lead in the final minutes too. That kept the possession count below the season averages for both teams. Not a track meet, but an entertaining affair until Kentucky pulled away down the stretch

South Carolina and Florida advance to East finals
Well, New York didn’t get Villanova or Duke…but they got free basketball and a late, late show thriller in the nightcap. Let’s take ‘em in the order they were played.

South Carolina (plus 3) 70 Baylor 50

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Baylor 77%, S. Carolina 60%
  • Two-Point Shooting: Baylor 33%, S. Carolina 50%
  • Rebound Rate: Baylor 47%, S. Carolina 53%

We talked yesterday about the battle of pace. South Carolina was able to get some quickies in the first half as they built a comfortable lead. Baylor just isn’t built for comebacks because they play so slow and prefer to go inside. The Gamecocks ultimately won two-point shooting handily, and rebounds by a relevant amount because that’s usually a Baylor strength.

Baylor critics were justified, as this felt like a false favorite all evening to the eye test. We’ll talk more about this in our Sunday preview of the regional final. South Carolina goes on the list of unheralded teams who’ve absolutely caught fire in the Dance. You’ll see in a moment that Xavier and Kansas have huge composite cover margins through three games. South Carolina’s is bigger!

Florida (-1) 84, Wisconsin 83 (in overtime)

  • Two-Point Emphasis: Florida 59%, Wisconsin 56%
  • Two-Point Shooting: Florida 50%, Wisconsin 55%
  • Rebound Rate: Florida 47%, Wisconsin 53%

Well, we told you they were virtually identical teams except for pace! After 40 minutes it was tied at 72-all. Florida couldn’t protect what had seemed like a safe lead down the stretch. Then, in overtime, Wisconsin couldn't protect what seemed like a safe lead. Both teams swapped running three-pointers at the buzzer. How more even could it get?!

Hard to tell from our stat box what the difference-maker was. Just as hard if you read the full wire service boxscore. Florida had one more trey and two fewer turnovers. A play here or there and it goes the other way. True of a few Sweet 16 thrillers.

Huge night for the SEC? That oft-overlooked league this season pushes three teams into the final eight. Nobody else has more than one. The breakdown by conference: SEC 3, ACC 1, Big 12 1, West Coast 1, Big East 1, with Oregon the sole survivor from the Pac 12. Wisconsin’s loss marks the end of the road for the Big Ten. Three teams made the Sweet 16, but none survived into the Elite 8. The SEC is guaranteed at least one team in the Final Four because South Carolina and Florida play each other.

Now onto our Saturday previews. Rankings were gathered from Ken Pomeroy’s great stat site kenpom.com, and from comprehensive statistical resource teamrankings.com.

Gonzaga (-8.5) might be the next mythical giant in Xavier’s way at 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS
The Xavier Musketeers are playing so far above expectations in the NCAA Tournament that it’s hard to know what to make of their Elite 8 Challenge Saturday vs. #1 seed Gonzaga.

Xavier (plus 2) beat Maryland 76-65 (covered by 13)
Xavier (plus 7.5) beat Florida State 91-66 (covered by 32.5)
Xavier (plus 7.5) beat Arizona 73-71 (covered by 9.5)

That’s a combined-55 point cover! All coming against opponents representing Power 6 conferences.

Maybe there were extenuating circumstances in each of those. Maryland was way over-seeded as a #6, and shouldn’t have been favored. Florida State was from the ACC, a conference that turned out to be significantly overrated based on Dance results up and down the league. Arizona was exposed as soft inside once they had to play a team from the other side of the Mississippi River that wasn’t afraid to attack the basket.

Though, it has to be pointed out that Gonzaga might also be an over-seeded team from an overrated conference. The Zags trailed in the final minute vs. West Virginia, and were fortunate to survive. Gonzaga had to sweat Northwestern, getting some help from a controversial non-call on an obvious goal-tend. Are the betting markets continuing to mis-represent the true talent of both teams with that high spread of Gonzaga -8.5? Is Gonzaga the next mythical giant that Xavier’s about to slay?

Let’s dig a little deeper. To this point, we’ve been focusing on two-point defense, rebounding, and pace to help paint the picture for upcoming matchups. Today we add in the critical element of turnovers, both from an offensive and defensive perspective. We’ll include rankings in the “rate” of turnovers forced and allowed, which means raw turnover counts adjusted for the number of possessions. (Rankings gathered from teamrankings.com and kenpom.com)

  • Gonzaga: 67% two-point emphasis vs. Xavier’s #295 ranked two-point defense
  • Xavier: 63% two-point emphasis vs. Gonzaga’s #2 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Gonzaga #7, Xavier #13
  • Turnover Avoidance: Gonzaga #29, Xavier #145
  • Forcing Turnovers: Gonzaga #218, Xavier #227
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Gonzaga #72, Xavier #220

You might think Xavier has been playing better than those ugly defensive numbers in this hot dance run. Not really!

  • Xavier allowed 51% on two-pointers and only forced 11 turnovers against Maryland
  • Xavier allowed 51% on two-pointers and only forced 9 turnovers against Florida State
  • Xavier allowed 57% on two-pointers and only forced 8 turnovers against Arizona

How can a team win doing that? Basically it’s a combination of trying to keep opponents outside the arc…then backing off to avoid foul trouble if they get close to the basket.

You probably saw Arizona “settle” for 7 of 27 on three-pointers Thursday night. Florida State was 4 of 21. Like Arizona, Maryland was also 7 of 27. Xavier’s opponents combined to go 18 of 75 on treys, for 24% (just 36% on the two-point equivalent).

Gonzaga wants to pound it inside to their bigs. If they can, then Cinderella’s coach may finally turn into a pumpkin. Arizona thought it could do that and found themselves losing hope through the evening.

From the stats…Gonzaga’s great rebounding rate this season was exposed as an illusion created by a very soft schedule. They allowed 20 offensive boards to West Virginia. Xavier is a much better rebounding team than West Virginia. Edge to Xavier on the glass.

Gonzaga’s good full season grading on turnover avoidance is probably influenced by that soft schedule. They lost the ball 16 times vs. West Virginia. Tough call because of schedule pollution. Probably a wash.

Both teams were the same at forcing turnovers…but Gonzaga has a mediocre national grading despite playing a very soft schedule. It’s not a priority for either team. Slight edge to Xavier.

Good luck with your pick. Looks like the linchpin area will be whether or not Gonzaga can get the ball inside consistently. Arizona could not and paid the price.

Kansas (-6) hopes to stay hot vs. Oregon at 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS
From a team that was surprisingly hot (Xavier), to a #1 seed that’s been similarly on fire while making its national championship case. Despite getting a lot of respect in the line, the Kansas Jayhawks have been blowing the doors off of expectations.

  • Kansas (-23) beat Cal-Davis 100-62 (covered by 15)
  • Kansas (-7.5) beat Michigan State 90-70 (covered by 12.5)
  • Kansas (-5.5) beat Purdue 98-66 (covered by 26.5)

That’s a composite 54-point cover. And, it’s harder to make the case now than it would have been two weeks ago that beating up the Big 10 doesn’t mean anything. The Big 10 has largely been underrated in the Dance except when playing Kansas! Sure, getting to play in Kansas City helped vs. Purdue. “Home” court at that site isn’t worth 30 points.

For its part, Oregon struggled to shake Iona in the first round…then played virtual coin flips vs. Rhode Island and Michigan. The Ducks aren’t currently playing at a level that’s going to derail the runaway train. Let’s see if the numbers give the dog any hope.

  • Kansas: 65% two-point emphasis vs. Oregon’s #63 ranked two-point defense
  • Oregon: 61% two-point emphasis vs. Kansas’s #25 ranked two-point defense
  • Rebound Rate Ranking: Kansas #38, Oregon #57
  • Turnover Avoidance: Kansas #93, Oregon #66
  • Forcing Turnovers: Kansas #173, Oregon #93
  • Kenpom’s Adjusted Pace Ranking: Kansas #63, Oregon #241

A helpful reminder that Kansas hasn’t been a juggernaut all season. Even while winning the Big 12 (again), the team outperformed its stat profile by winning a lot of close games. Excellent on inside defense and rebounding, but surprisingly generic by Dance standards in the area of turnovers. Oregon does look to have the better of it in the turnover category. Can the Ducks make enough treys (39% of their shots were on treys this season) to play another thriller? That’s the category that pushed them over the top vs. Michigan (8 of 17 from long range).

Pace could prove important here. Kansas will get easy baskets if you let them run. Oregon plays at a below average tempo, and absolutely has to prevent cheap points on fast breaks. Can the Ducks do that in what will feel like a road game in Kansas City?

What did you miss in the NBA if you were watching the Dance?

Only a guy scoring 70 points!

A quick review of results in Nevada rotation order…

Washington (-10) beat Brooklyn 129-108. The Nets didn’t bring much energy to this back to back spot. Brooklyn is still 8-3 ATS its last 11 games. Washington ended a six-game non-cover skid with the blowout victory.

Denver (plus 1.5) beat Indiana 125-117. Instead of coming out flat off the Cleveland win, the Nuggets continued their stellar form of late. Denver’s now 7-1 ATS its last eight games, and the miss was by just 1.5 points in a tight home loss to Houston. Check out Denver’s scoring totals the last six games! The current run is 129-129-105-124-126-125. Indiana falls to 2-6 ATS its last eight games.

Cleveland (-3.5) beat Charlotte 112-105 in a nice bounce back from the ugly loss at Denver. Charlotte falls to three games out of the Eastern playoff picture with 10 to play. Cleveland keeps it’s slight lead over Boston in the race for top seed. Big game Saturday night in Cleveland when playoff-bound Washington comes to visit.

Orlando (plus 2) beat Detroit 115-87. That’s the best Magic result in weeks. Orlando is still 2-6 ATS its last eight. Detroit is 1-6 straight up and ATS its last seven, with the only success coming against tanking Phoenix. The Pistons just played three road games where they were favored every time out…yet lost by 2 to Brooklyn, by 22 to Chicago, and by 28 to Orlando. Again, they were favored in all three!

Boston (-16) beat Phoenix 130-120. The Suns were down by 23 at the half, but managed to cover in extended garbage time despite this being night two of a back-to-back. Boston has its eye on a home game Sunday with Miami. That’s largely why Devin Booker of Phoenix could score SEVENTY points in a glorified scrimmage. Fun night for a 20-year old, no doubt. And, that’s obviously a fantastic night even if it was a glorified scrimmage! Huge growth potential for a sharpshooter that young.

Milwaukee (-6) beat Atlanta 100-97, needing a late surge just to get the straight up victory. Atlanta has lost six games in a row straight up, but at least covered the last two with competitive road efforts (the other at Washington). Milwaukee moves into a tie with Atlanta at 37-35 for the fifth seed in the East.

Houston (-8) beat New Orleans 117-107. The Rockets avenge a 128-112 loss at New Orleans a week ago. The Pelicans are still 8-3-1 ATS their last dozen. Fun game coming up Sunday when New Orleans visits Denver. Two teams who are still playing like they care will be going head-to-head. Not a lot of that around the league in recent days. Houston and James Harden host Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook Sunday afternoon on ABC.

Philadelphia (plus 6.5) beat Chicago 117-107. That’s the first non-cover for the Bulls since Wade’s injury. Philly bounces back well from the blowout loss at OKC, and is now 8-1 ATS its last nine games (despite playing seven of those on the road!).

The LA Lakers (plus 6.5) beat Minnesota (-6.5) 130-119 in overtime. Minnesota is now 1-6 straight up and ATS their last seven games. Even with the cover, the Lakers are 4-11-1 ATS their last 16.

Golden State (-17.5) beat Sacramento 114-100. The Warriors carried a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter, before the Kings beat the number in garbage time.

Early golf lines for Saturday’s Sweet 16 at the World Match Play Championships
South Point sports book director Chris Andrews posted these openers Friday evening for Saturday morning’s Sweet 16 round of the World Match Play championships. The matchups are listed in “bracket” order. So, the winner of the first match will play the winner of the second match in the Elite 8 round later in the day. (Seeds are in parenthesis)

  • Dustin Johnson (1) -230 vs. Zack Johnson (44) plus 195
  • Brooks Koepka (20) -125 vs. Alex Noren (8) plus 105
  • Paul Casey (12) -210 vs. Hideto Tanihara (54) plus 180
  • Bubba Watson (13) -135 vs. Ross Fisher (48) plus 115
  • Soren Kjeldsen (62) pick-em vs. William McGirt (48)
  • Jon Rahm (21) -200 vs. Charles Howell III (60) 170
  • Bill Haas (42) -130 vs. Kevin Na (46) 110
  • Phil Mickelson (14) -140 vs. Marc Leishman (28) 120

Unable to qualify for the weekend were popular betting choices #2 seed Rory McIlroy and #5 seed Jordan Spieth. #3 seed Jason Day withdrew for personal reasons.

Update on VSiN Beat The Spread Challenge

The opening lines are set for the regional finals, so you can make your picks now.

The deadline for making the picks for both Saturday's and Sunday's games is 30 minutes before the first game on Saturday. That means you must be done by 5:39 p.m. ET/2:39 p.m. PT. You also will be asked to pick the total score for 2 of the games as a tiebreaker. Details at https://vsincontest.com/​

Since this is MARCH MADNESS, we’ll another bonus report from VSiN City Sunday. Thanks to all of you who have been sending in comments and suggestions. If you haven’t had a chance to do that yet, please take some time this weekend to drop us an email.

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