LAS VEGAS — We wanted madness, and we got madness! The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament certainly lived up to the hype, with all the upsets we’ve come to expect and point-spread and Over/Under results coming down to the final horn.
Underdogs ended up 25-22 ATS (53.2 percent) in the first and second rounds. If you include the First Four, ’dogs are 29-22 ATS (56.9 percent). In totals wagering, Unders went 26-21 (55.3 percent) in the first and second rounds, though they dominated the first round at 19-12 while Overs actually led 9-7 in the second round.
First-half Unders started 9-0 on Friday before cooling off for those jumping on the bandwagon late. First-half Overs led 9-7 in the second round to reduce First-half Unders’ lead to just 26-19-2 (57.7 percent) overall.
So now we move on to the Sweet 16, which will be Saturday and Sunday after being played Thursday and Friday for as long as we can remember.
Here are my top three underdog plays in this round, plus an Under.
Oral Roberts vs. Arkansas
There are three other double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, but the biggest surprise has been No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles shocked No. 2 seed Ohio State 75-72 in overtime as 15-point underdogs and +1000 (10/1) on the moneyline, then took out No. 7 seed Florida, 81-78, as nine-point ’dogs and +330 ML.
I certainly underrated Oral Roberts, but the Golden Eagles have been underestimated by oddsmakers and bettors all season as they’re 11-3 ATS as underdogs. It’s no longer a secret that guard Max Abmas leads the nation at 24.5 ppg. Oral Roberts also has a big man, Kevin Obanor, who averages 19.6 points and 9.6 rebounds. Those two combined for 113 points in the first two rounds, and they give the Eagles a chance to stay within single digits in what should be a shootout.
Pick: Oral Roberts, +11.
Oregon State vs. Loyola Chicago
Another significant betting trend is that the Pac-12 is 9-1 SU and ATS so far. The “Conference of Champions” was dissed all season for its supposed lack of quality, but the Pac-12 has exceeded expectations, and Oregon State was the conference tourney champion.
Of course, Loyola Chicago shocked No. 1 seed Illinois, 71-58, in the second round. Frankly, it can hardly be called a fluke if you watched the game. The Ramblers led wire to wire and, even though the whole world was expecting the Illini to rally, were never seriously threatened.
Loyola ranks No. 1 in defensive efficiency and both teams are methodical on offense, working the clock for the best shot. A lot of bettors will be looking at the Under, but I’ll pass there as oddsmakers and the betting markets had set this as the lowest total in the Sweet 16 at 125.5. Instead, I’ll go with the Beavers plus the points as the slow pace should put points at a premium.
Pick: Oregon State, +6.5.
Syracuse vs. Houston
How does Jim Boeheim do it? Syracuse is in the Sweet 16 for the third time in six seasons as a double-digit seed. Boeheim certainly gets his teams to peak this time of year, and we all know the reputation of his 2-3 zone defense. The Orange upset No. 6 seed San Diego State as a 3-point underdog and then No. 3 seed West Virginia as a 3.5-point ’dog.
I’m tempted to take the points with Boeheim and his son, Buddy, who is averaging 28.3 points his past four games. But the point spread is a little short for me at +6 against No. 2 seed Houston. I’ll go with the Under here because Houston also plays tough defense and plays at a slow pace of just 67.7 possessions per game (309th slowest in the nation of 347 teams, according to teamrankings.com).
Pick: Under 140.
Florida State vs. Michigan
Michigan is the only Big Ten team to make the Sweet 16 after nine made the Big Dance. When I filled out my bracket last week, I handicapped this game and had Florida State upsetting Michigan to make the Elite Eight. And that was before seeing how overrated the Big Ten ended up being, plus it’s still looking as if injured Michigan star Isaiah Livers won’t be returning.
Florida State does everything Michigan does, and I like the Seminoles’ defense better. Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton is adept enough at mixing up zone and man-to-man defenses that I can see it frustrating the Wolverines. The number is a little short for my liking, but I guess if I expect the Seminoles to win outright, any points are a bonus.
Pick: Florida State, +2.5.