Finding a chink in the oddsmakers’ armor is tough come tournament time. But we peel back some of this week’s Sweet 16 matchups, looking for some underlying mismatches that could make or break your college basketball bets this March.
Oregon Ducks vs. Louisville Cardinals (-10, 127.5)
Ducks’ turnover troubles vs. Cardinals’ killer defense
Oregon may not be your conventional Cinderella, having won the Pac-12 title, but the Ducks are definitely going to feel like underdogs if they can't cure their case of the butter fingers against No. 1 Louisville in the Sweet 16. Oregon has been able to get by in the first two games despite turning the ball over 36 times, something that has plagued it all season.
The Ducks cough the ball up 15.1 times per game and now go against a swarming Cardinals defense that forces 18.9 turnovers a game – second most in the nation. Louisville pressured Colorado State to turn the ball over 19 times in the Round of 32 and forced 25 in its first-round win over NC A&T.
Syracuse Orange vs. Indiana Hoosiers (-5.5, 135.5)
Orange’s athletic zone vs. Hoosiers’ rebounding dependency
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense has carried the Orange deep into the tournament in past seasons and could give SU one of its biggest wins this Thursday. The Orange will depend on its athletic defense to slow up No. 1 Indiana and its bevy of scorers. Cuse locked down Cal star scorer Allen Crabbe in the Round of 32, holding the Pac-12 Player of the Year to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The Hoosiers didn’t encounter too many zones during Big Ten play and have been able to dominate the boards because of it (38.7 rpg – 19th). Jamming up IU’s glass eaters, like Cody Zeller, will limit the Hoosiers' second-chance looks while pushing Victor Oladipo to the perimeter to deal with Syracuse’s long and athletic guards.
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Michigan Wolverines (+1.5, 137)
Jayhawks veteran Jeff Withey vs. Wolverines’ freshman Mitch McGary
Mitch McGary is going to be a great basketball player. The freshman big has shown flashes of his potential, like Michigan’s win over VCU this past weekend in which he scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. But those numbers came against a smaller Rams lineup and the Wolverines 6-foot-10 center has struggled against true size this season.
No player in the country plays as big as KU’s fifth-year senior Jeff Withey. The Jayhawks’ 7-foot-2 shot swatter is an impact player on both ends of the floor and makes a career out of taking it to softer frontcourts, like he did versus UNC Sunday. McGary often finds himself in foul trouble against bigger opponents. He was limited with four fouls against Indiana in the season finale and had similar issues versus Illinois’ long frontcourt.
Arizona Wildcats vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (-4, 134)
Wildcats’ western advantage vs. Buckeyes' Big Ten boos
While NCAA tournament games are held at neutral sites, California is a home away from home for the Wildcats. Arizona has played at the Staples Center in L.A. multiple times over the years, especially with the Pac-12 tournament being held in L.A. before moving to Las Vegas this season. The Wildcats also played their 2011 Sweet 16 game at Honda Center in Anaheim, beating No. 1 Duke in front of a very pro-Arizona crowd.
“It’s a great feeling to be going back to L.A.,” Wildcats junior guard Jordin Mayes told the Tucson Citizen. “Our fan base is going to be right there with us. We expect it to be like it was in McKale Center.”
Ohio State enjoyed some in-state love in its first two tournament games in Dayton, Ohio but hasn’t traveled this far west all season. In fact, the Buckeyes haven’t been to the Golden State since opening the 2003-04 schedule with road games at San Francisco and San Diego State. I don’t think California sports fans have forgotten about all those Rose Bowl games. Los Angeles is about as far as you get from Big Ten country.