When Gonzaga lost to Arkansas last night, I couldn't help but wonder if we'll ever see the program break through and win a national title. With the loss, Gonzaga set a record no program wants to achieve: it's the fifth time Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed in the tournament and didn't win a national title. No other program has been a No. 1 seed so many times without winning at least one title.
These last two seasons have felt like they would be the program's best chance, and they fell short. Last season, Jalen Suggs, who went on to be the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, helped lead the Zags to the final but fell short. This year it was the top player in the country in Chet Holmgren, who could be the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft, but again they fell short in large part because Holmgren fouled out (though I think some of the calls against him were plain bad).
Gonzaga's current recruiting class is ranked No. 85, so it's hard to imagine we'll see a better team next year. Now, this doesn't mean the window is closed or anything, but given how much stronger other power conferences like the SEC have become in the sport, it's difficult to imagine Gonzaga's path being any clearer than it was the last two years.
- We'll get to the picks for tonight's games shortly, but first let's look at the storylines surrounding them.
- Five different teams have reportedly shown interest in Colin Kaepernick.
- Of the QB changes so far this offseason, which teams have gotten the best value?
- My latest mock draft is out. Hurry up and read it before there's another trade that changes everything.
Now let's try to make the Sweet 16 even sweeter for our checking accounts.
All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook
🔥 The Hot Ticket
- Key Trend: Since 2011, underdog double-digit seeds are 21-8-1 ATS during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and 3-0 against other double-digit seeds.
- The Pick: Iowa State +3 (-110)
Yesterday I told you about how well double-digit seeds have performed on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament as we took Michigan to cover. Michigan did not cover (though it did finish only one point shy of a push). We're back on that same trend again tonight.
Not only have double-digit seeds gone 21-8-1 ATS as underdogs on the second weekend, but that includes a mark of 3-0 ATS when their underdogs to another double-digit seed like Iowa State is to Miami tonight. Let's take this one step further. Last night, my top play was to take Houston and the points against Arizona because advanced metrics sites like KenPom and Bart Torvik rated Houston higher than Arizona and said the Cougars should be favored. Houston not only covered last night, but won comfortably.
Well, the same sites say Iowa State should be favored tonight, yet the Cyclones are catching three points (which we'll gladly take). There are a couple of fundamental reasons to take the Cyclones in this spot. The first is that Iowa State is the much better defensive team, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, while Miami ranks 121st. Iowa State is also the better rebounding team, even if that has more to do with Miami being terrible on the glass than the Cyclones being particularly good.
Finally, Iowa State is the deeper squad. If you look at Miami's rotation since the start of the ACC Tournament, they're basically a five-man team. Nobody in the starting lineup has played fewer than 29 minutes per game. None of which is to say Miami can't win and cover tonight. The Canes are the better offensive team, and Iowa State struggles to score. If the Cyclones have a rough night shooting or have turnover issues (both of which have been known to happen with this team), then the Canes could cruise to a win.
Here's what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model has a heavy lean toward one side of the spread itself, but it feels much stronger about a play on the total.
💰 More Sweet 16 picks
The Pick: Under 141.5 (-110) -- I don't know if Providence will be able to hang in this game and get the win or cover, but I'm confident that the Friars will do everything in their power to muddy this game up. Kansas is the more talented team, and it likes to get out in the open court and run. That's not the kind of game Providence wants to play. Slowing down the Jayhawks is a gameplan I believe the Friars can execute, and that will lower the overall number of possessions, making the under an enticing option.
The thing about the Kansas offense that needs context is that ,while the Jayhawks do an excellent job shooting from three (their 36% rate ranks 57th nationally), they don't take a lot of them. This team is much more interested in getting out quickly in transition and getting easy buckets. If Providence successfully slows the game down and Kansas is forced to play in the halfcourt more than it wants to, its offense becomes less efficient.
As for Providence, the Friars have guards that are very good at getting to the free-throw line, but Kansas' guards and wings do a good job of defending without fouling, so I don't know how effective the Friars will be offensively tonight. So when I look at the whole picture, I see a lower-scoring affair tonight.
Key Trend: The under is 5-2 in Providence's last seven NCAA Tournament games.
The Pick: North Carolina +2.5 (-110) -- I don't think this spread does enough to account for North Carolina over the last two months of action compared to the entire season. The Tar Heels have won 14 of their last 17 games with wins over Duke and Baylor. Since Jan. 24, this has been one of the 15 best teams in the country and played better than other teams like Purdue, Arkansas, Arizona and Auburn -- just to name a few.
Tonight they get a UCLA team that's been fantastic and probably slightly underrated itself, but it's a UCLA team that could be without Jaime Jaquez. Jaquez hurt his ankle in UCLA's win against St. Mary's, and his status for tonight is up in the air. If he can't play, it's a significant blow for this Bruins team. Jaquez is the most efficient scorer the Bruins have, and he also does a great job of drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. That would come in handy against a North Carolina squad that plays what's essentially a six-man rotation.
Jaquez is also the Bruins' second-best offensive rebounder, and the Tar Heels are the second-best defensive rebounding team in the country. So, again, if Jaquez is out, it will be a massive blow to the Bruins. And even if he does play, he's not going to be 100%, and I still like the Heels getting the points.
Key Trend: North Carolina is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games.
🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: Listen, I'm betting Saint Peters tonight on principle, but I didn't include it in the newsletter because it's not a play based on any sort of logic. So you should probably see what the SportsLine Projection Model has to say about the game instead.
🏀 Cinderella Parlay
It didn't work last night, but we're back with another Cinderella parlay tonight. It pays +440.
- North Carolina (+125)
- Iowa State (+140)