Sunday is going to bring us a nice day of NCAA tournament basketball.
We have two No. 1 seeds in action, including a Michigan team that should face a strong test from Florida State. We get a trio of Pac-12 teams, including two hot ones facing off against each other. We’re going to see a lot of good hoops to figure out the last half of the Elite Eight.
Here are the picks for Sunday’s games, with Eastern tip times and spreads from BetMGM:
No. 1 Gonzaga (-13) vs. No. 5 Creighton, 2:10 p.m.
For the third straight round, the Gonzaga game has the highest spread. Usually the only time you see a double-digit seed this late in the tournament is when a low seed sneaks into the Sweet 16. This spread is the biggest for the Sweet 16 round since at least 2014 according to Matt Eisenberg’s tournament guide. There have been only three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 since then. The largest was Kentucky -13, and they beat West Virginia 78-39. Underdogs covered in the other two games though.
Gonzaga has reached the 2015 Kentucky level. Though, let’s not forget that Kentucky team lost to Wisconsin.
Can Creighton at least challenge Gonzaga? The Bluejays are a good, balanced team that can hit shots (though they are surprisingly bad at free throws). They have a lot of experience and some quality wins on their resume. I just can’t go against Gonzaga, and I’m not sure I’ll be betting against them for the rest of this tournament. They can cover big spreads without even playing their best game. This is admittedly an inflated spread, but going against the Bulldogs doesn’t make for a fun afternoon.
Pick: Gonzaga -13
No. 1 Michigan (-2.5) vs. No. 4 Florida State, 5 p.m.
This should be a fantastic game. Michigan is a legit No. 1 seed, but everyone seems to wonder when and if missing second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers will catch up to them. Florida State has the talent to exploit that hole.
The Seminoles are the biggest team in the country, via KenPom, and can still shoot it very well from deep. Given their unique roster makeup and top-end players like Scottie Barnes, M.J. Walker and Raiquan Gray, it’s surprising Florida State lost six games. That probably meant they’re one of those No. 4 seeds who are way better than their seeding would indicate. This will be a fantastic matchup and I’m going with the upset.
Pick: Florida State +2.5
No. 2 Alabama (-6.5) vs. No. 11 UCLA, 7:15 p.m.
A lesson to keep in mind for future tournaments: Teams that win in the First Four are probably better equipped to keep winning. College players don’t get tired playing one extra game. Getting in the First Four might be a feature, not a bug.
UCLA wasn’t great at the end of the season. They lost their final four games before the NCAA tournament, but two were close and all were to good teams. Still, it was a 17-9 team that hadn’t really looked good since maybe early January. But they got a win in the First Four over Michigan State and then started rolling. The Bruins are relying heavily on a shorter rotation and it’s working.
Still, I’ve been a fan of Alabama’s high-tempo, shoot a ton of 3s and play tight defense approach. Sure, you’re always at the whim of a bad 3-point shooting night, but you can also get a game like the Crimson Tide’s last win against Maryland, when they blew out the Terps and looked like a legit Final Four contender.
Pick: Alabama -6.5
No. 6 USC (-2) vs. No. 7 Oregon, 9:45 p.m.
This is probably the best game of the weekend. One Pac-12 team has to suffer a loss, which has been a rarity this tournament.
Both of these teams seemed better than their seed coming into the tournament, and have looked the part. USC is never again going to shoot like it did against Kansas, but the Trojans demolished the Jayhawks. Oregon sliced through Iowa’s defense in pulling off that upset. Since a midseason lull, Oregon has won 12 of 14. However, one of those losses was a 72-58 blowout loss to USC. I don’t think that matters too much for the rematch though.
Oregon has good experience and is well-coached. USC has Evan Mobley, who we might be calling an NBA All Star in a few years. He’s that good. I’ll go with the Ducks. But if you ask me in an hour, I might be on USC. That’s how close this matchup is. What a great way to wrap up the weekend.
Pick: Oregon +2
First Four: 2-1-1
First round, Friday: 4-12
First round, Saturday: 8-7
Second round, Sunday: 6-2
Second round, Monday: 5-3