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If the Sweet Sixteen is anything like the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, then we are primed for more upsets – don’t take those underdogs lightly! However, if there is one thing teams learn from the opening rounds, especially those who narrowly escape an upset, the competition in the second weekend of tourney play should not be taken lightly.
That said, here are my top five picks for the Sweet Sixteen (ATS):
No. 2 Houston (-6) over No. 11 Syracuse
Count me as one of the non-believers in the Orange. I thought San Diego State would take care of them in the first round. However, now Jim and Buddy Beiheim will have to go up against one of the top defenses in the nation in the Cougars who rank in the top 10 guarding against 2-point and 3-point shots. Their offense is just as stellar. Led by Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes who averages 17.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, they also are one of the best offensive rebounding units in the country which should give them plenty of second chance shots to overpower the Orange.
No. 1 Baylor (-6.5) over No. 5 Villanova
With only one loss on the season, Baylor is one of the best teams in the country. They lead the nation in three-point percentage shooting from behind the arc at 41.8%. They are dangerous on the offensive front behind stars Jared Butler (17.1 points per game) and MaCio Teague (16.2 points per game). Add Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Davion Mitchell to the mix, this is one of the most well-balanced teams left in the tournament. Villanova made a nice run even without Collin Gillespie in the rotation, but the Wildcats NCAA run ends here.
No. 12 Oregon State (+7) over No. 8 Loyola-Chicago
This is a matchup very few if anyone had in their brackets. The Ramblers find themselves back in the Sweet Sixteen three years after their miraculous journey to the Final Four back in 2018. After pulling off the upset of No. 1 Illinois, Loyola now finds themselves as an unlikely favorite in the second weekend of play. However, they have to go up against a red hot Oregon State team that just pulled off back-to-back upsets against No. 5 Tennessee and No. 4 Oklahoma State. The Beavers were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 in the preseason then came out of nowhere and won the Pac-12 Conference Championship. They now find themselves on the cusp of advancing to the Elite Eight and after going 5-0 ATS in their last five games, I think the trend continues. Take the points but don’t be surprised if this turns out to be a straight out upset.
No. 1 Gonzaga (-13) over No. 5 Creighton
Don’t let the double digits scare you. Creighton is lucky to have reached the Sweet 16 after they narrowly escaped an upset in the first round against No. 12 UCSB and then had a favorable draw against No. 13 Ohio who had just come off an upset of a No. 4 Virginia squad who was dealing with CoVid issues. Gonzaga, meanwhile, has cruised through the first two rounds albeit lesser competition, but remains the top team in the tournament. The Blue Jays are dangerous from behind the arc, but it will be tough for them to keep up against the Bulldogs who rank No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency. Lay the points.
No. 7 Oregon (+2.5) over No. 6 USC
I had this matchup in my bracket so I nailed both of these teams’ upsets against No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Kansas, respectively, but I also picked Oregon to advance to the Elite Eight and I am sticking with it. The Ducks have the edge in the coaching department with 11th year head coach Dana Altman who is no stranger to deep tournament runs. Oregon’s five starters all average double digits in points with guard Chris Duarte leading the way. The Mobley brothers may be a dynamic duo for the Trojans but I don’t think it will be enough to take down their Pac-12 rivals. Take the points but I’m calling the upset.