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Friday's Sweet 16 Action Sweet 16 Friday
OREGON DUCKS (28-8) vs. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (31-5) Line & Total: Louisville -10.5 & 130
Top overall seed Louisville is a heavy favorite to reach the Elite Eight going up against 12th-seeded Oregon in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Indianapolis.
There is no hotter team in college basketball than Louisville, which has won 12 consecutive games SU and nine straight ATS, covering six double-digit spreads during this span. The Cardinals creamed both of their NCAA Tournament opponents thus far, beating North Carolina A&T 79-48 in the Round of 64 and easily covering a 10-point spread in the Round of 32 with an 82-56 win against Colorado State. Oregon, meanwhile, was widely regarded as under-seeded and has done its best to prove that true, most recently upsetting No. 4 seed Saint Louis 74-57 in the Round of 32. The Ducks are 5-0 SU and 4-0-1 ATS in their five postseason games this season. Ultimately this will be Louisville’s toughest test yet in the Big Dance, especially the way Oregon has outrebounded its opponents in its first two NCAA Tournament games, an average margin of +11.5 RPG. But Louisville has arguably the best defense in the nation, allowing just 57.6 PPG on 39.1% FG this season. These teams played a home-in-home in the 2000 and 2001 seasons, with the Ducks winning both games handily, 88-65 and 90-63.
The Oregon offense has six players scoring at least eight points per game, but none scoring more than E.J. Singler’s 11.6 PPG. The senior forward is also averaging 4.9 RPG and bounced back from an eight-point performance in the tourney opener to go 4-of-6 from the field against the Billikens for 14 points. He did turn it over eight times in that game, however, something he must be cautious of against Louisville, which forces 18.9 turnovers per game, the second most in Division-I. As a team, Oregon averages a whopping 15.1 turnovers per game. Starring in the tournament for the Ducks has been freshman guard Damyean Dotson (11.3 PPG), who has combined for 40 points on 14-of-26 shooting from the field. He was especially good against Saint Louis, going for 23 points and hitting 5-of-6 three-pointers. Senior F Carlos Emory (11.1 PPG) is the team’s third double-digit scorer and also played well in Saturday's win, scoring 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Overall, Oregon made 8-of-11 three-pointers in that contest. Helping give them so many opportunities was PF Arsalan Kazemi (9.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG), who pulled in 16 rebounds to go along with eight points. That came after a monstrous 11-point, 17-rebound performance in the Round of 64 against fifth-seeded Oklahoma State. Kazemi will be key for the Ducks, battling Louisville C Gorgui Dieng on the boards.
As has been the case all season, the only player to really score for the Cardinals in their two NCAA Tournament games thus far has been Russ Smith (18.4 PPG). The junior guard scored 23 points in just 25 minutes in the opening game then went off for 27 in the Round of 32. More impressive, though, has been his defense. Averaging 2.2 SPG, he has pulled in 10 swipes already this Big Dance, joining PG Peyton Siva (9.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 2.3 SPG) to form a nasty defensive duo in the backcourt. Siva has six steals so far in the Tournament. Their full-court pressure took Colorado State out of the game on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if head coach Rick Pitino goes the same way against these turnover-prone Ducks. On the inside, their key defender is Dieng (10.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG), who stands at 6-foot-11 and blocks 2.4 shots per game. He is 9-for-9 from the field in this tournament, totaling 20 points between the two contests, though he has pulled in just 10 rebounds. He will need to be big, going against a talented rebounder in Kazemi who might not be as tall, but is as feisty as they come. Six-foot-6 F Chane Behanan (9.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG) has been quiet in the NCAA Tournament with a total of 13 points and four rebounds, but has at least been efficient, going 5-of-8 from the field. 
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (27-8) vs. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (29-5) Line & Total: Duke -2 & 134
Two of college basketball’s top coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, will battle it out in the Sweet 16 on Friday night for spot in the Elite Eight.
Both of these teams cruised in the early going, beating both of their opponents by double-digits. Third-seeded Michigan State breezed past Valparaiso 65-54 in the Round of 64 and then dispatched sixth-seeded Memphis 70-48 in the Round of 32 to go 2-0 SU and ATS thus far in the Big Dance. Second-seeded Duke beat Albany 73-61, but failed to cover a 20-point spread before beating Creighton 66-50, easily covering a six-point spread. Since 1998, Duke has gone 6-1 SU against Michigan State, though the Spartans have covered in five of those seven games. They last met on Nov. 15, 2011, a 74-69 Duke win on a neutral court when the Blue Devils made 10-of-21 threes. Overall, though, this Michigan State squad has struggled against its toughest foes, going just 5-7 SU against ranked opponents this season. Duke went 4-2 against ranked foes, with all four of those wins coming against top-five teams. The Blue Devils have lost just one game all season with PF Ryan Kelly healthy, but the Spartans are 12-4 ATS (75%) when playing a team with a win pct. of at least 80% in the past two seasons, including a 6-0 ATS mark on the road after 15+ games.
Duke’s defense was extremely impressive against Creighton in the Round of 32, keeping a team that had been making 42.2% three-pointers—the top rate in the nation—to just 2-of-19 from beyond the arc. Duke also survived with star PFs Mason Plumlee (17.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG) and Ryan Kelly (13.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG) in serious foul trouble. The player who stepped up was freshman SG Rasheed Sulaimon (11.7 PPG), who went off for 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He was helped out by SG Seth Curry (17.3 PPG), who scored 17 points, with 15 of those coming in the second half. Curry was also big in the Round of 64, scoring a team-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 2-for-2 from long distance. This season, he’s making 2.6 threes per game on a 42.6% clip. That makes him one of three Duke starters, along with PG Quinn Cook (12.0 PPG, 5.4 APG, 40.1% threes) and Kelly (45.9% threes), who both make more than 40% of their threes. Kelly, though, has been cold, averaging 6.3 PPG over his past four games and failing to connect on any of his 10 three-point attempts in that span. But Kelly didn't miss against Michigan State last season, scoring 14 points on 3-of-3 FG, 2-of-2 threes and 6-of-6 free throws.
Burly PF Derrick Nix (10.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG) led Michigan State to the Round of 32, scoring 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds against Valparaiso. He followed that up with a strong 13-point, eight-rebound performance, to go along with four steals, to get to the Sweet 16. He’ll be the key to battling Plumlee on the post. Nix may be shorter, but he certainly has a weight advantage and helped limit Plumlee to seven points and five rebounds in 32 minutes in last season's meeting. Nix is joined in the paint by C Adreian Payne (10.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG), who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks against Memphis, and swingman Branden Dawson (9.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG) who scored just one point. Freshman SG Gary Harris (13.1 PPG) was the leading scorer against Memphis, going for 23 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He’s hitting 2.0 threes per game this year on a 41.9% clip. Junior PG Keith Appling (13.3 PPG, 3.4 APG) is Michigan State’s leading scorer, though he scored just two against Memphis. However, Appling scored a team-high 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting in last season's meeting with Duke. 
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (28-7) vs. KANSAS JAYHAWKS (31-5) Line & Total: Kansas -2 & 136
Top-seeded Kansas seeks a fifth Elite Eight appearance in seven years when it faces fourth-seeded Michigan on Friday night in Arlington, TX.
Once the calendar turned to February, the Wolverines really struggled, finishing the regular season 1-9 ATS (5-5 SU) and then losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. But they have been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, beating South Dakota State by 15 points and then crushing VCU by 25 on Saturday. Michigan outshot these two opponents 51.3% FG to 41.8% FG and outrebounded the Rams by a 41-24 margin. But the competition becomes much greater on Friday against a Kansas team that is 12-1 SU (11-2 ATS) in its past 13 games. After struggling to put away 16th-seed Western Kentucky in the Round of 64, the Jayhawks pummeled North Carolina in the second half of Sunday's Third Round game, outscoring them 49-28 after the break to win by 12 points. The recent tournament history of these two schools are quite different as Michigan is playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1994, while Kansas is 7-1 SU in the Sweet 16 since 2002. The Wolverines are 6-1 (SU and ATS) on a neutral court this season, outscoring these teams by 11.7 PPG. Although the Jayhawks are a strong 8-1 SU (6-3 ATS) on a neutral court, they are just 2-6 ATS when favored outside of Lawrence this season. These schools last met two seasons ago in Ann Arbor, resulting in a 67-60 Kansas overtime win.
Michigan possesses a potent offense that scores 75.1 PPG (24th in nation) on 48.5% FG (7th in D-I) and 38.2% threes (23rd in nation). The Wolverines are able to post such gaudy numbers due to the fewest turnovers in Division-I (9.3 TOPG) and a nation-leading 1.54 Ast/TO ratio. The defensive numbers aren't as impressive (62.4 PPG on 41.9% FG and 32.4% threes), but this team prefers to play straight-up defense without taking many chances, posting just 2.8 BPG (248th in D-I) and 6.0 SPG (244th in nation). However, this leads to the second-fewest fouls committed in the country (12.7 per game), and keeps the star players on the court instead of saddled on the bench with foul trouble. The Wolverines backcourt of sophomore PG Trey Burke (18.8 PPG) and junior SG Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is as good as any duo in the land. Burke's 3.11 Ast/TO ratio ranks fourth in the nation, while his 6.7 APG places 11th among the D-I leaders. But Burke's scoring is just as important to this team, as he makes 47% FG, 39% threes and 80% free throws. After a poor 2-of-12 night in the Round of 64, he torched VCU for 18 points and seven assists, making up for an uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Hardaway also shoots a high percentage for a guard with 46% FG and 39% threes. He has six straight double-figure scoring games, including an impressive 17.5 PPG on 13-of-24 FG (8-for-12 threes) in the two NCAA Tournament games. Although he had 19 points and seven rebounds in the loss to Kansas two seasons ago, Hardaway finished 5-of-19 from the floor (2-of-10 threes) that day. Freshman SF Nik Stauskas (11.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) is the team's best three-point shooter at 43.4%, but has been in a major shooting slump in the past three games, averaging just 6.7 PPG on 6-of-24 FG and 1-of-12 threes. Freshman PF Glenn Robinson III (11.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG) played poorly in the Big Ten Tournament (6.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG), but he has been nearly perfect in the NCAA's with 17.5 PPG on 15-of-19 shooting (79%) and 7.5 RPG. Another freshman, PF Mitch McGary (6.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG), has also been playing outstanding basketball with 13.3 PPG and 10.3 RPG in the four postseason games, including 17.0 PPG and 11.5 RPG in two NCAA Tournament contests.
Kansas has an offense comparable to Michigan, scoring 74.9 PPG (25th in nation) on 47.9% FG (14th in D-I) and 36.3% threes. The defense is superior though, allowing just 61.3 PPG on a nation's-best 35.7% FG and 30.2% threes (29th in D-I). A big reason for the great shooting defense is the presence of 7-foot C Jeff Withey who turns away 3.92 shots per game (2nd in nation), while his teams records 6.6 BPG, good for 2nd-most in the country. Withey's 8.5 RPG are a big reason why the Jayhawks have a stellar +6.5 RPG margin (18th in nation). The Achilles heel for this club is turnovers, as it commits 14.0 TOPG and tallies a minus-1.3 TO margin this season. The best offensive player on KU is freshman swingman Ben McLemore (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG) who makes 49.4% FG and 42% threes. But he's picked a bad time to start slumping, scoring just 7.0 PPG on 8-of-26 FG (1-of-12 threes) over his past four games, which included going 0-for-9 FG (0-for-6 threes) in Sunday's win over UNC. Withey (13.8 PPG on 58% FG) has picked up McLemore's slack though with huge NCAA tourney, averaging 16.5 PPG (65% FG), 11.0 RPG and an amazing 6.0 BPG in the two victories. SG Travis Releford (11.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG) had a subpar Big 12 Tournament with 7.0 PPG on 40% FG, but has thrived in the Big Dance with 16.5 PPG on 13-of-19 FG (68%) plus 5.5 RPG and 2.0 SPG. But PG Elijah Johnson (9.8 PPG, 4.7 APG) has been slumping for the entire postseason, averaging just 7.4 PPG on 11-of-39 FG (28%) in the five games. He's averaging a dreadful 5.0 PPG on 2-of-12 shooting in the NCAA's. PF Kevin Young (7.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG) has been much more consistent throughout the postseason with 7.4 PPG on 60% FG and 6.8 RPG in the five games, including a near double-double on Sunday with 10 points and nine boards. 
FLORIDA GULF COAST EAGLES (26-10) vs. FLORIDA GATORS (28-7) Line & Total: Florida -13 & 136
Florida Gulf Coast tries to extend its historic NCAA Tournament run for another game when it takes on third-seeded Florida on Friday night in Arlington, TX.
The Eagles became the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16, knocking off Georgetown and San Diego State last weekend by 10 points in each game. FGCU is now 6-0 ATS for the season and has won seven straight games SU since losing at Stetson on Feb. 22. Another tall task looms on Friday going up against the Gators who have destroyed their two NCAA Tournament opponents by 23.0 PPG, holding Northwestern State (the highest-scoring team in the country) to 47 points and then shooting 57% from the floor in a 14-point victory over Minnesota on Sunday. Florida is 6-2 SU (4-4 ATS) on a neutral court this season, but has been nearly perfect with 3+ days of rest, going 17-1 SU (11-5 ATS) with the extra preparation. Despite hailing from the same state, these schools have met just once, a 94-60 Gators win in 2008.
Florida Gulf Coast has shown some amazing athletic ability for such a small school during this tournament, scoring 79.5 PPG on 50% FG thanks to a bevy of dunks and alley-oops. For the season, the Eagles are scoring 73.5 PPG (42nd in D-I) on 46.2% FG (41st in nation), but they are an average three-point shooting team at 34.2% (149th in nation). Turnovers are most problematic (14.6 TOPG, 271st in nation), and FGCU doesn't shoot free throws particularly well either (67.7%, 225th in D-I). Defensively, the Eagles allow 66.9 PPG on 40.7% FG and 31.0% threes, numbers which are average-to-good when compared to other teams in the land. This school loves to disrupt opposing offenses though, tallying 9.0 steals per game (14th in nation), which gives them a +1.3 TO margin for the season. FGCU has three players that all score more than a dozen points per game, and all make 38% threes, in senior SG Sherwood Brown (15.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG), sophomore SG Bernard Thompson (14.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG) and junior SF Chase Fieler (12.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG). Brown is in the midst of a huge postseason, averaging 17.8 PPG and 8.4 RPG, which includes a whopping 20.5 PPG (57% FG) and 8.5 RPG in the two NCAA Tournament wins. Thompson has also gone batty in the Big Dance with 23.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 3.0 SPG, extending his streak of double-figure scoring to 11 straight games. Fieler is averaging 13.6 PPG and 6.2 RPG in the postseason, which includes a solid 10.0 PPG (57% FG) and 5.0 RPG in two NCAA games. The offense usually runs smoothly through PG Brett Comer (8.1 PPG, 6.6 APG), but the team would like him to cut down on his 3.53 TOPG this season. Comer has responded to that challenge with a whopping 24 assists and just five turnovers in the two NCAA tourney wins. He's also looking to score more over the past three games with 14.3 PPG on 45% FG.
Florida leads the nation in scoring margin (+18.2 PPG) with an offense tallying 72.0 PPG and a defense giving up just 53.8 PPG (3rd in nation). The Gators are outshooting teams 48.2% FG (10th in D-I) to 37.8% FG (5th in nation), which includes making 38.2% threes (24th in D-I) and allowing 30.2% threes (28th in nation). Florida is a very smart and efficient team, committing just 11.1 TOPG (23rd in D-I) and 14.2 personal fouls per game (8th in nation) this season. The only real weaknesses for this team are its lack of a shot-blocking force (3.3 BPG, 191st in nation) and subpar free-throw shooting (68.1%, 214th in nation). Five Gators average at least nine points per game, led by PF Erik Murphy (12.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG), who has been on fire in the NCAA Tournament with 16.5 PPG on 13-of-18 FG (72%) plus 6.0 RPG. Murphy is now shooting 54% FG and 46% threes for the season. SGs Mike Rosario (12.5 PPG) and Kenny Boynton (12.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG) aren't known for sharp-shooting, but both players are streaky scorers. Rosario (44.9% FG) exploded in Sunday's win for 25 points on 8-of-12 FG (6-of-9 threes) after a 3-of-9 showing against Northwestern State two days earlier. Boynton (39.3% FG) scored 11 points against the Demons, but struggled with 2-of-8 FG in a seven-point outing versus the Gophers. C Patric Young (10.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG) nearly had his seventh double-double this season in Friday's win (16 pts, 9 reb), but failed to score a basket on Sunday, going 0-for-2 FG. Although Young still made 5-of-6 free throws and grabbed seven rebounds in 26 minutes. PG Scottie Wilbekin (9.2 PPG, 5.0 APG) sports an outstanding 2.41 Ast/TO ratio (28th in nation) and has made 6-of-9 shots so far in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 11.5 PPG and 5.0 APG.

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