With 52 schools eliminated, the 2013 NCAA Tournament is down to the Sweet 16. This year’s guests include former supermodel Amanda Marcum, ‘Dunk City,’ the LaSalle Explorers, three schools from the Sunshine State and Wichita St. from out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The cast of characters include Buzz Williams, the lovable Marquette head coach who plays a mean air guitar and has led his team to a pair of improbable comeback victories over Davidson and Butler.
You want Hall-of-Fame-bound coaches? We’ve got Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self. If Ohio St. ends up cutting the nets down in Atlanta, then Thad Matta should’ve been included in the previous sentence.
Cinderella is still in this tournament, but she’s way hotter this time around. Andy Enfield has a trophy wife and bigger paychecks headed his way after leading Florida Gulf Coast to a pair of blowout wins over second-seeded Georgetown and seventh-seeded San Diego St. In doing so, the Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the region semifinals.
And there was nothing fluky about it. FGCU beat Miami earlier this season, prompting many pundits to point to that defeat as the reason why the Hurricanes shouldn’t be a No. 1 seed. Um, I think we can now call that a quality loss for UM.
FGCU used a 21-2 second-half surge to take a 52-33 lead over Georgetown with 12:28 remaining Friday night. The Hoyas would rally to make it respectable, but the Eagles won by a 78-68 count as 13-point underdogs at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Bernard Thompson was the catalyst with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Brett Comer finished with 12 points, 10 assists and six boards.
Enfield’s bunch took out the Aztecs 81-71 as a 7.5-point ‘dog. Thompson scored 23 points (again) and Comer posted another double-double with 10 points and 14 dimes. Sherwood Brown added 17 points and eight boards, including a ridiculous dunk off a no-look alley-oop dish from Comer.
FGCU will take its high-flying act to Cowboys Stadium to challenge third-seeded Florida on Friday night in Arlington. The Gators, who advanced with easy wins and covers over Northwestern St. and Minnesota, were favored by 13 against the Eagles as of Monday afternoon.
The total was 133.5. The Eagles are +700 on the money line (risk $100 to win $700).
Donovan has UF in the Sweet 16 for the third straight season. The Gators were led by Mike Rosario’s game-high 25 points in Sunday’s 78-64 win over Minnesota as eight-point ‘chalk. Rosario splashed the nets with six 3-pointers on nine attempts as Florida raced to a 48-27 lead at halftime.
Florida has had to go through Cinderella stories before in recent NCAA Tournaments with mixed results. In 2006, the Gators beat George Mason in the national semifinals before winning their first national title in school history.
UF has faced Butler in three different NCAA Tourneys since 1999 when it beat the Bulldogs on Mike Miller’s leaner at the buzzer in a first-round matchup. In the 2007 tournament, Florida had its toughest test on the way to repeating as national champs in a nail-biting win over Butler in the Sweet 16. Two years ago, Butler rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to beat the Gators in overtime at the South Region finals in New Orleans.
Also in 1999, UF was eliminated in the West Region semifinals in Phoenix where Gonzaga advanced to the Elite Eight thanks to Casey Calvary’s tip-in winner in the final seconds.
Just last year, UF didn’t have to face Missouri in the second round because the second-seeded Tigers were stunned by No. 15 seed, Norfolk St.
The other game at Cowboys Stadium on Friday night will feature top-seeded Kansas up against Michigan, an undervalued No. 4 seed that looked like the best team in the field following easy wins and covers over South Dakota St. and VCU.
Most books are listing KU as a two-point favorite with a total of 136 ½.
The Jayhawks got all they wanted from Western Kentucky in Friday’s 64-57 win as 20.5-point favorites. The Hilltoppers led 31-30 at intermission and threatened to become the first No. 16 seed to advance. Then on Sunday, North Carolina raced out to a 12-2 advantage over KU and still led 31-20 at halftime, but Bill Self’s team used a 29-8 run to propel it to a 70-58 win as a 6.5-point favorite.
In the West Region semifinals on Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, No. 2 Ohio St. will collide with sixth-seeded Arizona. Most spots have the Buckeyes favored by 3 ½ with a total of 133 ½. Gamblers can take the Wildcats to win outright for a +155 return (risk $100 to win $155).
Ohio St. survived a game effort from Iowa St. and won a 78-75 decision thanks to Aaron Craft’s 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes had posted an easy first-round win over Iona.
Arizona is 4-1 ATS in its last five games after thumping Belmont (81-64) and Harvard (74-61) to easily cover the number in both spots.
The other game in Tinseltown will pit LaSalle vs. Wichita St. Most spots have the Shockers as four-point favorites with the total in the 135-136 range. The Explorers are +160 on the money line.
LaSalle went into Kansas City and upset Kansas St. before winning a nail-biter over Ole Miss. Gregg Marshall’s team advanced by dominating Pittsburgh before knocking off top-seeded Gonzaga.
The East Region semifinals will take place at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., where Syracuse and Indiana will square off in a rematch of the 1987 national championship game won by IU on Keith Smart’s baseline jumper at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Most spots have Tom Crean’s squad installed as a 5.5-point favorite with a total of 136. The ‘Cuse is +210 on the money line.
In the late game following IU-Syracuse, Miami is a 5.5-point ‘chalk’ vs. Marquette with a total of 127. The Golden Eagles are +220 on the money line (risk $100 to win $220). The Hurricanes blasted Pacific by 29 points but failed to cover in Sunday’s 63-59 victory over Illinois as eight-point favorites.
If Marquette and Indiana meet in the Elite Eight, Tom Crean would have to face his former team that he took to the Final Four in 2003.
The Midwest Region will anoint its winner in Indianapolis. Louisville, which wasn’t challenged in blowout wins over North Carolinal A&T and Colorado St., will meet No. 12 seed Oregon. The Ducks advanced with victories over No. 5 and No. 4 seeds, Oklahoma St. and Saint Louis.
Most books have U of L favored by 10 with a total of 128. Dana Altman’s team can be had to win outright for a +450 payout.
The Oregon-Louisville winner will face the survivor of Duke and Michigan St. Most books have Duke as a two-point favorite with a total of 134.
Louisville remains the ‘chalk’ to win the national championship in two weeks. Sportsbook.ag has the Cardinals’ odds reduced to 3/1. Indiana and Florida have the next-shortest odds at +450 and +500, respectively.
Miami has 7/1 odds, followed by Ohio St. and Duke at 8/1 apiece, while Kansas, Michigan St., Syracuse and Michigan share 12/1 odds. At this point, I believe the Wolverines have the best value in the futures market.
Arizona has 25/1 odds, followed by Wichita St. (30/1), Marquette (40/1), Oregon (60/1), LaSalle (75/1) and Florida Gulf Coast (100/1).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Minnesota fired Tubby Smith on Monday afternoon. Candidates to replace Smith might include Butler’s Brad Stevens, VCU’s Shaka Smart, Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield, Marquette’s Buzz Williams, former UCLA and Pitt coach Ben Howland and/or Wichita St.’s Gregg Marshall.
--Howland is also out at UCLA. This search should be all about Butler’s Stevens or VCU’s Smart. However, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon might be the top choice even though he recently inked a 10-year extension with the Panthers. The Bruins will have plenty of quality options so they better get it right.
--Following its win over Ole Miss, LaSalle decided to stay in Kansas City instead of flying back to Philadelphia before a Tuesday trip to Los Angeles. The Explorers will fly from KC to LA on Tuesday afternoon.
--Sportsbook has Florida as the -150 favorite to win the South Region and move on to Atlanta. Kansas is at +225 while Michigan is +300. Florida Gulf Coast has 25/1 odds to win two more games.