S16 – Friday’s Early Tips

Brackets | Matchups | Betting Angles

East Region (Washington, DC)
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Michigan State (CBS, 7:09 PM EST)

Opening Odds: Michigan State -6, 148

Michigan State (30-6 SU, 25-11 ATS) put together the best ATS record in the country this season, aided by a 9-0 ATS run from late December through January. The Spartans overcame a three-game losing streak halfway through Big 10 play to win seven of their final eight regular season contests to capture the conference title. MSU grabbed the Big 10 tournament title with three wins in three days, capped off by edging rival Michigan in the championship game, 65-60.

The Spartans trailed #15 seed Bradley in the opening round at halftime, 35-34 as 17 ½-point favorites, but bounced back to avoid the upset, 76-65. Cassius Winston led MSU with 26 points, while the Spartans overcame a 5-of-19 shooting performance from three-point range. Tom Izzo’s team advanced past the first round for the 12th time in 13 seasons, while not repeating the 2016 shocking defeat to Middle Tennessee State in the 2/15 matchup.

Michigan State didn’t mess around in its second round matchup with conference rival Minnesota as the Spartans rolled the Golden Gophers, 70-50 to cash as 10-point favorites. The Spartans routed Minnesota for the second time this season as they jumped out to a 33-19 halftime lead, while limiting the Gophers to 30% shooting from the field and 2-of-22 from long distance. MSU advanced past the first weekend for the first time since reaching the Final Four in 2015.

LSU (28-6 SU, 19-14-1 ATS) won its most regular season games since 2008-09, when the Tigers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers took home the SEC regular season title with a 16-2 record before getting bounced by Florida in the conference quarterfinals. LSU covered 14 of 18 regular season SEC games, while winning five conference contests in overtime.

The Tigers squeezed by in each of their first two tournament contests in Jacksonville to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006, when they made it all the way to the Final Four. LSU built a 45-29 halftime edge over Yale in the first round before the Bulldogs rallied back to cover as seven-point underdogs in a 79-74 defeat. Skylar Mays led LSU with 19 points as the Tigers overcame a 4-of-17 shooting performance from three-point range and nine missed free throws.

LSU had another close-shave in the second round as the Tigers slipped past Maryland, 69-67. For the second straight game, the Tigers started strong as they led the Terrapins by 15 points in the first half, but Maryland came back to grab a 57-55 advantage with less than six minutes remaining in regulation. After Maryland tied the game late on a three-pointer, LSU delivered the final blow on a Tremont Waters layup in the final seconds, but the Terps cashed as three-point underdogs.

It’s been awhile since these teams met as Michigan State beat LSU, 87-71 in the 1979 Sweet 16. The Tigers have thrived in the underdog role this season by posting a 6-1-1 ATS record, while losing to Houston and Florida State. Michigan State has excelled as a single-digit favorite this season by going 13-2 SU/ATS in this role, but the Spartans are 2-5 ATS in their last seven NCAA tournament contests.

Midwest Region (Kansas City, MO)
No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 1 North Carolina (TBS, 7:29 PM EST)

Opening Odds: North Carolina -5 ½, 164 ½

The third SEC team to take the court in the Sweet 16 is Auburn (28-9 SU, 19-16-1 ATS), who overcame a 2-4 start in SEC play to finish 11-7 in the league. The Tigers have heated up at the right time by winning 10 straight games since getting blown out at Kentucky, 80-53 on February 23. Auburn grabbed four wins in four days at the SEC tournament, capped off by an 84-64 rout of Tennessee in the championship, marking its second win over the Volunteers in an eight-day stretch.

Bruce Pearl’s team seemed like a potential upset victim in many brackets in the 5/12 matchup against New Mexico State in the opening round of the tournament. The Tigers led the Aggies by 13 points with 7:10 remaining in regulation, but NMSU put together a furious rally to get within one point in the final seconds. However, the Aggies missed two of three free throws with one second remaining and Auburn escaped with a 78-77 victory. The Tigers failed to cover as 5 ½-point favorites, but managed to advance past the first round for the second straight season.

Last season, Auburn was destroyed by Clemson in the second round by 31 points, but the Tigers were not going to be a one-and-done casualty for a second straight season. Auburn ripped up Kansas in the round of 32 as two-point favorites, 89-75 as the Tigers built a commanding 26-point cushion and never looked back. Bryce Brown paced Auburn with 25 points, including hitting seven three-pointers, while the Tigers shot 52% from the floor.

The task won’t be easy for Auburn in the Sweet 16 as the Tigers draw a solid North Carolina (29-6 SU, 22-11-2 ATS) squad. The Tar Heels won 14 of their final 15 regular season contests, including a sweep of Duke, while covering 10 times. UNC had to settle for an at-large NCAA tournament bid after losing to Duke in the ACC semifinals, 74-73, but the Tar Heels picked up the cover as 4 ½-point underdogs.

North Carolina failed to escape the first weekend in three of the previous six seasons, including suffering a 21-point loss to Texas A&M in last season’s second round. Prior to that quick exit, the Tar Heels reached the NCAA championship in 2016 and 2017, as Roy Williams’ club fell at the buzzer to Villanova, followed by a six-point triumph over Gonzaga for his third title since coming to Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels are in their eighth Sweet 16 under Williams when listed as a top seed as UNC made fast work of Iona in the first round, 88-73. UNC trailed at halftime, 38-33, but outscored the Gaels in the second half, 55-35, highlighted by 21 points from Cameron Johnson. The Tar Heels couldn’t manage the cover as hefty 24 ½-point underdogs, while the game barely finished UNDER the total of 166 ½.

UNC got back on track against Washington in the second round with an 81-59 victory to cash as 11 ½-point favorites. Luke Maye and Nassar Little each posted 20-point performances for the Tar Heels, who improved to 12-6-1 ATS this season as a double-digit favorite. North Carolina cashed the UNDER for the fifth time in six games, while limiting an opponent to below 60 points for the fifth time this season.

The Tar Heels own an impressive 13-1 record in the round of 16 dating back to 1993 with the only loss in this span coming to Wisconsin in 2015. North Carolina and Auburn are hooking up for the first time since the 1985 Southeast Regional Semifinal, won by the Tar Heels, 62-56.

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.