Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:59 PM
S16 - Friday's Late Tips
East Region - Washington DC - Capital One Arena
#4 Virginia Tech vs. #1 Duke - 9:39 PM EST - CBS
Opening Odds: Duke -7.5, 144.5
-- Duke (31-5 SU, 18-18 ATS) wouldn't be playing on Friday night had it not been for an amazing amount of luck that helped it avoid a monumental upset at the hands of UCF on Sunday. From calls that went their way to fouls they got away with to missed alley-oops and tip-ins that teased but didn't add points to the Knights' total, the Blue Devils got through a game where they didn't play well and avoided elimination. It's always better to be lucky than good, especially when you're really good.
-- We'll see if the close call sparks the Blue Devils as they move from Columbia, S.C. to D.C., where they'll have plenty of support and a familiar opponent to focus on as they try to get to the Elite Eight for the second straight season, which is something Mike Krzyzewski hasn't accomplished since 1998-99. Those teams featured Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon and William Avery, who while older formed a group similar to this one led by freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.
-- In order to advance, Duke will have to avenge a loss it suffered against Virginia Tech (26-8 SU, 18-15-1 ATS) on Feb. 26 in Blacksburg. Williamson wasn't available for that game due to a knee sprain caused by his shoe disaster, so the Blue Devils struggled to protect the paint and Kerry Blackshear had his way with Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden, finishing with 23 points and 10 boards. Although Williamson was sidelined, the Hokies still deserve major props for their victory since it came without injured point guard Justin Robinson, who has since returned in this NCAA Tournament after being out since Jan. 30. The senior had 13 points and looked sharp in this past weekend's win over Liberty, a game Virginia Tech would've struggled to survive without him.
-- Versatile wing Ty Outlaw scored 11 points in that first meeting with Duke and should be in the starting lineup despite marijuana being found in his room by campus police while he was playing in last weekend's games in San Jose. After passing a drug test, Outlaw has been cleared to play since he won't be suspended. He hit a huge tie-breaking 3-pointer to help defeat the Blue Devils and will be invaluable in helping match up with their wings.
-- The Blue Devils are 5-0 since Williamson returned in the ACC Tournament and has shot nearly 69 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3-point range in averaging 27.6 points and 8.8 rebounds. He stole the UCF game for Duke with his late heroics and will be tasked with keeping Blackshear from imposing his will inside while testing a thin Virginia Tech front line.
-- Robinson has talked about the Hokies beating the Blue Devils in three of his four years on campus, so there won't be any trepidation over facing the nation's top-ranked team. Buzz Williams has one foot out the door since he's likely headed to fill the Texas A&M opening whenever Virginia Tech is eliminated, but they'll paitently wait for him as long as that takes so it shouldn't affect his veteran team.
-- The 'under' has prevailed in the last four games involving the Hokies, who rank ninth in the country in scoring defense, surrendering 61.7 points per game. Duke ranks ninth nationally in scoring offense with an output of 83.4 points per game.
-- Virginia Tech entered the NCAA Tournament with 60/1 odds to win it all, per the Westgate Superbook, which came down from 80/1 on Selection Sunday. The latest odds update has the Hokies at 40/1. The Blue Devils were the favorite (9/4) to win it all when the NCAAs began but their scare vs. UCF has moved them to 3/1.
Midwest Region - Kansas City, MO - Sprint Center
#3 Houston vs. #2 Kentucky - 9:57 PM EST - TNT
Opening Odds: Kentucky -2.5, 135
-- While Kentucky (29-6 SU, 18-16-1 ATS) can put together the fifth 30-win season of John Calipari's 10-year stint in Lexington, it's clear nothing is going to come easily after last weekend's close call against Wofford. The 'Cats surrendered an average of 50 points in their first two games in Jacksonville and will likely have to grind out at least one more victory given the opposition. Houston (33-3 SU, 22-12-2 ATS) ranks seventh in scoring defense (61.0 ppg). Kentucky allows 64.5 points per game, 27th in the country.
-- Kentucky has been working without top forward P.J. Washington, who arrived in Kansas City wearing a cast on his left foot after spraining it in the SEC Tournament. Big Blue's leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and rebounder (7.6 rpg) did a few things in practice but is considered questionable to play and may end up getting an additional two days to see if he can't be more effective in a regional final. The problem of course would then become getting there without him. E.J. Montgomery, Keldon Johnson and Nick Richards have filled in next to Reid Travis. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said that he hadn't watched any tape of the 'Cats without Washington, expecting him to play.
-- The Cougars are playing in their first Sweet 16 since 1984. The Hakeem Olajuwon-led version has some company now that this group has re-written the school-record for wins after surviving the Buckeyes 74-59.
-- Houston's calling card is a defense that has held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage defense (.366) and top 3-point percentage defense in the country (.278).
-- Offensively, the Cougars are led by point guard Galen Robinson, who just set a school-record playing in his 135th career game. He leads the team in assists (4.9) and is one of those old-school point guards who controls pace at both ends, so his matchup with pesky freshman Ashton Hagans will also play a huge role. Corey Davis, Jr. is Houston's top scorer (17.2 ppg), but junior Armani Brooks (13.2 ppg) isn't far behind and can similarly light teams up from the perimeter.
-- Houston was 40/1 to win the NCAA Tournament per Westgate when the tournament began and is now 30/1 after reaching the Sweet 16. The 'Cats were 12/1 when the tournament began and are now 16/1, so the books aren't all that confident in their ability to get through the weekend.
-- The 'under' is on a 4-1 run in Houston games, part of a 9-4 stretch over the last 13. The 'under' is 16-5 over the past few months in UK games since Jan. 12 and has prevailed in six of the Wildcats' last eight contests.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA