NCAA Sweet 16 odds preview: Midwest Region has been chalky. Will it remain that way?

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Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) reacts as his team beats Auburn in a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, March 18, 2023. Houston won 81-64. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mattress Mack still is riding high in Houston, as hope remains alive his Cougars can ride on into what would be a rare home Final Four. He is not alone.

The pre-tournament favorite to win it all has dropped just a notch below fellow-No. 1 seed Alabama (+410), but the Cougars remain +410 to win it all. This is down from their start at FanDuel Sportsbook.

The thing is, Houston has anything but an easy road to making it all the way to winning a Midwest Regional championship and into the national semifinals.

Only the West provides nearly as much chalk as the Midwest, and its No. 1 seed, Kansas, was eliminated in the second round by No. 8 Arkansas. Here, the Cougars must face No. 5 Miami, and if they win that, they’ll get either No. 2 Texas or No. 3 Xavier.

Chalk is great for an uneasy feeling in the stomach unless you’re the top seed in a regional. In other words: Get ready, Houston.

Houston Cougars vs. Miami Hurricanes

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. Friday (CBS)

Point spread: Houston -7.5

Money lines: Houston -320; Miami +255

Over/Under: 138.5

Analysis: This is going to be a line Joe Q. Public jumps on the dog, it would seem, with the fact Houston surprisingly struggled in each of their first two games – defeating Northern Kentucky by 11 and trailing Auburn by double digits before rolling in the second half. Meanwhile, Miami looked very good in its second-round romp of No. 4 Indiana.

One can bet Houston coach Kelvin Sampson made this week real tough on his team, as the Cougars haven’t played very well since the semifinals of the AAC Tournament. Expect senior guard Marcus Sasser to be a huge part of their chances to advance here, and this experienced team has plenty of basketball left in them.

This could be one of the few Sweet 16 games that won’t have much drama in the final minutes.

Pick: Houston -7.5

Texas Longhorns vs. Xavier Musketeers

Time/TV: approx. 9:45 p.m. (CBS)

Point spread: Texas -4.5

Money lines: Texas -182; Xavier +150

Over/Under: 148.5

Analysis: Both of these teams caught a break – so to speak – with the lower seed winning first-round games on the other half of their mini-bracket in the first round. The Longhorns then squeaked by No. 10 Penn State, while the Musketeers were convincing in an 11-point win over No. 11 Pittsburgh.

So what now? One look at where those at the top of the ESPN bracket leaderboard, and it seems like Texas is the obvious choice, and with eight consecutive wins under its belt, that pick is understandable. That seems way too easy, though.

This could be one of the top matchups at guard in the Sweet 16, as Xavier senior Souley Boum (16.8 ppg, 44.6 pct on 3-pointers) is going up against Texas senior Marcus Carr (16.1 ppg, 37.4 pct on 3-pointers).

Overall, it seems like the Big East continues to be underrated, and it is tough to figure out why. They have three teams remaining in the tournament, and they very well could have all three advance to the Elite Eight.

While I want to pick Xavier to win this one outright at +150 – if it gets to +170 or higher, I will – we’ll play it safe, as fading the public seems as good a play here as maybe any other game in the Sweet 16.

Pick: Xavier +4.5 (wait until Friday to see if goes higher).

Odds to make the Final Four

Houston -110

Texas +190

Xavier +600

Miami +700

Pick to win the Midwest: Houston

Sure, we’d love to come up with something cute here and fade the chalk. But, really, in a tournament where upsets have been king to start, this is the time the cream rises to the top.

With that being said, Houston remains on a collision course with No. 1 Alabama and now is not the time to bet against the Cougars. (Unless you want to take a flier on Xavier at +600.)

The Cougars clearly are the best team here, and there’s not much value in betting them to come out of the regional. However, +410 to win it all at home might still be worth a few pennies. (Well, you catch our drift.)

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