Elite 8 Predictions: Last-Minute Spread Picks You Can Bank on

Mike Shiekman@TheRealShiekFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2012

Elite 8 Predictions: Last-Minute Spread Picks You Can Bank on

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    The Elite Eight games are only a few hours away. Those looking for some last-minute NCAA tournament selections have come to the right place.

    Whether you're in a office pool or your bracket is in flames, there is always action available during March Madness weekend. Don't miss out on these opportunities to make (friendly) bets when you have a gut feeling.

    Read on to find out which side of the spreads are worth making a wager.

Ohio State (-3) vs. Syracuse; O/U: 136

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    Key to Cashing a Winning Ticket: Will Syracuse’s 2-3 zone hold up against Ohio State’s frontline?

    Note that I emphasized Syracuse’s defense, not Ohio State’s offense. The former will face its biggest test of the season thus far.

    The Buckeyes sport one of the best troupe of big men in the nation. They won’t merely swing the ball around the outside for a good look; rather they attack the high post and put two bigs in the painted area. Forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas can score in traffic and will look to exploit Syracuse’s lack of depth inside.

    With that said, this year's Syracuse team may be the most underappreciated two-loss team in the history of the NCAA tournament. Fab Melo or no, this team is dangerous in transition and makes teams work for shots in its flustering 2-3 zone.

    I admire Jim Boehiem’s stubbornness to stick with his 2-3 zone, as he does every year. This may be one of his best 2-3 defensive teams ever. Kris Joseph and C.J. Fair in particular, turn opposing players into lost puppy dogs. Then they are the ideal trailers in a transition attack and tough to stop in the open floor.

    The zone defense forces opponents to take three-pointers, which is not OSU’s strong suit, ranking 285th nationally. Depth is also an issue for Thad Matta’s team—all but one starter played 35-plus minutes against Cincinnati yesterday.


    Numbers to Know


    Ohio State: 19-14 (Covered 5 of 7 against +.600 opponents)

    Syracuse: 17-18 (Last Ten Games: 3-7)


    Ohio State: 20-12-1

    Syracuse: 17-18


    Prediction: ‘Cuse did not face a talented frontcourt like this in the Big East. A few Ohio State free throws puts the number out of sight. Take Ohio State (-3)

Florida (-1.5) vs. Louisville; O/U: 131

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    Key to Cashing a Winning Ticket: Which defense will rule?

    Both teams have turned the West bracket upside down with inspired performances on the defensive end.  

    Rick Pitino’s full-court press has always received publicity for its effectiveness, but Florida is making waves with its stretch run of suffocating defense beginning in tourney time.

    In their first game of the tournament as an underdog, the Gators held Marquette to 31 percent shooting. No player was exempt from the Gators’ defensive pressure, including Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder, who shot at a 30 percent clip. 

    Louisville, though, has been on a little run of its own.

    Led by feisty point guard Peyton Siva, the Cardinals have been suffocating teams with their tiresome matchup zone defense. The Big East champions looked like they were playing a JV squad when they emasculated the Big Ten champion Michigan State on Thursday. Rick Pitino’s squad held the Spartans to 29 percent shooting, winning by 13 when it only shot 38 percent themselves. 

    The clash of defensive styles could turn into a game of streetball, with both teams alternating a full-court press. Every trek across half court will be a moral victory and an exhausting endeavor.


    Numbers to Know


    Florida: 16-15 (9-2 in past 11 NCAA tournament games)

    Louisville: 21-13-1 (On a 7-0 ATS run) 


    Florida: 18-13

    Louisville: 13-21-1


    Prediction: When in doubt, go with the team that plays both offense and defense. Take Florida (-1.5)

Baylor vs. Kentucky (-7); O/U: 148

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    Key to Cashing a Winning Ticket: Can Baylor’s length and athleticism threaten Kentucky’s depth?

    Early in the first half against Indiana, Anthony Davis went to the bench with two fouls. It seemed like déjà vu of Kentucky’s first loss at Assembly Hall.

    Davis would avoid his third foul. For the rest of the game.

    Kentucky will have to take into account more than Cody Zeller in the paint against the Baylor Bears.

    There’s no doubt Coach Calipari’s team has seen the highlights from the Baylor-Xavier matchup. Baylor forward Quincy Acy was in the air more than he was on the ground. The Baylor forwards shot well over 50 percent, including Perry Jones' thoroughly efficient 7-for-8 performance, and looked like they were on pogo sticks doing it.

    There is no doubt Baylor has the pieces to contend with the Wildcats. The biggest concern is whether they’ll be aggressive enough to hang around for 40 minutes. The Bears have been known to get into offensive swoons for stretches of several minutes.

    That will not suffice against a Kentucky team that put up triple digits against the Hoosiers.

    Jones III and Quincy Miller, in particular, cannot bring a passive attitude inside and on the offensive glass against a hungry Wildcat frontline. Kentucky plays only six guys routinely, so constant pressure inside will force Coach Cal to go to an unfamiliar game plan and out of his team’s comfort zone.


    Numbers to Know


    Baylor: 14-15-1

    Kentucky: 15-21


    Baylor: 17-14

    Kentucky: 15-18-2


    Prediction: I’m not going to be suckered in by the seven-point handout. Take Kentucky -7.

Kansas (-2) vs. North Carolina; O/U: 143.5

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    Key to Cashing a Winning Ticket: Will Harrison Barnes Show Up?

    While the poignant moment of North Carolina surviving an upset bid from Ohio last night was the buzzer-beater that clanked off right iron at the end of regulation, few will remember how ugly Harrison Barnes’ night was.

    In Kendall Marshall’s absence, North Carolina’s studs needed to pick up the slack in order to advance. Barnes obviously didn’t get the memo. The two-time preseason All-American and sure-fire NBA lottery pick went an atrocious 3-of-17 from the floor.

    At the end of regulation, everyone expected the super sophomore to rise to the occasion. No dice. Barnes had two chances to put the upset bid to rest, but airballed a three-point attempt and got stripped on UNC’s final possession.

    Kendall Marshall’s (likely) absence from Sunday’s game against Kansas may not cripple the Tar Heels title hopes as much as Barnes’ play. It was not long ago that their star player had problems meshing with Larry Drew, until Marshall’s emergence turned around his season.

    If Barnes can step out of Marshall’s shadow, the Heels will prevail against a Kansas team that’s been limping to this matchup.


    Numbers to Know


    Kansas: 17-17-1

    North Carolina: 20-16


    Kansas: 13-21-1

    North Carolina: 19-17


    Prediction: Just when you count Roy Williams’ team out, they’ll steal one. Take the points, North Carolina (+2).