It’s been three days since we’ve had March Madness. I don’t know about you, but I’m having serious withdrawals. No game tonight has a seed differential of more than four, so we should be set up for a fine slate of games tonight. Here’s a quick look at the matchups as you kill time until tip-off.
South Region: #10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton – 7:15 p.m.
The least inspiring match-up of the Sweet 16 starts off the night, which makes sense because there will be the least amount of eyeballs watching. What could’ve been an epic Syracuse-Kansas game turned into this when both underdogs pulled upsets in the last round. Stanford’s going to have an advantage on the front line, similar to what they had against Kansas. Dayton’s a well-balanced squad with no one playing more than about 34 minutes a game, but they’ve gained a main advantage thus far by their opposition missing threes. Stanford isn’t exactly lights-out from deep, but can get hot like they showed against New Mexico. Expect a low-scoring battle that’ll come down to a few possessions in the final minutes. I’ll give Stanford the slight edge, but it’s really close.
South Region: #1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA – Approx. 9:45 p.m.
Offense goes against defense in the South region’s nightcap. Florida owns the second-most efficient defense in the country, while UCLA’s offense has been firing on all cylinders for quite some time now. UCLA’s guards should be good enough to handle Florida’s constant pressure, but UCLA isn’t a good rebounding team, ranking 120th in the nation in rebound margin. Florida should have an advantage on the glass (they’re ranked 30th) and shouldn’t have that much difficulty scoring on the other end. This is a different and smarter Florida team than in years past. As pointed out by Jay Bilas on Twitter, “Florida is 4-2 in games decided by single-digits. Last year, the Gators were 0-6.” Without hero-baller Kenny Boynton, the Gators are poised to win a few more games starting with this one.
West Region: #2 Wisconsin vs. #6 Baylor – 7:47 p.m.
The West Region games are superior to those in the East, so don’t be afraid to focus on them more heavily tonight. Things start off with an intriguing game between two of the better long-range bombing teams in the tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how Wisconsin attacks Baylor’s 2-3 zone since their offense relies on ball movement against man-to-man defenses. Wisconsin’s leading scorer, Frank Kaminsky, often finds himself open on the perimeter, which won’t necessarily be the case against Baylor. Flip to the other side of the court and you’ll see Wisconsin doesn’t have the defense of previous years. They’re 54th in defensive efficiency this year after being first last year and 12th the year before. But Baylor won’t be as explosive as in their last two games. They got all the foul calls against Nebraska and couldn’t miss three-pointers early on against Creighton.
The Badgers have a major advantage at head coach. Give Bo Ryan four days and he might figure out a way to unlock his offense’s power in the zone. (Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes are nice players to put at the foul line to execute offense.) This looks to be the game of the night and there won’t be much in it. The coaching edge is enough for me to lean Wisconsin, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Baylor pulled this off.
West Region: #1 Arizona vs. #4 San Diego State – Approx 10:17 p.m.
Arizona and San Diego State might recognize what they see on the court tonight because they mirror each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Both are very strong defensive teams with athletic front lines. San Diego State, however, is clearly weaker on the offensive end with much less balanced scoring compared to Arizona. They’re going to score consistently as Sean Miller likely focuses his attention on shutting down Xavier Thames, who won’t likely have a game as good as his last. This is a rematch of Arizona’s nine-point win from early November. People will be quick to point out that Arizona team had Brandon Ashley, but Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have stepped up in Ashley’s absence. It won’t be noticeable at all as Arizona cruises in the rematch.
Vegas Best Bets:
Dayton and Stanford Under 133 – Both teams can no longer use the underdog role as motivation and neither were great offensively to begin with.
Florida -4.5 over UCLA – The Bruins won’t be able to hold down Florida’s offense and will fight the going a lot harder on their scoring end.
Wisconsin to make the Final Four (+500) –Compare what Vegas is willing to give you against what the expected outcome is on FiveThirtyEight.com and you have yourself some value.
[Image via Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports]