March Madness

March Madness

Felix Ronchetti, Writer

We have four Sweet 16 games on Saturday and only four top-four seeds playing.

Welcome to what might be the craziest NCAA tournament we’ve seen.

Underdogs have been winning at a surprising rate in the first two rounds of the tournament. Let’s look at my picks for Saturday, March 26th.

No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 12 Oregon State

Two really good stories and underrated teams of the tournament square off to start the Sweet 16. Loyola was a top-10 team, though they should be higher. Maybe it will be a lesson for the future. Loyola, by the numbers, was one of the best teams in the country all year and looked the part in the first weekend. The Ramblers got past Georgia Tech and then put forth one of the best tournament performances you’ll see, a demolition of No. 1 seed Illinois (who was my pick to make the final 4) The team that picked apart Illinois can beat anyone. (OK, maybe not Gonzaga) On the other side, Oregon State is underrated for a different reason. No team has been better against the spread the past two months. The Beavers are on a 17-3-1 run against the spread, which you won’t find often. Whatever you thought about Oregon State before the season or even before its great Pac-12 tournament run, the Beavers have smashed expectations, and they may continue to

This is a hard pick because I like both teams. It’s hard for me to shake how good Loyola Chicago looked against Illinois. This program has been in the second weekend recently, and that might help a little when it comes to handling the attention that’s coming. I’ll take Loyola on a slight lean and will feel bad because Oregon State has been so good to anyone who caught on to their hot streak early enough.

Pick: Loyola Chicago 

No. 1 Baylor  vs. No. 5 Villanova, 5:15 p.m.

Villanova has put to rest the questions about making a run without Collin Gillespie. Jay Wright is a great coach, Villanova is one of the true safe bets among any program in the sport, and their first weekend was very impressive.

Then again, Baylor was pretty good too. There was a similar spread for Baylor’s second-round game against Wisconsin, and while the Badgers made a run in the second half, Baylor was clearly the better team and the cover was rarely in doubt. Baylor’s ability at all five spots, especially in the backcourt, is undeniable. It’s possible the Bears will be the team to take advantage of Gillespie’s absence. Scott Drew is a pretty good coach too. With Gonzaga’s undefeated season occupying the headlines, Baylor has become a bit underrated. They’re good value at BetMGM to win it all at +450.

While Villanova has played well without Gillespie this tournament, North Texas isn’t Baylor. Baylor has probably the best backcourt in the nation and while I don’t love laying this many points against Villanova, I wonder if Baylor exerts its will.

Pick Baylor 

No. 3 Arkansas (-11.5) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts, 7:25 p.m.

It’s not like there’s much history of No. 15 seeds in the Sweet 16. Oral Roberts is just the second to do it, joining Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.

But Oral Roberts doesn’t look like a 15 seed. The Golden Eagles do a lot of things you like if you’re betting an underdog. They never looked nervous, not against No. 2 seed Ohio State or when they were down double digits to Florida. They had competed well against almost every tournament team they played in the regular season, going 4-1 against the spread. They’re the best free-throw shooting team in the nation, and it’s nice to know they will get most of the free points they’re given. They also shoot it very well from 3. The Golden Eagles are also 15th in the nation in turnover percentage. They won’t turn it over, and that matters against an Arkansas team that will play fast and pressure you.

Arkansas is a very good team. The Razorbacks have multiple options and even when they’re not playing great over a stretch, their athleticism doesn’t take a break and will eventually lead to a run. But Oral Roberts checks so many boxes you want from a big tournament underdog that I won’t hesitate to take them. I don’t think it’s crazy to have a piece of the money line either.

Pick Arkansas

No. 2 Houston vs. No. 11 Syracuse, 9:55 p.m.

One stat really stands out in this matchup. Houston is No. 2 at KenPom in offensive rebounding percentage. The Cougars are going to hammer you on the boards; that’s how they get a lot of their offense. Meanwhile, Syracuse is 340th in offensive rebound percentage allowed. There might not be a bigger gap between strength and weakness in any key area in the Sweet 16. Houston is going to get a ton of extra possessions.

We’ve all heard by now how Syracuse’s zone messes with opponents that don’t see it, and that’s true. Houston might be decently equipped to handle it. According to Matt Eisenberg’s tournament guide, coming into March Madness the Cougars had faced zone defenses on 18.9 percent of their possessions, fourth-most among tournament teams. And they scored 7.6 percent more points per possession against zone defenses than the national average. Basically, Houston has faced a decent amount of zone defense and did fine against it. The Cougars shouldn’t look too overwhelmed by Syracuse’s defense.

Syracuse is on a nice run and the Orange could keep rolling. However, I trust Kelvin Sampson with a week of preparation and the offensive rebounding disparity in Houston’s favor is a real issue. I don’t love taking three favorites for Saturday’s games in such an underdog-heavy tournament, but I don’t love this matchup for Syracuse. The line has moved from -6.5 to -6, and that’s fine by me.

Pick Syracuse