The Elite Eight for March Madness begins on Saturday and one top seed has already been unceremoniously removed from the party.
Louisville’s Rick Pitino proved once again he’s the ‘King of the Sweet Sixteen’ by beating No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44 as 5 ½-point underdogs. Pitino is an incredible 10-0 straight-up all-time during that round.
One college basketball betting trend we are following closely is the ‘under.’ Thursday night games had the ‘under’ at 2-2, but it’s still an impressive 34-20-2 (63 percent) for the tournament. That’s pending Friday night results where two more No. 1 seeds, North Carolina and Kentucky, hope to avoid the same fate as the Spartans.
WESTERN REGIONAL FINAL
Phoenix, US Airways Center
(4) Louisville Cardinals vs. (7) Florida Gators
TIP: 4:30 p.m. (ET) CBS
SPREAD: Florida -1 ½
This game opened as a pick ‘em, but Florida is now 1 ½-point favorites despite being the lower seed. The total opened at 131 and has remained steady.
Louisville (29-9 SU, 21-13-1 ATS) continued its hot streak with the Michigan State win. The Spartans were held to 28.6 percent shooting from the field and the ‘under’ is 5-0 in the Cardinals’ last five games (scoring 59.8 PPG and allowing 51.2 PPG) and 10-1 in their last 11.
Pitino’s bunch is also 7-0 SU and ATS in its last seven, including winning the Big East Tournament. He’s done one of his best coaching jobs ever, withstanding a lot of injuries and having no star players. Pitino is 1-2 SU and 0-2-1 ATS in his three Elite Eight games with Louisville, losing the last two in 2008 and 2009.
Florida (26-10 SU, 15-15-1 ATS) burst into the Elite Eight with a 68-58 win as 1-point ‘dogs over tough Marquette. The three-headed backcourt of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal combined for 43 points, thanks mostly to the freshman Beal (8-of-10 shooting for 21 points).
The Gators have covered all three of their March Madness games and the ‘under’ is 3-0 despite scoring a respectable 74.3 PPG. That’s because they’ve allowed just 51 PPG. They will certainly test the great defense that Louisville is playing of late. They also have a couple of underrated big men in Patric Young and Erik Murphy.
The other big storyline is the coaching matchup of Billy Donovan against Pitino. Pitino coached him at Providence back in the 1980s when they made a surprise Final Four. He also got his former player into coaching by hiring him as an assistant. Pitino is 6-0 all-time against Donovan, but it’s the pupil who has more national titles (2-1).
EASTERN REGIONAL FINAL
Boston, TD Garden
(1) Syracuse Orange (2) Ohio State Buckeyes
TIP: 7:05 p.m. (ET) CBS
SPREAD: Ohio State -3
TOTAL: 136 ½
Ohio State opened as 2 ½-point favorites despite being the lower seed. It has jumped up to -3, while the total is also up a half-point.
Syracuse (34-2 SU, 18-17 ATS) failed to cover against a pesky Wisconsin team last night, 64-63 as 3-point favorites, but still played very well. The Badgers were unconscious from 3-point land (14-of-27 for 51.9 percent) which kept the game close to the bitter end. It also caused the first ‘over’ for the Orange in the tourney, the total low at 119 ½.
Coach Jim Boeheim’s bunch is just 1-4 ATS in its last five games and 2-8 ATS in the last 10. This is Syracuse’s first Elite Eight appearance since winning the national title in 2003 with Carmelo Anthony. Boeheim has only made it this far in the tourney five times in 36 years with the team.
Ohio State (30-7 SU, 19-13 ATS) beat Cincinnati in the Sweet Sixteen, 81-66 as 8-point favorites. Cincy actually led midway through the second half before a big Buckeyes run. Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger combined for 49 points, exacting some Big Ten revenge over the Big East after the Syracuse and Wisky game went the other way.
The ‘over’ is 3-0 for the Buckeyes for the tourney, scoring 77.3 PPG and allowing 63.7 PPG. The ‘over’ is 9-1 for them in the last 10 overall and 12-4-1 in road and neutral site games. Coach Thad Matta has Ohio State in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2007, when Greg Oden and company eventually lost to Florida in the national title game.
This is the round where Syracuse center Fab Melo (eligibility) could really be missed. He’s a defensive presence in the 2-3 zone and would have been waiting for the bruising Sullinger when he got the ball deep. Syracuse has plenty of athletes on the frontline, but none that can replace Melo and it’s the main reason why Ohio State is favored.