Power Sunday In The Elite Eight

By: Michael Robinson | Saturday, March 24, 2012

College basketball’s Elite Eight has a powerful field on Sunday with all the top seeds playing with the exception of No. 2 Duke.

Three double-digits seeds got eliminated last night in No. 10 Xavier, No. 11 NC State and No. 13 Ohio. The lowest seed remaining overall is No. 7 Florida. A No. 1 seed has won 16 of the 27 championships since the field expanded to 64 in 1985.

We’ve been tracking the March Madness betting statistics all tourney long. The favorites started strong at 25-18-1 (58 percent), but the underdogs have been biting back since, going 11-5 (69 percent), including 6-2 ATS during the Sweet Sixteen.

The ‘under’ is 36-22-2 (62 percent) after a 4-4 mark in the Sweet Sixteen. Note all results are pending Saturday play.

Atlanta, Georgia Dome

(1) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (3) Baylor Bears
2:20 p.m. (ET) CBS
SPREAD: Kentucky -7 ½
TOTAL: 146

This game opened with Kentucky -7 ½ and the total at 146, both remaining steady.

Baylor (30-7 SU, 14-16 ATS) beat Xavier 75-70 as 6 ½-point favorites last night. Xavier did a nice job to fight back after a big early hole. Baylor got 34 total points on 15-of-19 shooting from forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. Sharpshooting guard Brady Heslip had 11 points after averaging 22 PPG in the first two.

The Bears have gotten some scheduling breaks, especially with Duke losing in the first round in a shocker to Lehigh. The highest seed they’ve faced is No. 10 Xavier, although coach Scott Drew gets a ton of credit for making his second Elite Eight in three years. The 2010 version had a completely different roster and lost to Duke (78-71) in this round.

Kentucky (35-2 SU, 14-21-1 ATS) got the only cover by a favorite on Friday, 102-90 as 10-point ‘chalk’ over No. 4 Indiana. The game was won at the free throw line with the Wildcats getting 37 attempts and knocking down an incredible 35. The ‘over’ is 3-0 for them in the tourney, scoring 90 PPG.

Coach John Calipari has his team in the Elite Eight for the third straight year. He lost in this round two years ago to West Virginia (73-66) before beating North Carolina (76-69) last year. Kentucky then lost a heartbreaker to eventual champion Connecticut (56-55) in the Final Four, and the pressure is on Calipari as he looks for his first national title.

Kentucky is going to copy Xavier’s defensive playbook against Baylor. Namely, don’t double team the big guys and contain Heslip from beyond the arc. Baylor’s big men had very good success against Xavier, but it will be much tougher against Kentucky and shot-blocking center Anthony Davis.

St. Louis, Edward Jones Dome

(1)  North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (2) Kansas Jayhawks
5:05 p.m. (ET) CBS
SPREAD: Kansas -2
TOTAL: 144

North Carolina is a 2-point underdog with the health of Kendall Marshall (wrist) the big reason. Both of these teams lost in the Elite Eight last year, North Carolina to Kentucky and Kansas to upstart VCU (71-61).

UNC (32-5 SU, 20-16 ATS) got all it could handle from No. 13 Ohio last night, needing overtime in the 73-65 win as 10 ½-point favorites. Freshman point guard Stilman White started in place of Marshall and while he had no turnovers in 32 minutes, the rest of the team seemed rattled with 24.

The Tar Heels were saved by the dominant performance of big man Tyler Zeller (20 points, 22 rebounds). The rebounding advantage was a massive 56-26 overall, not that surprising against the much smaller frontline of the MAC school. The size advantage will be less pronounced against Kansas.

The Jayhawks (30-6 SU, 17-17-1 ATS) held on to beat No. 11 NC State on Friday, 60-57 as 8 ½-point favorites. That comes after a fortunate 3-point win over Purdue (63-60) last game as 8-point favorites. The ‘under’ is 3-0 in Kansas’ three tourney games, scoring just 62.7 PPG and allowing 55.7.

Center Jeff Withey had 10 blocks against NC State and he will be the key to containing Zeller inside. Guard Tyshawn Taylor (6-of-25) and power forward Thomas Robinson (9-of-29) have shot poorly the last two games and can’t afford another clunker.

These are two of the most storied programs in college basketball and pits Tar Heels’ coach Roy Williams against his former team. Williams got beaten badly by the Jayhawks in the 2008 Final Four (84-66). Kansas coach Bill Self won his only national title that year, while Williams has two of his own (2005, 2009).

Marshall is questionable at best after having surgery earlier in the week. Kansas being favored suggests that he will either not suit up or be limited.

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