Six winners in our last seven and five of six since the NCAA Tournament began, including an outright underdog winner in the NIT with Western Kentucky this week, has the record looking nice in March.
Thursday’s card isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s full of numbers you don’t expect to see in the second weekend. There’s a three, a four, a five, two sevens, two nines, and an eleven in action on the left side of your bracket (the South and West Regions).
In one of those matchups, at least a seven promises to pass through to the Elite Eight when #7 Nevada takes on #11 Loyola-Chicago. The Wolfpack came back from down 21 in the second half to stun Cincinnati on Sunday, while the Ramblers defeated #6 Miami and #3 Tennessee by a combined three points to reach the second weekend.
Nevada is a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 143.
I’ve felt pretty good about all the picks I’ve written up here since the NCAA Tournament started last Thursday, but this one does not inspire the same confidence.
Both teams have won two games against teams ranked higher than the opponent they will face in this game. They also play at different paces.
Loyola-Chicago shares the ball exceptionally well, which explains its balanced scoring. It plays at a deliberate pace, while Nevada likes to get up and down and score a lot. The Ramblers have won two games in the 60s, while Nevada scored 87 to beat Texas by four and 75 to beat Cincinnati.
Loyola isn’t so different from Cincinnati so I expect this game to get into the 70s. It’s hard to imagine Nevada playing into the 60s. The Ramblers aren’t going to run much, but the Pack will play fast and give up the occasional quick bucket so Loyola will get out of the 60s, I would suspect. I don’t feel inclined to touch the total.
I’m going to buy half a point and lay one with Nevada. This was a team I really liked until Lindsey Drew went out for the season just a few weeks ago. I likely overreacted to the injury, as I often do, because it’s just hard for me get behind a team that isn’t at full strength.
It’s not as if anybody has really stepped in to replace Drew, either. Instead, it’s been the same guys doing just a little bit more to make up for him. Surprisingly, Caleb Martin was quiet in the Cincinnati win and it was his twin brother Cody who led the scoring. The season statistics are a reverse of that.
The last time Nevada played in Georgia for the NCAA Tournament was in 2004 when a team led by Nick Fazekas was knocked out by the eventual runner-up Georgia Tech. Members of that team have reached out to this year’s team to remind it about staying humble and not overlooking an opponent that was little-known up until a week ago.
To win this game, it’s going to have to use its size and strength on defense to make this game physical. If Nevada can do that and some of Cinderella’s charm has worn off this week, it should march on. If you’re going to tail this one for the sake of sticking with the hot hand, go easy on the bankroll; the card looks better on Friday.
Free Pick: Nevada -1 (120)