One of the best things that the NCAA Tournament has to offer is the element of surprise. There are 32 different matchups in the second round and in reality it is impossible to tell where the great moments will come from. No matter how sure you are that one thing is going to happen, you’ll never be perfect. Warren Buffett is willing to bet one billion dollars on the fact that the Big Dance will be impossible to predict perfectly. That’s what makes it March Madness.
So how exactly am I supposed to choose the best contests of the second round? I’m certainly not psychic, so I decided to see what Vegas thought. I went through each level of seeding (8/9, 7/10, etc.) and chose the game with the closest spread. Like I said, something crazy is going to happen that no one thinks of and it will make for the most memorable moment of the dance, but here is what Vegas expects to be the closest games.
#8 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #9 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Spread: Oklahoma State -1.0
The flashiest matchup the first round has to offer is between Mark Few’s Bulldogs and Travis Ford’s Cowboys. The odds makers think this one will be a one point game, and I agree. Both schools have a tradition of success and star power to match. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower will go head to head with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash.
Last year Gonzaga was a one seed before falling to the Wichita State Shockers in the third round (round of 32). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State was a five seed and got upset by the Oregon Ducks in the second round (round of 64). Each will be looking to avenge the earlier than expected exit from a year ago, making this game all the more exciting.
Offensively we should be in for a treat because Oklahoma State ranks 16th nationally in points per game while Gonzaga boasts the fifth best field goal percentage. My guess is this game will go into the 80’s and highlight plays will be in abundance. Earlier in the season these both seemed to be teams in line for higher seeds, but have since slipped to set up this heavyweight matchup.
#7 New Mexico Lobos vs. #10 Stanford Cardinal
Spread: New Mexico -2.0
When the brackets were first released yesterday, one team that was highly contested was New Mexico. The experts thought the Lobos were seeded way too low should be higher. Then, those same experts began talking about how New Mexico could upend Kansas in the second round. Well how about we take this one step at a time, shall we? Johnny Dawkins had a career saving year at Stanford and Vegas agrees. Just because the Lobos may have been under seeded does not indicate they will roll through the Cardinal. The spread is a mere two points.
This is the sixth year Dawkins has been at the helm at Stanford, but only the first that will end in the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico was a three seed last year, but was upset by the Harvard Crimson in the round of 64. Now, Steve Alford is an UCLA Bruin and Craig Neal is in charge.
Because both teams are focused on the interior, this is looking to be an awesome matchup of strength on strength. The 6’10” Dwight Powell leads the Cardinal in assists, while Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk present two low post threats for the Lobos. The other key factor in this game is New Mexico’s guard Kendall Williams. He was the 2013 Mountain West Player of the Year and has the potential to take over any game on both sides of the court. If this happens New Mexico could beat Stanford, but if they even consider overlooking the Cardinal they will be primed for another early exit.
#6 Baylor Bears vs. #11 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Spread: Baylor -2.5
The last time these two schools faced off was in 2011 when they were Big 12 foes. Times have certainly changed since then. Nebraska has a new conference in the Big Ten, a new coach in Tim Miles, a new place to play in the Pinnacle Bank Arena, and their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. Clearly the state of Nebraska is excited to have the Cornhuskers in the dance, but now that they are here they want an upset.
However, the Baylor team they are trying to beat has played some great basketball as of late. Even after they dipped in the middle of the year by losing eight of 10, the Bears rebounded to win 10 of their last 12 and gain a six seed in the process. Even though this would qualify as a solid upset, the odds makers do not seem to think so. The spread is still within one basket.
The key players to watch in this one are pretty obvious. Sophomore Terran Petteway for Nebraska has carried his team to new heights. Averaging 18.1 points per game and 4.9 rebounds, the Cornhuskers are only going to advance if he plays extremely well. Same goes for Kenny Chery of Baylor. Since the Bears have gotten rolling again Cherry has been on a tear averaging 15.18 points per game in his last 11 contests.
#5 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #12 Harvard Crimson
Spread: Cincinnati -3.5
Harvard has been one of America’s favorite mid-major darlings since the start of the 2013-2014 campaign. Tommy Amaker’s team upset the New Mexico Lobos in last year’s tournament and the Crimson are believed to be an even better team this year. The Harvard supporters believe that this one is going to be a classic 12 seed upsetting the five. There’s one thing standing in the way though, and that’s Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati Bearcats.
Clearly Las Vegas feels that Harvard has more than just a puncher’s chance with the spread being so low, but what the Bearcats do have is a first team All-American Sean Kilpatrick. Cincinnati struggles to score, which is proved by them being ranked 237th nationally in points per game. Kilpatrick is not the issue though as he averages 20.1 points on the season and has not been held to single digits since December 17th.
Where Cincinnati’s success is predicated on Kilpatrick’s ability to produce, Harvard has six players averaging between 9.3 and 14 points per game. They share the ball ridiculously well and do not care who scores the points. Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers are their two leaders and do most of the facilitating in Amaker’s offense. Both teams will feel confident that they will win and this makes for an extremely competitive matchup.
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