The NCAA tournament stages its first two regional finals this Saturday. One game is a Big East affair, while the other pits a Cinderella against a heavyweight from the Big Ten.
Syracuse Orange vs. Marquette Golden Eagles
Saturday, 4:30 PM ET
Odds: Syracuse -5.5
When Syracuse and Marquette play in Washington, D.C., this Saturday afternoon, there won’t be any secrets on the floor. These teams regularly play each other in the Big East Conference, though Syracuse will be leaving to join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. The calculus of a conference matchup in the NCAA tournament is different from the regular season, because the pressure of a conference game is its own unique creature. Syracuse and Marquette are not playing for the Big East championship on Saturday; they’re playing for a spot in the Final Four. The psychology is not what it would normally be for a league contest in the middle of February (one that Marquette took on its home floor by a narrow margin over Syracuse in Milwaukee).
All in all, one should expect a very close game on the college basketball odds, one that is hard-fought and highly emotional on both sides. It’s a mystery as to why the point spread in this game is being set at five and a half points (in either direction). This feels like a one-basket game through and through. Yes, free throws can and do inflate scoring margins in the final seconds, but if there was ever a time to expect a photo finish in a basketball game, this is it. There’s very little to separate these two teams. Syracuse is being favored because it beat a more credentialed opponent (Indiana, as opposed to Miami) in the Sweet 16, and also because a lot of Orange fans will be on hand in D.C. for this game. Nevertheless, Marquette has played with great confidence and belief in this tournament and has been more consistent over the past two rounds. Take the Golden Eagles against the spread, but expect them to win outright as well.
Pick: Marquette +5.5
Wichita State Shockers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Saturday, 7:05 PM ET
Odds: Ohio State -5.5
For so much of this college basketball season, Ohio State faced a tough and important question: Who will score when Deshaun Thomas can’t? The Buckeyes lacked a consistent second scorer behind Thomas, their superstar. When Thomas either failed to hit shots or was locked down by swarming defenses that tried to take him out of the equation, the Buckeyes suffered at the offensive end of the floor. However, in this NCAA tournament, LaQuinton Ross has emerged as the second go-to guy for Ohio State. He has been sensational in the Buckeyes’ last two wins, hitting shot after big shot in crunch time against Iowa State (on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio) and Arizona (on Thursday in Los Angeles in the Sweet 16). Ohio State has taken two teams’ best shots and lived to tell the tale. The Buckeyes have forged a level of resilience that should put them in the right frame of mind against upstart Wichita State, a team that has done very well to get to the Elite Eight but which has not faced top-tier opponents. One thing to appreciate about Ohio State is that when it played Arizona in Los Angeles on Thursday, it was essentially playing a road game, since Arizona has a lot of alumni in L.A. Being able to overcome that specific obstacle should give the Buckeyes an added comfort zone against Wichita State. It will be a shocker if the Shockers can even manage to keep this game close on the betting lines heading into the final minutes.
Pick: Ohio State -5.5