The NCAA tournament has been as unpredictable as many observers expected it would be. How will Sunday’s college basketball gamess unfold?
Creighton Bluejays vs. Duke Blue Devils
Sunday, approx. 9:40 PM ET
Odds: Duke -5
In this matchup, one of the most important factors for the Bluejays is going to be Doug McDermott and how well he can play against the big men of Duke, especially Ryan Kelly, who is going to probably be guarding him for much of this contest. It will be important for McDermott to stay out of foul trouble so that he can have a larger effect on the game with his scoring, which was a big factor in his team’s first win of the tournament on Friday. McDermott, one of the elite players left in this event, had 27 points (and was 11-of-11 from the free throw line) against the Cincinnati Bearcats. McDermott is going to win his share of battles on Sunday, making this contest close. However, the other big-man matchup is going to be the big challenge for the Jays. Creighton’s Gregory Echenique will engage Duke’s Mason Plumlee in a fight to see who will own the painted area of the floor. Against Cincinnati on Friday, Echenique played excellent basketball and was a major factor thoughout that game with 13 points and seven rebounds, four of them offensive. He will need to continue this in order for Creighton to beat the Blue Devils. A huge key for Duke is Seth Curry’s shooting, and how many good looks he can get (and then make) in this game. There are no doubts as to his skills with the ball, so Creighton has to make him uncomfortable. Ultimately, this feels like a close game, which means Creighton should cover the spread. Duke, though, typically finds a way to win games such as this one. Creighton’s defense is not quite ready for prime time.
Pick: Creighton +5 (Duke straight-up)
Iowa State Cyclones vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Sunday, 12:15 PM ET
Odds: Ohio State -7
This contest will be fascinating because Iowa State guard Korie Lucious is very familiar with Ohio State, having played at Michigan State before transferring. Lucious never did go one-on-one against Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft while he was at Michigan State, though, and that’s going to hurt him in this confrontation, because you generally need some time to adjust to Craft’s withering on-ball pressure. Craft is the best man-to-man perimeter defender in the United States. He influences games without scoring a single point, and that’s the mark of a very special player.
Ohio State cruised through its opening-round game against Iona on Friday. The Gaels love to run, so Ohio State did not play a typically slow Big Ten grinder. The Buckeyes were not tested in the low post, either, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this game imitates – and doesn’t imitate – the Iona contest. On one hand, this will be more of a halfcourt affair; Iowa State is comfortable executing in halfcourt situations. On the other hand, Iowa State is a perimeter-based team. Ultimately, Craft’s defense is going to thwart much of what the Cyclones want to do. Iowa State will also be unable to stop OSU forward Deshaun Thomas, who should run wild in this game, as will the Buckeyes at large.
Pick: Ohio State -7
La Salle Explorers vs. Ole Miss Rebels
Sunday, approx. 7:45 PM ET
Odds: Ole Miss -3
This is a fascinating encounter between a No. 13 seed (La Salle) and a No. 12 seed (Ole Miss), with the winner going to the Sweet 16 next week at the West Regionals in Los Angeles. So many people are naturally talking about megawatt personality and lightning rod Marshall Henderson, one of the most publicized players in the NCAA tournament, but Ole Miss is winning not because of him, but in spite of him. Henderson was 6 of 21 from the field in Friday’s 57-46 win over Wisconsin. It was his teammates, Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, who carried the Rebels, combining for 19 points and 21 rebounds while playing excellent interior defense against Wisconsin’s bigs. La Salle can play on the perimeter and neutralize Henderson, but the Explorers will have a much harder time matching up against Ole Miss’ size and power in the post. Ole Miss is playing extremely confident ball right now, and head coach Andy Kennedy is mixing defenses to perfection. The Explorers are really good, but Ole Miss will be better on the betting lines on Sunday in Kansas City.
Pick: Ole Miss -3