The NCAA tournament moves from the first weekend to the second weekend, and the stakes get higher for everyone involved. Who will rise, and who will shrink?
Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Miami Hurricanes
Thursday, 7:15 PM ET
College Basketball Betting Odds: Miami -5.5
Why does Marquette stand on such solid ground as tip-off time approaches? Vander Blue has been the kind of step-up crunch-time scorer that any NCAA Final Four contender needs at this time of year. Jamil Nelson has chipped in, to be sure, but Blue has scored loads of key baskets for the Golden Eagles in this tournament. He’s the chief reason why this team has managed to win two dogfights in the opening rounds of the East Region part of this event. Blue is a fearless player who wants the ball and craves the opportunity to take season-defining shots. With him on the floor, Marquette has a match for Miami’s Shane Larkin, a player who is cut from the same cloth.
However, while Blue has been sensational for Marquette, Miami has been getting more meaningful contributions throughout its roster. Rion Brown, Trey McKinney Jones, and Durand Scott can all hit big three-point shots alongside Larkin. Kenny Kadji can provide help on the boards, and Miami has a coach – Jim Larranaga – who brought mid-major George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. Marquette has a few advantages and should cover the college basketball odds; Miami, though, will win the game by a bucket in the last minute.
Pick: Marquette +5.5
Syracuse Orange vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Thursday, approx. 9:45 PM ET
College Basketball Betting Odds: Indiana -5.5
Indiana should be able to cope with anything Syracuse might have to offer in this tilt. The Hoosiers can manage this matchup and steer it to their advantage. First of all, while Syracuse is long, it is not powerful. Cody Zeller might not be able to play over the top of Syracuse defenders, but he can back them down in the low post and overwhelm them. Zeller is not the strongest low-post player in college football, but against Syracuse, he will not face a matchup in which he is likely to be muscled out of position on the low blocks.
The other key point to realize about this matchup is that Syracuse, a zone team, is vulnerable to Indiana’s zone-busting shooters. Jordan Hulls is a lethal three-point shooter whom Syracuse must be able to defend on Thursday. If Hulls gets any free looks against the 2-3 zone, he will likely knock them down, and that will make it very difficult for the Orange to solve Indiana’s offense. Unless Syracuse’s James Southerland has his best shooting night, the Hoosiers should win comfortably on the betting lines.
Pick: Indiana -5.5
Arizona Wildcats vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
Thursday, 7:47 PM ET
College Basketball Betting Odds: Ohio State -3.5
This is a matchup that should move in Ohio State’s direction before the evening is over in Los Angeles. The Buckeyes should win this West Regional semifinal because they are stronger than Arizona in the paint. That might not be saying much, since Ohio State struggled on the glass against Iowa State this past Sunday, but Arizona does not have an imposing low-post presence at all. Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas should be able to do what he wants at the offensive end of the floor. The Buckeyes are also a superior defensive team. They have flourished at the defensive end over the past month, with Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross becoming the kinds of players coach Thad Matta hoped to see all along. Aaron Craft is an elite on-ball defender who can lock down Arizona’s foremost offensive threat, Mark Lyons, and make it very hard for Arizona’s halfcourt offense to function. Lyons scored 27 points this past Saturday, but that A-plus performance came against 14th-seeded Harvard. Ohio State is a No. 2 seed for a reason. The Buckeyes have the kinds of strengths that match up perfectly against Arizona’s weaknesses. As long as they take the ball to the rim and don’t settle for too many jumpers, they should win.
Pick: Ohio State -3.5