South Region – Columbia, SC – Colonial Life Arena
#9 Oklahoma vs. #1 Virginia – 7:45 PM EST – CBS
Opening Odds: Virginia -11, 127
— Virginia (30-3 SU, 18-15 ATS) gave its fan base a horrible case of deja vu before getting it together to pull off a 71-56 victory over Gardner-Webb. The Cavaliers, in their first NCAA Tournament sice gaining national notoriety by becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a 16, put themselves in danger of a repeat performance with an awful start that saw them behind 26-14 at one point and down 36-30 at halftime.
— Virginia didn’t cover, but considering the burden it had to overcome after being haunted all offseason by the disaster vs. UMBC, it is likely to feel more comfortable looking to get to a Sweet 16 against a fellow high-major. ACC Defensive Player of the Year De’Andre Hunter, who was out for the 2018 NCAA Tournament and is the team’s top pro prospect, delivered 23 points and six rebounds. X-factor Mamadi Diakite came off the bench and finished with 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting, adding a team-high nine rebounds.
— Oklahoma (20-13 SU, 20-10-3 ATS) overcame losing Trae Young to the pros with a collective approach and started fast, opening 11-1 with victories over a number of fellow big boys, Florida, USC and Creighton chief among them. The Sooners struggled in Big 12 play and were 2-6 between Jan. 28 and the beginning of March before closing with a big win over Kansas that secured their at-large bid in a year where there was a soft bubble.
Oklahoma destroyed Ole Miss 95-71 in the Round of 32, putting together the highest-scoring game of the tournament thus far. The Sooners shot over 57 percent from the field and had four players score at least 18 points. Rashard Odomes led the way, scoring 20 points in 21 minutes.
— Christian James is averaging 14.6 points and 6.2 rebounds to lead the way for the Sooners and also scored 20 against Ole Miss. Kristian Doolittle averaged 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds and came up with 19 points and team-highs of 15 rebounds and five assists.
— Oklahoma is 0-9 when scoring fewer than 63 points and 20-4 when scoring at least 63, but Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 55.1 points per game. Opponents shoot just 27.5 percent from 3-point range against the Cavaliers, the second-best defensive clip in the country. The Cavaliers are 28-0 when holding opponents to 44 percent or worse from the field, and 2-3 when opponents shoot better than that. The Sooners are 13-0 when they score at least 75 points and are 7-13 when falling short of that number, but Virginia has only allowed 70 or more points on three occasions.
— The Virginia offense has recorded a turnover on only 15.1 percent of its possessions, the 14th-lowest rate in the country. They employ the slowest pace in all of college basketball but shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range, ranking fourth nationally.
— Oklahoma has won 20 games under Lon Kruger’s watch for the fifth time in his eight seasons but just the first time since reaching the Final Four in 2016. He also reached a Final Four with Florida and has led three other teams into the NCAAs (K-State, Illinois, UNLV). Tony Bennett is in his seventh NCAA Tournament with Virginia but has reached the Sweet 16 just three times. He got there once with Washington State.
— The Sooners and Cavaliers were on opposite sides of the bracket in the Battle 4 Atlantis down in the Bahamas around Thanksgiving but didn’t play one another. Bennett remembers being impressed with Oklahoma’s collective size. The Sooners have gone 2-3 against No. 1 seeds in their history and are 1-2 against Virginia, last playing in Hawai’i back in 2010. While Bennett was in place, Jeff Capel coached the Sooners.
— The ‘over’ is on a 4-1 run in Virginia games and only fell short last time out against Gardner-Webb by a single point.
— Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament with 6/1 odds to win it all, per the Westgate Superbook. The Cavaliers’ odds were even with UNC for third-best behind Duke (9/4) and Gonzaga (9/2). Oklahoma was slotted at 500-to-1.
Midwest Region – Tulsa, OK – BOK Center
#12 Ohio State vs. #4 Houston – 8:40 PM EST – TNT
Opening Odds: Houston -5.5, 132.5
— While Houston (32-3 SU, 21-12-2 ATS) fell in the AAC Championship game against Cincinnati, it never game Georgia State an inkling of hope on Friday night, posting a dominant 84-55 win over the 14th-seeded Sun Belt champs.
— Ohio State (20-14 SU, 15-19 ATS) pulled off an upset over Iowa State, escaping 62-59 when the Cyclones missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The game was there to be had for both teams down the stretch but ultimately swung as Kaleb Wesson made big plays as the driving force with a 21-point, 12-rebound night. Wake Forest grad transfer Keyshawn Woods scored 19 and played all 40 minutes. This is the lowest they’ve ever been seeded at the NCAAs.
— The Buckeyes got Wesson back from suspension for the Big Ten Tournament and immediately sealed their at-large bid by holding off Indiana 79-75 after nearly blowing a huge lead over the final minutes. They lost to Michigan State again, but had slid into the field as one of the last few teams deemed worthy of an at-large bid. Ohio State went 0-3 without Wesson, getting outscored by a combined margin of 59 points in losing to Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
— The Cougars have never defeated Ohio State but would reach their first Sweet 16 since 1984 with a victory here. The Hakeem Olajuwon-led version is getting some company an can re-write the school-record for wins with their 33rd if they survive the Buckeyes.
— Houston’s calling card is a defense that ranks seventh nationally in points per game allowed (61.1) in addition to the lowest field-goal percentage defense (.365) and top 3-point percentage defense in the country (.275).
— Offensively, the Cougars are led by point guard Galen Robinson, who will set a school-record with his 135th career game. He’s scoring just 7.8 points and isn’t a great shooter but leads the team in assists (4.9) and is one of those old-school point guards who controls pace at both ends. Corey Davis, Jr. is the top scorer (16.9 ppg), but junior Armani Brooks (13.3 ppg) isn’t far behind and can similarly light teams up from the perimeter.
— Forward Fabian White and center Breaon Brady, who each averaged 6.3 points per game, combined to shoot 11-for-15 and delivered 27 points and 19 rebounds in the rout of Georgia State. They’ll be tasked with stopping the Wesson boys in a game where what happens in the post will dicate an awful lot.
— Ohio State is 11-0 when it holds an opponent to 61 points or fewer, but ended a stretch of a seven straight games allowing 68 or more with its 62-59 upset of Iowa State.
— Houston was 40/1 to win the NCAA Tournament per Westgate when the tournament began, while Ohio State came in at 1,000/1.
— The ‘under’ is on a 4-0 run in Houston games, part of a 9-3 stretch over the last 12. The ‘over’ is 6-2 through the Buckeyes’ last eight contests.
South Region – San Jose, CA – SAP Center
#13 UC Irvine vs. #12 Oregon – 9:40 PM EST – TBS
Opening Odds: Oregon -4.5, 124.5
— Facing must-win situations has become the norm for Oregon (24-12 SU, 21-15 ATS) for weeks since they went into February’s final day 15-12, on a three-game losing streak and destined for the NIT. The Ducks haven’t lost since, bringing a nine-game winning streak into the only Round of 32 matchup featuring two double-digit seeds as the favorite in the matchup.
— UC-Irvine (20-13 SU, 21-14 ATS) has won 17 consecutive games, the nation’s longest winning streak, last dropping a game on Jan. 16. The Anteaters defeated Kansas State in the Round of 64, hitting nine 3-pointers and getting 19 points apiece from guards Evan Leonard and Max Hazzard. Leonard added team-highs of six boards, four assists and four steals while draining five 3-pointers. The junior has repeated as the team’s leading scorer this season and is shooting a team-high 41 percent from 3-point range.
— Both teams are on fantastic cover streaks and cashed as underdogs on Friday. The Ducks have covered in all nine of their wins on their current winning streak. The Anteaters have delivered in 12 of 15 games and have won their last 12 by six or more points.
UC-Irvine’s 70-64 win over K-State featured a strong second-half effort where it held up down the stretch, while Oregon steamrolled Wisconsin 72-54. The Badgers shot 6-for-30 from 3-point range. While the Ducks’ defense was good, it wasn’t 20 percent from beyond the arc good. The Badgers had open looks but couldn’t find the range.
— Since losing top freshman Bol Bol (21.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg) to a foot injury, the Ducks are now 18-9, but were exactly .500 before this win streak began and really struggled with their identity as guys were asked to take on new roles. Payton Pritchard has stepped up as the leader and floor general, scoring in double-digits in nine of 10 and averaging 16.3 points and 5.5 assists during that span.
— Freshman Louis King, who like Bol was a five-star recruit, has really blossomed since the calendar hit 2019, emerging as a versatile go-to threat in averaging 15 points and six rebounds while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc. At 6-foot-9, he can really pose issues with his ability to face up and hit all three of his 3-point attempts against Wisconsin, scoring 17 points. He’s shot 7-for-12 on 3s over the last three games.
— The Ducks really clamped down defensively to salvage their season and have allowed 54 or fewer points in seven of the nine games on their current run. They own the sixth-best 3-point percentage in the country, surrendering 29.1 percent shooting, so we’ll see whether Leonard and Hazzard can find the range against the toughest defensive group they’ve seen this season for the second straight contest after having conquered K-State.
— Dana Altman reached the Final Four with the Ducks in 2017 and is making his 14 NCAA Tournament appearance, making it in with Kansas State and Creighton in previous stops. He’s only lost one of nine NCAA games where his team is the favorite in terms of seeding. Russ Turner will be coaching his third NCAA Tournament game, coming in 1-1 (2-0 ATS) after barely falling to Louisville in 2015. Altman is 3-0 against Turner-led UC-Irvine, with all three meetings coming at Oregon.
— Oregon came in at 200/1 to win the NCAA Tournament per Westgate when the tournament began, while UC-Irvine was 1,000-to-1.
— Oregon is giving up 62.7 points per game, good for 16th in the country, while UC-Irvine allowed only 63.3 points, which is 19th-best. The ‘under’ is on a 12-3 run in Oregon games but the ‘over’ has actually prevailed in five of six involving the Anteaters.