Friday NCAA Sweet 16 Previews


Okay, so let's keep the ball rollin' here with the next set of NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games and so here on Friday night, it's ...

NCAA TOURNAMENT - Sweet 16 Round

SOUTH REGION -- NRG Stadium - Houston, TX

#11 UCLA (22-13) vs. #2 GONZAGA (34-2) - 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Now that Gonzaga - finally - got over that hump of not surviving the Round of 32 games (first time since 2009 tourney) - you have to wonder whether Mark Few's squad will feel liberated here for this Sweet 16 clash in the Space City. After all, there's a whole new dose of "pressure" being applied here 'cause it's UCLA that the 'Zags must beat and that in itself carries lots of significance on the left coast. Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer and reserve F/C Domantas Sabonis combined for 42 points in last Sunday's convincing/commanding 87-68 win/cover against 6-point pup Iowa and no doubt they'll be centerpieces here but we say the 'Zags survive-and-advance based on the play of veteran PG Kevin Pangos (just two turnovers in 37 minutes against Iowa) who must break down the Bruins at the foul line and dish off for loads of easy paint points. On the flip side, the 8.5-point underdog Uclans surely can't expect to shoot a sizzling 60.3 percent from the floor (see 35-of-58 FG makes in last weekend's 92-75 win/cover versus 5.5-point pup UAB) but if ever-active G Bryce Alford - the coach's boy - doesn't drill more than three treys here than the 'Zags will be Elite 8-bound, trust us!

#5 UTAH (26-8) vs. #1 DUKE (31-4) - approximately 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe the betting public just doesn't know enough about this born-again Utah Utes bunch: Consider that the Las Vegas price tag on this one went from Duke minus 4 points to minus 5.5 faster than you can say "I Hate Christian Laettner" but let's be sure of one thing: Larry Krystowiak may well be the second-most famous "Coach K" in the building here for this Sweet 16 bout but his guys are fighters and better-than-you-think defenders too and so before you forecast that Blue Devils' freshman mega-star C Jahlil Okafor pours in 20-plus points here and sidekick Justise Winslow gets his 12-to-16 points and a bunch of boards/assists (see 13 points and 12 assists in last Sunday's 68-49 win/cover against San Diego State), keep in mind this is a savvy Utah team that shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor in last Saturday's 75-64 win/cover against 4.5-point dog Georgetown Guard Delon Wright canned just two FGs in that win against the Hoyas (he did drain 8-of-10 key free throws) and if Mike Krzyzewski's club wants to cover that growing price tag than directing Wright into some traps will be key.

EAST REGION -- Carrier Dome - Syracuse, NY

#8 N.C. STATE (22-13) vs. #4 LOUISVILLE (26-8) - 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has collected some 52 NCAA Tournament wins in his Hall of Fame career (and just 17 "Big Dance" losses, by the way!) but you would have been hard-pressed to see Pitino any happier than he was following last Sunday's 66-53 win against 2.5-point fav Northern Iowa (yes, sir, a wrong line move there!) - his offensively-challenged Redbirds shot nearly 46 percent from the floor (22-of-48 FG makes) and drilled 17-of-21 free throws as Pitino admitted his club spent way more time practicing offense than defense in the 48-or-so hours leading up to that Round of 32 game. Well, make no mistake that the 'Ville offense - starring G Terry Rozier (25 points and 7 assists versus the NIU Panthers) must attack this athletic N.S. State team that admittedly got lucky that Villanova missed so many open shots in last Saturday's gigantic 71-68 win as 10-point underdogs. The Wolfpack need to push F Montrezl Harrell (14 points and 6 rebs against Northern Iowa) out of the paint and make the entire L'ville team shoot it from 18-feet-and-out and - obviously - State must steer clear of foul woes after dancing in-and-out of foul problems against 'Nova. Tell us right now that N.C. State guards Trevor Lacey and Cat Barber are gonna score more than the 30 points they combined for last weekend and we'll tell you brilliant boss Mark Gottfried will - at the very least - have the Pack in the hunt in the game's waning moments.

#7 MICHIGAN STATE (25-11) vs. #3 OKLAHOMA (24-10) - approximately 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS
Is it us ... or does it seem as if "everyone" thinks the Michigan State Spartans are headed to this year's Final Four? Funny thing is two weeks ago - when Sparty first headed into the Big 10 Tournament in Chicago - we didn't hear a public peep regarding Tom Izzo's team and now the bandwagon is overflowing with "glad-handers" and you wonder if this over-reaction means there's a "wrong favorite" here.
After all, third-seeded Oklahoma owns 9- and 6-point wins so far in this tourney against Albany and Dayton, respectively, with the latter win categorized as a "road game" by Sooners' head coach Lon Kruger who is every bit the sideline match for Izzo here. Whether Oklahoma can scoot its way into the Elite 8 for the first time since the Blake Griffin Era (see 2009) will greatly depend on the so-called "hustle plays" that were provided against the Flyers by the likes of Buddy Hield (just 4-of-13 FG shooting versus Dayton but a critical at-the-rim block on an enemy fast break) and relative unknown G Jordan Woodard (9-of-10 free throws and 16 points against Dayton) who played hands-down great defense down the stretch. Okay, so Michigan State G Travis Trice was the "winner" last Sunday of the famed Sparty helmet presented by former M-State champion Mateen Cleaves following a 23-point showing that included a load of big-time early-in-the-game buckets but if Oklahoma can get in Trice's grill here than we're wondering aloud who's gonna step up on offense for the green gang if Brandan Dawson is silenced - see our point?

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have been steamrolling their way through the month of March with loads of College Basketball winners and it ain't gonna stop anytime soon! There's time to still get with America's #1 Handicapper for The Network March Madness Package that features all of the remaining NCAA Tournament Games beginning with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 tilts this weekend and keep in mind the Jim Hurley Network also gets you the other post-season tournament winners such as the NIT, CBI and CIT Tournies too. Get it either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - plus don't forget we're banging out lots of NBA Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month.

Here are the "still-alive" conferences/leagues while heading into Sweet 16 play:

Big East640.600
Mo. Valley220.500
Big 10570.417
Big 12460.400
West Coast120.333

Hey, for all the chatter about the power conferences holding down 14 of the spots in this year's Sweet 16, it's worth noting that the "still-alive" power conferences are only a composite 29-31 ATS (against the spread) for a rather dour .483 winning percentage in this tourney.

P.S., and for all the folks who challenged our Jim Sez notion two months back that - yes, while Kentucky is great and maybe even a legendary team this year - the Southeastern Conference overall wasn't so great this hoops season and maybe the SEC showed its "true colors" with the sorry 2-6 spread mark in the first couple of rounds of this man's tourney! Just sayin', guys and gals.

NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament goodies ahead as we'll have this weekend's Elite 8 previews plus more!


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