In big time collegiate basketball, having stellar guard play is an absolute must. To reach the highest levels like the Sweet 16, it helps to have two terrific guards or one with some very good complimentary ones coming off the bench. With all four top seeds advancing in the South, how each teams backcourt performs will determine what teams play Sunday and who goes back home wondering about what if.
North Carolina (30-4, 14-19 ATS) is the top seed in the South and the Ty Lawson importance was again realized by Tar Heels fans. Lawson finally was able to play in a game, starting against LSU. During the first half, Lawson jammed his delicate toe and hobbled to the bench. Taking off his shoe and sock, it appeared to everyone in Greensboro and on television he was done. As to turned out, it was temporary and Lawson later engineered a North Carolina turnaround after LSU had stormed to the lead in the second half and helped deliver the knockout punch the put the Tigers.
Lawson’s breathtaking speed ratchets the pressure on opposing teams and his fearlessness to take the ball to the hole and convert while being fouled, fuels the Tar Heels. His ability to help create steals is a reason why North Carolina is 11-1 ATS off two straight games where they had 10 or more steals. Having Wayne Ellington as running mate brings a smile to Lawson’s and Roy Williams face. Ellington made several crucial shots in totaling 23 points in last contest and he will be needed to repeat the same performance against talent-laden Gonzaga squad that is 8-1 ATS versus up-tempo teams averaging 62 or more shots a game.
The Bulldogs (28-5, 15-15 ATS) are riding 11-game winning streak, thanks to two hard fought tournament games. Coach Mark Few wants the ball in the hands of Matt Bouldin, with Jeremy Pargo also doing his share of ball-handling. Bouldin is not only a solid all-around scorer, but is a clever passer. Pargo has not a great senior season, yet has elevated play with less responsibility and he is quick and smart enough to play with Lawson.
Bookmaker.com has North Carolina as 8.5-point favorites with the total now up two points to 162. Though the Tar Heels love the 94-foot game, Gonzaga is 9-0 ATS when the total is over 160 and they will hope Josh Heytvelt has his jumper ready, since he has the ability to pull Tyler Hansbrough 15-20 feet away from the basket. The Zags have no chance if they allow over 50 percent shooting like they did to Western Kentucky in escaping with last second win. The Tar Heels are too talented and wise if they get open looks and 16-5 ATS versus teams surrendering 64 or less points a game.
In the other South encounter, Syracuse (28-9, 19-14 ATS) has a three-headed guard monster that is frightening. Johnny Flynn is a blur with the rock, being the best guard in the tournament and arguably in the country approaching three weeks. Eric Devendorf can drop three’s and smack-talk with the best in college basketball and Andy Rautins can scorch the nylon when dialed in.
Coach Jim Boeheim’s team was supposed to be worn out after logging countless minutes in the Big East tournament; instead they raised their record to 9-1 ATS since late February and are sizzling despite having little depth.
Oklahoma (29-5, 16-13 ATS) will look to counter the Orangemen’s productivity with the best player in college basketball, Blake Griffin. Though the 6’10 sophomore can take over games, the Sooners are not a one man band. Guard Willie Warren showed his immense potential when Griffin was out, being Oklahoma’s go-to player. He appears to acquiesce when Griffin is on the floor, but he will have to be a main cog to help his team to score with Syracuse.
Because the Orangemen play their 2-3 zone, this means Warren and Tony Crocker have to hit jump shots to help their stud find more room to maneuver. If not, it’s back to Norman and next year’s team will have a vastly different look.
Oklahoma is listed as one-point pick with total having sunk to 152. The Sooners have covered five of last seven when favored by 6.5 or less points, while Syracuse is 22-10 ATS as a neutral court underdog or pick.
When making selections in the South region, it’s best to keep your guard up.