Three of the four teams in St. Louis for the NCAA Tournament are manageable distances, being from the Big Ten or Missouri Valley conferences. Tennessee is the only outsider, however is closer to the city with The Arch by just over 30 miles compared to those from Columbus, OH. By the end of Friday night, at least one team from the heartland will have a chance to make a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis and quite possibly two.
To say Northern Iowa and Michigan State facing off against one another is peculiar, that would be like President Obama inviting Republicans over to the White House for a barbeque to celebrate the signing of health care bill. Since the NCAA Tournament was expand to field of 64 (65) teams, only once has a five seed squared off against a nine-seed in the Sweet 16 and that was Boston College against Indiana 16 years ago, when a certain “general” was still patrolling the sidelines at IU.
Northern Iowa (30-4, 23-10 ATS) pulled the biggest surprise of the tournament, knocking off top-ranked Kansas in impressive manner. The Panthers didn’t corral the Jayhawks in fluky fashion, after trailing 3-2, UNI was never again on the wrong side of the scoreboard and shot below their season average of 43 percent (40%) in engineering the upset.
Northern Iowa is fearless, with players like Adam Koch and Ali Farokhmanesh willing to take big shots and making them. The Panthers have won six straight and are 10-3 ATS after five or more consecutive wins with some of their strengths largely unnoticed. They hold opponents to 40.6 percent shooting and coach Ben Jacobson has taught them to hand off players on the move, yet seldom are caught in bad matchups. Quietly, UNI goes about their business and has 10 players that are productive in one form or another without a drop-off in output.
Michigan State (26-8, 13-20 ATS) will have to overcome the loss of floor leader Kalin Lucas. Coach Tom Izzo has spent the week preaching to Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green and Durrell Summers about their responsibility to their teammates and about elevating their level of play with their leading scorer out. The Spartans rose to the challenge against Maryland and are not in shock, since Lucas missed five games earlier in the season.
The Spartans are a one-point favorite with total of 122 at DiamondSportsbook.com and are 6-15 ATS playing against a team with a winning record this season. Northern Iowa has thrived in this situation, sporting an 8-1 ATS record when the line is +3 to -3 this season. Though the total is up two points from opening figure, the Panthers are 16-4 UNDER when playing only their second game in a week and Michigan State is 6-2-1 UNDER off a cover.
Buckeyes look to avoid being Orange Crush
Last weekend after Kansas and Georgetown were dismissed from the tournament, Ohio State (29-7, 18-16-2 ATS) was given a free pass to the Final Four by many television types. One aspect overlooked was the quality of the Buckeyes next opponent, Tennessee (27-8, 14-17-1 ATS).
The Volunteers turn of the calendar issues have been well documented, however that strife might well have made them a better team, having to lean on each other, rather than particular players. Center Brian Williams has become more of a force, giving Wayne Chism more help on the glass. Guards J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson were presented with more shot opportunities and Bruce Pearl’s club has knocked off highly ranked teams like Kentucky and Kansas, proving they belong in the Sweet 16.
Coach Pearl also has his squad playing defense, holding teams to 39.3 percent and they are 25-14 ATS versus teams making 37 or more percent from beyond the arc. Tennessee is a 4.5-point underdog and is 11-21 ATS after being favored in back-to-back contests, plus is 8-0 UNDER after making 55 percent or better of their shot attempts.
Sixth seeds like the Vols are 2-6 ATS after a double digit triumph in this round of action.