Well, I hope nobody bet their life savings on my picks against the spread this year. It's been a brutal run of late, and it's going to take a big turnaround to finish the Tournament over .500.
That said, I do still have all 8 of my Elite Eight teams left in my bracket, with all but one of the teams I picked (Louisville) favored in Vegas. And when people at ESPN are making predictions like this, it makes me feel better that at least my down years aren't anything like that.
I am glad to have the NCAA Tournament back in my life. I've been in a bit of withdrawal lately. When the Sweet 16 tips off, please join me in the comments to this post and on twitter.
Sunday ATS: 2-6-0
Total through Friday ATS: 23-27-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3
Wisconsin (+4) over Syracuse: This is actually an awfully difficult game to pick. Both teams match up very well against the strength of the other team. The Syracuse offense is very dependent on transition baskets off of turnovers. They tend to struggle in their half court offense and are a bad rebounding team on both ends of the floor, but they might be the most dangerous team in the nation at transition offense. But Wisconsin? There's probably no team in the nation better at forcing a deliberate tempo, preventing turnovers and getting back on defense than the Badgers. At the same time, Wisconsin's offense tends to struggle against the zone. By having their big men patrolling the perimeter they were able to take Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli out of the paint, opening things up for their guards. That strategy won't work against the Syracuse zone, which is going to turn Wisconsin into a perimeter shooting team. And the Badgers are a team that tends to live and die by the three. This season they have been 17-0 when shooting 38% or better behind the arc, and 6-8 when shooting under 36%. If they can't hit their threes against Syracuse, it won't matter if Syracuse can't score, because Wisconsin is still going to lose. I do think that there's a good chance that this game comes down to the final possession, so I'll take the points.
Louisville (+5) over Michigan State: This is an upset that I picked in my original bracket breakdown here. Michigan State is a better team, but I think Louisville is a match-up nightmare for them. Michigan State is sloppy with the ball (8th in the Big Ten in offensive turnover rate), and they have a tendency to allow themselves to get sped up by teams that want to run. The Louisville press has been outstanding the past month, forcing turnovers on more than 20% of possessions in 7 of their last 9 games. Louisville's biggest flaw is defensive rebounding, but Michigan State hasn't been strong on the offensive glass since Branden Dawson (their best offensive rebounder) got hurt. Louisville is my pick to win this game outright.
Cincinnati (+7.5) over Ohio State: I certainly don't think Cincinnati is going to win this game, but this spread is awfully large. Both of these teams are very good defensive teams. Ohio State is rated the best defense in the nation by Pomeroy. While Cincinnati is only rated 22nd best, their defense has been at its best the past few weeks. They completely shut down Florida State in the Round of 32, which allowed them to overcome mediocre offense of their own. The biggest concern I have for Cincinnati is front court depth. They don't have the array of bigs that Gonzaga has. If Yancy Gates gets into early foul trouble, this game could get out of hand. But if he can stay in the game, I can see this being a real slog, so I'll take the points.
Marquette (-1.5) over Florida: Florida blew out its first two NCAA Tournament opponents, but their strength of schedule has been awfully weak. Virginia finished the season in a tail spin and had only beaten one NCAA Tournament team (NC State) since November. Meanwhile, Norfolk State was who we thought they were - the third best team in the MEAC that simply shot the lights out in one crazy, fluke game against Missouri. Florida's defense is shaky, and they haven't beaten a team as good as Marquette all season long. Florida doesn't turn the ball over a lot, but they will launch a ton of threes. If those aren't falling then Marquette will turn those long rebounds into transition opportunities. Heck, Marquette turns made baskets into transition opportunities. That will tax a Florida team that normally expects heavy minutes from its starting backcourt, and that prefers to play at a much slower pace. I just don't see the argument for Florida here.