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April 25, 2017

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and perspective of Sunday’s games

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Xavier’s J.P. Macura (55) talks to head coach Chris Mack during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton during the Big East men’s tournament Friday, March 10, 2017, in New York.

Programs like Kentucky, Michigan State, Connecticut and Butler are entrenched as teams bettors look to back every year in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s time to add Xavier to the list. The Musketeers reached their sixth sweet 16 in the last 10 years, and second in the last three, by defeating Florida State 91-66 Saturday in Orlando.

Even on a day where defending national champion and overall No. 1 seed Villanova went down to No. 8 seed Wisconsin, Xavier’s blowout stood as the biggest upset of the day.

The Musketeers closed as a 7.5-point underdog before their 25-point victory. The Badgers got only 5.5 points on the betting line from the Wildcats.

Xavier coach Chris Mack improved to 12-3 against the spread in the tournament. Dating back to the Sean Miller tenure, the Musketeers are 19-5 against the spread over the last decade in the tournament.

A lot of Xavier’s bet-on peers lace up for their round of 32 games on Sunday. They can only hope it goes as well as it did for the Musketeers.

Check below for picks and analysis on all of Sunday’s games. They’re listed in rough order of confidence, with odds the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. Talking Points has gone 25-18-1 against the spread picking every tournament game so far.

No. 10 seed Wichita State plus-4.5 vs. No. 2 seed Kentucky What Wichita State lacks in talent and athleticism compared with Kentucky, it makes up for with fundamentals and smarts. Coach Gregg Marshall won’t put the Shockers in position to make mistakes, which will make this game as much of an instant classic as these teams’ last meeting three years ago. There was an upset in that round of 32 matchup too, as Kentucky edged Wichita State 78-76 as 4-point underdogs.

No. 3 seed Baylor minus-7 vs. No. 11 seed USC Playing a third game in five days far from guarantees a college basketball team to lose, but it’s a major impediment when the third opponent plays as physically as Baylor. Even if they were properly rested, the Trojans wouldn’t have anyone to defend or rebound over the Bears’ Johnathan Motley.

No. 7 seed Michigan plus-3 vs. No. 2 seed Louisville Over the last month, Derrick Walton Jr. has helped the Wolverines reach a level of execution and consistency on offense that the Cardinals haven’t been able to find all season. They’ve sustained the success for so long that it can no longer be discounted as a small sample size.

No. 11 seed Rhode Island plus-5.5 vs. No. 3 seed Oregon Rhode Island, which has now won nine straight while going 7-2 against the spread, has really improved and looks like a different team from the middle of the season. That’s left the Rams undervalued, weighed down from a time when players like freshman Jeff Dowtin, who led the team with 23 points in a 84-72 win over Creighton as 2-point favorites, weren’t as comfortable in their roles.

No. 1 seed Kansas minus-7.5 vs. No. 9 seed Michigan State Yes, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been a terror in the NCAA Tournament — at least straight-up. No, this year’s Spartans team isn’t nearly as good as the seven past squads Izzo has brought to the Final Four.

No. 6 seed Cincinnati plus-4 vs. No. 3 seed UCLA Bearcats start four seniors, take care of the ball and give up few points at the rim. Those are all traits of an opponent UCLA would rather avoid.

No. 8 seed Arkansas plus-11 vs. No. 1 seed North Carolina It’s never a great feeling to be a bettor backing a team with a minuscule shot to win outright, but the Tar Heels are laying a few too many points. Neither North Carolina’s athleticism nor its pace is going to bother Arkansas’ battle-tested rotation.

No. 2 seed Duke minus-7 vs. No. 7 seed South Carolina With smothering perimeter defense, South Carolina appears to match up well with Duke’s guard-heavy offense. But it might take another effort like the Gamecocks’ 93-73 win over Marquette as 1-point underdogs where they shot 53 percent to compete with the Blue Devils, and it’s hard to believe they have that in them.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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