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September 22, 2018

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

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Chuck Burton / AP

UMBC’s Jourdan Grant celebrates after a basket against Virginia during the second half of a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018.

Caesars Palace felt like it was shaking, probably because the noise was so disorienting in the way it traveled from so many different directions.

Roars from the sports books lasting are second nature during the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas, but the racket Friday night was something different entirely. As UMBC put the finishing touches on knocking off Virginia to become the first No. 16 seed to ever win a game in the tournament, cheers came from everywhere.

Swanky restaurants in the Forum Shops erupted. Tourists stopped in the middle of the casino floor clutching their cell phones reacted.

It was one of the rare sports moments where everyone paying attention will likely always remember where they were, at least those who were partaking in the annual local madness. It almost feels like a disservice that most of the masses will have moved on and boarded flights home by the time UMBC takes on Kansas State at 4:45 this evening.

The rest of the tournament will be hard-pressed to produce anything more memorable than the Retrievers already provided.

Read below for Talking Points’ picks on all of Sunday’s round of 32 games. The record picking every game of the tournament stands at 22-20-2. Lines are the best currently available on the chosen side at time of publication, and picks are listed in order of confidence.

No. 7 seed Texas A&M plus-6.5 vs. No. 2 seed North Carolina The Aggies rebound exceptionally, pile on points in the paint and push the pace. In other words, the Tar Heels won’t be able to bully them with their style like they have to so many other opponents.

No. 4 seed Auburn minus-1 vs. No. 5 seed Clemson Feels like time to sell on Clemson, which would have been a significantly higher underdog in this matchup at almost any other point in the season. Clemson was impressive in dispatching popularly picked 3.5-point underdog New Mexico State 79-68, but it’s not going to keep shooting 56 percent from the floor the rest of the tournament.

No. 9 seed Florida State plus-5.5 vs. No. 1 seed Xavier These teams profile as much more competitive than their seeds, records, and certainly last year’s meeting, suggest. The Musketeers aren’t going to erupt for 1.35 points per possession like they did in ousting the Seminoles as 7-point underdogs in this round a season ago. In what projects as a fast-paced game, Florida State’s depth isn’t an advantage to overlook.

No. 2 seed Cincinnati minus-7.5 vs. No. 7 seed UNR With Virginia now expunged, Cincinnati grades out as far and away the best defensive team left in the tournament. The Bearcats’ stinginess might come as a culture shock to the Wolf Pack, which are used to more easily finding open shots.

No. 2 seed Purdue minus-3 vs. No. 10 seed Butler The betting market often overcompensates for injuries in the NCAA Tournament, which might be happening here with Purdue losing center Isaac Haas to an elbow injury and the spread trimming 2.5 points. The only hesitation comes because betting against Butler in the tournament has been a death knell. The Bulldogs are 16-3-2 against the spread in the tournament since their first of two runs to the championship game in 2010.

No. 8 seed Kansas State minus-10 vs. No. 16 seed UMBC Not to be a buzz kill, but in the middle of merriment, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Retrievers are mismatched against any team left in the tournament. If they shoot like they did against the Cavaliers, they’ll again advance but that truly felt like a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

No. 5 seed West Virginia minus-12.5 vs. No. 13 seed Marshall West Virginia projected as a 2-point favorite over Wichita State in their potential matchup today, so it’s a bargain that the Mountaineers are now offered at the same price the Shockers were against the Thundering Herd. The Mountaineers are a nightmare to prepare for on short notice, which could explain why they’re 5-1 straight-up and against the spread under Bob Huggins in a second game on a weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 11 seed Syracuse plus-8.5 vs. No. 3 seed Michigan State The teams that have beaten the Orange comfortably this year have almost unanimously overwhelmed them with pace and athleticism. That’s not quite how the Spartans operate, so this could prove another tense, low-scoring affair.

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

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