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#4 Wisconsin (25-8) vs. #8 Butler (25-9)
Betting Line: Wisconsin -5 o/u 124
The eighth-seeded Butler Bulldogs (25-9) were in the Sweet 16 just a year ago when they faced #1 Syracuse and pulled off consecutive straight-up wins as underdogs en route to their first-ever Final Four appearance. This year, the Bulldogs took care of #1 a little earlier when they knocked out Southeast Region favorite Pittsburgh in the third round on Saturday in a stunning 71-70 victory, setting up Thursday's showdown with the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (25-8) at the New Orleans Arena.
Butler is 6-1 in its last seven NCAA tournament games and has beaten the spread in six straight games in the Big Dance. The lone loss came in last year's national championship game against Duke, 61-59. The Bulldogs did need another miraculous finish to bounce the Panthers as 8-point dogs though, converting on two free-throw attempts that were awarded to senior forward Matt Howard with less than a second remaining. Howard also won the team's second-round game against #8 Old Dominion 60-58 on a layup off a rebound at the buzzer.
While Butler continues to be America's darling, Wisconsin (-4) is the blue-collar team everybody seems to forget about during March Madness. The Badgers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 after falling just short each of the past two years by losing in the second round.
Like 2008, Wisconsin's run to the Sweet 16 went through Kansas State. The Badgers beat the Wildcats 72-58 back then before losing to another Mid-Major headliner that year in Davidson, 73-56. They overcame a game-high 38 points to dispose of #5 Kansas State again last Saturday 70-65 as 3.5-point favorites after topping #13 Belmont as 4-point chalk in the second round.
Both teams have been known to play great defense, and that has been reflected in the betting totals on their games. Pitt was the first team in 12 games to score 70 against the Bulldogs, who have seen the UNDER cash in six of their last eight games.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has not seen a total posted higher than 128 since January 23 at Northwestern (130.5) and won that game 78-46. The Badgers have allowed only one opponent (Ohio State) to score more than 70 points in 33 games this season, with the OVER going 8-2 in their past 10. The Buckeyes sank 14 of 15 attempts from 3-point range to beat Wisconsin 93-65 on March 6.
Overall, Butler and Wisconsin have a combined record of 35-24-2 favoring the OVER in their games. However, those numbers dip to 18-18-1 when the teams play on the road.
Our model likes Wisconsin here. In fact, it's the largest margin our model has predicted, of all the Sweet 16 games.
Predicted Score: Wisconsin 70 Butler 56
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