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Picks and Analysis
The Syracuse Orange had a difficult time in their second-round game against the North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs on Thursday, as they avoided becoming the first top seed ever to lose in the Round of 64 with a hard-fought 72-65 victory. In the first half, the Orange looked nothing like the team that lost just two games leading up to the NCAA tournament and earned them the top seed in the East Region. Bettors saw Syracuse play sloppy in trailing 34-30 at halftime before using their size to overpower the Bonnies late in the game. The rest of the winners in the East had to feel good knowing that they could be facing a much different team down the road without ineligible sophomore center Fab Melo on the court.
Here's a breakdown of Saturday's games in the East Region...
CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
No. 1 Syracuse Orange (32-2) vs. No. 8 Kansas State Wildcats (22-10)
12:15 p.m. (ET)
Analysis: The Wildcats will get the next shot at Syracuse (-5) and try to take advantage of Melo's absence inside. They are a solid rebounding team and could give the Orange fits on the glass. Despite being much bigger than UNC-Asheville, Syracuse had just two more rebounds and fell in love with the 3-point shot. The Orange did the same thing in the semifinals of the Big East tournament and ended up losing to Cincinnati, 71-68. They made just 5 of 23 shots from beyond the arc against the Bulldogs and need to do a better job of driving to the basket. Kansas State knocked off Southern Miss 70-64 on Thursday behind a game-high 30 points from guard Rodney McGruder. Kansas State has won three of four both straight-up and against the spread, and the OVER is 8-1-1 in the team's past 10 neutral site games. Syracuse is 1-7 ATS in its last eight overall but 9-4 ATS in its past 13 against Big 12 opponents.
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 7 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Analysis: The two teams in the East that may have looked the best on Thursday will square off against each other in the third round. Gonzaga got off to a roaring start against West Virginia in a 77-54 rout, easily covering the spread as a 1-point favorite. Freshman guard Kevin Pangos hit 5 of 7 shots and scored 13 points for the Bulldogs to bounce back from a brutal performance in a 77-74 overtime loss to St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. The Buckeyes were just as dominant in a 78-59 blowout victory against Loyola (Maryland) despite getting just 12 points from star sophomore Jared Sullinger. Instead, it was Deshaun Thomas who totaled career highs with 31 points and 12 rebounds. The OVER is 7-1 in Ohio State's last eight games overall and 20-6-2 in Gonzaga's past 28 NCAA tournament games. The Buckeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last five games and have won five of six SU. Ohio State -7.5
University Arena, Albuquerque, New Mexico
No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (25-9) vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt Commodores (25-10)
Analysis: This could be the best matchup of the third round, as each of these two defensive-minded teams will look to move on to the Sweet 16. The Badgers made it there last year before losing to eventual national runner-up Butler 61-54 as 4.5-point favorites. They are coming off an easy 73-49 win over Montana on Thursday as four players scored in double figures. The OVER cashed for the eighth time in Wisconsin's past 10 games. Vanderbilt (-1) also took part in a high-scoring game thanks to many trips to the charity stripe. The Commodores made 21 of 30 free throws in a 79-70 victory against a Harvard team that made a late rally and then repeatedly sent Vandy to the line. The total had gone UNDER in the previous four games for Vanderbilt. The Commodores atoned for a surprising 69-66 loss to Richmond in the second round last year as 3-point favorites and also a No. 5 seed. They are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games overall. Vandy +1