Thursday's best tourney bets
Smart plays for all of the Sweet 16 games on Thursday
The easiest strategy for picking point-spread winners in the NCAA tournament is to ignore the point spread completely, concentrating on picking straight-up winners. Of the 16 teams that reached the second weekend of the Big Dance, 15 covered the spread to get here. Michigan State was the only team to win but not cover, beating Harvard by only seven as 8.5-point favorites.
Of course, anyone who filled out a bracket will tell you that picking straight-up winners isn't necessarily much easier than picking point-spread winners here in March. We'll do our best to accomplish that task in this preview for Thursday's Sweet 16 matchups. Games are listed in Las Vegas rotation order and best bets are noted with an asterisk (*).
No. 4 UCLA Bruins versus No. 1 Florida Gators
LVH line: Florida minus-4.5
PickCenter consensus pick: Florida 54 percent
Steve Alford's Bruins have enjoyed a relatively easy draw to reach the Sweet 16, knocking off undersized Tulsa and outclassed Stephen F. Austin. Their best player, 6-foot-9 Kyle Anderson, was a matchup nightmare for both of those squads, while 6-5 guard Jordan Adams was able to shoot over both defenses with relative ease.
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But the Bruins must take a major step up in class as they face the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Their big men haven't been particularly productive. The Wear twins and Tony Parker -- UCLA's low-post trio -- are not strong offensive threats or dominating defenders. That's bad news against a Florida team with size to spare. Will Yeguete, at 6-8, can match up defensively with Anderson. And 6-9 Patric Young has dominated in six matchups against fellow Sweet 16 teams from the SEC, Tennessee and Kentucky, two teams with an ample supply of low-post size and muscle.
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Joe Lunardi provides an update on where every team currently stands in the NCAA tournament bracket. He sees Villanova earning a No. 1 seed while BYU claiming the final at-large spot.