It's going to take some time to process just what Kansas is doing this NCAA Tournament. They are scoring an ungodly 1.34 PPP over three games after scoring just 1.13 PPP in Big 12 play. Their best offensive efficiency in Big 12 play this season was 1.27 PPP while their worst offensive efficiency in the NCAA Tournament this far has been 1.28 PPP.
Before you say “momentum”, if teams could carry “momentum” from game to game then this hot streak wouldn't have even happened, since Kansas had actually slid to a season-worst 10th in the Pomeroy ratings at the end of the regular season. This hot streak is unsustainable long term, of course, but there is no more “long term”. As we saw with Villanova last season, it's not that unprecedented for a team to get really hot for six straight games. If Kansas keeps scoring like they've been scoring the last three games, they're going to be almost impossible for anybody to beat.
Let's get to today's games:
Yesterday ATS: 2-1-1
2017 Tournament ATS: 27-26-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Butler (+7.5) over North Carolina: North Carolina is the better team, but this is an awfully big spread considering how good Butler is. Rating systems like Sagarin and Pomeroy have the true line closer to 4 points. North Carolina likes to get easy baskets off of offensive rebounds and in transition, yet Butler is strong both on the defensive glass and with transition defense. I expect this game to be slower paced than North Carolina likes it, and for this game to be decided in the final minute.
Baylor (-3.5) over South Carolina: So do we really believe that South Carolina is suddenly as good as they've looked the last two games? Because it came out of nowhere, with them having gone 3-6 down the stretch of the season. Sindarius Thornwell is obviously a fantastic player, but South Carolina's offense as a whole is really ugly (1.00 PPP in SEC play). As strong as their defense is, their one weakness is on the defensive glass, where they were just 9th in SEC play. Baylor led the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. And so even if both teams struggle to find open shots, I expect Baylor's advantage in easy put-back baskets to be the difference here.
Kentucky (+1) over UCLA: With two blue chip programs, two teams playing at blur-fast tempos, and two squads with elite offenses, this is going to be the premier game of the night for television ratings. I like Kentucky here for two reasons, besides the fact that their defense is a lot better. The first is that Kentucky has always had a strong perimeter defense under John Calipari and this year is no different – they will be able to run UCLA's shooters off the three-point line better than most. Second of all, UCLA is the significantly weaker rebounding team. So to me, the only way UCLA wins is if they shoot significantly better from outside.
Wisconsin (+1.5) over Florida: In contrast to the Kentucky/UCLA game it will be up against on television, expect a slow-tempo, defensive battle. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in defensive efficiency while Florida's defense was rated by Pomeroy as the 3rd best in the entire nation. I do think that Wisconsin has two advantages in this game. First of all, Florida's defense is best at preventing three-pointers, yet Wisconsin's offense tends to work inside-out and is not particularly dependent on outside shots. Second, Florida has struggled with defensive rebounding since losing John Egbunu, and Wisconsin is very strong on the offensive glass. Wisconsin is vulnerable to teams that can put them in foul trouble, but Florida just doesn't draw a lot of fouls, and they were just 9th in the SEC in offensive FTRate. In my opinion, Wisconsin is the slight favorite to win this game outright.