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October 22, 2014

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

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Colorado State guard Dorian Green tries to grab the ball from UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas during their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack.

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Creighton's Doug McDermott reacts after a Cincinnati turnover in the final minute of the second half of a second-round game at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 22, 2013, in Philadelphia. Creighton won 67-63.

With every play, roars washed over the crowd like a wave bursting through a levee.

Hysteria prevailed. Some patrons of the South Point Grand Ballroom jumped up and placed their head in their hands. Others paced the floor, but watched their step.

Walk in front of the wrong television, you see, and prepare to face the wrath of several peers.

This was the scene for the final few minutes of the Creighton vs. Cincinnati game Friday afternoon. It was one of those contests that teetered right on the 3-point line set by oddsmakers.

It was one of those contests that have been few and far between through two full days of NCAA Tournament action in sports books. By traditional standards, the suspense factor in Las Vegas has measured as tepid-at-best through two full days of action.

Teams have covered at an average of 10.5 points per game, making late spread decisions as rare as someone requesting a screen be switched to spring training baseball.

Creighton’s 67-63 victory over Cincinnati was one of the rare exceptions.

Favorites also beat the Vegas number by an 18-14 clip on Thursday and Friday combined. Eighteen games went under the total as opposed to 14 eclipsing the number.

Luckily for those wanting to get their fill of watching people on the verge of a nervous breakdown, there’s two days left in sports books’ busiest weekend of the year. And there’s bound to be some closer calls.

Below is a rundown for what’s on tap Saturday in the NCAA Tournament with picks on every game. I’ve gone 18-17-1 so far — but a disappointing 1-3 in top-confidence picks — and would be happy to keep that pace.

Remember, it’s never smart to bet every game. But it sure is fun to pick them all. Selections are roughly in order of confidence.

No. 8 Colorado State +11 over No. 1 Louisville The Louisville hype is at an all-time high, which signals it’s about time to bet against the Cardinals. That’s reason No. 2, though, well behind Colorado State starting five seniors and being the nation’s best rebounding team.

No. 1 Gonzaga -6.5 over No. 9 Wichita State Shockers played their most efficient game of the season Thursday. Zags played one of their worst. It will even out this round.

No. 4 Saint Louis -4 over No. 12 Oregon The Ducks are getting all the attention with the selection-committee seeding oversight and ensuing first-round beatdown, but the Billikens just keep covering. And covering impressively. Saint Louis has now beaten the Vegas number, and won outright, in 16 of 17 games.

No. 6 Memphis +5.5 over No. 3 Michigan State This line moved an entire point in the Spartans direction within hours of it posting around Las Vegas. But the Tigers are 5-2 against the spread and 7-0 straight-up this month and have the talent to take this contest down to the final minutes.

No. 12 California +8 over No. 4 Syracuse Unlike so many of Syracuse’s early NCAA Tournament victim, see: Montana, California shouldn’t struggle adjusting to the 2-3 zone. Coach Mike Montgomery’s team runs zone frequently themselves, see: UNLV game.

No. 4 Michigan -3 over No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth With Michigan coach John Beilein 11-2 against the spread in NCAA Tournament games and VCU counterpart Shaka Smart 8-1, both teams look like bet-ons after big wins Thursday. It’s a shame this game, possibly the best of the day, is the first to tip at 9:15 in the morning.

No. 14 Harvard +10 over No. 6 Arizona The spread looks deadly accurate, but thinking neither team can shoot as well as they did Thursday, the under 133 could be worth a stab.

No. 6 Butler +2 over No. 3 Marquette Betting public underdogs, a tag the Bulldogs project to wear in this game, is a recipe for disaster. But, after channeling their inner Houdini yet again in the first round, the Golden Eagles seem increasingly vulnerable.

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

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