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April 18, 2014

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

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Florida Gulf Coast’s Eddie Murray (23) hangs from the rim after a dunk as Chase Fieler (20) and Brett Comer (0) celebrate during the second half of a second-round game against Georgetown in the NCAA college basketball tournament on Friday, March 22, 2013, in Philadelphia.

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Wichita State's Carl Hall dunks the ball in the first half during a third-round game against Gonzaga in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 23, 2013.

And the beatings continued, until a couple of Bulldogs intervened.

The unexpected happened early Saturday in the NCAA Tournament. The reign of favorites and blowouts extended for another six hours.

The first four teams laying points to tip off all rolled over the underdog opposition. The fifth game featured a rare upset as four-point underdog Oregon took it to No. 4 seed Saint Louis.

The 17-point margin was the smallest of the day to that point, but marked yet another game that was never close. Then, No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 6 Butler and No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 9 Wichita State got under way within 20 minutes of each other.

Sports books went from sounding like sanctuaries to sheer bedlam.

Butler threatened to pull off its seventh outright upset of the last four years in the tournament, leading for most of the game against Marquette before succumbing to a late 74-72 defeat.

The group of Bulldogs from Indiana pushed for any bettors that grabbed them at plus-2, but doomed the closing number of plus-1.5 when a three-point heave came up short at the buzzer.

By then, the Northwestern version of Bulldogs were on upset alert. Wichita State, a 6.5-point underdog, sank seven three-point shots in the first half to go up as many as 13 points.

Behind stars Kevin Pangos and Kelly Olynyk, who combined for 45 points, Gonzaga roared back to lead 61-54.

Half of the gamblers assembled in sports books and ballrooms around town rose to life, while the rest sat stewing over their perceived bad luck.

Not for long, though. The Shockers made four more three-pointers from there to not only secure a cover but a 76-70 win.

Those with moneyline tickets on Wichita State at +260 flaunted them. Those who backed Gonzaga shifted their attention to tomorrow’s sheet, which is exactly what I can’t wait to do.

No slobbery canines came to the rescue here. Saturday’s picks in this blog marked the worst since, well, ever. I went 2-5-1 against the spread to drop to an overall tournament mark of 20-22-2.

Ending the first weekend with a solid showing is the only option. As usual, picks are in rough order for confidence.

Keep in mind favorites are now 24-16 against the closing spread through the first three full days.

No. 2 Duke -5 over No. 7 Creighton Anyone else having flashbacks to last season? The Bluejays slipped in a cover against Alabama in a No. 7 vs. No. 10 game before getting blown out by an ACC team, North Carolina, in the second round.

No. 12 Mississippi -3 over No. 13 La Salle Explorers will play in their third game in five days, and already looked gassed by the end of their contest against Kansas State. Ole Miss, meanwhile, got by an ultra-tough Wisconsin team despite an off-day from enigmatic guard Marshall Henderson.

No. 7 Illinois +7.5 over No. 2 Miami Inconsistent as they are, the Fighting Illini can play like an elite team over stretches. After two wins and covers Saturday, the Big Ten is now 10-1 both against the spread and straight-up in the postseason as a conference.

No. 7 San Diego State -7 over No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast Aztecs are nothing special, but the three No. 15 seeds that have won a game in the tournament this century all fizzled out in the next round. None of the victorious No. 15 seeds covered, losing by an average of 22 points.

No. 11 Minnesota +8.5 over No. 3 Florida Gators have struggled against teams similar to the Gophers this season. Florida is 2-4 straight-up and against the spread when favored by less than 10 points.

No. 9 Temple +12 over No. 1 Indiana Would rather gamble with a team that’s won eight of nine, covering in six of them, than lay such a large number — barely. Temple has won outright as underdogs in three meetings with Indiana since 2000.

No. 2 Ohio State -7 over No. 10 Iowa State It’s tough to handicap Iowa State games because so much depends on whether they’re 27 three-point attempts per game are falling. Let’s hope the Cyclones have an off-night against the Buckeyes’ solid perimeter defense.

No. 8 North Carolina +6 over No. 1 Kansas Look at Kansas’ likely remaining road to the Final Four — North Carolina, Michigan and Florida. The Jayhawks could have the lowest average spread of any No. 1 seed in recent memory. Plus, former coach Roy Williams must cover against Kansas one of these times in the NCAA Tournament, right?

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

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