Fairly strong start to the Madness, but the round of 32 is often the easiest to pick because teams have worked through tournament jitters and results are more likely to be a true reflection of personnel.
But it gets tougher from here: Indiana-Syracuse, Michigan-Kansas, Duke-Michigan State, Arizona-Ohio State ... there is little to differential one team from the other:
Irrespective of how they performed during the regular season, they're all among the most talented 12 or 15 teams in the country.
In fact, just two of the eight games have point spreads greater than six (i.e., more than two possessions), and both of those -- Florida-FGCU and Louisville-Oregon -- could be tight down the stretch.
We've got the makings of an epic Sweet 16.
Picks are for entertainment purposes only!
First Four: 0-0
Second round: 3-2
Third round: 4-1
All picks against the spread.
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com Arizona (plus-4) vs. Ohio State (Thursday in Anaheim): Cats are taking three steps up in competition after thumping Belmont and Harvard, but the teams are evenly matched in terms of playmakers. I like OSU's defense to be the difference down the stretch with Aaron Craft frustrating Mark Lyons into turnovers and bad shots. But it should be close and Cats have an even better chance to win than the betting public thinks. Pick: Arizona. Michigan State (plus-1.5) vs. Duke (Friday in Indianapolis): The marquee Sweet 16 matchup from a coaching standpoint is a contrast in styles: Duke's finesse vs. MSU's power game. When points are at a premium in final minutes, the Blue Devils will have more ways to score against MSU's set defense than vice versa. Pick: Duke. La Salle (plus-3) vs Wichita State (Thursday in Anaheim): Have to wonder if La Salle is running on fumes at this point, having come out of the First Four and played three games in five days. Shockers executed superbly under pressure against Gonzaga and will methodically pull away, with Cleanthony Early (37 points in NCAAs) as the spark. Pick: Wichita State. Syracuse (plus-5.5) vs. Indiana (Thursday in Washington, D.C.): Having watched Syracuse struggle to put away Cal (unforced turnovers, missed free throws, wayward attention), I can't see the Orange executing efficiently enough, long enough to keep pace with the Hoosiers in the final 8-10 minutes. IU has the shooters to counteract Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's zone and a low post option (Cody Zeller) to take advantage of space in the paint when the zone extends. Pick: Indiana.