2019 NCAA tournament picks, predictions: Why each favorite and underdog will cover the point spread in the Sweet 16

The 2019 NCAA basketball tournament heads into its second weekend of action with a significant amount of chalk advancing into the Sweet 16. The only double digit seed to advance is No. 12 Oregon, and the only other seed outside the top four in each region to advance is No. 5 Auburn.

We’ve listed out the spread for all eight Sweet 16 matchups for Thursday and Friday, and then spoken with our network of team brand managers to figure out why each team might cover the spread. Everybody has their own philosophy, but getting insight from folks who are particularly dialed in can help get you a necessary edge to turn this March into a profitable one.

1) Duke vs. 4) Virginia Tech, 9:39 p.m., Friday, CBS

Spread: Duke -7

Why Duke will cover: The Blue Devils should be motivated to make a statement after nearly getting knocked out of the tournament in their last game against UCF. Virginia Tech has no one with the combination of quickness and strength to check Zion Williamson, who missed the teams’ only meeting this year with injury. If Duke can force the Hokies into turnovers, this one could get out of hand quickly. — Ricky O’Donnell, SBNation.com

Why Virginia Tech will cover: Virginia Tech has already beaten Duke once this year, granted it was without Zion Williamson in the lineup. It’s worth noting the Hokies didn’t have Justin Robinson for that game, either. The star point guard has played well since returning to the lineup after an injury cost him nearly two months. Buzz Williams is a good coach and should know Duke’s every tendency, seeing as they’re a conference opponent. Duke barely won last game even when hitting 10-for-25 shots from three — if they come back down to Earth from behind the arc, VT can cover. — Ricky O’Donnell, SBNation.com

2) Michigan State vs. 3) LSU, 7:09 p.m., Friday, CBS

Spread: Michigan State -6

Why Michigan State will cover: There is no doubt that Michigan State will be challenged by the length and the athleticism of LSU. But in both of their previous games, LSU went through scoring droughts that allowed their opponents to get back into a game. Michigan State has dealt with playing from behind in nearly every one of their big games, and still manages to not only win, but create separation. After the way shots started to fall against Minnesota, some of the players around Cassius Winston look to be finding a groove. Late free throws should easily cover the 5.5-6 point spread, and if Kenny Goins is finally making threes, it won’t even be that close. — Kyle Thele, The Only Colors

Why LSU will cover: Every time it seems like the Tigers are toast, someone steps up in a big way. LSU got a good fight from Maryland, but Tremont Waters pushed the Tigers into the Sweet 16 and will continue to be a huge piece on both sides of the ball. Naz Reid and the LSU offense have been clicking, and they’ll do enough to overcome the Spartans. — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn

1) Virginia vs. 12) Oregon, 9:57 p.m., Thursday, TBS

Spread: Virginia -8.5

Why Virginia will cover: We’ve yet to see the Cavaliers take over on offense this postseason, though their 1.12 point per possession output against Oklahoma was a solid outing for the No. 2 offense per KenPom. The Hoos are due a hot shooting night from three (especially from the unusually quiet Kyle Guy), and one would think Oregon’s outrageous shooting has to come back down to Earth at some point. Virginia’s defense will be a challenge for the Ducks, and their offense will be a test for Oregon’s top-15 defense. If Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter can get going from outside, this could be another double-digit win for the Hoos. — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn

Why Oregon will cover: Oregon will cover the spread against Virginia because they have covered in both of their wins against Wisconsin and UC-Irvine. Virginia has shown that they are susceptible to not covering, losing one against Gardner Webb and winning one against Oklahoma in the tournament. They have failed to cover in the past 3 of 5 games. Virginia may have more NBA talent than the Ducks but Oregon has a vastly superior style of play on offense. UVA is one of the more slower pace teams in Division 1. Oregon’s defense is on fire right now as Kenny Wooten and Ehab Amin are leading the charge. — Joseph Yun, Addicted to Quack

2) Tennessee vs. 3) Purdue, 7:29 p.m., Thursday, TBS

Spread: Tennessee -1

Why Tennessee will cover: To us, this game comes down to one simple question. Can Tennessee contain Purdue star Carsen Edwards? The junior guard destroyed Villanova with 42 points last weekend, going 9-16 from three-point range. While the Vols don’t have an elite defense, they’re ranked a good bit higher than Villanova (33rd vs. 80th) in terms of defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Tennessee has a couple of guards capable of matching up with Edwards defensively in Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. Without a superhuman effort from Edwards, it’s tough to see the Boilermakers moving past Tennessee. The more balanced attack of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone will eventually win out down the stretch. — Terry Lambert, Rocky Top Talk

Why Purdue will cover: Purdue was maybe the surprise of round two in absolutely eviscerating defending champion Villanova. Carsen Edwards exploded for 42 points after struggling with his shot for the previous six weeks. He opened things with a school record nine three-pointers and when the Wildcats closed out on him and Ryan Cline the 7’3 Matt Haarms was often left standing alone inside for wide open dunks. Honestly, it was probably Purdue’s best all-around tournament game since Glenn Robinson and Cuonzo Martin combined to dominate Kansas in the 1994 Sweet 16. Edwards delivered an MOP level performance in round 2 and if he continues that he might Kemba Walker Purdue into its first Final Four since 1980. — Travis Miller, Hammer and Rails

1) North Carolina vs. 5) Auburn, 7:29 p.m., Friday, TBS

Spread: North Carolina -4.5

Why North Carolina will cover: UNC’s ability to simultaneously play fast and limit opponents’ second chance opportunities will cause Auburn problems. Bruce Pearl has indicated the Tigers will try and run with the Heels, which is a bold strategy. UNC is 29-1 when they score 74 or more points. Just seven of their wins have been by single digits, and just three of those have been by six points or fewer.

Their top-15 defense will stifle Auburn into just enough misses where the Heels will control the glass. Three Tar Heels average over five rebounds a game, and Nassir Little is close to that with 4.7 rpg. Auburn has just one player that averages more than 4.2. — Tanya Bondurant, Tarheel Blog

Why Auburn will cover: Well the Tigers are pretty loose (and they’ve got Jared). Also, the Tar Heels average more than 13 turnovers per game, so Auburn’s going to get some extra possessions in this game. UNC isn’t the best at three-point field goal defense, which is where the Tigers have made their bones on offense, and so Auburn should be able to get some open looks in transition. If Auburn knocks those down, game on. — Jack Condon, College and Magnolia

2) Kentucky vs. 3) Houston, 9:57 p.m., Friday, TBS

Spread: Kentucky -2.5

Why Kentucky will cover: It looks as if P.J. Washington will be back for the Wildcats, or at least Coach Calipari’s twitter makes it seem as such. Without Washington, it was going to be a close game. With Washington, Kentucky’s chances improve. Houston’s guards have been outstanding, but look for Travis Reid to have a big day in the post, and Tyler Herro’s defense can really cause problems (just ask Wofford’s Fletcher Magee). — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn

Why Houston will cover: Even if Kentucky star P.J. Washington plays, it’s reasonable to expect he won’t be at the peak of his powers coming off a foot sprain. The Cougars have been pummeling teams during this tournament, winning their first two tournament games by a combined 44 points. The Cougars are just playing some really good basketball right now, while Kentucky needed Fletcher Mcgee to go 0-for-12 from three-point range just to beat Wofford. — Ricky O’Donnell, SBNation.com

1) Gonzaga vs. 4) Florida State, 7:09 p.m., Thursday, CBS

Spread: Gonzaga -7.5

Why Gonzaga will cover: Several teams played well over the first weekend of the tournament, but no team looked as solid as the Zags. Brandon Clarke was fantastic against Baylor with 36 points on a super-efficient 15-for-18 from the field, and Gonzaga’s shooting could negate FSU’s length. The Zags are a sneaky-tough team, so they won’t be pushed around by Florida State’s physical play. Gonzaga is just…good. — Caroline Darney, Streaking the Lawn

Why Florida State will cover: This is basically the same spread as the 2018 FSU-Gonzaga Sweet 16 matchup. In that game the Seminole’s length and athleticism dominated Gonzaga’s offense. Now, a year later, the betting public seem to have forgotten that game. This probably won’t be a similar dominating win by Florida State, but giving Florida State 7.5 seems awfully risky. — Michael Rogner, Tomahawk Nation

2) Michigan vs. 3) Texas Tech, 9:39 p.m., Thursday, CBS

Spread: Michigan -2

Why Michigan will cover: Michigan will cover and win its game against Texas Tech because this is a team that has it’s swagger back (cliche, but true) and is starting to put it together at the right time while playing at a level we have not seen since blowout wins over Villanova and North Carolina. The matchup of the game is Charles Matthews vs. Jarrett Culver and whoever comes out on top there likely walks out the winner. I like Michigan’s chances with Matthews, who may be the country’s most underrated wing defender. — Anthony Broome, Maize N Brew

Why Texas Tech will cover: The Texas Tech Red Raiders will cover the +2 point margin they have been given. Defense will not be the reason why, Jarrett Culver will be. While the defense will be part of the picture, both teams in this match-up will have great defense. The difference in this game will be Culver’s ability not only to score, but to collapse the defense into the paint when he goes there and pass out to open shooters such as Davide Moretti, Matt Mooney, or even Brandone Francis. — Jacob Harris, Viva the Matadors


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