NCAA Latest: Houston a popular upset pick over Kentucky
The Latest on the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (all times Eastern):
Bettors at sportsbooks are sensing (or perhaps just hoping) that Houston may upset Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Betting data released by William Hill on Friday night shows 55 percent of money and a similar share of tickets backing Houston as a 2-point underdog to Kentucky in their regional semifinal. It’s the only game of the four left in this round of the NCAA Tournament to have more action on the underdog.
William Hill says the game also has the most action among the four games, with 27 percent of the money wagered on Houston-Kentucky rather than one of the other games.
Early betting on the Elite Eight shows heavy support for Gonzaga over Texas Tech and Purdue as a 4 1/2-point underdog to Virginia.
North Carolina freshman Nassir Little took part in Friday afternoon’s shootaround at Sprint Center and could play when the top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16.
Little had flulike symptoms this week, missing practice Wednesday in Chapel Hill and Thursday when the team arrived in Kansas City. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he could barely lift a fork when the team had lunch Thursday and there was “no way he can play” in that state.
A school spokesman said that Little had improved enough to shoot Friday, but that Williams would ultimately decide at game time whether the 6-foot-6 forward would play.
Little scored 19 points in the Tar Heels’ first-round win over Iona. He had 20 against Washington in the blowout win that sent North Carolina to the Sweet 16.
Duke is facing a familiar foe in the Sweet 16 — one of the only four teams to win against the Blue Devils this year.
Five days after escaping Central Florida and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, the Blue Devils play fellow ACC team Virginia Tech on Friday.
The Hokies have won a game against the Blue Devils in each of the past three seasons. They know what to expect and will not be intimidated by the bracket’s No. 1 overall seed.
Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson says it’s just another game for his team, and they’ll be ready for whatever comes toward the end.
Robinson didn’t play in the teams’ lone meeting this season. Neither did Duke’s flying freshman Zion Williamson. R.J. Barrett played sick.
The Hokies won the Feb. 26 game in Blacksburg 77-72 after Ty Outlaw hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than two minutes left.
The NCAA Tournament had a superb point guard duel in the opening round between Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard.
Another one comes Friday in the East Region, when LSU’s Tremont Waters squares off against Michigan State’s Cassius Winston City.
Winston was the Big Ten player of the year, averages 18.9 points per game and was third nationally with 7.5 assists.
Waters was the SEC co-defensive player of the year after finishing third nationally with 2.97 steals per game. He averages 15 points and 5.9 assists per game. He also hit the winning shot with 1.6 seconds left to lift the Tigers over Maryland in their NCAA opener.
Winston says the teams play to go against the best, but he can’t get caught up in an individual matchup.
Friday’s South Region game between top-seeded North Carolina and No. 5 Auburn should be the polar opposite of the low-scoring games Thursday night.
The Tar Heels (29-6) and Tigers (28-9) like to play fast. As in look away from your TV and you might miss a basket — or three.
North Carolina averages 14.6 seconds per offensive position, fifth-fewest nationally, and is third in Division I with 86 points per game.
Fast and effective.
Auburn has hit the fourth-most 3-pointers in Division I history with 421 and uses its pressure defense to create waves of baskets in transition. Kansas found out the hard way how quickly the Tigers can get rolling, falling behind 17 points before the first half was halfway over.
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