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The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament never disappoints. Even when top seeds find a way to advance, the drama of the final moments of a possible upset carry some of the highest levels of drama and excitement in sports.

We were treated to four days of chaos, leaving a Sweet Sixteen that includes championship contenders, big-time personalities, and one of the all-time Cinderella stories.

With eight games looming Thursday and Friday, here are my favorite bets on the board for the Sweet Sixteen.

Gonzaga -9.5 (-110) vs Arkansas

The Zags have looked vulnerable, in part to some brutal misfortune gifted to Mark Few and company by the Selection Committee. Georgia State was heavily underseeded as a 16 seed after fighting the injury bug all year long. Memphis, by many metrics, was a top ten team in the country over the last month or two.

Gonzaga took those teams’ best punches but survived to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the seventh consecutive tournament.

Despite some physical and stylistic similarities to Memphis, Arkansas is less equipped to handle the Zags.

The Hogs always try to push the tempo, a dangerous game to play against Gonzaga. Memphis did the same and saw early success before Gonzaga’s superior conditioning became apparent and the Zags continued assault on the paint led to Tiger foul trouble.

Arkansas center Jaylin Williams is a good defender, but not good enough to answer for both Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren. After two closer-than-expected calls, the Zags should ride their big men to a win and cover here.

Michigan (+175) vs Villanova

Every NCAA Tournament features a deep run by a sleeping giant – a power conference team that had been highly regarded early in the season before stumbling through conference play.

In 2021, we saw UCLA go from the preseason polls to an 11 seed before they surged into the Final Four. In 2019, it was Oregon who went from a top 15 ranking to the bubble before a Sweet Sixteen run.

This year, it’s the Wolverines. Michigan was ranked 6th in the preseason AP Poll but battled to barely over .500 in Big Ten play. The Michigan roster was young and unexperienced, taking time to gel together.

In March, the Michigan recipe makes sense, anchored by a superstar in the paint in Hunter Dickinson.

The 7ft 1in center is a problem for any team yet should have added advantages over Villanova. The Wildcats only start one traditional big man, 6ft 8in Eric Dixon. Beyond him, the shallow Wildcats rotation turns to small ball lineups with Jermaine Samuels at the center position.

Michigan’s physical guards should be able to negate Villanova’s stars in the backcourt from taking over the game, allowing Dickinson to set the tone. If there’s an upset I’m eyeing this weekend, it’s this one.

St. Peter’s vs Purdue: Over 135.5

I’d be foolish to say the Peacocks have no chance against Purdue. Plenty of prognosticators said the same before Saint Peter’s toppled the mighty Kentucky.

The Peacocks’ defense is legitimately among the best of any mid-major in college basketball this season and can keep them in most games. With some magical shot-making, they have a recipe to keep the glass slipper moving.

Purdue, however, offers a unique challenge. The Boilermakers size is unique, even among power conference programs. Saint Peter’s is not prepared for an opponent this big. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe posted 30 points and 16 rebounds against the Peacocks and is not the same purely physical force as

Purdue’s Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. Purdue is even big at other positions. None of Saint Peter’s guards are physically able to contain someone as big as Jaden Ivey.

Even if the Peacocks can continue their miracle shooting run, Purdue is going to get their buckets as well. In a Purdue blowout or a competitive game, the two teams should combine to hit this number.

Providence +7.5 (-110) vs Kansas

Providence has spent the season stumping the betting community. The Friars have ridden a wave of schedule luck, winning countless games by narrow margins. Every predictive metric preached caution about their success as Providence earned its first ever Big East regular season championship.

Bettors waiting to pounce on Providence’s regression got their wish when Creighton hammered them in the Big East Tournament. Many assumed the same would happen when Providence was slated in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, the Friars ably handled an upset bid from South Dakota State and handily dispatched Richmond.

The road gets a lot bumpier now. Kansas is not South Dakota State or Richmond. They are, however, a top seed with flaws, and were heavily tested in the second round by Creighton.

The Kansas guards will have their hands full against Jared Bynum and Al Durham. Providence’s downhill driving backcourt is crafty enough to keep this close, earning Providence bettors a cover.

Miami -2 (-110) vs Iowa State

The Hurricanes have a few things in their favor coming into this game. Iowa State benefitted from one of the most advantageous bracket draws of any double-digit seed in recent memory.

The Cyclones began last weekend with a win over an LSU team in turmoil, having just fired head coach Will Wade as NCAA investigations swirled. The second round treated Iowa State to a Wisconsin team that had ridden the line between lucky and clutch all season, with star guard Johnny Davis nursing an injury and point guard Chucky Hepburn leaving the game with an injury of his own in the first half.

Iowa State’s luck continues here in some regards, seeing a fellow double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen rather than a top ranked team. Don’t let that fool you – Miami packs a punch. The Canes have a top 20 offense in the nation, built on guards that can penetrate off the dribble and in transition. The physical Iowa State defense itself ranked 5th nationally by KenPom, will need to respond, but is ill-equipped to handle the tempo of Miami’s transition attack.

The bigger issue for Iowa State comes at the other end, where the Cyclone offense has a real tendency to sputter for long periods of game time. Iowa State has scored more than 60 points just once in the month of March. That won’t cut it against the Canes.