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Sharp plays, best bets on NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Sixteen years after Jim Larranaga guided No. 11 seed George Mason to an unlikely run to the Final Four, the Miami coach has his No. 10 Hurricanes a win from the Elite Eight.

No. 11 Iowa State opened as a 1-point favorite over Miami in Friday’s NCAA Tournament game. But the favorite quickly flipped, as sharp bets on the Canes at Las Vegas sportsbooks made them -2½.

The Gold Sheet editor Bruce Marshall said Miami is his best bet in the Sweet 16. The Canes whipped No. 2 seed Auburn 79-61 in the second round Sunday as 6½-point underdogs after holding off Southern California 68-66 in the first round as 2-point underdogs.

“Larranaga has resurrected his old ‘scramble’ defense from his George Mason days. Auburn was out of sorts as a result,” said Marshall (Goldsheet.com). “Larranaga will not be outcoached, and he has waved his magic wand before in March.

“The Canes have covered 13 of their last 14 this season away from (home). It speaks to their veteran presence. Miami is an old team with fifth- and even sixth-year players. Some nights, Larranaga puts a team on the floor that is older than the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

The Cyclones have made an incredible turnaround this season under former UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger after finishing 2-22 last season. But Marshall expects the clock to strike midnight on Iowa State against Miami.

“I would be stunned if Miami doesn’t win this one,” he said.

Sharp plays

Sportsbooks also took sharp money on Gonzaga and Houston. Both play Thursday. The Zags are -9½ over Arkansas after the line opened at -8½. The Cougars are 1½-point underdogs to Arizona after the line opened at 2½.

Handicapper Kelly Stewart (@barstoolsports) said Houston is her best bet and recommends a play on the Cougars on the money line. Arizona escaped with an 85-80 overtime win over Texas Christian on Sunday as a 10-point favorite.

“Houston looks like the Horned Frogs on paper. But better,” said Stewart (@Kellyinvegas). “They boast the best defense Arizona will face all season. Similar to TCU, Houston does an excellent job controlling the tempo.

“The Cougars also might be one of the only ones that can run with this Arizona team. If they can make their free throws, give me the Cougars.”

Systemplays.com handicapper Doug Fitz went 8-4 ATS in the first round of the Review-Journal NCAA Tournament challenge. He also likes Houston to extend its 5-0 cover streak against Arizona.

“They are the only underdog in the Sweet 16 that has the higher power rating, according to the numbers I use,” said Fitz (@fitz_doug). “They are also 8-1 ATS in neutral court games. Arizona is 0-2 ATS in the first two rounds.”

Best bets

The South Point also took sharp action on Providence and UCLA. The Friars are 7½-point underdogs to Kansas after the line opened at 8. The Bruins are -2½ over North Carolina after they opened -2.

VSiN host Mitch Moss said Providence is his best bet.

“I like this Kansas team, but I don’t love them,” said Moss (@MitchMossRadio). “Ed Cooley has done a terrific job with the Friars all year, especially in the tournament. I expect him and his club to keep this one close.”

Professional sports bettor Paul Stone likes UCLA.

North Carolina is coming off arguably its best back-to-back performances of the season. But Stone prefers UCLA’s overall body of work.

“North Carolina has been wildly inconsistent this season,” said Stone (@PaulStoneSports). “UCLA’s been the better team throughout the year, and it looks like (junior guard) Jaime Jaquez Jr. will be ready to go for the Bruins.”

Stone and Fitz made Michigan their best bet in the RJ challenge at +5 over Villanova.

Stone believes Villanova will have its hands full defending Michigan center Hunter Dickinson.

“Villanova is not necessarily big in the front court, and Dickinson could be a load to handle,” Stone said. “Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli has extensive experience preparing for and playing against Villanova from his days at St. Joseph’s, and that can only help the Wolverines.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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