Picks for Friday’s Sweet 16 slate

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The public’s preferred picks are covering at an historic rate in this NCAA Tournament.
If you can’t beat ’em …
Midwest region: No. 5 Gonzaga (+5.5) over No. 1 Purdue
It will take more than blowouts of Grambling and Utah State to make me forget Purdue’s annual meltdowns in March.
The Boilermakers — whose final six Big Ten games were decided by single-digits — gained plenty of experience against top-tier teams during the regular season, but rarely won with ease.
Nine of their 10 toughest games — opponents seeded fifth or higher in the NCAA Tournament — were decided by eight points or fewer.
The exception was Gonzaga, which lost, 73–63, in Hawaii at the start of the season after the Bulldogs shot 6-for-32 on 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs have greatly improved since then, most recently showcased in a blowout win of Kansas.
And for once, Mark Few’s team can enjoy a tournament game where the weight of expectations and history is on the opponent.
South region: No. 1 Houston (-3.5) over No. 4 Duke
The Cougars are making their fourth straight trip to the Sweet 16, having advanced to the Elite Eight in two of the previous three tournaments.
This battle-tested group deserves new respect after surviving overtime without four starters in Round 2, with senior Jamal Shead playing the whole game before fouling out in the final minute.
Jamal Shead #1 of the Houston Cougars dribbles the ball during the first half against the Texas A&M Aggies in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Getty Images
Duke has the talent to match up, but not the toughness or experience or coaching.
The Blue Devils’ inconsistency was on display as recently as Round 1 against Vermont, plus all three of their highest-profile games (Arizona, North Carolina twice) ended in defeat.
While Houston was routinely tested in the Big 12, Duke has just one win over a team that was ranked entering the tournament.
Midwest region: No. 2 Tennessee (-3.5) over No. 3 Creighton
Some see the Vols’ 3-for-25 3-point effort in a tight win against Texas as evidence of an untrustworthy roster that will soon provide another hit to Rick Barnes’ reputation.
But even at the offense’s worst, the nation’s third-ranked defense stepped up to hold a top-30 offense to 58 points.
All-American Dalton Knecht is a near-lock to bounce back.
If not, Creighton will struggle to create space against a far more physical opponent.
Betting on College Basketball?
Midwest region: No. 11 N.C. State (+6.5) over No. 2 Marquette
Shaka Smart is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since leading VCU’s Final Four run in 2011.
A program and coach with lengthy track records of falling short of their seed line faces even more pressure as Friday’s heaviest favorite.
Marquette barely escaped its second-round battle with Colorado — despite shooting 62 percent from the field — because the Buffaloes grabbed 12 offensive rebounds.
Mohamed Diarra could hit that number alone, keeping momentum with the hottest team in the tournament.
The extra touches will be the difference, with N.C. State — 10th-best in the nation in turnovers per possessions — capable of withstanding Marquette’s pressure.
This season: 24-26
2011-23 record: 349-308-12

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