Vegas veteran Benjamin Eckstein, author of America’s Line, brings three decades of experience to make weekly picks in his “Ecks & Bacon” column.
LAS VEGAS — After sweeping both Sweet 16 games into the bank last night, we’re ready to go 4-0 with two more selections tonight.
March Madness Picks
Cinderella is not playing in the Midwest Region – that would be reserved for Saint Peter’s in the East – but Providence will fight No. 1 seed Kansas for a spot in the Elite Eight. We locked in on the Friars earlier in the week at +8 and while the line has dropped only a half-point to +7.5, we still love this group from the Big East. They have been MONEY on the road, winning seven of the last nine straight up and covering six of eight.
Providence does not have the marquee names like Ochai Agbaji, who was just announced as one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy. But the Friars do have BALANCE and experience. They had five players in double digits when they crushed Richmond 79-51, and only one kid in the rotation is a sophomore. Not saying that Providence is gonna spring the upset, but Ed Cooley’s kids KNOW HOW to play in close games and should hang till the final buzzer.
Got an either/or for you in the late game of the East Region between UCLA and North Carolina. And it’s all about Jaime Jaquez Jr. Jaime has scored the MOST POINTS of anyone on the team, is the LEADING rebounder, has the MOST STEALS and second-most assists. So, you can see that this kid is CRUCIAL to the Bruins advancing.
Jaquez sprained an ankle in the game against Saint Mary’s and is listed as questionable tonight. If Double J is not in the starting lineup, then we would rock the Tar Heels with a GIGANTIC pile of chips. If Jaime does play, then we would downgrade dramatically, maybe even take a pass.
Duke vs Arkansas Pick
Tomorrow is tough, real tough. Once again would love to see Coach K and the Dookies advance to the Final Four, but not thrilled about laying 4 points against an Arkansas team that is rock-solid in every phase of the game. Again, you know that I have a BIAS toward Coach K and his SUPER AMAZING wife Mickie. So, we wanna see the Blue Devils in New Orleans, but thinking about tickling the Razorbacks at +4.
Gotta take a pause in the late game between Villanova and Houston to see what’s up with ’Nova star Collin Gillespie’s ankle. He was rolled last night and looked to be in crazy pain. Jay Wright is not saying much – he never does – but if Gillespie is not 100 percent, it’s gonna be tough for the Wildcats to hang with this nasty-tough Houston squad. So, it’s a wait-and-see. Wait till they start warming up and see how he looks.
Formula 1 Pick
Got another treat for Sunday’s F1 race in Saudi Arabia and gonna throw a few chips at Charlie Leclerc in the Ferrari to win back-to-back races, and back-to-back bucks for our bank account.
Benjamin Eckstein is a nationally syndicated sportswriter/oddsmaker. His column, America's Line, with the Ecks & Bacon appetizer, has run in the New York Daily News and over 100 other papers since 1988. You can follow him online at www.americasline.com. He is beloved by most, when he picks winners, and detested by others, when he picks the occasional loser. If you wanna piece of Eck, hit his Email...email@example.com.