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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Kentucky Wildcats NCAA Basketball March Madness Sweet 16

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 UMBC was knocked out of the Dance this past Sunday, the Cinderella slippers have been passed to Loyola-Chicago. Everyone LOVES an underdog, and Loyola is the LONGEST shot left on the board. But, with a ton of respect and admiration for 98-year-old Sister Jean, it’s gonna take more than prayers to beat this Nevada team. Got the Wolf Pack from Reno at least a field goal better than the Ramblers, maybe four or five points. The Pack hooked up with Illinois State back in November, and absolutely CRUSHED ’em 98-68. Why does it matter? The Redbirds live in the Missouri Valley Conference, and while Loyola is certainly a better team, still, a 30-point W over an MVC squad is impressive. Midnight will strike early in Atlanta, like maybe 9:30 or so, as Sister Jean and the kids get on the plane back to Chicago.

Also like Kansas State +5.5 points over Kentucky. Everyone has put John Calipari into the Final Four because the South Regional is the weakest left. But we AIN’T sleeping on K-State with X & O lifer Bruce Weber calling the shots. Why? Maybe because the Big 12 is the BEST conference in the country, and makes up ONE QUARTER of the Sweet 16, while the SEC has just ONE team left. Now we hear that the Wildcats from Manhattan, yeah, Manhattan, might be getting Dean Wade back for the game tonight, and Wade was ONLY All-Big 12. And, of course, we would not object if you threw these two in a 6-point teaser, making Nevada +5 and K-State +11.5.

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...ben@americasline.com.