Sweet 16 Picks: Take UCLA, Providence against the spread

Philadelphia is the center of the college basketball world on Friday night.

North Carolina and UCLA square off in a battle of blue bloods.

Before that, the Cinderella squad of the tournament takes on a basketball program hungry for a run at the Final Four, as Saint Peter's takes on Purdue.

Friday's other two games carry less intrigue because the Midwest Region got blown up by a handful of upsets. Kansas-Providence is getting all the attention from Chicago.

The Friars' experience in close games could help them cover the spread against Kansas, who is the lone top seed left in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Friday's nightcap between Iowa State and Miami will be on the second screens across America outside of Ames and Coral Gables.

Miami is expected the clear favorite in the showdown of double-digit seeds, but Iowa State could make some noise with its defensive play.

Friday Sweet 16 Picks

March Madness Record: 29-28-1

Saint Peter's (+13) vs. Purdue (7:09 p.m. ET, CBS)

Saint Peter's is the third No. 15 seed to ever make the Sweet 16.

The two previous No. 15 seeds to achieve that were Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and Oral Roberts in 2021. Both of those teams covered the spread.

Saint Peter's should stay within the number in Philadelphia because of the extra days to prepare to deal with Zach Edey and Jaden Ivey.

Purdue likely wins the game, but Saint Peter's will stay competitive because of its defense. The Peacocks rank in the top 30 in four key defensive metrics on KenPom.

Saint Peter's just dealt with an ultra-athletic opponent in the first round against Kentucky and it stayed well within the 18-point spread for that entire contest.

Purdue has a top 15 offense in four different categories, but it ranks 88th in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the second-worst mark of the 12 remaining tournament teams. We'll get to the worst in a minute.

The Boilermakers should win, but they will be going up against a Saint Peter's team with nothing to lose and with a crowd behind it.

Saint Peter's fans only have to travel two hours to Philly and the North Carolina and UCLA fans filling in for the later game will be rooting for the Peacocks for an easier Elite Eight matchup.

Providence (+7) vs. Kansas (7:29 p.m. ET, TBS)

Providence knows how to play in close games.

The Friars have a penchant for playing in contests decided by five points or less, and they come into Chicago with a ton of confidence following wins over South Dakota State and Richmond.

Providence should take a page out of Creighton's playbook to deal with Kansas. Ed Cooley was likely on the phone with Greg McDermott throughout the week as Big East rivals help each other with a game plan to face the top-seeded Jayhawks.

Providence can establish control down low with Nate Watson and Noah Horchler against a Kansas front line that allowed Arthur Kaluma to score 28 points in the second round.

At their best, Providence's guards can go head-to-head with Kansas' unit, led by Ochai Agbaji.

Providence will be motivated to pull off a surprise as an underdog with no one trusting it. I think that fuels the Friars and helps them stay within five points.

North Carolina vs. UCLA (-2.5) (9:39 p.m. ET, CBS)

UCLA was more consistent throughout the season than North Carolina.

The Bruins carry Final Four experience from last season and they have one of the most experienced units in the nation.

Johnny Juzang can take over the game against UNC, like he did throughout last year's NCAA tournament, and the defense of Jamie Jaquez should help the Bruins deal with Brady Manek and others.

UNC has the edge down low with Armando Bacot, but if the Tar Heels can't get the ball into the big man, they will face a ton of trouble.

Look for UCLA to clog up the passing lanes to the paint and frustrate the heck out of the Carolina offense.

Tyger Campbell should once again be the X-factor for the Bruins. He had 16 points in each of the first two NCAA tournament games and he scored in double figures in four straight games.

Iowa State (+130) vs. Miami (9:59 p.m. ET, TBS)

I'm a firm believer that defense travels.

Iowa State ranks fifth in defensive adjusted efficiency and fourth in three-point defense.

The Cyclones frustrated LSU and Wisconsin by holding both teams under 55 points.

Iowa State can force Miami into a similar style of game because its guards can neutralize Miami's top strength.

Izaiah Brockington played with Miami's Isaiah Wong in the Philadelphia area growing up and that could help he and his teammates deal with Wong on defense.

Minnesota transfer Gabe Kalscheur will also be vital to Iowa State's defensive success and he will be the X-factor if the Cyclones win.

Miami ranks 121st in defensive adjusted efficiency, 255th in three-point defense and 304th in two-point defense. At some point, the average defense will catch up to the Canes and I think this is the spot it does.

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