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#VegasMadness betting blog: Sooners survive on day of close calls

It took a long time for Buddy Hield to heat up. But once it happened, Hield scalded another underdog with upset hopes.

Teases are the theme of today’s NCAA Tournament action. Instead of upsets, this has been a day of close calls and unhappy endings for wannabe giant killers. In order, Stephen F. Austin, Virginia Commonwealth and Hawaii have come up short.

Hield was held scoreless for more than 10 minutes to start Oklahoma’s game against 10th-seeded VCU. He finished with 36 points, including 19 in the final eight minutes, in the Sooners’ 85-81 victory. As a consolation prize, the Rams covered as 6 1/2-point ‘dogs.

At least a good guy won. Lon Kruger, former UNLV coach, is leading Oklahoma to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks blew a late five-point lead and lost to Notre Dame 76-75 on Rex Pflueger’s rebound basket with 1.5 seconds remaining. It was a wild point-spread decision, with SFA closing as a 1 1/2- and 2-point ‘dog after the line also sat on SFA minus-1, pick’em and Irish minus-1.

“It’s rare when you can get a story like Stephen F. Austin going to the Sweet 16,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It’s a shame they didn’t win it.”

Hawaii, a 13 seed, led in the second half before going into a shooting slump and falling 73-60 to Maryland, which closed as a 7 1/2-point favorite.

But it appears there is an upset brewing. Northern Iowa, an 11 seed, is up on Texas A&M by 10 points at halftime.

Tipoff: No Cinderellas survived Saturday. Arkansas-Little Rock, Butler and Yale were sent home to watch the rest of the NCAA Tournament on TV. Gonzaga is still standing as an 11 seed, but the Zags have been there and done that, and they have a couple of future NBA players, so it’s not a stunning story.

Favorites went 5-3 against the spread Saturday. Indiana, a 5 seed, and Miami, a 3 seed, were the underdogs to win outright.

The Cinderella candidates to advance today as double-digit seeds are Hawaii, Middle Tennessee State, Northern Iowa, Stephen F. Austin and Virginia Commonwealth. Eighth-seeded St. Joseph’s might qualify, too, because it would need to upend No. 1 seed Oregon.

Expect one or two of those ‘dogs to make headlines and move on to the Sweet 16.

Best Bets

(3-3 overall, 1-1 Saturday)

— Stephen F. Austin (Pick) over Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish wiped out a 12-point halftime deficit to beat Michigan in the first round. But Notre Dame committed 16 turnovers, and Stephen F. Austin’s pressure defense can force mistakes. The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks are a confident, well-coached team on a 21-game win streak. Senior leader Thomas Walkup totaled 33 points, nine rebounds and four steals in a 70-56 first-round beatdown of West Virginia that was no fluke. This line opened Irish minus-2. It’s really not going to be a surprise to see Walkup’s beard and coach Brad Underwood, whose stock is soaring, in the next round.

— Maryland (-7) over Hawaii

An upset here would stun me. There is a lot to like about the Warriors, who defend with aggression and play with a swagger. But this is simply a bad matchup for Hawaii, which beat a depleted California team Friday. The Terrapins are big and loaded. Maryland should dominate in the paint with 6-foot-11-inch Diamond Stone and 6-9 forwards Robert Carter and Jake Layman. Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon has an edge, too. This should be a double-digit win.

Other plays today: (8-4 overall, 1-1 Saturday) Northern Iowa (+7) over Texas A&M; St. Joseph’s (+7) over Oregon.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247

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