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ACC underdog among NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 best bets, sharp plays

North Carolina State, four decades after legendary coach Jim Valvano guided the program on a miraculous run to the 1983 national title, is in the middle of another surprising NCAA Tournament showing.

The Wolfpack upset Duke and North Carolina en route to winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title. N.C. State then upset Texas Tech and outlasted Oakland in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16.

VegasInsider.com handicapper Bruce Marshall, who went 8-4 against the spread and hit his best bet in the first round to tie for the lead in the Review-Journal March Madness Challenge, made the Wolfpack his best bet in the Sweet 16.

N.C. State is a 6½-point underdog to Marquette on Friday in a rematch of the 1974 national championship game, which the Wolfpack won 76-64.

“This is the only good storyline left in the tournament. Usually by this time, there’s at least a couple long shots still alive,” Marshall said. “For those of us old enough to recall (1983), it’s kind of fun to see N.C. State waving the magic wand in March again.

“This is a lot of points you’re getting and they’re playing loose now. They’re playing with house money. I think they can win.”

The Wolfpack have been led by fan favorite DJ Burns Jr. The forward is listed at 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds and had 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in Saturday’s win over Oakland.

“They don’t have to rely on 3s like a lot of these teams do … because they have the big guy down in the block. They can always dump the ball to him. Burns has really stepped up,” Marshall said. “Marquette is vulnerable. I know (Tyler) Kolek came back and is maybe the best point guard in the country. But something is missing from these guys.”

Marquette led Western Kentucky by only three with less than 10 minutes left in their first-round matchup. The Golden Eagles then pulled away for an 87-69 win and cover as a 14½-point favorite.

Marquette failed to cover as a 4½-point favorite over Colorado in the second round. The Golden Eagles blew an 11-point halftime lead before holding on for an 81-77 win.

Clemson (+7½) over Arizona

Favorites have dominated the NCAA Tournament.

They’ve gone 29-19 ATS, including 11-5 in the second round. Pro handicapper Paul Stone still likes an underdog as his best bet.

Stone, tied for the RJ Challenge lead after going 8-4 ATS and hitting his best bet, likes Clemson to keep it close in Thursday’s game against Arizona.

“Clemson has shown what it can be at its best, defeating North Carolina by four points in Chapel Hill and losing by one at Duke — a game which the Tigers easily could have won,” said Stone (@PaulStoneSports). “The Tigers are 8-1 ATS as the betting underdog this season after opening the NCAA Tournament with upset wins over New Mexico and Baylor. I like Clemson to stay within shouting distance against Arizona.”

Duke (+4) over Houston

Duke destroyed James Madison by 38 points Sunday. VSiN host Wes Reynolds is banking on the Blue Devils to hang tough against Houston.

“Duke got bullied out of the tournament last year by a physical Tennessee team and now they face another physical and tough team in Houston,” said Reynolds (@WesReynolds1). “However, that was a learning experience for the Blue Devils, who have flown under the radar in this tournament.

“Duke’s spacing and shotmaking can counter the Houston physicality and athleticism. Houston’s lack of depth will be tested here.”

Alabama-North Carolina Over 173½

Systemplays.com handicapper Doug Fitz expects the Alabama-North Carolina clash to go over the total. Fitz noted the Crimson Tide have the nation’s third-best over-under record at 25-9 (73.5 percent), including 5-2 on a neutral court.

“North Carolina is 9-2 to the over in neutral-court games and they are more than capable of keeping up with Alabama’s fast-paced offense,” said Fitz (@fitz_doug).

Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said the book took sharp plays on North Carolina -4 (now -4½) and Creighton +3 (now +2½) over Tennessee.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on X.

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