March Madness: Best bets for Thursday in the Sweet 16
The dust has settled, we've caught up on sleep, and now we can clearly focus on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The only potential complications involve previously made futures wagers on believable longshots like Miami and Michigan State. Those two provide perfect polar examples of the perils of betting futures.
Miami was 50-1 to win the title, won two games that were lined near 50-50, and the Hurricanes' odds are ... still 50-1. That's because Houston and potentially Texas are still in their way to the Final Four, let alone a championship.
On the flip side, the Spartans could be found for longer than 100-1, won two games that were lined near 50-50, and their odds are ... down to 22-1. That's because they knocked out the No. 2 seed, and big names like top-seed Purdue, Kentucky, and Duke have all been ousted from the region.
No matter what futures ticket you have, it will color how you bet the Sweet 16, with the most reasonable result being a stay away from betting the spread or moneyline.
The Spartans are the bigger brand, with more tournament history and a coach who's the star of the "January, February, Izzo, April" meme. Meanwhile, Kansas State is the secondary character in its own state with a first-year head coach. So, of course, Michigan State is attracting money, pulling it to being a favorite. That shouldn't be a surprise, given the Wildcats were 3-point underdogs against Kentucky on Sunday.
Even if I would lean toward Michigan State, this line should be a pick'em, meaning there's no value in betting on the Spartans. That's especially true if you've already bet on them at 100-1 to win the whole thing and are hoping they advance to the regional final on the strength of a senior core that's stepped up the way we hoped they might last week.
The first move on this game was down from UConn -4 to -3.5, but that's not a move I agree with. As listed in our South Region preview, we have UConn rated at 41 and Arkansas at 36.5. That suggests an appropriate point spread of 4.5 for the Huskies. What's happened to tighten that up?
The Razorbacks upset No. 1 seed Kansas, which is reason enough to raise their rating. However, shouldn't UConn get a similar treatment for comfortably covering both of its games as a bigger favorite?
The Huskies' size isn't something that the Razorbacks are necessarily equipped for, as they don't have the ability on offense to pull the UConn big men away from the basket with big-bodied shooters, and their dribble penetration is more likely to be stymied at the rim than usual.
Pick: Connecticut (-3.5)
Hopeful Blue Devils backers could make an argument for it beforehand, but fundamentally, the -3 point spread in Tennessee-Duke was wrong. The Volunteers would never be underdogs to the Blue Devils at any point in the season, so their second-round win was an upset in name only. Now we reach a point where we don't want to be backing Rick Barnes as a decent-sized favorite with the Final Four looming against a team not far off in ability.
Our pre-tournament ratings for each side made Florida Atlantic just a 1-point underdog, and even if you give the Vols the benefit of the doubt for overcoming Zakai Zeigler's injury, I can't get to a 5.5-point spread on a neutral court. Tennessee is similar athletically to Memphis, and the Owls handled that well enough to win, so I expect they'll have a chance to win late in New York.
Pick: Florida Atlantic (+5.5)
We came into the tournament with just a one-point difference in rating, which would suggest some value on Gonzaga here. But we're on record with our thinking that UCLA's defense and the Bulldogs' lack thereof makes for a matchup that favors the Bruins.
In a tournament that's been low-scoring and defense-heavy, the Bruins' connection on defense will prevent Drew Timme from excelling in the post to the level he did against TCU. When open threes dry up the way they do when you face the Bruins, Gonzaga's offensive firepower might go with it. The Horned Frogs were willing to play at Gonzaga's pace, but Mick Cronin will throw himself on the court before allowing this game to be similarly run-and-gun.
Pick: UCLA (-2)
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.
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