March Madness: Best bets for the Elite Eight
The Sweet 16 was, as the kids say, a certified banger. We got the tournament's first overtime game, the continuation of a Cinderella run, a cardiac-inducing thrill ride between two western rivals, and a team announcing that it's officially a national title contender - and that was all just on Thursday.
We didn't need reminding of the fine line between winning and losing bets but got them anyway. UCLA fell on a shot that was 25% to go in at best, while Creighton +10 bettors lost thanks to a missed free throw from an 80% free-throw shooter for Princeton.
We'll soon have a Final Four lacking a 1-seed, continuing what's been the most predictably unpredictable NCAA Tournament in recent memory.
In our East Region betting preview, Florida Atlantic and Kansas State came into the tournament with equal ratings in the betting market, which is all you need to know about parity given the difference in seeding. Since then, the Wildcats came back to beat Kentucky, and Markquis Nowell put on a show at Madison Square Garden. High-profile wins like that are likely what pushed K-State's rating away from a pick'em.
Per the fine line mentioned above, had the Wildcats not got a flailing, banked-in three from Nowell or any number of the buckets he created with passes exposing Michigan State's off-ball defense, they might have never gotten to overtime. Can Nowell single-handedly create the same offense against Florida Atlantic, or will Dusty May have his team better prepared for passes that can come at any time or from any angle?
The Owls will be able to score on Kansas State, as their adjusted offensive metrics are at least equal to the Spartans'. By outrebounding a thoroughly physical Tennessee team after beating quick Fairleigh Dickinson and athletic Memphis, the Owls showed they can win against any opponent.
Pick: Florida Atlantic (+1.5)
The most high-profile game of the tournament is also the toughest to handicap. How will Drew Timme handle the interior size of UConn's Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan? How can they manage his arsenal of moves in the post?
Connecticut had a 1-point edge in rating before the tournament started, so this line creeping out to 2.5 points has to be due to UConn's comfortable wins over Saint Mary's and Arkansas. Gonzaga is a different animal, though.
The Bulldogs always have offensive firepower but showed they can find adequate defensive efficiency in the second half against UCLA and the WCC final with Saint Mary's. Now that this line is pushing a full possession, the Bulldogs are a bet to poke some holes in the Huskies.
Pick: Gonzaga (+2.5)
Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher told his team during the first week that any team that beats them deserves a tip of the cap. While we tip our own caps to Creighton for succeeding in its first three games, those wins came against the 82nd, 96th and 106th teams in KenPom's adjusted defense. The Aztecs rank fourth.
Creighton's edge in previous games came from the combination of Baylor Scheierman and Co.'s shooting and 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner's dominance at the rim. However, SDSU beat Alabama with help from its excellent 3-point defense and Nathan Mensah and Aguek Arop protecting the basket. If the Aztecs can do that to the Crimson Tide, they can do it to the Bluejays.
Pick: San Diego State (+1.5)
Texas made relatively quick work of Xavier on Friday. The Longhorns limited the Musketeers at the rim, holding Jack Nunge to a 1-of-9 start. Texas didn't let its opponents back in the game, shooting better than 50% from the field and the 3-point line.
Dylan Disu went out just two minutes into the contest and is unlikely to return Sunday, prompting an approximate single-point downgrade of the Longhorns. That leaves Christian Bishop and Timmy Allen to protect the rim against Miami's sixth-ranked offense per KenPom, which ran right through Houston in the Sweet 16's biggest surprise.
Both teams far exceeded expectations Friday, and a high total is appropriate for a game that should be high-octane and high-variance. Disu's potential absence may be a bigger deal than this line indicates, and Miami's been in this position before and is potentially peaking at the right time.
Pick: Miami (+4)
Matt Russell is the senior 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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