Everybody’s bracket is busted in one way or another with the matchups that we have coming up in the Sweet 16. Maybe we should have expected the unexpected in such a weird and wild and crazy college basketball season. Then again, it would have been pretty hard to say with a straight face that only one of the nine Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament would still be alive after the first wraparound weekend.
Cinderella stories are great, but they don’t always make for the best matchups in the Sweet 16. Chaos is fun and we get caught up in rooting for the double-digit seeds, but most of us would still like to see the best of the best as the field narrows. The fact of the matter is that we do not have that on Saturday or Sunday.
What we do have is a lot of time to sit and think about these games because the Sweet 16 won’t start until March 27. Four games with staggered tip times will cut the field down to 12 and then four games with staggered tip times on March 28 will take 12 down to the Elite Eight.
Saturday’s games will alternate between Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which has been a good under venue in the Tournament so far, and Hinkle Fieldhouse, where going into the sun in the second half has been problematic on the campus of Butler University.
Let’s break down all of the Saturday games (lines as of Tuesday morning from DraftKings Sportsbook):
#12 Oregon State vs. #8 Loyola Chicago (-6.5, 125)
Oregon State has certainly gotten hot at the right time. The only way that Wayne Tinkle’s team was making the Big Dance was to win the Pac-12 Dance in Las Vegas. The Beavers did that and then knocked off Tennessee and Oklahoma State to set up what was expected to be a date with Illinois.
The Loyola Chicago Ramblers had something to say about that, as the underseeded mid-major that got screwed by the Selection Committee righted a wrong and beat Georgia Tech and Illinois to force this 12 vs. 8 game.
This is a pretty lofty number for Loyola Chicago in a game with a low total if we’re being honest. A team playing like Oregon State has played of late would want to keep playing, though, as sitting idle can send Uncle Mo packing.
Statistically speaking, Loyola Chicago is definitely the better team across the board and Porter Moser has all week to get his guys ready for Oregon State. As lofty as this spread is with the low total, I’d have to lean that way.
Pick: Loyola Chicago -6.5
#5 Villanova vs. #1 Baylor (-6.5, 139)
Bettors and pundits were ready to write Villanova off before the NCAA Tournament even began. The loss of Collin Gillespie and a first-game exit in the Big East Tournament were bad omens. Here the Wildcats are with two impressive double-digit wins in tow to take on the top-seeded Baylor Bears.
Baylor struggled with Hartford for a while before pulling away from the Hawks. The Bears found their offensive stride against Wisconsin and won that one comfortably. Villanova got to play two slow, plodding teams with offensive shortcomings in Winthrop and North Texas. In this one, Jay Wright’s team faces off against the best three-point shooting team in the nation and a team that turns opponents over nearly 25% of the time.
This is about as big of a step up in class as it gets for Villanova. The Wildcats do have the lowest TO% on offense in the country going into this one, so we’ll see if they can take care of the basketball.
If the loss of Gillespie was going to show up, this would be the type of game. Villanova’s supporting cast is plenty good enough to face Winthrop and North Texas. Not having Gillespie just might be the kiss of death here. Villanova comes into this game outside the top 200 in 3P% defense and 2P% defense. Baylor’s offense is extremely efficient. I’ll look chalk again here.
Pick: Baylor -6.5
#15 Oral Roberts vs. #3 Arkansas (-11, 159.5)
Oral Bob is the story of the NCAA Tournament so far with wins over Ohio State and Florida. This is a terrible defensive team and the lowest-ranked team left in the field by a large margin, but they shoot threes well and are the top remaining team in the field at the free throw line.
Will that be enough to hang around against an Arkansas team that beat Colgate and Texas Tech to get to this point? When you consider that Arkansas has advanced to the Sweet 16 while going just 9-of-33 from deep, you have to wonder how long they can sustain that, especially when opponents have gone 22-of-47 from beyond the arc.
Oral Roberts will take a lot of long jump shots here and if the Razorbacks don’t shore things up on their perimeter defense, we could be staring at another big upset. Texas Tech was 2-of-20 on mid-range jump shots against the Hogs, or we could be talking about a much different matchup. These two teams played in Fayetteville back on December 20 and Arkansas won 87-76.
Because Oral Roberts can shoot with such proficiency, it is hard to see them getting run off the floor here. Arkansas’s offensive rebounding prowess should be enough to get the Razorbacks through, but an 11-point head start for Oral Roberts seems like a decent wager.
Pick: Oral Roberts +11
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Houston (-6, 139.5)
I’m not sure why most of us haven’t gotten the memo not to doubt Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. Teams run into the Orange that haven’t seen a zone defense all season long and seem to have no idea what to do. The frustration on the offensive end becomes a lack of focus on the defensive end and Syracuse takes advantage.
Syracuse is 29-of-58 on three-point shots in this Tournament so far, which is a big reason why they’ve done so well. The fact is that opponents have 1.029 and 1.040 points per possession against the zone. Syracuse has just shot the lights out. Well, Houston is a different animal defensively. The Cougars have held opponents to 29.3% from three and 42.9% on twos.
One of the biggest shortcomings to a zone defense is rebounding the basketball. Houston is second in ORB% in the nation. Syracuse is 339th in defensive rebounding. That is a huge mismatch in this game and one that Houston should be able to exploit.
Chalky again, but Houston has to be the pick here with such a dramatic edge on the glass and with Syracuse in line for some serious offensive regression.
Pick: Houston -6
For more on Saturday’s games, check out what Brian Blessing had to say on our ATS YouTube page:
Now let’s break down all of the Sunday games (lines as of Tuesday morning from DraftKings Sportsbook):
#5 Creighton vs. #1 Gonzaga (-13.5, 158.5)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs covered against Oklahoma, much to the chagrin of Sooners backers, who had to endure a completely unnecessary foul and the subsequent free throws to wind up with a losing ticket. Creighton disposed of upstart Ohio, as the Bobcats simply had no legs in the second half of that game.
As we all know, Creighton can be a high-variance team because they take a lot of jump shots. That may be a negative in the second half of this game if the sun is out and the glare is a factor at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bluejays escaped against UCSB with a one-point win, but then drubbed Ohio. It didn’t really help much in terms of the spread for this one, though.
The bracket is falling in Gonzaga’s favor. Assuming they win here, they’ll either face a #6 or a #7 seed in the Elite Eight. The question here is whether or not they cover the two-touchdown spread. Creighton’s shooting prowess is enough to keep the Bluejays in the game. Gonzaga can score at will on anybody, but we are paying a little bit of a premium.
I like Creighton to keep it closer than the number, but Gonzaga to still win comfortably, somewhere in the 10-11 range.
Pick: Creighton +13.5
#4 Florida State vs. #1 Michigan (-3, 145)
This is the spot I’ve had circled for Michigan since the brackets were picked. LSU gave Michigan a game, but the Wolverines ultimately prevailed. Some would suggest that you can see some anti-Michigan sentiment in the line sitting at 3. Despite the ACC’s best efforts to have a down year, Florida State has been a really good team and hits that magic threshold for a lot of people as being top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, at least according to Bart Torvik.
KenPom has Florida State down for 29th defensively. Whatever the case, Michigan does have the stronger profile, but the loss of Isaiah Livers seems to have leveled the playing field to a degree. It may not only be anti-Michigan sentiment, but anti-Big Ten sentiment, as the conference has all of one team left standing.
This will be a fascinating line to watch throughout the week, as Michigan’s statistical profile is stronger than Florida State’s, but the Seminoles have the length to shut down the Wolverines and the force is strong with those fading the B1G.
I still like Florida State here and that was my upset pick in this round, so I’m not ready to back off now, especially with how good the Seminoles have looked in two games thus far.
Pick: Florida State +3
#11 UCLA vs. #2 Alabama (-6, 143)
Two contrasting styles are at play here. UCLA wants to slow the game to a grind and make it tough and physical. Alabama wants to get up and down the floor with a free-wheeling offensive style. I don’t think UCLA has the horses to compete in this game on the offensive end, but credit to them for winning three games in six days to get to this point. The offense has looked really good for a large portion of the season.
In breaking this down from the numbers, it is actually the UCLA defense that worries me. UCLA sits outside the top 175 in eFG% defense and outside the top 150 in both 3P% and 2P% defense. The Bruins also don’t force enough turnovers to keep Alabama at bay. As much as the Alabama offense gets praised, the defense is actually better and gets a lot less praise.
This UCLA run has been nice, but Michigan State is a deeply-flawed team, BYU shot poorly against a team that had already played, and then Abilene Christian simply had nothing left in the tank. A rested Alabama team should have no excuse here.
Pick: Alabama -6
#7 Oregon vs. #6 USC (-1, 139)
Along with Oral Roberts and Arkansas, these two teams played each other during the regular season. Oregon lost by 14 to USC in a game that fell on 130 points and was played to only 62 possessions. The Ducks caught something of a break in the first round that VCU wound up with some COVID cases, so Oregon only had to play Iowa and hung 95 points on the Hawkeyes.
USC has had two very impressive wins over Drake and Kansas. These are two of the best NCAA Tournament coaches by ATS standards in Dana Altman and Andy Enfield and there is obviously a ton of familiarity between the two teams. In my mind, that would lend itself towards the under, much like the first head-to-head meeting.
In that game, Oregon was healthy, but shot really poorly from the floor and got worked on the offensive glass. That win for USC also came when they were struggling with losses in three of four, including losses to Colorado and Utah in the altitude double.
Everybody loves Oregon and what the Ducks have done down the stretch, but USC is still power-rated as the better team on a neutral and maybe that says all that we need to know. It is hard to fade Oregon here, given the helium that they have. Like I said, my favorite bet is UNDER 139, but from a side standpoint, I think the fact that USC is favored really says a lot.
Pick: USC -1
For more on the Sunday action in the Sweet 16, here’s what Brian Blessing had to say on our ATS YouTube page: