NCAA Tournament Betting Picks: Our Staff’s 7 Favorite Plays for Saturday’s Second Round
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jared Harper
- The second round of the NCAA Tournament tips off at 12:10 p.m. ET.
- Saturday's slate features eight games and our college hoops staff picked their seven favorite bets for Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament.
And 32 games later, here we are. Saturday’s slate may be lacking in terms of Cinderellas, but there’s still plenty of action out there for the taking.
The Round of 32 kicks off at 12:10 p.m. ET and takes you through the night with eight games, including Murray State- Florida State aka the Ja Morant Show, Villanova-Purdue and Kansas-Auburn.
Here are our staff’s favorite bets for Saturday’s eight-game slate.
Saturday NCAA Tournament Betting Picks
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PJ Walsh: Murray State-Florida State
- Time: 6:10 p.m., TNT
- Pick: Florida State -4.5
With Murray State crushing Marquette, 83-64, as a 3-point underdog in the Round of 64, casual bettors are clearly overreacting to what they just watched as opposed to analyzing these two teams objectively.
For example, The Action Network’s Sean Koerner makes this line FSU -7.5 per our Bracket Simulator’s Matchup Tool.
In addition, our Bet Labs data reveals that whenever the betting public loads up on a “trendy underdog” during the NCAA Tournament, there is value taking the favorite in that matchup.
Since 2005, college basketball dogs getting more than 50% of spread bets are just 104-129-5 (44.6%) ATS during March Madness.
Murray State is receiving 68% at the time of writing, so it’s clear that recreational bettors are putting too much emphasis on one game, and according to Koerner’s power ratings and historical betting data, that’s creating a nice value bet for those willing to lay the points with the Seminoles.
Mike Randle: Auburn-Kansas
- Time: 9:40 p.m., TBS
- Pick: Auburn -2
Despite almost blowing an 11-point lead with six minutes left against New Mexico State, Auburn still has been one of the most impressive teams in the country over the past month. The Tigers have won nine games in a row and 11 of their last 12.
The SEC Tournament champion is superb from beyond the arc, making 38.1% of their 3P as a team. But the Tigers also bring great energy on defense, forcing turnovers at the highest rate in the country. Head coach Bruce Pearl’s team is fifth in defensive block percentage and first overall in the nation in steal percentage.
Kansas’ offense has really struggled since losing center Udoka Azubuike and guard Lagerald Vick., but the key factor here is that the Jayhawks are plagued by turnovers, ranking 192nd in offensive turnover percentage.
Kansas head coach Bill Self has done a masterful job keeping this team together despite all the obstacles, but Auburn is explosive on offense and defense, which will cause Kansas too much trouble.
Give the two points as Auburn glides into the Sweet 16.
Eli Hershkovich: Michigan State-Minnesota
- Time: 7:45 p.m., CBS
- Pick: Michigan State -10
This contest sets up as a matchup of regression — with the Golden Gophers on the wrong end.
Richard Pitino’s squad shot a ridiculous 58.1% from the field in its Round of 64 upset over Louisville, including a 40.7% clip from behind the arc. Minnesota owns a 32.5% clip from the perimeter this season — good for the eighth-lowest scoring rate from that vicinity (22.7%).
Expect the Spartans to ramp up their ninth-rated Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (91.0 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) after being involved in a back-and-forth affair with No. 15 Bradley on Thursday. They’re letting up 55th-lowest 3-point clip (32.1%), along with the second-lowest 2-point clip (41.3%) in the country.
The last time these two programs squared off on Feb. 9, MSU held Pitino’s squad to 0.83 points per possession, and Xavier Tilliaman wasn’t even inserted in their starting lineup yet. The 6-foot-8 Tillman has seen an increased role after Nick Ward suffered a hairline fracture. He should be all over Minnesota’s top big Jordan Murphy (14.9 points per game).
When MSU controls the pace, Cassius Winston and Co. are fairly difficult to contain in transition. That should remain the case in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ken Barkley: Gonzaga-Baylor
- Time: 7:10 p.m. ET, TBS
- The Pick: Baylor +13
I’m kind of at a loss here with this number.
Gonzaga is playing its first game against a reasonably good team that isn’t St. Mary’s in about three-and-a-half months and its last go-around against the Gaels didn’t go great, by the way.
Sure, the Zags walked all over Fairleigh Dickinson but the Knights were tired and own one of the worst defensive profiles in college basketball, so why is Gonzaga getting so much credit here?
And yes, I know the Syracuse team Baylor defeated in Round 1 was missing Frank Howard (and was just getting Tyus Battle back), but that’s a decent win over a Top 40-ish team.
I make this game Gonzaga -9.5, and I think I’m giving the Bulldogs too much credit, to be perfectly honest.
Baylor’s ability to get offensive rebounds should be on display here, as Gonzaga’s profile is extremely inflated by WCC play, and it wasn’t that good in that area anyway.
On defense, Baylor probably isn’t creating any extra possessions for themselves but at least the Bears played in the toughest conference per KenPom, and still are in the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
I don’t see a blowout here that often. Give me points.
John Ewing: Maryland-LSU
Time: 12:10 p.m. ET, CBS
Pick: Maryland +2
Slow-paced underdogs have an advantage in the NCAA Tournament. By reducing the number of possessions in a game they increase the randomness. The more variance in a college basketball game the greater the chance for an underdog to win. Maryland averages 67.8 possessions per game – 312th in the nation. Slow-paced dogs have covered 58% ATS since 2005 and the Terps are a match against LSU.
Steve Petrella: Florida-Michigan
- Time: 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS
- Pick: Florida +7
This Michigan team doesn’t feel like the ones of years past that made somewhat surprising NCAA Tournament runs. The offense is a bit out of sync, and Florida made has drastic improvements down the stretch.
In what should be a grind of a game between two excellent defenses that play at a slow pace, give me the points. I wouldn’t bet it at anything but +7 or better, though.
Time: 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Pick: Wofford +5
The loss of PJ Washington for this game is absolutely enormous. He would’ve been a major problem for Wofford’s defense. Without him, I make this line Kentucky -3 so I have to take the Terriers.
Hoover and Magee are cold-blooded assassins and the biggest weakness of Kentucky’s defense has been their perimeter defense. I think this is an absolute thriller that comes down to the wire. Don’t forget the Cats are the youngest team in the entire field. Take the points, sit back and enjoy what should be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend