Ultimate Friday Sweet 16 Betting Guide: Is Duke in Trouble as a Big Favorite?

Ultimate Friday Sweet 16 Betting Guide: Is Duke in Trouble as a Big Favorite? article feature image
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Photo via Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

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In the second part of our Sweet 16 preview, we will comprehensively cover each of the four Friday NCAA Tournament games from all the angles. We will examine the matchups on both ends of the floor, look at trends, interesting nuggets and sharp action, and provide our experts’ favorite bets.

 

Check back here up until game time for insight into last-minute sharp action, significant line moves and any other betting market info.

Let’s get to it!

All spreads as of Thursday evening 


#5 Clemson vs. #1 Kansas -5 | O/U: 142.5

Omaha, Neb. | 7:07 p.m. ET on CBS

Schematic Analysis 

By Jordan Majewski

When Clemson Has The Ball

After years of heavy criticism lobbed at his often stagnant and unimaginative motion offense, Clemson coach Brad Brownell finally joined the pick-and-roll revolution. The Tigers haven’t looked back since. Guards Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell are both effective in screen and roll, and Gabe DeVoe can be a deadly shooter (39.9% from 3).

Kansas guards Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk have all had their issues in pick-and-roll defense, and that’s something Clemson’s shifty guards will look to exploit. Elijah Thomas, a 6-foot-9 forward, has a nice finesse post game on the block and is particularly deadly going over his right shoulder with a baby hook, but Udoka Azubuike’s post defense has been solid and Thomas’ game isn’t a power post skill set, which tends to get Azubuike in foul trouble.

When Kansas Has The Ball

The Jayhawks will be at full strength, as Azubuike (knee) is scheduled to start without any minutes restrictions. KU’s offense starts and stops with guard Devonte’ Graham, who’s one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the country. His ability to read and react on the fly is simply outstanding. With Newman, Vick and Mykhailiuk around him as lethal shooting options, KU’s prolific 3-point offense can embarrass teams in a hurry. And now that Azubuike is back in the post, the balance and spacing of the Jayhawk offense is second to only Villanova in the Sweet 16.

Can Clemson do anything to limit KU’s efficient offense? Surprisingly, yes. First, Clemson excels at defending in transition, both in efficiency and frequency of attempts allowed. That’s step one in at least trying to slow down KU, as Graham leads an absolutely deadly fast break. Second, Clemson plays excellent half-court defense, particularly against pick-and-roll. Thomas has really blossomed into an excellent post defender. Clemson has held its opponents to .85 ppp in the NCAA Tournament. That is especially impressive, since the Tigers played Auburn, a team that profiles similarly to KU on the offensive end.

However, Clemson is vulnerable to being bombed over the top on the perimeter. The Tigers run just 6-foot-3 across their backcourt when Brownell has his best offensive lineup on the floor (Reed, Mitchell, DeVoe). If Graham and KU’s bigger wings can exploit that size advantage, it could be a long night for Clemson  in front of a very partisan Omaha crowd.

No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For

By Stuckey

Gabe DeVoe. When he plays well, Clemson doesn’t miss Donte Grantham. In fact, since Grantham’s season-ending knee injury, the Tigers are 7-0 when DeVoe scores at least 20 points. When he doesn’t? 2-6.

In Clemson’s six losses since Grantham went down, DeVoe averaged 7.5 points per game, failing to score more than 11 in any of the six. Conversely, in Clemson’s nine wins, he has averaged 22 points per game, scoring at least 22 in seven of the nine.

If DeVoe can have a big day from the perimeter, Clemson can pull this off. So if I see him make a few early, I may bite into Clemson live.

Did You Know?

By Evan Abrams

Bill Self has coached Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas to the Elite Eight. Take a look at how different his results have been in the Sweet 16 vs. the Elite Eight:

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Looking for Clemson live +7 (especially if DeVoe is on early)


#5 West Virginia vs. #1 Villanova -5.5 | O/U: 152.5

Boston | 7:27 p.m. ET on TBS

Schematic Analysis 

By Jordan Majewski

When West Virginia Has The Ball

Bob Huggins won’t deviate from his cut-and-fill motion offense, which doesn’t necessarily exploit the two biggest weaknesses of Villanova’s constantly switching man-to-man defense:

  1. Defending screeners in screen and roll
  2. Post defense

Huggins will run offense on the block through Sagaba Konate, who is not a particularly skilled offensive player. Omari Spellman should have no issues containing him. Konate and WVU’s major offensive strength is the ability to relentlessly crash the offensive glass. Villanova ranks in the middle of the pack in defensive rebounding rate. That will be a major battle to watch early, as the Mountaineers grab their misses at the fifth-highest rate in the country.

Jay Wright extends to a 1-2-2 zone press at times, but that would be a mistake against WVU. The old (and unproven) adage of “pressing teams don’t like to be pressed” isn’t applicable to the Mountaineers, as they have shredded presses all year, including their most recent game against Marshall. WVU’s spacing in the half court within its motion offense can be disorganized, as Huggins likes to keep a lot of bigs on the floor for offensive rebounding. Forcing WVU to execute consistently in the half court is unquestionably the way to go.

When Villanova Has The Ball

What a tremendous matchup. The bullying full-court press of West Virginia vs. the outstanding point guard play of Jalen Brunson and the high-octane Villanova offense. I won’t go too deep into Nova’s outstanding offense, as I’ve talked about it ad nauseam, but essentially Brunson is surrounded by four versatile offensive players who can shoot, dribble and pass. That was all on display in a second-half clinic against Alabama, which has a defense that actually rates substantially higher than WVU’s.

Obviously the premier matchup on the floor is Brunson vs. WVU bulldog point guard Jevon Carter, who’s the best two-way point guard in the country. He has completely shut down Jonathan Stark of Murray State and Jon Elmore of Marshall in consecutive games in this tournament, propelling the Mountaineers to two easy victories. The interesting part of the Brunson/Carter matchup is that neither has elite speed, but both are incredibly smart and well-built. Brunson won’t be worn down by Press Virginia.

Speaking of the press, Huggins busted out a 1-2-2 press in this tournament, a look he rarely uses within his full-court pressure schemes, and it clearly threw both Murray State and Marshall for a loop. Obviously the element of surprise is gone against Villanova, but it shows the wily Huggins won’t go quietly into the night against Villanova’s offense, which has scored at 1.02 points per possession in its press offense, good for the 92nd percentile nationally, per Synergy. The ability of Konate to defend away from the rim will be tested by the 6-foot-9 Spellman in a major way, and West Virginia bigs Esa Ahmad and Lamont West have both been poor defending in motion. Spellman, Eric Paschall and Mikal Bridges all have plus matchups in this regard.

 

No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For

By Stuckey

How the refs call this game. If it’s tightly officiated, it will hurt West Virginia in two ways:

  1. Limit the effectiveness of WVU’s pressing style, while potentially getting key players into foul trouble. Two quick whistles on Carter would absolutely crush the Mountaineers.
  2. Nova would capitalize at the line, as it leads the remaining field in free-throw percentage at 77.4%, which ranks as 14th-best nationally.

Did You Know?

By Evan Abrams

Villanova covered both of its games of this year’s tournament over Radford and Alabama. This is the fourth tournament Jay Wright has started off 2-0 ATS heading into the Sweet 16. In the previous three tournaments, Wright and the Wildcats are just 1-2 straight-up in the Sweet 16, but the one time they did slip through, they won it all in 2016, covering all six games in the tournament.

Getting Trendy

By John Ewing

West Virginia enters the Sweet 16 under Huggins as a 5-seed against a top-seeded Villanova team. In the Sweet 16 or later in the tournament, Huggins is 1-6 SU when listed as the higher seed, with a PPG differential of -11.4. It’s worth noting that two of those seven games went to overtime.

Betting Market

By PJ Walsh

Villanova is garnering 72% of tickets and 75% of dollars, making it the most popular public play of tonight’s Sweet 16 games.

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: West Virginia 1H +3


#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Duke -11.5 | O/U: 133.5

Omaha, Neb. | 9:37 p.m. ET on CBS

Schematic Analysis 

By Jordan Majewski

When Syracuse Has The Ball

Coach K took a page right out of his pal Jim Boeheim’s book, and has been playing his own lengthy, extended 2-3 zone. And Duke has been just as, if not more, effective in it than the Orange. Syracuse scored an anemic .69 ppp at Cameron Indoor in the regular season in a game in which the two teams managed to shoot 0-of-20 from 3 in the first half. (The first made triple came more than 25 minutes into the game.)

Syracuse’s offensive attack is almost entirely predicated on massive guards Frank Howard and Tyus Battle breaking down smaller guards and drawing contact. However, Duke has the lowest foul rate in the country, while Syracuse shot the 3 at the 28th-worst mark overall. Thus, the Orange’s zone offense scored just .837 ppp this season, which graded out in the 13th percentile nationally, per Synergy. Simpy put, Duke is far more equipped in zone offense than Syracuse. The Orange also don’t have the outstanding big-to-big high-low action that Coach K can put on the floor.

When Duke Has The Ball

Duke scores at 1.05 ppp in zone offense, which grades out in the 93rd percentile nationally, per Synergy. Of course, I said something similar about Michigan State before it chucked an astounding 37 3-pointers against Syracuse, hitting just eight. Duke’s lone outing against Syracuse this year also doesn’t lend much hope to the Blue Devils efficiently cracking the vaunted Cuse zone. Duke scored just .94 ppp on just 2-of-18 shooting from deep, but still managed to win by 16. The difference was Marvin Bagley, who hit 8-of-9 from the floor in his first game back from injury.

Duke, the best offensive rebounding team in the country, was surprisingly held in check on putbacks by a poor defensive rebounding Cuse squad. However, Bagley and Wendell Carter were extremely effective behind the zone. Coach K ingeniously brought both Bagley and Carter up to set a double high ball screen in that game. Carter would slip down in the high post, with Grayson Allen taking Bagley’s screen. Allen would quickly reverse to Carter in the high post, who then found a rolling Bagley under the rim. Most teams beat Cuse strictly out of the high post, but Duke’s exceptional big-to-big passing was the difference.

If a few more perimeter shots fall and Duke dominates the offensive glass as usual, Syracuse’s run should likely come to an end. Of course, it’s easy to game-plan against the zone, but it’s an entirely different animal to execute against it.

 

No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For

By Stuckey

How will Syracuse score? Only Miami had a worse zone offense of all 68 tournament teams. The Orange ranked 305th in the country on offense against zones this season. I’m not sure how Syracuse will get to 45 points, which it failed to do Feb. 24 against Duke. If the Blue Devils aren’t fouling (which they rarely do), the Orange just can’t score enough to keep up.

Did You Know?

By Evan Abrams

Syracuse and Boeheim upset Tom Izzo and Michigan State to advance to the Sweet 16. No team has ever defeated Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski in the same NCAA Tournament. Boeheim and Syracuse can become the first if they advance to the Elite Eight.

Getting Trendy

By John Ewing

Look out, Duke backers: Betting favorites against slow-paced teams (70 or fewer possessions per 40 minutes) has been a losing strategy in the NCAA Tournament, going 95-131-10 ATS (42%) since 2005. Syracuse is the slowest-paced team in the tournament (63.3 possessions per game). By milking the shot clock, the Orange can shorten the game, which has been advantageous for underdog bettors.

Betting Market

By PJ Walsh

Betting appears to be balanced in this matchup with 55% of tickets landing on Syracuse. However, 75% of dollars are also on the Orange, explaining why this line has dropped from an opener of +11.5 down to +11.

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Duke -11.5
Jordan: Duke -11.5, Under 133.5


#3 Texas Tech vs. #2 Purdue -2 | O/U: 137.5

Boston | 9:57 p.m. ET on TBS

Schematic Analysis 

By Jordan Majewski

When Purdue Has The Ball

First and foremost, it would be stunning and fairly reckless if Purdue coach Matt Painter played stud 7-footer Isaac Haas at all, even with a bionic elbow brace. Haas is a huge target who draws a large amount of contact and falls down. A lot. It’s simply not worth it to have him on the floor, even as a decoy.

In previewing Purdue’s second-round matchup with Butler, I broke down the on/off efficiency splits of lineups with Haas, and with his replacement Matt Haarms. To briefly retouch on those, Purdue was a net 18 points per 100 possessions better with Haas on the floor in Tier A games. With Haas off the floor and Haarms on, Purdue was a net 12 points per 100 possessions worse, per hooplens.com.

Against Butler, Painter tried a smaller lineup without Haarms and with Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias initiating offense. The offense was incredible, scoring at 1.46 points per possession in 24 possessions, but the Boilers gave it all back on the defensive end, surrendering 1.50 points per possession. Obviously, that’s an extremely small sample size, but that brief glimpse suggested that Purdue’s offense might be a more lethal force when not restricted by a quota of post touches.

Ironically, Texas Tech’s one weakness defensively is in the post. To be clear, the Red Raiders have an elite defense, allowing just .91 ppp (fourth-most efficient nationally). Chris Beard’s defense is a souped-up pack line that moves the imaginary “line” out farther than the Virginia standard of 16 feet. The Red Raiders fly to the ball with a hyper-athletic frontcourt, but that frontcourt can be bullied on the block. The (presumed) loss of Haas will be quite noticeable in this matchup, as the Raiders can also be slow to rotate on the weak side defensively with their propensity to swarm the ball. Purdue ran excellent weak-side motion when Haas had the ball in the post. Without Haas, Beard can freely unleash his stable of versatile wings and frontcourt pieces on Edwards and Mathias.

When Texas Tech Has The Ball

More bitter irony for the Boilers, who will face coach Chris Beard after his Arkansas Little Rock team upset them in the 2016 first round in one of the most epic collapses in tournament history.

Irony on top of irony: Beard did it with a verbatim copy of Bob Knight’s motion offense, which his Red Raiders still use. That offense revolves around point guard Keenan Evans’ ability to get into the paint and either:

  1. Generate contact.
  2. Find a cutting Zhaire Smith or Zach Smith.
  3. Find Jarrett Culver coming off a multitude of screens.

Texas Tech’s offense can stagnate when defenses successfully wall off the paint, which Purdue has effectively done for most of Painter’s tenure. Additionally, Painter’s defenses rarely foul. Keeping Tech off the free-throw line is a necessity.

Interestingly, Haarms and Grady Eifert match up better against Texas Tech’s athletic frontcourt than the less mobile Haas, but both will still be at an athleticism disadvantage against the Smiths and 6-foot-4 guard Justin Gray. Purdue also must be concerned about its ability to keep TTU off the offensive glass. Defensive rebounding has plagued the Boilers all year, costing them a few wins in marquee games.

 

No. 1 Thing I’m Watching For

By Stuckey

Matt Haarms. Can he stay out of foul trouble against an aggressive, rim-attacking Texas Tech squad? If not, Purdue is doomed, considering its depth is severely lacking underneath with the injury to Haas. Also, can he facilitate offense and find open shooters? Purdue ranks No. 2 nationally in 3-point shooting, but a lot of that came from Haas kicking out after teams collapse. Haarms will have to score early to garner the same attention.

Did You Know?

By Evan Abrams

Since the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten is 8-18-3 ATS (30.8%) in the Sweet 16, failing to cover the spread by an average of 4.7 PPG. That makes the Big Ten the least profitable conference in the Sweet 16 during that span.

Betting Market

By PJ Walsh

Similar to Syracuse-Duke, tickets wagered are very even in this game (51% on Texas Tech), but 78% of dollars are backing the underdog Red Raiders.

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Texas Tech +2
Jordan: Texas Tech +2, Under 137.5


Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writers and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

Top photo: Duke’s Grayson Allen; credit: Photo via Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports