Early Betting Angles for Every Sweet 16 Matchup
© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
What a wild weekend. From the first win by a No. 16 seed in tournament history to SEVEN five-plus-point underdogs winning outright to multiple buzzer beaters. (I still don’t know how Michigan beat Houston). Now that your bracket is probably busted like mine, it’s time to solely focus on the Sweet 16 betting matchups.
In today’s piece, our staff of experts will take an early look at all eight Sweet 16 games from a betting perspective. Make sure you check back later in the week for more in-depth betting guides for both Thursday and Friday.
All spreads as of Monday morning.
#11 Loyola-Chicago vs. #7 Nevada (-2.5)
7:07 p.m. ET on CBS | Atlanta, GA
Analysis: Nevada’s offense is built on interchangeability and embracing “pace and space” in an NBA-style spread pick-and-roll scheme. While Loyola doesn’t have a lot of height, head coach Porter Moser’s club can switch 1-4. As a result, the Ramblers have a phenomenal ball-screen defense, led by guard Ben Richardson, and the versatility of forward Aundre Jackson, guard Marques Townes, guard Donte Ingram, and guard Lucas Williamson. The Ramblers are ultimately built to defend Nevada’s offense, which often goes 5-out. The Pack have a clear talent edge with the Martin twin forwards (Cody and Caleb), guard Kendall Stephens, and guard/post Jordan Caroline, but Loyola thrives with a cohesive team defense. The Ramblers have also shut down both high major pick-and-roll offenses it has faced in the tourney so far.
Loyola has a well-deserved reputation as a team of sharpshooters, but the Ramblers’ offense is built on working inside out. In fact, Loyola attempts shots at the rim at a top 50 rate nationally. It should have success inside against a Pack defense that has had issues defending at the rim all year. The Ramblers’ ability to defend Nevada’s versatility in pick and roll and exploit the Pack’s glaring weakness defensively leads me to think Sister Jean and Loyola will keep the upsets coming.
Early ATS lean: Loyola Chicago +2.5
Early bracket lean: Loyola Chicago — Jordan Majewiski
#7 Texas A&M vs. #3 Michigan (-3)
7:37 p.m. ET on TBS | Los Angeles, CA
Analysis: Fascinating matchup between one of the country’s best frontcourts (Texas A&M) and one of the country’s best ball-screen offenses (Michigan). It’s no secret what Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy’s gameplan is with the Aggies, as he hasn’t adapted to the “pace and space” revolution. Instead, the Aggies prey on all of the small-ball lineups thrown at them with the dominating frontcourt duo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams.
Texas A&M should get easy buckets inside against a poor Michigan post defense that allows the nation’s 24th-highest FG% at the rim. Having said that, Davis and Williams aren’t equipped to defend Moe Wagner in pick-and-roll situations. John Beilein’s offense, which is predicated on methodically running screen and roll until a mismatch is isolated, should have plenty of success.
Michigan is also an outstanding defensive rebounding team, which is key against an Aggies team that loves to pound the offensive glass with all of its frontcourt height. This is a wonderful matchup of disparate styles and schemes, but Beilein is a master technician. He will likely have the Aggies scrambling in pick-and-roll defense all night in LA.
Early ATS lean: Michigan -3
Early bracket lean: Michigan — Jordan Majewski
#9 Kansas State vs. #5 Kentucky (-6)
9:37 p.m. ET on CBS | Atlanta, GA
Analysis: Kentucky’s offense is humming. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been unstoppable for the better part of a month, spearheading John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense. Plus, if Hamidou Diallo has gained confidence from his offensive outburst against Buffalo, the Cats are suddenly the most dangerous team in the Sweet 16.
Can Kansas State do anything to slow down UK offensively? Unlikely. KSU’s defense is predicated on half-court ball pressure and utilizing the speed and quickness of its backcourt to generate turnovers. Kentucky is simply not turning it over, as it has a meager 14.6% turnover rate during its current five-game winning streak. (The Cats have also faced some aggressive defenses in that stretch.)
KSU will likely have Dean Wade back in uniform, which will be a huge boost for Bruce Weber’s offense. However, Weber’s shift away from a motion-based offense to a pick-and-roll-heavy scheme doesn’t bode well against UK. With all of their length and athleticism, the Wildcats have a tremendous pick-and-roll defense. And when Cal wants to switch into the 3-2 zone, KSU will be equally flummoxed. UK’s offensive rebounding prowess will also be on full display, as the purple Wildcats struggle on the defensive glass. Lastly, UK will have a massive crowd backing them in Atlanta as well.
Early ATS lean: Kentucky -6
Early bracket lean: Kentucky — Jordan Majewski
#9 Florida State vs. #4 Gonzaga (-6)
10:07 p.m. ET on TBS | Los Angeles, CA
Analysis: Gonzaga’s ability to defend at the rim with athleticism (without fouling) will play a key role, as FSU relies on spreading defenses out to attack the rim by exploiting one-on-one matchups with its length and athleticism. The Zags are one of the few teams in the country that have the depth and versatility in the frontcourt to guard FSU straight up.
But Gonzaga head coach Mark Few’s ball-screen continuity offense will run into some trouble, as FSU switches on everything 1-4. It’s difficult to isolate the Noles into mismatches, which Gonzaga thrives on. Gonzaga will ultimately force FSU to operate in the halfcourt, where it is considerably less efficient than in transition. Additionally, while FSU has height all over the floor, it struggles on the defensive glass, as the frontcourt often gets out of position hunting blocks. The Zags, an excellent offensive rebounding team, can exploit this weakness enough to pull out a win and cover.
Early ATS lean: Gonzaga -6
Early bracket lean: Gonzaga — Jordan Majewski
#5 Clemson vs. #1 Kansas (-4)
7:07 p.m. ET on CBS | Omaha, NE
Analysis: One of college hoops’ best offenses in Kansas against one of the country’s best defenses in Clemson. Like most Kansas games, this will likely come down to how the Jayhawks shoot. Kansas lives and dies by the 3 this season: The Jayhawks rank fifth in effective field goal percentage, despite hardly getting to the line and rarely grabbing offensive rebounds. They rank 12th in 3-point percentage, and don’t mind bombing away.
Clemson ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, but its strength is really in the paint. The Tigers rank 17th overall in opponent field goal percentage around the rim. However, they can be exploited on the perimeter (159th in opponent shot frequency from 3 and just 217th in opponent 3-point percentage). Kansas should advance in what should be a half court affair, as long as it executes on offense and knock down jumpers.
It will be interesting to see how the betting market pegs this matchup. The Jayhawks are 19-15-1 ATS this season, but they’re oddly just 5-8-1 against teams allowing a 3-point mark of 35 percent or higher. It’s entirely possible Kansas has been unlucky in those games. For whatever it’s worth, the game opened at Kansas -4 and Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Efficiency Margin metric had it at about -2.
Early ATS lean: Reluctantly, Kansas -4
Early bracket lean: Kansas — Bryan Mears
#5 West Virginia vs. #1 Villanova (-5)
Friday 7:27 p.m. ET on TBS | Boston, MA
Analysis: Jalen Brunson vs Jevon Carter. The best offensive point guard in the country vs the best defensive point guard. What a matchup. Just ask Murray State star guard Jonathan Stark (1-of-12 shooting, 9 points 4 assists 2 turnovers) or Marshall star guard Jon Elmore (4-of-12 shooting, 15 points 4 assists 7 turnovers) about the Carter cuffs. While Brunson is on a different level, Carter can certainly still keep him in check. That said, Nova’s other ball handlers will still be a problem for Press Virginia. Even the Wildcats’ bigs have handles.
I think West Virginia can hang around on the offensive glass, an area it dominates. (WVU ranks sixth in the country in offensive rebounding rate). Nova is actually decent on the defensive glass (44th nationally), but I think the Neers will still have plenty of opportunities for easy buckets. In the end, a WVU scoring drought or two will doom them against a Nova team that should consistently score in transition.
I will say the Mountaineers could steal this game if Nova has an off shooting night (the root cause of its losses this year) and if the refs don’t call the game too tight. However, those are two massive ifs. If WVU is being called for ticky tack fouls, Nova will capitalize at the line, where it shoots 77.4% (14th in the country). And when Nova hits its perimeter shots, nobody in the country can beat the Cats.
Early ATS lean: West Virginia +5
Early bracket lean: Villanova — Stuckey
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Duke (-11.5)
Friday 9:37 p.m. ET on CBS | Omaha, NE
Analysis: If you’re a basketball purist or an NBA fan, you should probably avoid this matchup of two zone defenses. Zones have their strengths, but they allow a bunch of 3-pointers and zone teams struggle on the defensive glass. Michigan State took a season-high 37 3-pointers in its loss to Syracuse on Sunday, making just eight. It gets crazier: The Spartans took a ridiculous 24 more shots than the Orange, but made just 17 total (25.8%). On one hand, that is another feather in Cuse’s cap, but it also seems unwise to bet on multiple solid offenses to continue having terrible shooting games. The Spartans had an all-time bad performance, but still lost by just two points. Duke isn’t loaded with knock-down shooters, but Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. can certainly do better than 25 percent from deep.
The defensive rebounding angle is an important one in this matchup. Duke ranks first in the nation in offensive rebounding, thanks to freshman phenoms Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr, both of whom dominated in the first game. Duke, with a pesky 2-3 zone of its own, held the Orange to a season-low 44 points. The Orange’s best chance is to make this game uber-slow, limiting total shots for both offenses. The spread of 11.5 is probably too high, but I think the early value lies with the under 133.5..
Early ATS lean: Syracuse +11.5
Early bracket lean: Duke — Bryan Mears
#3 Texas Tech vs. #2 Purdue (-1.5)
Friday 9:57 p.m. ET on TBS | Boston, MA
Analysis: Two very well-coached and fundamentally sound teams. The key matchup will be between Purdue’s offense (ranked second in offensive efficiency) vs. Texas Tech’s defense (ranked fourth in defensive efficiency). Of course, a healthy Isaac Haas contributed to that impressive Purdue ranking. The 7-foot-2 big played in 35 of the Boiler’s 36 games this year. After missing the second-round win vs. Butler, Haas remains questionable at best moving forward. He wants to play and is trying to find an elbow brace that can be approved. Nevertheless, we have to assume he won’t suit up or will not play at anywhere close to 100%. Purdue stepped up in its first game without him, but the second game after losing a star player is always the tougher task.
In past NCAA Tournaments, Purdue has lost to teams that can match its athleticism. I think that might be the case in this matchup. Texas Tech is tough as nails defensively already and backup center Matt Haarms just doesn’t bring the same set of skills that Haas has offensively. That will ultimately allow Texas Tech to really lockdown and concentrate on Purdue’s shooters. (The Boilers rank No. 2 in the nation in 3-point shooting at 42.1%.) When it comes to fairly even matchups, I almost always lean with the team that has the better defense, especially as an underdog. TTU fits that mold here.
In regards to the total, I lean under 137.5. Purdue scored 1.27 points per possession in the first game without Haas, but I expect that to regress significantly. The Red Raiders only averaged 1.03 ppp in their first two tourney games. Purdue’s defense, which ranked fourth in the B1G in defensive efficiency and first in FT rate, should still be fairly solid. This looks like a low-to-mid 60’s type of game.
Early ATS lean: Texas Tech +1.5
Early bracket lean: Texas Tech — Wes Reynolds
Top photo: Loyola guard Ben Richardson (14), center Cameron Krutwig (25) and center Carson Shanks (32) pictured; credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports