College Basketball Best Bets: 6 Expert Picks for Saturday’s Elite Eight Games

College Basketball Best Bets: 6 Expert Picks for Saturday’s Elite Eight Games article feature image
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Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images. Pictured: Mark Sears (Alabama)

College Basketball Best Bets for Saturday

GameTime (ET)Pick
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8:49 p.m.
Specific betting recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Two Final Four berths are up for grabs on Saturday, as Illinois takes on the defending national champs, UConn, and No. 6 seed Clemson duels with No. 4 seed Alabama.

We have you covered from all betting angles, so here's Elite Eight best bets and odds, including five picks for Saturday's NCAA Tournament games on March 30.


Illinois vs. UConn

Saturday, March 30
6:09 p.m. ET
TBS

Illinois +8.5

By D.J. James

The UConn Huskies are crushing everyone in their path, and it looks like there’s no stopping them now.

That said, Illinois has vastly improved and has shown very few flaws in the NCAA Tournament. The Illini are in sync; there’s a reason Illinois has reached its first Sweet 16 since 2005.

The Huskies rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense, per KenPom. UConn doesn’t allow too many 3-point attempts, but the Illini like to shoot from outside. Opponents are shooting 31% from deep on UConn.

In addition, the Huskies rank 11th in Defensive Open-3 Rate. Illinois shoots over 34% as a team, so this could be a concern for UConn.

On the other side, Illinois is weak guarding the 3, but its defense has made some strides in the last few games.

The Huskies usually hold an edge on the glass over most opponents. However, Illinois is one of the teams that can negate a usual UConn advantage because it can rebound from every position.

One major weakness for UConn has been defense in transition. Terrence Shannon Jr. is the best player in the country when he gets downhill, so he'll draw a foul or score in some manner.

Add in the fact that UConn fouls opponents far more often than Illinois, and the Illini could prove to be a matchup nightmare.

Lastly, Illinois has yet to lose by double digits this season. Illinois should keep it close, as it has with the best teams in the country.

Take Illinois to +8.

Pick: Illinois +8.5 (Play to +8)


Illinois +8.5

By Mike McNamara

I was very surprised when I saw this line open at 8.5

I understand how dominant the defending champion Huskies have been, but I view Illinois as a top-five team in America right now.

The Illini are a veteran group that’s playing with a ton of confidence at the right time. I think there’s every reason to believe Illinois will embrace the stage in Boston on Saturday and put together a really strong effort.

UConn is on a ridiculous run of covering and winning games by double digits in the NCAA Tournament, but that changes in this one.

The Illini have the depth to go toe-to-toe with the Huskies, and Dain Dainja is the type of bruiser that can give Donovan Clingan a little bit of trouble on the inside.

Not only do I think the Illini cover in this one, but I also give them a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset and punching a ticket to Phoenix.

ILL-INI.

Pick: Illinois +8.5 (Play to +7.5)



Illinois +8.5

By Patrick Strollo

As we progress into the Elite Eight, the cream is rising to the top. We should have a fantastic game featuring the best of the Big East and a Big Ten powerhouse.

I’ll just get right into it without my normal blabbering — I think Illinois is catching too many points here.

I’m all over the Illini, and the first thing I did after running my model was hit my book and grab an Illinois ticket.

I’m not going to spend any time talking about UConn because I do think it’s the best team in the nation. There’s good reason why astute oddsmakers have the uber-efficient Huskies as even-money favorites to win the national title again.

My bone to pick here is that I don’t think that the number in this game is right. My model has the line at 6.0 points, and our Action Network PRO Projections are just inside consensus markets at 8.0.

The issue with handicapping this game and the line item that really jumps off the advanced statistics datasets is the relative weakness of the Illinois defense as measured by Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. The Illini rank 84th in the nation in that category, allowing 101.3 points per 100 possessions.

Now, this is a problem for Illinois; however, the antidote rests completely within the Dan Hurley-led Huskies and their methodical motion offense.

Connecticut’s motion offense has been very effective, but it’s also laborious at times and slows down the pace of the game as the off-ball plays take time to develop.

As a result, UConn enters this Elite Eight matchup ranked 316th in Adjusted Tempo, and I believe that a slower pace of play will benefit the lesser Illinois defense through lower volume.

Offensively, Illinois has all the weapons necessary to keep up Connecticut, but this game will come down to the Illini limiting chances for the Huskies and getting some help from them as well.

Another anecdote that I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on is that this game has “normie” written all over it.

The defending national champs in the Elite Eight as almost double-digit favorites seems like a public trap. In addition to being the square play du jour, a slow start could be in the cards for the Huskies after embarrassing San Diego State on Thursday.

I recommend taking the points at 8.5. I don’t anticipate this line moving too much off of this number, but I would have 7.5 be my hard stop. However, I don’t think we need to worry too much about that.

In fact, given the public flows we’ve already seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 9 closer to tipoff, so it might make sense to wait until later in the day to take the points.

Pick: Illinois +8.5 (Play to +7.5)

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Over 155.5

By John Feltman

The Huskies look unstoppable, but if there’s one team that can compete with them on the offensive end, it’s the Fighting Illini. Shannon is the MVP of the tournament thus far, and he’s carrying his team to improbable heights.

The market opened the spread at UConn -7.5, and it quickly steamed to -8.5. As unstoppable as the Huskies have looked, I can’t back them with the inflated number.

For the Illini to have a shot at immortality, it’s no secret their offense needs to show up. There’s a lot working in our favor for that to occur, as the Huskies don't force turnovers on the defensive end.

The Illini rank second in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and are terrific on all ends of the floor.

The Huskies are an elite defensive team, but they’re a bit foul-heavy at times. That plays right into the Illini’s strength, and they’re a good free-throw shooting team.

The issue for them is that they’re going to struggle to get stops constantly throughout the contest.

There should be a ton of offensive possessions between both teams, and I expect the Huskies to get plenty of chances to cook from 3-point land. The Illini have no chance if the game turns into a stall, so I expect Brad Underwood to encourage his team to run as much as possible.

Let’s kick back and enjoy the fireworks between these two teams.

Pick: Over 155.5 (Play to 157)



UConn -8.5

By Tanner McGrath

Stopping the Illini’s nation-leading offense is a three-step process:

  • Stop them in isolation.
  • Deny them in transition.
  • Keep them off the offensive boards.

It may sound obvious, but I’m pretty sure UConn can do all three.

For starters, UConn ranks in the 70th percentile of D-I teams in isolation PPP allowed (.74). Tristen Newton is among the nation’s best one-on-one backcourt defenders by PPP allowed (.29, 97th percentile), while Alex Karaban, Hassan Diarra and Stephon Castle all rank above the national average.

It’s almost impossible to stop Shannon and Marcus Domask while driving downhill, but the Huskies have a shot.

The Huskies will definitely clean the boards (nine second-chance points per game allowed, 80th percentile) and prevent transition buckets (seven fast-break points per game allowed, 85th percentile).

So, the Illini better hope they can score enough in transition to hang around because their other avenues to offense will be closed.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ defense has no shot at stopping the Huskies.

The Illini actually have the athleticism and switchability to hang with UConn’s half-court motion sets. But Hurley has designed an offense that can flow into any action from an initial stagger screen set play.

During this tournament run, the Huskies have leaned heavily into high pick-and-roll actions with Newton and Clingan.

Newton is a solid ball-screen initiator, but Clingan is a monstrous finisher. And that’s where Illinois will likely see its season end.

The Illini allow the 21st-most points per game to roll men, ranking 311th nationally in roll-man PPP allowed (1.15). While Coleman Hawkins and Dainja are versatile offensive pieces, neither can hang in ball-screen coverage.

UConn’s offense is so elaborate, variable and versatile. Eventually, the Huskies will find the set that exploits the opposing defense, and they'll run it relentlessly.

In this case, I believe that’ll be Clingan on the hard roll.

Meanwhile, UConn has the tools to contain the Illini’s unstoppable defense.

The Huskies are a wagon. They’ve won nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games by double digits. And I don’t see that stopping here.

Pick: UConn -8.5 (Play to -9.5)


Clemson vs. Alabama

Saturday, March 30
8:49 p.m. ET
TBS
Alabama -3.5

By Matt Gannon

These are two teams that have taken over America's matchup (UNC vs. Arizona) in the Elite Eight.

Through three games, Clemson hasn't had to deal with much stress. The Tigers have been in control from the jump in every game so far.

Clemson is an extremely balanced team, which was a key reason I had it in my Final Four.

The Tigers already have a win over Alabama, which should give them some confidence heading into the Elite Eight.

On the other side, Alabama has dealt with a ton of stress to reach this point. It escaped an upset against 12-seed Grand Canyon and fought even harder against North Carolina.

The X-factor here will be the law of averages. Clemson’s opponents have shot well below their season-long averages in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament. Yes, the Tigers have played solid defense, but their opponents have missed wide-open shots.

Alabama isn’t afraid to shoot the ball, and it shoots it well. I see this game getting out of hand due to Alabama's volume and elite shooting.

Pick: Alabama -3.5 (Play to -4)



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