NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Best Bets: Our Top 8 Picks for Saturday’s March Madness Games
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Houston Cougars forward Quentin Grimes (24).
- After five straight days of March Madness Mayhem, we've since endured four more days of waiting, with only the NIT and CBI to hold us over in the meantime.
- Nonetheless, we've made it to Saturday, and the NCAA Tournament returns in full force with four Sweet 16 games on tap.
- Our staff breaks down today's action and delivers its top 8 best bets of the day below.
The first two rounds of the 2021 NCAA Tournament delivered upsets galore as March Madness lived up to its reputation for mayhem. Four double-digit seeds (No. 11 Syracuse, No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Oregon State and No. 15 Oregon State) earned a berth in the Sweet 16 with Final Four aspirations on their minds this weekend.
Meanwhile, No. 8 Loyola Chicago shocked the country by taking down the No. 1-seed Illinois Fighting Illini, reviving years-old Sister Jean memes and reigniting the once feverish fandom surrounding the Ramblers’ last Final Four run.
Now, on to the Sweet 16. Saturday opens up Sweet 16 play with four games on tap from 2:40 p.m. ET to 9:55 p.m. ET. Our staff has dissected the odds and delivered its top plays of the day — 8 best bets to keep your betting card full as you enjoy today’s NCAA Tournament action.
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#12 Oregon State vs. #8 Loyola Chicago
Loyola Chicago has looked as good as it possibly could on its road to the Sweet 16.
It ran through Georgia Tech in the first game, averaging 1.20 points per play, and then dismantled Illinois’ sixth-ranked defense.
The Ramblers own the ninth-best adjusted efficiency margin in the country, and it’s still mind boggling that they were given an 8-seed. They have the second-ranked defensive efficiency in the country, allowing only 86.1 points per every 100 possessions.
Oregon State has been reliant on its hot 3-point shooting since the Pac-12 Tournament, and it won’t find the same clean looks against the stout Loyola defense.
Cameron Krutwig has become a social media sensation after the win over Illinois in which he scored 19 points and dished out five assists. He’s going to be a weapon sitting at the free-throw line against the Oregon State zone due to his passing ability and high basketball IQ, which allows him to make the right decision every time he touches the ball.
The Ramblers’ second-ranked defense will lock down Oregon State, and their offense will do enough to cover the number, which is why I’m laying the points with Loyola.
#12 Oregon State vs. #8 Loyola Chicago
This game should be an absolute grinder with two teams that rank outside the top 300 in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom. I’m just not sure how Oregon State scores consistently.
The Beavers rely on getting to the line, crashing the offensive glass and efficiently scoring in transition in the rare times they do. That spells trouble against a Loyola Chicago defense that ranks No. 1 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and excels in all three of those areas:
- The Ramblers do an excellent job of defending without fouling, ranking sixth in FTA/FGA.
- They rank No. 2 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
- They allow the fewest percentage of shots in transition in the nation at 15.7%.
Also, Oregon State is not an efficient offense from two or at the rim, ranking outside the top 250 in both. I think its best hope of keeping up here is to continue to shoot at a ridiculously high clip from distance, which I’m not sure it can do against an extremely disciplined and suffocating Loyola perimeter defense.
The regression monster certainly looms for the Beavers, who have enjoyed a great deal of 3-point luck during their five-game winning streak. They have connected on 45-of-107 3s (42.1%), while their opponents have drained just 30-of-119 (25.2%).
My raw number comes in right around 6 here, but it’s just not a great matchup on either side of the ball for the Beavers. Also, given some of my uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12, I don’t have much interest in laying 6.5 or 7 in a game with a total of 126. However, if Oregon State has an off-night from 3 (which it’s overdue for), Loyola should win this one comfortably.
I personally think the look here is under 125 (or higher).
#5 Villanova vs. #1 Baylor
By Mike Randle
It still amazes me how 67% of the bets are on Villanova, per the Action App.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright has done a masterful job at overcoming the loss of starting point guard Collin Gillespie (14 PPG, 4.6 APG) but Baylor’s defense will expose its lack of a floor general.
The Bears rank third-best in the country in defensive turnover percentage and have a myriad of choices to limit the Wildcats’ leading scorer, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Over Villanova’s last three games, Robinson-Earl has provided per-game averages of 22 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Look for the Bears’ no-middle defense to limit his ability to attack the basket, enticing Robinson-Earl to fall in love with a jump shot that is substandard (28%) from beyond the arc.
Baylor’s offense finally returned to its pre-COVID form against Wisconsin in the Round of 32. The Bears shot 47.1% (8-of-17) from 3 and 78.3% (18-of-23) from the free-throw line against the Badgers’ 16th-ranked defense. Baylor also turned over Wisconsin 14 times despite the Badgers entering the game as the fourth-best offensive turnover team in the country.
Villanova plays at one of the slowest paces in the country (332nd), which makes it even more difficult to recover from an early deficit. The Wildcats need to control pace, hit their 3s, and have their best rebounding of the season.
That’s a tough trio of accomplishments against a Baylor team that has regained the look of one of the top teams in college basketball.
#5 Villanova vs. #1 Baylor
I’m using Baylor’s moneyline in its matchup with Villanova as a “free multiplier” for every other Sweet 16 play on my card. By adding the Bears at -325, you’re flipping a standard -110 play to +150 as a two-team parlay.
In my opinion, Villanova is, without a doubt, fool’s gold in this spot. The Wildcats, once left for dead without the services of Collin Gillespie just three weeks ago, are now attracting nearly 70% of the bets against the spread in this spot. That has kept this moneyline in an attractive spot.
The public has clearly been moved by back-to-back blowout wins over Winthrop and North Texas. And while Winthrop built an impressive offensive resume against KenPom’s 28th-ranked conference, nothing will prepare VIllanova for the jump in offensive efficiency it’s set to experience on Saturday.
During Baylor’s current 6-1 run, the Bears have rolled opponents by close to 10 points per game. This late-season resurgence has featured five wins against teams in the KenPom top 35.
Offensively, if it weren’t for Gonzaga they’d be widely considered the top offense in this tournament. The Bears’ efficiency rating when they have the ball (1.165) is the eighth-highest figure spanning the last five seasons and the highest in a power conference since UCLA in 2017 (1.189). And despite some fantastic defensive game planning in the first weekend, this Nova team is still an average-at-best defensive unit (141st DER).
It will take a superhuman performance from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to keep this thing close in the final minutes. And I think his penchant for foul trouble (4+ fouls in 28% of his games since Dec. 16), plus Baylor’s “No-Middle” defense, will hold him back here. Baylor rolls to the Elite Eight.
#5 Villanova vs. #1 Baylor
This game is going to be a 3-point shooting contest.
Baylor is the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the country, making over 41% from beyond the arc. Shooting 3s is exactly how teams beat Villanova’s defense, which is 237th in the country in 3-point defense.
The Wildcats are going to try and slow the pace of this game down, as they rank 332nd in adjusted tempo, but if the Bears get a lead, they are going to have to speed things up. Baylor is 78th in the country in average possession length on offense, so Scott Drew’s team doesn’t play slow by any means.
Baylor’s not only a 3-point shooting team too, but it’s shooting over 65% on shots at the rim and over 58% on shots in transition, per Hoop-Math. Villanova is not only going to have a really difficult time guarding Baylor from beyond the arc, but the Wildcats allow over 57% on shot attempts at the rim and over 60% in transition.
Jay Wright’s team truly lives and dies by the 3-point shot, as the Wildcats attempt 3s on 45.1% of their field goal attempts, per KenPom. They do it really effectively, as they’re hitting 35.8% of their 3-point attempts, which has led them to rank sixth in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
The good news for Villanova is shooting 3s is also exactly how teams beat Baylor’s defense. The Bears are 163rd in 3-point defense allowed, which will be a problem on Saturday.
I have the total projected at 145.88 points, so I think there’s some value over 141.5 points.
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Houston
Both Houston and Syracuse love to shoot the 3. Both rank in the top 100 in 3PA/FGA and percentage of points scored beyond the arc.
While both teams shoot over 35% from beyond the arc, Syracuse has been red-hot recently, and Houston seems vulnerable.
In a matchup between two high-variance offenses, I’m simply going to ride the hot hand and take the plus-money.
The Syracuse offense has been unstoppable recently. Over the past six games, Syracuse …
- is 5-1 straight up (SU) and 6-0 against the spread (ATS).
- has shot 69-for-166 (41.6%) from 3.
- has an adjusted offensive efficiency score of 126.5.
On paper, Houston is a matchup problem for Syracuse. It takes and makes a ton of perimeter shots while simultaneously playing great perimeter defense.
However, the Jim Boeheim zone has been unbeatable recently. Over the past four games, Syracuse’s opponents have shot just 40-for-118 (33.9%) from 3.
And over this recent stretch, Syracuse has played perimeter-dominant offenses. San Diego State shoots more than 40% of its shots from beyond the arc and makes 36.8% of them. But against Syracuse in the first round, the Aztecs shot just 11-for-40 from deep.
Plus, while Syracuse is playing its best basketball, Houston isn’t. DeJon Jarreau is so important to what Houston does on offense, and his injury troubles could prove catastrophic.
All-in-all, there are questions surrounding Houston. Syracuse has been playing lights out, and anything can happen in a 3-point shooting matchup. I think there’s value in taking Syracuse to win outright here.
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Houston
By Pat McMahon
The Syracuse offense has been red-hot as of late but will face the toughest defense it’s seen all season against Houston.
The Cougars’ defense has been outstanding this year, and the numbers are there to back it up.
Houston ranks 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. It ranks first in opponent effective field goal percentage (43.3%) and 12th in 3-point field goal defense (29.3%). Translation: this team is incredibly tough to score on.
The Cougars have several perimeter defenders who will be in the grill of Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard all game long. As good of a player as Boeheim is, the 24.2 points per game and 49% 3-point percentage he’s maintained over the last nine games is unsustainable. He’s due for some shooting regression, and if any team is capable of making life difficult for him, it’s the Cougars.
Looking at the other side of the ball, while Houston is a solid 3-point shooting team, the Cougars haven’t seen anything like the Orange’s 2-3 zone all season.
Syracuse has a very strong 3-point defense as well, surrendering just 31.9% from beyond the arc on the season. As we’ve seen in recent deep tournament runs from high-seeded Orange teams in 2016 and 2018, teams from outside of the ACC have struggled mightily to figure out the zone.
Houston really only has two consistent outside shooting threats in Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser, so the Orange will really cheat out on them and force DeJon Jarreau and the Houston big men to beat them inside. Jarreau has dealt with a hip injury suffered in the opening round of the tournament, so he won’t be playing at 100%.
Finally, Houston’s slow pace of play also bodes well for the under. The Cougars rank 324th in adjusted tempo, and the zone forces opposing offenses to take their time, so Houston should be even more deliberate with the ball than usual.
Pick: Under 141 | Play to 140