Stuckey’s Favorite Thursday NCAA Tournament Bets: Will Baylor Crack the Code of Syracuse’s Zone?

Stuckey’s Favorite Thursday NCAA Tournament Bets: Will Baylor Crack the Code of Syracuse’s Zone? article feature image
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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baylor Bears guard Makai Mason

  • Stuckey analyzes his three favorite bets on Thursday's NCAA Tournament slate below.
  • The games include: Kansas vs. Northeastern, Saint Mary's vs. Villanova and Baylor vs. Syracuse.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Before we dive into my favorite bets for Thursday, make sure you check out all of the game-by-game coverage from our college basketball team. Collin Wilson, Mike Randle, Eli Hershkovich, Ken Barkley and myself all contributed to breakdowns for all 16 of Thursday’s games.

Good luck today! Let’s dive in.


>> All odds as of Thursday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.


#4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Pick

  • Spread: Kansas -7
  • Over/Under: 143.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 20
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Northeastern runs one of the most beautiful and efficient offenses in the country. The Huskies score at a clip of 1.028 points per possession, per Synergy — one of the five best rates of the entire NCAA Tournament field.

It all starts with point guard Vasa Pusica, who runs the show for Bill Coen’s squad.

Pusica has excellent court vision and is one of the best facilitators you will watch this weekend. He’s also a more-than-capable scorer when he needs to be, as he showed in the CAA Tournament final when he hit seven 3s to lead the Huskies to that title.

However, it’s not just Pusica. Northeastern has a lineup filled with high-level shooters and capable passers. The Huskies take a ton of 3s and make a ton of 3’s since they generally get great looks as a result of terrific ball movement.

A top-25 ranking in both 3-point attempt rate and 3-point shooting percentage is a dangerous combination.

The Northeastern offense should give the Kansas defense fits, especially since the Jayhawks allow a ton of good looks from 3 with how Self plays ball screens. The Huskies have the perfect point guard and plenty of shooters to capitalize.

I grabbed +8.5 on the open and still like it all the way down to +7. I’ll also be sprinkling a little on the moneyline in addition to moving Northeastern on in my bracket.

I also think both offenses match up well with the opposing defenses, so I would look very hard at the over 143.

THE PICK: Northeastern Moneyline +245 and Northeastern +7


#6 Villanova vs. #11 Saint Mary’s NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Pick

  • Spread: Villanova -4
  • Over/Under: 129.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

Villanova is one of the most 3-point-reliant teams in the nation. That’s nothing new for the Cats under Jay Wright in recent years, but their 3-point frequency has ticked up significantly this season. In fact, only two other teams in college basketball shot more 3’s per field goal attempt.

That could spell trouble against a Saint Mary’s defense that has always emphasized limiting the 3-pointer under Randy Bennett, especially late in the shot clock. That’s when Villanova usually gets its best looks by making the extra pass.

Saint Mary’s allows opponents to shoot just 31.8% from deep, which ranks in the top 50 nationally. More importantly, the Gaels have allowed an opponent 3-point rate of 31.8% — the ninth-lowest in the country and second-lowest among teams in the NCAA Tournament field.

Besides its 3-point reliance, the other thing that sticks out when you look at Villanova’s profile is its pace. The Wildcats are in no rush on the offensive end, ranking 339th in Average Possession Length.

And Saint Mary’s is even more methodical on the offensive end, ranking 350th in that category. In a matchup of two pure snails, I think the under holds value especially since both defenses match up fairly well.

With a such slow pace expected, grabbing the points with Saint Mary’s becomes even more valuable.

THE PICK: St. Mary’s +4 (I wouldn’t play below +4)


#8 Syracuse vs. #9 Baylor NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Pick

  • Spread: Syracuse -1.5
  • Over/Under: 130
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

This is one of the most intriguing first-round matchups because of each team’s respective defensive scheme.

There are only eight teams in the entire field that ran a zone defense at least 30% of the time during the regular season. Baylor and Syracuse were two of them — although Syracuse did so with much more regularity and the two zones are drastically different schematically.

Despite the drastic differences between the two zones, shooting will still matter. And the Bears are the far superior 3-point shooting team.

While their season-long 34.0% 3-point shooting doesn’t look that impressive, their percentage during Big 12 does. Baylor shot 37.3% during conference play, which led the league.

Syracuse shot just 33.0% from 3-point range (244th in NCAA). And unlike Baylor, it didn’t improve much as the season progressed. The Orange shot only marginally better during ACC play at 33.8%.

When it comes to perimeter shooting, Baylor has the edge, which is key against any zone. Just look at these teams’ respective zone offenses.

Syracuse scored just 0.832 points per possession in its zone offense, which ranks in the 16th-percentile nationally (per Synergy). It has one of the five-worst zone offenses in the entire tourney field.

Conversely, Baylor has been much more successful in its zone offense. The Bears scored a much higher 0.979 against opposing zones, which ranks inside the top 100 in the country.

The Orange will also be hurt by the absence of point guard Frank Howard, who was suspended for violating athletic department policy.

In a game that I make a true coin flip, I’ll take the points with the better zone offense and superior rebounding team.

THE PICK: Baylor +1.5

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