NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: 6 Best Bets for Friday’s Sweet 16 Games
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tyrese Hunter (Texas)
Thursday featured a thrilling overtime game between Michigan State and Kansas State and a wild ending to the Gonzaga-UCLA affair.
While Thursday evening will be tough to beat from a pure entertainment standpoint, there’s still plenty of betting value on the board on Friday.
With that in mind, our staff is offering up their best bets for Friday’s Sweet 16 games, including Xavier vs. Texas.
Friday’s 6 Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Friday’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet 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.|
San Diego State vs. Alabama
Alabama has breezed by two relatively easy opponents. Maryland was a great matchup for the Tide, but now they better be ready for an incredibly physical game against San Diego State.
The Aztecs survived against Charleston and then manhandled Furman in the second round, and the common theme between those two games has been San Diego State’s defense.
For the season, the Aztecs are fifth in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
This is also a fascinating tempo clash because if you look at average possession length, Alabama is at 15.3 seconds — sixth fastest in the country — while San Diego State is 18.5 seconds on defense — that’s 346th in the country.
The game against Charleston — which is a fast-paced team — was played at a 69-possession pace, which is right in the middle between the two tempos. But during Mountain West play, New Mexico was the only team to push San Diego State over the 70-possession pace mark in a non-overtime game.
Alabama’s last game against Maryland was played at 67-possession pace, and all three of its games in the SEC Tournament were either played at or below the 70-possession pace mark.
Alabama is obviously one of the best offenses in the country and it puts an absolute premium on only taking 3-pointers or shots at the rim. Per ShotQuality, 91% of the Tide’s field goal attempts are coming either at the rim or behind the arc, which is the second-highest rate in the country.
So, by nature, it’s a top-10 3-point rate team, but it’s only hitting a little over 34% on the season.
San Diego State is only allowing 28.7% from beyond the arc this season, which is the fourth-best mark in the country.
Offensively, the Aztecs are a high frequency mid-range and high frequency post-up team and they get to the free-throw line at a top-100 rate. Alabama has been very average defending in the mid-range and is actually due for negative regression.
As per ShotQuality, the Tide have allowed 32% from the mid-range, but were expected to allow 38%. The Tide are also 290th in the country in defending post-up sets and 222nd in free-throw rate allowed.
So, I like San Diego State to slow this pace down to below 70 possessions, keep this in the half-court and muck up this game. Give me the Aztecs +7.5.
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By D.J. James
Alabama is about to meet its defensive match in the Sweet 16.
San Diego State is a phenomenal defensive team that ranks fourth in 3-point rate at 28.7%. For reference, Alabama ranks third at 28.1%. Bama also ranks eighth in 3-point attempt percentage, so this is almost its entire offense outside of free throws.
The difference between these two is Alabama ranks 242nd in Open 3 Rate, while the Aztecs rank eighth. This is crucial because even though the Aztecs yield a 40.5% 3-point attempt percentage defensively, they don’t give up easy 3s.
In addition, Alabama struggles to finish at the rim, ranking 124th. The Aztecs rank 21st, so although the Crimson Tide are better defending the rim (24th vs. 177th), SDSU gets more of its points inside.
As far at the strike goes, Bama owns a 36.9% free-throw attempt rate against SDSU’s 33.9% mark. The issue is the Tide allow a 32.7% free-throw attempt rate against SDSU’s 29.7%.
Finally, Bama ranks 25th in offensive rebounding and 141st defensively. SDSU sits 82nd and 52nd, respectively. This means the Aztecs have a more balanced rebounding game and should steal away some of the offensive boards Alabama is used to grabbing.
This should be a defensive-focused game. Plus, SDSU ranks 346th in defensive possession length, per KenPom, so fewer Tide possessions should allow the Aztecs to stay within striking distance.
By Brett Pund
If you’ve watched Alabama over the last month, the No. 1 overall seed has started a lot of games slowly. I think San Diego State would be more than happy if that happened again in this Sweet 16 matchup.
In fact, this same bet would have cashed in five of the last six contests for the Crimson Tide.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs are also been accustomed to a slower tempo in the opening period, with only one game over their last 10 finishing with more than 64 points in the first half.
Everyone is also talking about how great SDSU is defensively, but I’m not so sure its offense will be able to score against this elite Alabama defense.
On the year, the Tide rank in the top five in AdjD (3rd), effective field goal percentage (1st) and opponent 2-point (1st) and 3-point shooting (3rd), according to Bart Torvik.
Both squads also rank inside the top 75 in the nation in first-half scoring defense, which plays into the trends of many low-scoring opening periods in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
San Diego State knows its path to success is slowing the game down and keeping Alabama out of transition, and I think this will fully be on display in the first half.
Pick: 1H Under 64 (Play to 63)
Princeton vs. Creighton
The No. 6 seed Creighton Bluejays will face the No. 15 seed Princeton Tigers this evening in Louisville, Kentucky, for the penultimate game of the Sweet 16.
Creighton finds itself with the most favorable matchup of the Sweet 16, facing a Princeton team that ranks 91st in KenPom’s national rankings. Princeton’s ranking makes it the lowest-ranked remaining team in the tournament.
After getting through NC State and Baylor in the opening rounds, the Bluejays should be poised to take advantage of this favorable matchup, especially on five days of rest.
The tale of the tape doesn’t spin a favorable narrative for Princeton, with the Tigers being outmatched in nearly every meaningful metric heading into this game.
Creighton is the 12th-ranked team in KenPom’s ratings with an adjusted efficiency margin of +21.62. A very balanced team, the Bluejays rank 22nd and 14th nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.
Princeton has an adjusted efficiency margin of +8.08, comprising offensive and defensive efficiency rankings of 100th and 96th, respectively.
Despite a lack of height, Princeton has rebounded its way to the Sweet 16, but it has also benefited tremendously from both Arizona and Missouri having poor shooting performances.
The player to watch tonight for the Bluejays is Ryan Kalkbrenner. A junior center, Kalkbrenner is a force on defense. He’s a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and was recognized as the 2023 National Defensive Player of the Year by the Field of 68.
Kalkbrenner also carries weight on offense, shooting an eye popping 70.6% from the field this season, which puts him atop the nation in that metric.
The rest of the Bluejays have shot very well this season, going 46.7% from the floor, 35.8% from beyond the arc and 78% from the line. Look for Creighton’s shooting to be the differentiator tonight.
My model is projecting Creighton as 11-point favorites. I like laying the chalk here given Creighton’s statistical and height advantages. Princeton has had a nice run to this point, but I expect the Bluejays to shoot well enough to put an end to the Cinderella story.
Pick: Creighton -9.5 (Play to -10.5)
McDermott loves to get his teams off to hot starts. Over the last four seasons, the Bluejays are 70-54-1 ATS before the break.
Just this season, Creighton is 18-10 ATS in the first half. In their last outing against Baylor, the Jays hopped out to a 10-point lead over the first 20 minutes as an underdog.
Here as the favorite, I expect more of the same. This game will be decided on the interior by Creighton center Kalkbrenner and Princeton big man Tosan Evbuomwan. McDermott will look for ways to get Evbuomwan out of position, creating easy looks for Kalkbrenner around the rim.
With Creighton’s athletic advantages elsewhere on the court, the Jays should be able to score early and often, regardless of the outside shooting variance that has hurt them at times this year.
Princeton may be able to keep this game close in the long run, but expect Creighton’s offense to hit the ground running and develop a lead.
Pick: Creighton 1H -5
Xavier vs. Texas
I don’t believe in Xavier post-Zach Freemantle. While the Musketeers continued to rally without him, their Sweet 16 run hasn’t been the most impressive.
Xavier looked out of sorts against Kennesaw State’s matchup zone defense. And while the Musketeers beat Pitt by 11, ShotQuality graded the victory as just a three-point win.
So, I’m looking to capitalize on my low Xavier power ranking and grab Texas in this battle — but not only because I’m fading Xavier but also because I’m looking to bet Texas.
The Longhorns feature one of the most talented two-way rosters left in the tournament, with aggressive shotmakers and on-ball defenders.
With Marcus Carr creating on-ball and Timmy Allen and Sir’Jabari Rice creating off him on the wings, the Texas offense is tough to stop. And one area where the Longhorns excel is in the mid-range, as every Longhorn can make tough mid-range shots.
Meanwhile, Xavier is 317th in mid-range PPP allowed, per ShotQuality. Xavier can protect the rim and run shooters off the perimeter, but the Musketeers get shelled by mid-range creators.
And I wish Souley Boum and Colby Jones luck, as they’ll need to create shots against Texas’ lengthy and aggressive defenders for Xavier to win this one.
I’m betting it won’t happen and taking Texas at -4.5 or better.
Pick: Texas -4 (Play to -4.5)
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