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NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: Thursday’s Sweet 16 Best Bets

NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: Thursday’s Sweet 16 Best Bets article feature image

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Gaffney (FAU)

After three days without games, the NCAA tournament is back on Thursday evening with four Sweet 16 matchups.

Our staff is diving into the slate to provide their seven best bets, including three for FAU vs. Tennessee.

So, get the top NCAA tournament odds, best bets and picks for Thursday’s Sweet 16 games.

7 Thursday NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Best Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

6:30 p.m. ET
Michigan State -1.5
7:15 p.m. ET
Over 139.5
7:15 p.m. ET
UConn -4
9 p.m. ET
Under 129.5
9 p.m. ET
FAU +5.5
9 p.m. ET
FAU +5.5
9:45 p.m. ET
UCLA -1.5
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.

Michigan State vs. Kansas State

Thursday, March 23
6:30 p.m. ET
Michigan State -1.5

By Mike McNamara

Tom Izzo is at it again, and this Sparty team looks poised for another one of his infamous Final Four runs.

I’m buying the Michigan State hype in large part because I trust its backcourt more than any other team in this region.

Whether it be Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard or Jaden Akins, all three have shown the ability to knock down contested shots in crunch time.

Sparty will have its hands full going up against the duo of Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, but Izzo’s defense has held serve thus far in this tournament against some dynamic talents like USC’s Boogie Ellis and Marquette’s Tyler Kolek.

This will be a physical, hard-fought game throughout, but the defensive improvement shown by the Spartans — as well as the continued growth of Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper — should be difference-makers.

Finally, when the game is on the line late in March, I’m not betting against Izzo.

Give me Michigan State as a short favorite at the Garden.

Pick: Michigan State -1.5 (Play to -2)

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Arkansas vs. UConn

Thursday, March 23
7:15 p.m. ET
Over 139.5

By D.J. James

The Arkansas Razorbacks run at the 49th-fastest Adjusted Tempo in the country, per KenPom, averaging around 17 seconds per possession on both offense and defense.

They now pair up with the UConn Huskies.

Although the Huskies rank 213th in Adjusted Tempo, they average 17.1 seconds per possession on defense.

UConn ranks 205th in free-throw attempt rate on offense, but it ranks even worse defensively at 319th, meaning it fouls often.

Arkansas ranks 23rd in offensive free-throw attempt rate and 333rd defensively. Both teams should allow the other to get to the strike, and free throws should be a common occurrence.

Both of these teams own a top-15 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per KenPom. However, they have their issues.

For example, Arkansas ranks 304th in Open 3 Rate, per ShotQuality, while UConn shoots 36.2% from deep, with nearly 35% of its total points coming from beyond the arc. The Huskies will get plenty of points from deep.

UConn doesn’t force many turnovers, so it will likely let the Razorbacks play out many of their possessions, where they work the ball inside.

Yes, UConn ranks 10th in defense at the rim, per ShotQuality, but Arkansas ranks 25th offensively. The Hogs should have their chances in close, and if not, they will probably draw a foul.

Lastly, UConn is the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country, while Arkansas ranks 138th defensively in this regard. Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan and Andre Jackson Jr. should be able to manufacture second-chance buckets easily.

With both teams having a path to points, I’ll take the over.

Pick: Over 139.5 (Play to 140.5)

UConn -4

By BJ Cunningham

Arkansas is elite at three things offensively. It’s top-40 in the country in PPP at the rim and in transition, and it gets to the free-throw line at an incredibly high rate.

However, it’s below-average at everything else.

UConn ranks 319th in free-throw rate allowed, but is 10th in defending at the rim and 21st in PPP allowed in transition.

Defensively, Arkansas has been elite at defending the 3-point line in the worst 3-point shooting conference in the country. Kansas attempted just 13 3s against the Hogs in the second round, while Illinois had eight open triples in the first round. Still, the Illini went just 6-of-22 from beyond the arc.

UConn is a high-volume 3-point shooting team and has shot the ball well from deep this season, hitting over 36%. The Huskies got hot from deep against Saint Mary’s, which ultimately allowed them to prevail.

A lot of 3-point shots means a lot of long rebounds, and UConn is second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. Arkansas has allowed just 10 total offensive rebounds this tournament, but the Razorbacks ranked outside the top 100 in defensive rebounding percentage entering the tournament.

I think the run ends here for Arkansas, and I like UConn at -4.

Florida Atlantic vs. Tennessee

Thursday, March 23
9 p.m. ET
Under 129.5

By Patrick Strollo

Tennessee has been a fickle team this season, primarily on offense. But the constant — and the reason it’s in the Sweet 16 — is its outstanding defense.

The Volunteers own the best defense in the nation, ranking first nationally in efficiency, per KenPom, and are third in the nation in points allowed, giving up just 57.8 per game.

Tennessee plays a very physical style of basketball, relying on man-to-man defense and its size to shut down opposing offenses.

In the second round, Tennessee muscled its way to a commanding 65-52 victory over Duke. With the defense on full display, Tennessee put up a shutdown performance.

In addition to their physicality, the Vols play superb 3-point defense, ranking first in the nation in the metric. They allow opposing offenses to sink just 26.4% of their attempts.

This is a full percentage point better than the second-best team (Houston) and should be a situational disadvantage for a Florida Atlantic squad that shoots from beyond the arc on 43.8% of its field goal attempts.

The Volunteers have used their size and physicality to be a force on the offensive glass this season, as well. They rank sixth in the nation in offensive rebound rate (36.4%) and have leveraged their success there to cover up average shooting.

Florida Atlantic also has a formidable defense with an excellent effective field goal percentage. The Owls rank 15th in the nation by allowing opposing teams to hit just 46.4% of attempts.

The Owls’ strong defense will be enough of an issue for a Volunteers offense that ranks 195th in effective field goal percentage on offense.

This is a low number, but I don’t think that should be the reason for shying away from this game.

The Tennessee defense is elite and won’t have an issue slowing down Florida Atlantic, especially from downtown.

The converse is that Florida Atlantic will be able to do enough on defense to stymie the Volunteers’ average shooting.

I’m projecting the total for this game at 127, and I recommend playing the under at 128.5 or higher.

Pick: Under 129.5 (Play to 128.5)

FAU +5.5

By Charlie DiSturco

Tennessee has thrived off physicality and defense all season, and when the world seemed to be on Duke in the Round of 32, the Vols breezed by en route to a second-straight win.

But one could argue this Florida Atlantic team poses more issues than Louisiana or Duke did.

The Owls’ spread offense creates plenty of 3-point opportunities, and they’re a top-50 offense from the perimeter. FAU has four players shooting 37.3% or better from deep, it doesn’t turn the ball over and it’s inside the top 100 in offensive rebounding rate.

This is the team with the physicality to match Tennessee and the offense to spread it thin.

The Vols’ offense has not been great — they’ve struggled to score without Zakai Zeigler — and rank near the 200 mark in eFG% and turnover rate. They can become stagnant at times, and due to their slow pace, they’re vulnerable for upsets.

As my colleague and friend, Stuckey, pointed out on our Big Bets on Campus show today, Tennessee has struggled against teams that shoot the 3-ball well. While the Vols are No. 1 in 3-point defense, it’s because the SEC can’t shoot from the perimeter as a whole.

Missouri swept the season series against Tennessee and currently ranks inside the top 100 in 3-point percentage. Kentucky had no issues either, and it’s around the 150 mark.

Tennessee will try to turn this into a low-scoring grind of a game where possessions are limited.

But FAU is more than capable of handling the athletic and physical nature of the Vols — it beat Memphis in the Round of 64 and North Texas twice this season — and should remain within striking distance wire-to-wire.

This is a deep Florida Atlantic team that also ranks 24th in minutes continuity. The Owls have one of the most well-rounded offenses remaining in the tournament — one that’s built to spread Tennessee thin and take the Vols down — and shouldn’t be slept on any longer.

Don’t be surprised to see the Owls upset Tennessee and even make a run at winning what has been the craziest region of the tournament thus far.

FAU +5.5

By Brett Pund

I’m not a big believer in this Tennessee team, and I will be looking to fade it again in its Sweet 16 matchup against Florida Atlantic.

Yes, the Volunteers were impressive defensively against Duke, but it required a set of referees that allowed a very physical contest.

I also feel the Vols’ defensive metrics are inflated due to the poor offensive teams in the SEC.

The Owls come into this game ranked in the top 50 in AdjO, effective field goal percentage, 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage, according to Bart Torvik, and the only team even close to this in the SEC was Missouri.

Well, the Tigers won both meetings against Tennessee and averaged 82.5 points per game in those victories.

On offense, head coach Rick Barnes’ team is second in the country in assists per made field goal, which means it does an excellent job moving the ball and running offensive sets.

However, FAU is second in the nation defensively in fewest assists per made basket, forcing opponents into a lot of scramble plays or individual basketball.

Tennessee doesn’t have the talent or shooting to score one-on-one or off the dribble, especially without Zeigler. If the refs also have a tighter whistle, the Vols could be in trouble here on both ends of the floor.

This is also a huge shift in the betting market for the Volunteers, who were 3-point underdogs against the Blue Devils.

My opinion hasn’t changed this much after one good performance, so give me FAU in a game the Owls could win outright.

Pick: FAU +5.5 (Play to +4.5)

Gonzaga vs. UCLA

Thursday, March 23
9:45 p.m. ET
UCLA -1.5

By Tanner McGrath

No Jaylen Clark, no David Singleton, no Adem Bona, and no problem for UCLA tonight. Although there’s still an outside chance that Bona and Singleton play, I’m comfortable laying the points with UCLA either way.

UCLA can hang with the Zags’ offense. The Bruins are an elite transition defense (98th percentile in PPP allowed, per Synergy) and can dictate the pace, forcing the Zags into more awkward half-court sets.

Additionally, the Bruins have a solid interior defense, especially now that Bona has developed into an elite rim protector. The Zags won’t get everything they want at the rim.

Meanwhile, expect a non-stop attack of Drew Timme in space from Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. pick-and-roll sets. Jaquez will take Timme off the dribble as the roll man or as the pop man and likely score at will.

In other words, I don’t expect the Zags’ very underwhelming defense to hang with UCLA’s still-potent offense. Jaquez is too good of a shot-maker.

This game will be a slugfest between two powerhouses. But ultimately, the Bruins have certain advantages, and I trust the better two-way team.

I’ll lay the points with Mick Cronin’s squad up to -2 (-110).

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