NCAA Tournament Odds & Picks: Our Best Bets for Sunday, Including West Virginia vs. Syracuse & Villanova vs. North Texas (March 21)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Javion Hamlet.
The Round of 64 was a fantastic experience from a fan and bettor’s perspective. We had waited so long for more March Madness, and its return proved to be indescribable.
But now, we’re onto the second round with trips to the Sweet 16 on the line.
As the field gets whittled down, our staff of college basketball writers is homing in on the matchups providing the most betting value,
Check out each individual pick for each of those three games, and feel free to use the table below to navigate to a game instantly.
College Basketball Odds & Picks
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Note: All photos below are via Getty Images.
(3) West Virginia vs. (11) Syracuse
By Mike Randle
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s team is again peaking in March.
The Orange have won four of their past five games, with their only loss coming on a Reece Beekman 3-pointer at the buzzer in the ACC Tournament.
The Syracuse zone stifled a good offensive team in San Diego State in the opening round, and it cruised to a 78-62 win. The Aztecs entered that game shooting 37% from 3-point range, 47th-best in the country. The Orange will now face a West Virginia team that has become overly reliant on the 3-point shot to score.
The Mountaineers generated 31.2% of their conference points from beyond the arc and ranked dead last in 2-point efficiency at only 45.7%. The 3-point shooting regression is coming, and if that happens against Syracuse, the Mountaineers are in trouble.
West Virginia’s defense is also not at its normal level of efficiency. The Mountaineers ranked only seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency in conference play (KenPom). This includes allowing Big 12 opponents to shoot 53.8% from inside the arc (third-worst).
Betting against Buddy Boeheim seems too risky right now. The 6-foot-6 junior is shooting an obscene 60% (18-of-30) from 3-point range over the last three games. Sophomore Quincy Guerrier (14 PPG) and Alan Griffin (14.1 PPG) only scored three points in the win over San Diego State. If they stay out of foul trouble, the Mountaineers defense will be too spread out to limit this Syracuse offense.
I’m banking on WVU shooting regression and a hot Syracuse offense against a less-efficient-than-normal Mountaineers defense.
I’ll take Syracuse +4 and would take it down to Syracuse +3.5.
(2) Houston vs. (10) Rutgers
I cautiously think this is the best number on a slate that doesn’t include too many enticing picks. These are two slow-tempo teams that should lead to a low-scoring affair.
Rutgers has played just one regulation game with more than 70 possessions since Jan. 2. Houston has played two such games against Division I opponents all season. Thanks to some hot shooting, eight of Houston’s last 11 games have gone over the total, leaving an expectation for some regression.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is one of the worst outside shooting teams left in the tournament. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights rank 15th in the nation in percentage of points scored on 2-point baskets. That plays right into Houston’s hands, with the Cougars allowing the fourth-lowest 2-point percentage in college basketball.
These are two methodical, grinding teams that should produce a slog of a game. I’d love this number if it crept up toward 135, but we’ll take what we can get and go under here.
(5) Villanova vs. (13) North Texas
North Texas pulled off a stunner in Round 1 against Purdue, but don’t get fooled because the Mean Green are legit.
Their offense isn’t what you would consider elite (ranked 100 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom), but they can score inside effectively.
North Texas shot over 55% from 2-point range during conference play and shot a whopping 66.3% on shot attempts at the rim, per Hoop-Math. That will match up well with Villanova, which struggles to defend the paint, allowing 57.1% on shots at the rim.
However, how teams really beat Villanova’s defense is in transition. The Wildcats are allowing an effective field goal percentage of 61% on shot attempts in transition, so the Mean Green may have to come out of their usual slow-paced shell to take advantage of the Wildcats’ weakness.
Javion Hamlet put on an absolute show against Purdue, dropping 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds as the Boilermakers did not have a guard who could match up with him. With Collin Gillespie out for Villanova, I don’t think there’s another guard on the Cats’ roster who can lock him down.
Villanova is a slow-paced team just like North Texas, but the Wildcats truly live and die by the 3-point shot. Villanova attempts 3s on 44.7% of its field goal attempts and makes over 35% of them.
However, North Texas is an excellent perimeter defense, allowing only 31.5% from deep this season. They held Purdue to just 9-of-30 from 3-point range, so I think Villanova is going to have some struggles from beyond the arc.
Villanova isn’t going to be able to score inside on North Texas either, as the Mean Green are 13th nationally in 2-point percentage allowed, per KenPom.
North Texas also allows the 21st-lowest effective field goal percentage in transition to its opponents, so Villanova is going to have a difficult time effectively scoring tonight.
With Collin Gillespie out, I have Villanova projected as a -3.38 favorite, so I think there’s some value on the Mean Green at +6.5.