NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks & Betting Preview: Stuckey’s Re-Seeded Field & Sweet 16 Predictions
Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images. Pictured: Kameron McGusty (Miami)
And then there were 16. We didn’t see a ton of upsets over the first two rounds, which means we have a bunch of mouth-watering matchups on paper, especially on Thursday.
However, for only the third time in NCAA Tournament history, we will have a No. 15 seed in the Sweet 16, as Saint Peter’s joins Oral Roberts from last year and Florida Gulf Coast back in 2013. For what it’s worth, both of those previous No. 15 seeds lost outright but covered in this round.
Just for kicks, I re-seeded the field based on my updated power ratings through last weekend. Here are those by seed line in order of rating:
- 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Arizona, Houston, Kansas
- 2 seeds: Villanova, Purdue, Duke, UCLA
- 3 seeds: Texas Tech, North Carolina, Arkansas, Michigan
- 4 seeds: Providence, Miami (FL), Iowa State, Saint Peter’s
If we did re-seed the field and play games based on the above, the only two current matchups that would still persist are Kansas-Providence and Villanova-Michigan. We’d also have four days of talking about Duke-North Carolina.
Now, enough hypothetical matchups, let’s get into the actual showdowns from a betting perspective.
Below you will find quick previews for each of the eight Sweet 16 games through the lens of what I think is the most critical matchup factor.
Lines are extremely tight during this time of the year, so most of these outcomes and spreads will be decided by shooting variance, coaching adjustments and matchups.
(4) Arkansas vs. (1) Gonzaga -8.5 | O/U: 155
Thursday, 7:09 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Factor: JD Notae
This isn’t a great matchup for Arkansas in many aspects on paper. The Razorbacks want to force opponents into turnovers and get to the free throw line at a high frequency.
However, Gonzaga ranks in the top-30 in both turnover and defensive foul rate. The Hogs also don’t feature an elite pick-and-roll attack, which Gonzaga’s defense can struggle with.
Arkansas probably needs a huge game from Notae to have a shot at the upset. He’s been slumping a bit from a scoring perspective of late, but is capable of going for 30 on any given night.
That also means he must stay out of foul trouble, while potentially creating some havoc on the defensive end. That’s a fine line, considering foul trouble has periodically troubled the ultra-aggressive guard. Just for context: he had eight steals against New Mexico State in the previous round.
The Razorbacks must also compete on the glass. They are not a great 3-point shooting team (314th) and likely won’t score at an efficient level at the rim on first-shot opportunities.
That makes the offensive glass absolutely paramount for a path to points and potential foul trouble for Gonzaga’s elite bigs. Grabbing offensive boards can also help keep Gonzaga’s offense out of transition, where it is absolutely lethal.
Arkansas also has to find a way to limit Gonzaga’s second-chance points. It’s hard enough to stop Mark Few’s bunch without second looks.
Fortunately, Arkansas is a strong defensive rebounding team. Still, unless Notae has a big night, or Stanley Umude can hit something like six 3s — as he did in two games this year — it’s hard to envision the Razorbacks pulling off this upset.
Betting Take: Lean Gonzaga
(11) Michigan vs. (2) Villanova -5 | O/U: 135
Thursday, 7:29 p.m. ET on TBS
Key Factor: Michigan PnR Defense
Villanova runs pick-and-roll at a top-15 rate in the country and executes at an elite level, grading out in the 97th percentile
That could be problematic for a Michigan perimeter defense that has struggled to defend that action this season, ranking in just the seventh percentile nationally against ball handlers in pick-and-roll.
Meanwhile, Villanova has had much more success defending those sets, which is also critical against Michigan.
Maybe Hunter Dickinson can dominate enough in the post — with his substantial size advantage — to compensate for some of the potential Michigan defensive issues in this matchup.
If not, the Wildcats should advance to the Elite Eight.
Keep in mind that if this is close late, Villanova could put Michigan away (and cover) at the free throw line, where it seemingly never misses, especially in the clutch.
Betting Take: Lean Villanova
(2) Duke vs. (3) Texas Tech -1 | O/U: 137
Thursday, 9:39 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Factor: Duke 3P Shooting
Despite a significant talent edge, Duke might find offense hard to come by against an elite Texas Tech defense that now ranks first in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom. The Red Raiders just aren’t going to let teams get much in the paint or at the rim with their no-middle defense.
Considering Duke also doesn’t turn teams over (309th), and Texas Tech can get after it on the offensive glass (40th), transition opportunities might also be few and far between for the Dookies.
Plus, Mark Adams’ bunch is excellent (97th percentile) in transition defensively, which is critical against the Blue Devils (their athleticism shines in the open floor).
That means, like most teams against TTU, Duke will likely have to rely on isolation sets and outside shooting to sustain offense in this matchup.
For the season, Texas Tech has allowed the 15th-highest opposing 3-point attempt rate in the country. Duke does own a top-30 3-point percentage, so the capability is certainly there.
If the 3s are falling, Duke can set its defense against a Texas Tech offense that can go through sustained droughts in the half-court.
However, if the outside shots aren’t falling, that could lead to potential transition opportunities for a Texas Tech offense that actually ranks in the 97th percentile in that category compared to only the 57th percentile in the half-court.
That could serve as a path to success against a Duke defense that ranks in just the 31st percentile in transition vs. the 85th percentile in the half-court.
Betting Take: Under
(5) Houston vs. (1) Arizona -1.5 | O/U 145.5
Thursday, 9:59 p.m. ET on TBS
Key Factor: Houston’s Offensive Rebounding
Coming into the NCAA Tournament, TCU and Houston were tied for the highest offensive rebounding rate in the country. After misses, both teams crash the glass relentlessly from all areas of the court.
Well, Arizona just played TCU in a game where the Horned Frogs grabbed an astonishing 20 offensive rebounds, which almost helped them pull off the upset as a double-digit underdog. That has to be a concern once again vs. the Cougars, who have that same ability.
Plus, if Houston is either making shots and/or grabbing every offensive rebound, that will keep Arizona from getting out in transition, where the Wildcats are nearly unstoppable.
That will in turn keep this as more of a half-court battle, which clearly favors Houston. This is a pure pace clash between one of the fastest teams in the country (Arizona) vs. one of the slowest (Houston).
I personally think Arizona will adjust and go with a bigger lineup against Houston. If that scenario plays out, that would lend itself to the under. Arizona won’t be as potent in transition, and Houston won’t get as many offensive rebounds.
Betting Take: Under
(15) Saint Peter’s vs. (3) Purdue -12.5 | O/U: 136
Friday, 7:09 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Factor: Purdue Free Throws
Hopefully, we don’t have to see Purdue go to the free throw line almost 50 times in this one as we did against Texas in the second round. However, prepare yourself to see quite a few trips for one of the best offenses in the country. The Boilers work through the post at the second-highest clip in D-I.
Due in large part to its sheer size on the interior, Purdue gets to the line at a top-15 rate nationally. That could be problematic for a Saint Peter’s pressure defense that ranks 348th in foul rate.
Additionally, Purdue doesn’t foul on the defensive end, as it features the sixth-lowest foul rate in the country.
That could spell bad news for a Peacocks offense that relies on getting to the line (19th in free throw rate). SPU also excels on the offensive glass (64th), but Purdue ranks 33rd nationally in defensive rebounding rate.
Saint Peter’s might be in trouble regardless, but it almost has no chance if this is called with a tight whistle.
Betting Take: Pass
(4) Providence vs. (1) Kansas -7.5 | O/U: 141.5
Friday, 7:29 p.m. ET on TBS
Key Factor: Kansas Transition Offense
Providence ranks in the 13th percentile in points per possession allowed in transition, per Synergy. That could spell doom if Kansas can get out in transition at a high clip.
For the season, the Jayhawks have scored 1.13 points per possession in transition, which puts them in the 90th percentile nationally. And with Remy Martin back in the mix, Bill Self’s team has another deadly guard to push when provided with the opportunity.
The Friars can compete in the half-court on both ends, but if the shots aren’t falling and they aren’t getting offensive rebounds, Kansas should put up points in a hurry.
This one could simply come down to which team can better control the pace of the game. Kansas wants to play up-tempo, while Providence wants to go much slower.
Betting Take: Providence +7.5
(8) North Carolina vs. (4) UCLA -2.5 | O/U: 141.5
Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Factor: UNC 3P Shooting
The UCLA half-court defense can suffocate opponents with its length. The way to attack this defense for the past two seasons has been with catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Per ShotQuality, UCLA’s defense ranks 294th in points per possession allowed on those opportunities.
UNC could have some success in this area. The Heels rank 68th in ShotQuality PPP on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and 41st overall in 3P percentage.
Meanwhile, the UNC 3P defense hasn’t been strong in its own right, but it will be going up against a UCLA offense that sits outside the top-300 in 3P attempt rate.
The Heels also don’t turn teams over, but UCLA doesn’t turn the ball over against anybody, which in a way negates that strength in this particular matchup.
Another area to watch is UNC’s defensive rebounding ability. The Heels rank second nationally in that category. That’s key for two reasons:
- They can neutralize UCLA on the offensive glass, which is a strength of the Bruins.
- They can create transition opportunities where they could thrive against a UCLA defense that ranks outside the top-300 in transition defense.
If UNC is hitting 3s and getting out in transition off of the defensive glass, I see the Heels pulling off the mini-upset, especially if Jaime Jaquez Jr. isn’t 100% healthy.
Betting Take: UNC +2.5
(11) Iowa State vs. (10) Miami (FL) -2.5 | O/U: 133
Friday, 9:59 p.m. ET on TBS
Key Factor: Turnovers
Iowa State’s half-court offense is not pretty (20th percentile). The Cyclones need to get out in transition to score and can do so by forcing turnovers with their high-pressure defense. For the season, Iowa State ranks fourth in turnover percentage.
However, that might not work against a Miami (FL) team that has multiple ball-handlers on the court at all times. The Canes — who ranked sixth in turnover rate — are as equipped as any team in the country to handle heavy pressure, and should make Iowa State pay for its aggression on the perimeter.
It’s actually Miami that might have much more success creating turnovers in this matchup. That was essentially the difference in the victory over USC, as the Hurricanes forced 18 turnovers and only coughed it up three times.
For the season, the Canes’ defense ranks 60th in turnover percentage. They may feast off of an Iowa State offense that ranks 294th in turnover percentage.
That could lead to easy Miami buckets when you consider the Canes have the most efficient transition offense in the country, per ShotQuality. And while Iowa State has a solid transition defense, it’s much better in the half-court.
Miami’s weakness all year has been interior defense and rebounding, but that’s not much of a concern against the Clones. This is a good matchup for Miami.
Betting Take: Miami ML
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