March Madness Picks, Odds & Predictions: Stuckey’s Early Sweet 16 Betting Preview (Saturday, March 27)
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images. Pictured: DeJon Jarreau.
If all of the seeds held serve over the first two rounds, five of the teams playing on Saturday would not be here. However, it has been a wild NCAA Tournament full of upsets so far, so we will have three double-digit seeds in action.
For reference, double-digit seeds have gone 15-15-1 against the spread in the Sweet 16 since 2005, per Action Labs. We have seen four double-digit seeds reach the Final Four over that span, including:
- (11) George Mason in 2006
- (11) VCU in 2011
- (10) Syracuse in 2016
- (11) Loyola Chicago in 2018
Oral Roberts will become only the fifth team seeded 13 or lower to reach this point since 2005. The previous four all lost outright but went 2-2 ATS.
Saturday NCAA Tournament Picks
So, we are basically seeing coin flips ATS in a very limited sample size. My primary point is don’t fall for any narratives surrounding these double-digit seeds in the second weekend.
As usual, it will all come down to the matchups and value of the number.
To sum up the chaos, instead of the highly-anticipated Oklahoma State-Illinois Sweet 16 matchup, we have Loyola Chicago-Oregon State.
I’ll start there and then get to the other three Saturday games from a betting perspective.
Keep in mind that Florida State and Syracuse may benefit from getting to play in the same arena for the second time this round against opponents that have yet to play in that respective arena. Baylor will also get to play in Hinkle Fieldhouse for a second time — although Villanova plays there during the regular season, even if it’s been somewhat of a house of horrors for the Wildcats of late.
(12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola Chicago -6.5 | O/U 125.5
How about this run by the Beavers? They have gone from needing to win the Pac-12 conference tournament (which looks like an even more impressive feat after the performance of the league so far this tourney) to now into the Sweet 16.
The Beavers, who have won five consecutive must-win games all as underdogs of at least five points, are an experienced team with some decent interior size. However, the offense generally goes as the backcourt of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas goes.
Oregon State grinds it out offensively with plus-ball movement and runs an above-average frequency of its offense through the post. It takes care of the ball well and does a lot of its damage on the offensive boards (105th) and at the foul line. The Beavers get to the line at a top-100 rate and are lights out when they get there (76.7%) as we saw against Oklahoma State when they went 32-of-35 from the charity stripe.
Defensively, head coach Wayne Tinkle will use a myriad of aggressive matchup zones that have stifled opponents from the perimeter. OSU has held teams to just 30.7% (35th nationally) from beyond the arc and contests shots extremely efficiently.
Welcome back to the Sweet 16, Sister Jean. I had some doubts about Loyola Chicago being a top-10 team as some models suggested. It was just much more difficult to rate teams this season with a reduced non-conference schedule. Plus, the Missouri Valley Conference had a down year as a whole, especially compared to the last time we saw Loyola make a deep run in the tournament.
However, I put most of those concerns to rest after the Ramblers dismantled No. 1 seed Illinois from start to finish last weekend. This is one of the most experienced (four senior starters) and well-coached teams in the country.
Crafty big man Cameron Krutwig is a wizard and matchup nightmare in the post. The ball movement and cutting is impeccable, while the defense is elite. I had no hesitation bumping the Ramblers into the top 10 of my power ratings after that comprehensive victory over the Illini.
Cameron Krutwig was on a mission today 😤
19pts | 12reb | 5ast
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2021
This game should be an absolute grinder with two teams that rank outside the top 300 in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom. I’m just not sure how Oregon State scores consistently.
The Beavers rely on getting to the line, crashing the offensive glass and efficiently scoring in transition in the rare times they do. That spells trouble against a Loyola Chicago defense that ranks No. 1 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and excels in all three of those areas:
- The Ramblers do an excellent job of defending without fouling, ranking sixth in FTA/FGA.
- They rank No. 2 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
- They allow the fewest percentage of shots nationally in transition at 15.7%.
Also, Oregon State is not an efficient offense from two or at the rim, ranking outside the top 250 in both. I think its best hope of keeping up here is to continue to shoot at a ridiculously high clip from distance, which I’m not sure it can do against an extremely disciplined and suffocating Loyola perimeter defense.
The regression monster certainly looms for the Beavers, who have enjoyed a great deal of 3-point luck during their five-game winning streak. They have connected on 45-of-107 3s (42.1%), while their opponents have drained just 30-of-119 (25.2%). I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a very poor 3-point performance from the Beavers, who don’t project as an elite outside shooting team.
On the other side of the ball, Loyola has many more avenues to success. The Ramblers didn’t see a ton of zone during the regular season but did get to see many zone looks against Georgia Tech in the first round. Plus, head coach Porter Moser has ample time to prepare here for the unique Oregon State defensive looks.
Krutwig should also find plenty of success in the interior against a vulnerable defense at the rim. Oregon State ranks 238th in 2-point defense and 252nd in field goal percentage at the rim.
And while Loyola rarely gets out in transition (326th), it is an efficiency monster when it does. That spells trouble for an Oregon State team that likes to crash the offensive boards and ranks in the 19th percentile in transition defense, per Synergy.
Bet To Watch
I’m still struggling with how much to upgrade some of these Pac-12 teams after the success they have enjoyed in the tournament.
I don’t want to overreact to one weekend of results, but one has to adjust more rapidly to these tourney results after such a unique regular season. That’s what makes this is a difficult handicap for me.
My raw number comes in right around 6 here, but it’s just not a great matchup on either side of the ball for the Beavers. Also, given some of my uncertainty surrounding the Pac-12, I don’t have much interest in laying 6.5 or 7 in a game with a total of 126. However, if Oregon State has an off-night from 3 (which it’s overdue for), Loyola should win this one comfortably.
I personally think the look here is under 125 (or higher) or the Oregon State team total under.
Target: Under 125 or better | Oregon State Team Total Under.
(5) Villanova vs. (1) Baylor -7 | O/U 142
Death, taxes and Jay Wright in the tournament.
After Villanova lost senior point guard Collin Gillespie for the season, I mistakenly doubted the maestro Wright — who is 16-2 in his past 18 tournament games with two national titles — in the first two rounds. Wright burned me twice as the Wildcats came through with relative ease against Winthrop and North Texas.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was essentially unstoppable, scoring 40 combined points in those two victories. In the first round, he became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks since Dwyane Wade did it for Marquette in the 2003 Elite Eight.
It did also help that Nova shot 15-of-30 from 3 against a North Texas team that I think simply ran out of gas after a crazy two-week stretch of action. That said, Wright did make a very key adjustment defensively on point guard Javion Hamlet after the Mean Green jumped out to a 21-13 lead.
Villanova still has an uber-efficient offense with excellent ball movement and spacing with capable shooters on the perimeter and two talented players on the low block.
In contrast, while versatile, the defense still has major deficiencies both on the perimeter and in the interior.
I also had some doubts about Baylor coming into the tournament. For most of the season, I had Baylor power rated neck-and-neck with Gonzaga as the two overwhelmingly best teams in the country. Depending on the night, it would either be Gonzaga or Baylor that jumped to the top spot.
Then, the Bears were hit extremely hard by COVID-19, which took them out of action for three weeks in February. The effects of that hiatus with a total lack of practice really lingered when they returned to action, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Baylor just looked a step slow.
However, after what I saw in the first two rounds, I think Baylor is very close to the level we saw prior to the COVID-19 issues.
At full strength, the Bears play a suffocating no-middle defense that forces turnovers at the third-highest rate nationally and recovers as well as any team in D-I. They have extreme versatility on the perimeter and usually have great length on the back end to protect the rim.
Offensively, Baylor ranks third in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom. They have an elite backcourt and feature five players in the rotation that shoot at least 39% from 3. You simply can’t key on any one player on the perimeter for a team that leads the nation with an absurd 41.5% 3-point clip.
And when they rarely miss, they relentlessly attack the offensive glass, ranking sixth nationally in that department.
I’m assuming Villanova wants to grind this game to a halt (332nd in Adjusted Tempo) and increase the variance with fewer possessions and plenty of 3-point attempts. The Wildcats do have excellent spacing and move the ball extremely well, but I think they will really miss Gillespie here.
When these teams met in the regular season in Myrtle Beach last year, Gillespie went for 27 points in an 87-78 loss.
The Baylor guards should be able to overwhelm the Villanova backcourt here with its athleticism and length. Plus, Baylor actually has a player in Mark Vital to match up with the on-fire Robinson-Earl.
Villanova’s offense also doesn’t dominate the offensive glass (in part by design) which is one of the areas the aggressive Baylor defense can be exploited.
I also think Baylor’s offense will enjoy quite a bit of success in the half-court or in transition. For the season, Villanova ranks in just the 43rd percentile in the half-court and 29th in transition. Baylor is elite in both. The Wildcats have a suspect perimeter defense that has allowed opponents to attempt 3s at a 40.9% rate (294th) and make them at a 34.9% clip (237th).
That’s a recipe for disaster against the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, especially since Wright can’t game plan to simply take one or two options away.
Baylor, which ranks in the 100th percentile in spot-up offense per Synergy, should feast against a Villanova defense that ranks in the 18th percentile in that department. And it’s not like Villanova has been particularly stout defensively on the interior.
Bet to Watch
Baylor is seemingly back after having plenty of time to get right defensively (and conditioning-wise) after getting a few games under its belt and having a week off before the NCAA Tournament. The Bears can continue that upward swing with another six days off before the Sweet 16.
If we assume Baylor has fully recovered from its COVID-19 pause, I make this line -8.5, so I’d show value in Baylor at -7 or less. However, I do have to leave some room for the possibility that it still might not be there.
After all, it was just two games against two clearly athletically inferior teams in Wisconsin and Hartford.
That caution — mixed with the respect I have for Wright — will likely keep me away from the side.
That said, I do love Baylor as a moneyline parlay piece this weekend. I personally paired the Bears with Alabama. (I will touch on the Alabama-UCLA matchup in a separate preview for Sunday’s games.)
Target: Baylor ML as Parlay Piece .
(15) Oral Roberts vs. (3) Arkansas -11.5 | O/U 158.5
Let’s talk Cinderella as No. 15 seed Oral Roberts has arguably been the best story of the tournament so far.
After upsets over Ohio State and Florida, the Golden Eagles joined Florida Gulf Coast as the only two No. 15 seeds in tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16.
We knew coming into the tournament that Oral Roberts had an absolutely elite offense by every measure. It’s led by the dynamic duo of sophomore guard Max Abmas and junior forward Kevin Obanor.
Abmas — the nation’s leading scorer with in-the-gym range — is averaging over 29 points per game in his last 10 contests.
Meanwhile, Obanor, the most efficient player in the nation in pick-and-pop situations, has dropped 28 and 30 in the tournament so far. Those two are capable of combining for 60-plus on any given night. The rest of the offense is also very well-connected with superb spacing.
The ORU offense scores 0.997 points per possession in the half-court (per Synergy), which only trails Gonzaga among remaining teams in the field.
The Golden Eagles rarely turn it over (15th) and rank 18th in 3-point attempt frequency, which is scary for a team that shoots 38.2% from deep (14th). They also are in the midst of a record-setting year from the free-throw line, where they shoot a nation-leading 82.4%. This team can flat-out score.
The weakness is clearly on the defensive end of the floor. Oral Roberts came into the tournament as the least efficient defense by a wide margin. The Golden Eagles essentially refused to defend during the regular season.
However, they’ve been better on that end since the start of their conference tournament, primarily due to just increased effort, which you sometimes see in the postseason.
To make history as the first-ever No. 15 seed to make the Elite Eight, Oral Roberts will have to defeat an extremely talented Arkansas team.
When healthy this season — when Justin Smith is in the lineup — the Hogs have played at a top-10 level.
The Razorbacks don’t really have any glaring weaknesses on either end outside of 3-point shooting, where they aren’t overly efficient or consistent. If they are making outside shots, look out.
We can expect a highly-entertaining affair between two teams that play at a top-50 pace. Still, I don’t have much interest in the total, which I actually think is just a tad too high. Plus, almost everything has to go right in order to get over such a high total in a tournament game.
When these two teams met earlier this season on Dec. 20, Arkansas closed as a 19-point home favorite. Oral Roberts actually led by 12 early in the second half before Arkansas surged late for an 11-point victory, 87-76.
Head coach Eric Musselman made a key defensive adjustment by benching Connor Vanover in the second half and going smaller.
That enabled the Razorbacks to more effectively defend both Abmas and Obanor in the two-man game at the top of the key. We can expect a similar approach from the jump here.
However, Abmas was in serious foul trouble all game, picking up his third with four minutes to go in the first half and fourth midway through the second half.
Arkansas should absolutely dominate the glass on both ends as it did in that first meeting to the tune of an obscene 58-32 edge. So, even with another off-shooting night (4-of-24 in the first game), it should pile up second-chance points against an Oral Roberts team that ranks outside the top 300 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates.
Arkansas will find endless looks at the rim against an Oral Roberts defense that ranks 320th in percentage of shots allowed at the rim.
Bet to Watch
From everything I said above, one would conclude that this matchup heavily favors Arkansas, which is true. The Hogs do have decided advantages on both ends of the floor.
However, I played some Oral Roberts +11.5. Why? Well, for one, I have upgraded ORU much more aggressively than the rest of the market as a result of its increased defensive effort since the start of the Summit League Tournament.
It’s partly why I backed the Golden Eagles in each of the first two rounds. They’ve also been much more effective defending in transition, which is key against an Arkansas team that loves to run.
I also think Oral Roberts won’t be afraid of the stage. Remember, it played five road non-conference games against power conference teams earlier this season. ORU can also just flat-out score on anybody with two pro-level players in Abmas and Obanor.
The Golden Eagles should come out bombing away, playing freely with nothing to lose as they’ve done all tournament. Plus, it’s not like this run has been marked by lucky 3-point shooting. Oral Roberts has only shot a combined 21-of-65 (32.3%) from beyond the arc — much lower than its season average. And none of the other role players have gotten going from the outside.
Therefore, I wouldn’t be shocked to see ORU jump out to an early lead. If so, I will look for a good live number on the Razorbacks, who’ve had a propensity for slow starts all season. Just take a look at some of these first-half deficits in Arkansas’ victories this year:
Arkansas has trailed by six points or more at least eight minutes into the first half in 10 of its 24 victories. And it trailed by double-digits in nine of those 10 (including both tournament games) in games it won by an average of 9.5 points.
I played some Oral Roberts +11.5 and will look for Arkansas live. Ideally, I’d love to get a juicy middle at some point in the first half. Stay tuned on the Action App.
Target: Oral Roberts +11.5 | Arkansas Live Bet if Trailing Early.
(11) Syracuse vs. (2) Houston -6 | O/U 140.5
We really shouldn’t be surprised to see Syracuse in the Sweet 16 at this point.
Jim Boeheim and his patented 2-3 zone remain a tricky obstacle for opponents not familiar with it in a tournament setting. It’s one of the primary reasons that Boeheim owns an impressive 20-12 ATS mark in the NCAA Tournament since 2005, per Action Labs.
The Orange have also been helped out by an offensive surge from Buddy Boeheim. He’s averaged over 24 points the past nine games and seemingly can’t miss from the outside. Overall, Syracuse has shot a gaudy 50-of-109 (45.9%) from 3 in four games since the start of the ACC Tournament.
In order to advance to the Elite Eight, Syracuse will need to take out a third straight higher seed in Houston.
The Cougars are paced on offense by former Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes, who is shooting a deadly 41.7% from beyond the arc this season. However, it’s not just a one-man show for Kelvin Sampson’s bunch, which predictably dominates the offensive glass and plays suffocating defense.
Syracuse might not have its typical zone advantage here since Sampson has five full days to prepare for it. Plus, Houston has seen zone defenses at a top-50 clip nationally this year with a few zone teams in its conference (Tulsa, Tulane).
The Cougars, who rank in the top 60 in 3-point shot rate, have fared quite well when they have seen zone, ranking in the 70th percentile in terms of points per possession, per Synergy.
Plus, if Houston has an off-shooting night or stretch, it should thrive on the offensive glass against the Syracuse zone, which is notorious for its defensive rebounding struggles.
On the season, Houston ranks No. 2 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. That may prove fatal for the Orange, who rank 340th in defensive rebounding percentage.
And when Houston does get out in transition, it’s extremely efficient. That spells trouble for Syracuse, which struggles to defend in that department (18th percentile, per Synergy).
While Houston wants to play super slow on offense (325th in average possession length, per KenPom), Syracuse wants to play faster, ranking 61st in that same category. It thrives in transition and is heavily reliant on isolation (top-10 rate nationally) and the 3-point shot (97th) in the half-court.
However, that’s not a formula for efficiency against an extremely long and athletic Houston defense that excels in defending in transition and along the perimeter. While Cuse may get some opportunities to run against a Houston team that crashes the offensive glass, it may not have much success against a Cougars defense that recovers extremely well.
There will always be some variance in 3-point defense, but Houston has the consistency to back up its 29.3% opponent 3-point shooting rate (12th in D-I) this year. It finished eighth and first in that statistic the previous two seasons.
The Cougars also excel in defending in isolation and possess the length to really bother Boeheim, who might have some shooting regression coming his way.
Buddy Boeheim in four 2021 postseason games:
– 27 points, 6-12 3PT
– 31 points, 5-8 3PT
– 30 points, 7-10 3PT
– 25 points, 6-13 3PT
28.3 PPG, 55.8 3PT%
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 21, 2021
Bet To Watch
This just isn’t a great matchup for Syracuse.
However, the health of DeJon Jarreau is so critical for Houston. He’s not only vital at point guard (with a significant drop-off in production behind him), but he can also fill up the stat sheet. He recently posted the first triple-double by a Houston player since Bo Outlaw in the early 1990’s. He’s also the unquestionable on-floor leader.
Jarreau is dealing with a hip pointer, which usually takes 1-3 weeks to heal. It’s a good sign he at least fought through it to help Houston come back late against Rutgers. He’ll also have five days to rest up and get treatment, but it’s still an unknown I have to account for.
As a result, I’ll personally be looking for Houston live in a likely high-variance game with plenty of 3-point attempts.
If Houston gets down early and Jarreau looks relatively healthy, I’ll jump in on the Cougars live. Conversely, if Syracuse trails at the half and Jarreau looks hobbled, I may look at hitting the Orange for the second half — depending on the number.
Target: Live Bet depending on DeJon Jarreau.