NCAA Tournament Player Props: Saturday’s Late Afternoon Picks, Including Creighton, Michigan & Drake (March 20)
Nic Antaya/Getty Images. Pictured: Eli Brooks.
NCAA Tournament Player Prop Picks
First Round: Saturday, March 20
March Madness is back! We've waited two years for this weekend, and we've got big news at Action Network: Our handy dandy Props Tool is expanding!
The Props Tool has been racking up NBA wins all season, with a hit rate over 60% and a 20% return on investment. Now we're releasing it for college hoops, just in time for the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
For those who are new to this article, we'll be using the Action Labs Player Prop tool to compare our NCAAB projections to the props posted at a variety of sportsbooks. Each bet is then graded on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best possible grade.
Below, I have laid out three prop bets that I'm playing from Saturday's NCAA Tournament late afternoon matchups, the case for each bet and the best books to find odds on those player props.
Note: All photos below are via Getty Images.
Damien Jefferson, Creighton
(5) Creighton vs. (12) UC Santa Barbara, 3:30 p.m. ET on truTV
Creighton is a very experienced team. Its top five scorers all average double-digit points per game, and they're all juniors or seniors. And while Marcus Zegarowski often gets plaudits as the star of this team, this is a team effort, with all five guy starters doing their part.
Damien Jefferson is the Bluejays' do-a-little-bit-of-everything guy. He's third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and third in assists. In one game this season, he scored 26 points. In another, he was two assists short of a triple-double. He had at least 10 rebounds in three games. Jefferson simply does whatever Creighton needs him to do.
Jefferson's malleability means he stays on the court quite a bit, playing more than 30 minutes a game, and he should play plenty in a tough game against Santa Barbara. Jefferson averages one assist every 13.2 minutes this year, so he should easily play enough minutes to hit this over at that rate.
He went over 1.5 dimes in 18 of 28 games this season, hitting the over 64% of the time, and he had at least four dimes eight different times. That shows us how good a passer Jefferson can be and why this line is simply too low.
Don't be scared away by the juice here. I'd play this one as high as -190.
Eli Brooks, Michigan
(1) Michigan vs. (16) Texas Southern, 3 p.m. ET on CBS
The Michigan Wolverines will miss Isaiah Livers. Livers is one of the key senior leaders on this squad, and he does all the little things for the Wolverines. Livers is second on the team in scoring at 13.0 points per game, and he adds 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game and made 43% of his threes this season. Livers is a key contributor on both ends, and Michigan definitely isn't the same team without him.
Yes, the Michigan Wolverines will miss Livers … eventually.
They're not going to miss him against Texas Southern, though.
Credit the Tigers for a solid First Four win, but the SWAC is 1-25 in the modern tournament era, and the games usually aren't particularly close. Michigan will miss Livers at some point, maybe even this weekend, but this game will be a walkover and the Wolverines should be able to empty the bench in the second half.
Eli Brooks is Michigan's third-leading scorer but averages only 9.1 points per game. This line is boosted because of Livers' absence, with the books expecting more minutes and shots for the other Wolverines starters. Normally that would make sense, but those minutes and shots are going to end up going to the end-of-the-bench guys once Michigan takes care of business early, so I'm not sure Brooks will need to give much more here.
Brooks went over 12 points only three times all season, and even then, only by a bucket or two. He pushed this line three times and went under in 17 of 23, hitting this under 74% of the time.
I'm not afraid of the no-Livers boost being factored in here. Michigan shares the ball and will add a bucket here, a bucket there, and make up the deficit easily without Brooks or others needing a big game. We project Brooks at 11.0 points, so I'm happy to play the under at even odds and would play as high as -125.
Joseph Yesufu, Drake
(11) Drake vs. (6) USC, 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT
It's really a miracle the Bulldogs have made it this far.
Drake started out the season on fire at 18-0, undefeated all the way into February, but the team stumbled a bit from there as injuries took their toll on the team. Star senior ShanQuan Hemphill broke his foot, and then senior guard Roman Penn went out hurt too. Hemphill returned Thursday night but played only 10 minutes, and Penn is still out.
Suddenly, Drake was missing two of its top three scorers and looking for answers — and it appears to have found one in sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu.
Yesufu moved into the starting lineup on February 22, and he's played all but one minute of game action since. He poured in 36 points in his first game as a starter and is averaging 21.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 steals in six games with the starting unit. He scored 21 points Thursday evening against Wichita State to help Drake get where it is today.
Drake has quickly learned to lean hard on Yesufu, so we can expect him to play nearly every minute again. And while Yesufu's assist numbers as a starter don't wow anyone, it's important to note that he is averaging an assist every 13.1 minutes this season for Drake. Considering he's playing triple that many minutes lately, we have a good shot at an over here.
Yesufu has only hit this over in nine of 30 games, but that's actually impressive in this case, considering he has come off the bench 80% of the season. Yesufu has been making good passes all season — his teammates just haven't finished as well lately.
Let's trust the season-long passing production along with the newfound minutes and take a shot at the over here on a shorthanded Bulldogs team. At +154, we only have to hit this over 39% of the time to turn a profit. We project Yesufu at 3.1 assists, and I think he goes over at least half the time here, which makes this worth betting at nearly any positive number.