NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Betting Mega-Guide: Breakdowns, Picks For 4 Thursday Games

NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Betting Mega-Guide: Breakdowns, Picks For 4 Thursday Games article feature image

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jarrett Culver

We’re ready for one of the best college basketball days of the year — the first four Sweet 16 games in the NCAA Tournament. Are you?

Catch up now with all our previews for Thursday’s games, which tip off just after 7 p.m. ET with Gonzaga-Florida State. We’ve got complete breakdowns and picks for all four contests.

NCAA Tournament Betting Odds, Picks

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State

  • Spread: Gonzaga -7.5
  • Over/Under: 147
  • Location: Anaheim, Calif.
  • Date: Thursday, March 28
  • Time: 7:09 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

>> All odds as of Thursday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.

We are fortunate to get a Sweet 16 rematch of Gonzaga vs. Florida State on Thursday night. Last year, the No. 9 seeded Seminoles jumped all over No. 4 seeded Gonzaga and rolled to a 75-60 win.

The big key in that game was the pregame announcement that forward Killian Tillie would not play due to injury. The loss of the 6-foot-10 Tillie hurt the Bulldogs’ depth, leading a bench points discrepancy of 30-6.

Can Gonzaga reverse its fortunes this season? Let’s take a closer look.

Gonzaga’s Elite Two-Way Efficiency

Head coach Mark Few has developed a Gonzaga team that is statistically dominant on both sides of the ball. They rank first in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, which includes No. 1 overall rankings in both effective field goal percentage and 2P%. The Bulldogs make their free throw at a top-20 overall rate (76.9%) and rarely produce turnovers, ranking 18th best in the country.

However, their defensive prowess is often overlooked. Gonzaga ranks 16th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency including, holding opponents to 43.1% from 2P (sixth-best). It will need to maintain that level of interior defense against a huge Florida State frontline.

Junior Brandon Clarke (17.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg) produced a breakout game against Baylor, tying a career-high with 36 points while featuring highlight reel dunks and blocks. But the key to this game will be the play of Tillie, who needs to be a difference-maker both in the paint and beyond the arc.

In his three seasons at Gonzaga, Tillie has averaged over 42% efficiency from 3P with one block and one steal per game. For a Zags team that only produces five bench points per game, Tillie’s potential impact could single-handedly determine this game.

Florida State’s Relentless Athleticism

The Seminoles possess the most athletic roster in the Sweet 16. The improvement of 6-foot-10 sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele (13.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) has been remarkable. He is an incredibly versatile scorer averaging 38.1% from 3P and 77% from the free throw line. Florida State also has 7-foot-4 senior Christ Koumadje (6.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) coming off the bench.

Beyond the frontcourt is a bevy of positionless two-way guards: 6-foot-7 senior Terance Mann (11.6 ppg, 41.1% 3P) is FSU’s best shooter from beyond the arc, with guards Trent Forrest (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.7 apg) and M.J. Walker (7.5 ppg,) providing great two-way efficiency.

The Seminoles will be without the services of senior Phil Cofer (7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who has returned home due to the passing of his father. This limits the Seminoles bench, but with 11 active players averaging 10-plus minutes per game, they should be able to account for Cofer’s loss.

The Pick

Gonzaga languishes against mediocre opponents in the West Coast Conference, while Florida State has been cutting its teeth on Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The Seminoles’ No. 10 adjusted defensive efficiency ranking will pressure a Gonzaga’s mistake-prone point guard Josh Perkins and disrupt the Zags offensive flow.

Florida State has too much athleticism for Gonzaga and will prove to be the kryptonite to Mark Few’s Superman-like coaching. Grab the 7.5 points and consider sprinkling in some moneyline, as well.

THE PICK: Florida State +7.5

Our Projected Odds: Gonzaga vs. Florida State

These ratings were built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Gonzaga -7.5
  • Over/Under: 146.5
  • Score: Gonzaga 77 | Florida State 69.5
  • Win Probability: Gonzaga 76.8% | Florida State 23.2%

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue

  • Spread: Tennessee -1.5
  • Over/Under: 146.5
  • Location: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Date: Thursday, March 28
  • Time: 7:29 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS

The Volunteers (17-17-1 against the spread) have dropped three straight games ATS despite advancing to the Sweet 16. Their most recent loss was a 25-point blown lead against Iowa (+8) in the Round of 32 before they outright in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers (19-15 ATS) have won three of their past four contests ATS, highlighted by their 26-point win over Villanova on Saturday.

Where’s the value in this matchup? Let’s break it down.

The Admiral Schofield Factor

Despite producing 19 points in the Vols’ victory over Iowa, the 6-foot-6 Schofield sat on the bench for the latter part of the second half and the entire overtime. He noted postgame that Tennessee center Kyle Alexander needed to see the floor because of his defensive presence, but Schofield’s impact doesn’t go unnoticed.

The Vols are 6-3-1 (67.6%) ATS when he’s produced at least 20 points per game this season. While Purdue has a physical wing in Nojel Eastern, his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame won’t be enough to matchup with a sound three-level scorer. Expect a bounce-back showing from the senior forward with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

Tennessee’s Interior Attack

Rick Barnes’ unit owns the highest 2-point scoring rate (55.6%) in the country, led by the 6-foot-7 Grant Williams (18.8 points per game). On the flip side, the Boilermakers have allowed the 29th-lowest 2-point scoring percentage (44.1%) in the country.

Nevertheless, Purdue’s small-ball lineup doesn’t boast the size to slow down Tennessee in half-court sets. With Matt Haarms banging with Alexander on the glass, Williams will likely square off with senior Grady Eifert or freshman Aaron Wheeler, and his veteran savvy will be difficult to keep in check from the low-post.

The Boilermakers have struggled to matchup with lengthier lineups, exhibited in their losses to Michigan State, Maryland and Minnesota, respectively.

Moreover, the Vols’ likely success inside the arc should trickle out to the perimeter, where I’d expect Schofield (41.5%) & Co. to make Matt Painter’s crew pay.

Purdue’s Perimeter Arsenal

Tennessee’s biggest defensive weakness comes from the perimeter, as it allows the 65th-highest 3-point scoring rate (35.5%) in the country. Purdue guard Carsen Edwards and his mates will eat the opposition from that area if they’re able to control the pace, tallying the 25th-highest 3-point scoring percentage (39.0%).

Getting into a shootout wouldn’t bode well for the Vols, especially if wing Ryan Kline (40.6%) gets going.

Ultimately, look for Tennessee’s physicality in the lane — led by Williams and Schofield — to limit Edwards from dominating off the dribble to create perimeter looks for the Boilermakers. The 6-foot-3 Jordan Bone is an underrated defender as well, and his length should give Edwards some fits to generate space from the perimeter.

Purdue appears to have an advantage on the glass (18th-highest offensive rebounding rate), aiding their prowess for producing mismatches along the arc. But the Vols refined their defensive rebounding percentage to fourth-highest (30.2%) in SEC play, giving way for Alexander and Williams having a big night on the boards.

Eli’s Pick: Tennessee -1.5, but I wouldn’t bet it past Tennessee -2.5

Our Projected Odds: Tennessee vs. Purdue

These ratings were built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Tennessee -0.5
  • Over/Under: 145.5
  • Score: Tennessee 73 | Purdue 72.5
  • Win Probability: Tennessee 50.1% | Purdue 49.9%

#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech

  • Spread: Michigan -2
  • Over/Under: 126
  • Location: Anaheim, Calif.
  • Date: Thursday, March 28
  • Time: 9:39 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

Thursday, we’ll be treated to a Sweet 16 battle between two elite defensive teams in Texas Tech and Michigan.

The Wolverines and Red Raiders rank first and second respectively in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, but which team’s offense can provide enough consistent scoring to advance to the Elite Eight?

Let’s dive in.

Michigan’s Sporadic Offense

Head coach John Beilein has appropriately earned the reputation as one of the best offensive coaches in the country, but Michigan’s offense has proved to be vulnerable at times this season.

After starting the year with some blistering 3-point shooting performances, Michigan has been very pedestrian against strong defensive teams, and ranks middle of the pack in 3-point percentage.

In their three games against Michigan State, the Wolverines shot just 30.9% (22 of 71) from beyond the arc. That number was greatly bolstered by simply a 9 of 23 performance in the Big Ten Tournament Championship.

It will be important for Michigan’s small-ball lineup to connect from the perimeter to compensate for its poor offensive rebounding ranking (284th in the country) and free-throw rate.

One place Michigan will excel is turnovers. The Wolverines simply don’t turn the ball over, which will be critical against a Texas Tech defense that force turnovers at a top-10 rate nationally.

Texas Tech’s Offensive Balance 

The Red Raiders are clicking on offense right now. They are Top-50 in effective field goal percentage while shooting 36.6% from beyond the arc.

Sophomore Jarrett Culver (18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.8 apg) will be the best player of the floor and a difficult matchup for Michigan. He is averaging 25.5 points per game over his past four games.

Guards Davide Moretti (11.5 ppg, 45.4% 3P) and Matt Mooney (10.9 ppg, 38.1% 3P) provide additional high-level efficiency from deep.

Texas Tech also has a big size advantage inside. The Red Raiders rank seventh in the country in defensive block percentage. Senior Tariq Owens (8.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg) will be a major factor against Wolverines big Jon Teske.

The Pick

Texas Tech tied for the Big 12 regular season title, ending Kansas’ 14-year reign.  Culver has developed into one of the best two-way players in the country and is playing with supreme confidence. The Red Raiders’ 16th best 3P defense and second best 2P% defense will keep Michigan from scoring consistently.

A fabulous defensive battle will be broken open by a timely Texas Tech 3-point run, making the Red Raiders my play with the points.

THE PICK: Texas Tech +2

Our Projected Odds: Michigan vs. Texas Tech

These ratings were built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Michigan -1.5
  • Total: 121.5
  • Proj Score: Michigan 61.5 | Texas Tech 60
  • Win Probability: Michigan 53.1% | Texas Tech 46.9%

#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon

  • Spread: UVA -8.5
  • Over/Under: 119
  • Location: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Date: Thursday, March 28
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS

If you just look at the remaining seeds, you could argue we have the 15 best teams in the country left and an ugly duckling in Oregon — the sole remaining team seeded lower than 5. Except there’s nothing ugly about how the 12-seed Ducks are playing right now.

Winners of 10 straight over the past 30 days, Oregon is as hot as any team in the country.

That said, Virginia represents a different type of challenge, a major step-up in competition. Can the Ducks keep their run going against a No. 1 seed — and if not, can they at least keep it close enough to cover? Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

How Virginia’s Offense Matches Up vs. Oregon’s Defense

The Ducks have been on a quite a run and they’ve been doing it with defense first. Headed into the tournament, they had the most efficient defense in the month of March.

Dana Altman’s club runs a morphing matchup zone that forces teams to work deep into the shot clock and ideally take a low-percentage jumper. It’s a very complex defense that requires everyone on the floor to be on the same page.

Well, Virginia will have no problems working hard (and long) for a look late in the shot clock. The Cavaliers run a motion offense with relentless screening to tirelessly work for the best possible shot. Their offense ranks 351st in Average Possession Length, per KenPom.

The Ducks also force opponents to shoot a ton of 3s, as evidenced by their extremely high 45.1% opponent 3-point rate. In fact, only Virginia Tech forces opponents to shoot more from beyond the arc among all tournament teams. Well, that’s not ideal against a flame-throwing UVA squad that shot better than 40% from deep on the season.

Yes, Oregon’s defense has allowed a 3-point rate of only 29.1%, the sixth-best in the nation. But I think the Ducks have been getting lucky in that department: Elite 3-point defense has not historically been a staple of an Altman defense.

Virginia’s experienced and patient offense is a well-oiled machine that neither man nor zone has been able to slow down this season. The Cavaliers should find the success against Oregon’s D that so many teams have failed to do in March.

Virginia Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett. Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Other Factors to Consider

Oregon’s defense has a ton of length and is very active; it gets a ton of blocks and steals (top 20 in both categories) that will lead to its best offense, which comes in transition. However, Virginia just doesn’t turn the ball over, ranking 14th in the country with a minuscule 14.9% turnover rate.

Altman will also throw in a press on defense, which he’s done in more than 25% of Oregon’s possessions this season. However, Virginia has handled the press well this season, as you might expect for a team that doesn’t turn it over.

But the one exception is freshman guard Kihei Clark.

Clark has been turnover prone, and if Oregon can get him to cough up the rock, the Ducks offense — which can struggle in the half court — excels in transition. And transition is the one area where Virginia’s defense has struggled.

Could fatigue be an issue for Oregon?

The Ducks have played a lot of basketball over the past few weeks. And now, after playing the late game this past Sunday night, they travel to Kentucky to play on the first day of the Sweet 16.

You can certainly expect Virginia to have fresher legs.

The ‘Hoos should also have a much stronger crowd presence, which can help swing a call or two in a team’s favor. Charlottesville is fewer than 500 miles from Louisville while Eugene is more than 2,300 miles away.

Because of how many defensive looks Altman will throw at opponents, his teams are usually tough outs in a tournament setting — even more so when there’s just one day in between games (just ask UC Irvine). But Virginia will benefit from a few days of preparation.

From a pace perspective, this game should play out like molasses. Both teams are pure snails. Virginia ranks DEAD LAST in the country in Adjusted Tempo, while Oregon ranks 328th.

This will look like a different sport than Carolina-Auburn.

The Pick

The Oregon defense is very good, but this Virginia offense is one of only eight in Division I to average more than 1.00 Points Per Possession in the half court, per Synergy. (Gonzaga is the only other team remaining that also does.)

Tony Bennett’s bunch has the scheme and shooters to give the Ducks defense fits. But most importantly, the Cavaliers have the patience. As Rousseau said: “Patience is a bitter fruit, but its fruit is sweet.”

I expect plenty of open 3s and layups deep into the shot clock, leading to a Sweet 16 victory.

We also know how elite the Virginia defense is in the half court. I think the Cavaliers will control the pace and limit Oregon’s best offense in transition. UVA can completely suffocate the Ducks in the half court.

It’s never fun taking an under in a tourney game since fouls can bite you late even more than normal. And I really don’t like laying 8.5 points in a game that I expect to be that low scoring. However, there is just too much value to pass up in a game I make -10.5 and 116.

THE PICK: Virginia -8.5, Under 119.5

Our Projected Odds: Virginia vs. Oregon

These ratings were built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Virginia -9
  • Total: 121.5
  • Proj Score: Virginia 65.5 | Oregon 56.5
  • Win Probability: Virginia 82.8% | Oregon 17.2%

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game is from the individual writer and are based on his research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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