NCAA Tournament Tempo Report: Thursday’s Sweet 16 Over/Unders to Watch, Including Arkansas vs. UConn, FAU vs. Tennessee
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images. Pictured: Gonzaga’s Drew Timme.
Another opening weekend of March Madness is in the books, much to the delight of any investor taking the under.
Our Tempo Report for the first round identified Memphis vs. Florida Atlantic and Houston vs. North Texas as winners during a weekend that went 32-16 to the under.
There’s a profusion of reasons why tournament unders have been the go-to bet for years, from tournament nerves to shooting sight lines on neutral courts. A new reason to believe shooting is down is the change in the basketball itself.
Because the ball is light as a feather and made of a hilarious pleather. Simple as that. https://t.co/i0ZkJLuFdy
— Sam Dekker (@dekker) March 18, 2023
This article will dive into the tempo metrics for every Sweet 16 game on Thursday, looking for value on a total based on advanced statistics and average possession length.
Here’s a look at tempo and possession splits for all 16 remaining teams.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Kansas State
Total: 137.5 · Projected: 138.5
The Spartans and Wildcats will meet on different terms heading into Madison Square Garden.
Michigan State logged two unders in contrast to Kansas State recording two overs heading into the Sweet 16. The posted total and projection are in lockstep heading into this contest, leaving the style of play as the handicap for this total.
Kansas State runs the 44th-fastest offense in the nation with the top frequency of cut plays to the basket. Although the Wildcats have an efficiency rank of 110th, head coach Jerome Tang is salivating over the Spartans’ rank of 321st against the cut, per ShotQuality.
The Wildcats will find resistance when looking to finish at the rim, but the Spartans’ poor defensive efficiency of 320th against catch-and-shoot 3-pointers suggests Kansas State is going to light up the Garden.
The Michigan State offense has been the primary driver of the roll through March. The Spartans’ Offensive Bayesian Change over the past 30 days sits at a healthy +1.3, per EvanMiya.
There’s plenty about the offense that struggled, as its identity came from midrange jumpers, post-ups, screens and pick-and-roll. Kansas State is not particularly good at defending any of those sets, meaning the Spartans will lean into an average offensive possession rank of 274th to slow this game down.
This game could be a live-betting dream considering the recent play of Michigan State. The Spartans had a grand total of three kill shots in victories against USC and Marquette. Specifically against the Golden Eagles, Michigan State started the game with an 18-3 run and ended with a 10-0 blast.
There are plenty of factors pointing to the over in this game, as Kansas State will push pace with the eighth-highest transition frequency in the nation. If the Spartans trail by multiple field goals, expect Tom Izzo to speed up the tempo.
The Wildcats also get to the foul line at a top-50 rate, complemented by the third-highest frequency of finishing at the rim.
The market has opened with steam to the under, as we look to take the last number on the over or wait for the peak of Kansas State’s havoc pace to take advantage of a live number.
Verdict: Over 137.5
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn
Total: 139.5 · Projected: 142
The Razorbacks are looking to make a third straight Elite Eight appearance with a win over the Huskies on Thursday.
The final score of UConn’s second-round matchup against Saint Mary’s says it won by six, but ShotQuality had plenty of negativity in the postgame box score.
The good news for Arkansas is a free-throw rate mismatch that’s guaranteed to get Eric Musselman’s crew to the foul line. The Hogs shot a combined 78% from the charity stripe in the two Des Moines regional games, well above their season average.
The bad news for Arkansas is UConn’s elite rim protection with a roster that ranks 28th in average height.
Arkansas isn’t exactly the “40 Minutes of Hell” instituted by Nolan Richardson from an offensive perspective, but the defense is certainly a thread from the past. The Razorbacks’ average possession length on defense is 56th in the nation, facing plenty of rim attackers and teams looking to expose the switch issues during a pick-and-roll.
UConn will look to expose the Hogs’ poor perimeter defense with a catch-and-shoot efficiency rank of 53rd, assisted by a high frequency of transition and screens.
The Huskies have a similar ranking to Arkansas in defensive possession length, dictating that both defenses will look to cause havoc before the ball-handler hits half-court.
Other than Arkansas’ ability to get to the free-throw line, an over ticket is the look considering UConn’s rank of second nationally on the offensive glass.
Rim attacks, free throws and quick putbacks are the key ingredients to this dogfight in Las Vegas.
Verdict: Over 139.5
No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 4 Tennessee
Total: 131.5 · Projected: 132
The loss of guard Zakai Zeigler may not have been felt from a wins and losses perspective, but the Volunteers have gone under in four of their six games since the injury.
Tennessee has leaned into its top overall KenPom ranking in defensive efficiency over the past half-dozen games, looking to limit a contest to 62 possessions or less. That will play well against a Florida Atlantic team that doesn’t press or force fast possessions with a rank of 286th in defensive average possession length.
The Owls offense is based on transition with plenty of off-the-dribble attempts from the perimeter. That will play into the Volunteers defense with a better efficiency rank in both categories.
On the other side of the court, Tennessee will frequently look to its half-court offense with plenty of midrange jump shots and post-up attempts. Florida Atlantic has posted top-50 efficiencies in half-court defense and defending midrange attempts.
Neither of these teams get to the free-throw line at a rate inside the top 200, so Tennessee’s goal of keeping this under 62 possessions will become a reality.
Verdict: Under 131.5
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA
Total: 145.5 · Projected: 146
Gonzaga and UCLA are set to tip off in T-Mobile Arena for the second time in the past 16 months.
The November 2021 game saw an annihilation of the Bruins, a second consecutive loss for UCLA after losing in the 2021 national semifinal. In both games, head coach Mick Cronin failed to play the Bruins’ style of slow, grinding ball, allowing both games to end with 71 and 74 possessions.
KenPom projects 69 possessions in this game, with UCLA going 5-1 straight up this season with a similar or higher tempo.
Gonzaga will push tempo and look to hit all the notes in Mark Few’s offense — a high efficiency of pick-and-roll with Drew Timme combined with top-35 marks in isolation, catch-and-shoot 3s and post-ups. UCLA has subpar numbers in those three categories, ranking no higher than 193rd in any of the three.
The good news for UCLA’s offense is the heavy pick-and-roll in the half-court offense is one of the most inefficient areas of a sinking Gonzaga defense.
The Bruins have good news with David Singleton suffering only a sprain at the end of the Northwestern game, as the fifth-year senior has the highest offensive rating on the team.
"He didn't break his ankle, which I was worried that he did."
Mick Cronin says it appears David Singleton suffered a bad sprain. pic.twitter.com/pzG1Bn0Ew1
— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 19, 2023
This game brings in two of the best Kill Shot teams in all Division-I basketball. Both UCLA and Gonzaga average a 10-0 run in at least 79% of games while allowing a 10-0 scoring streak at a 26% rate or less.
Considering Gonzaga has dictated pace in its two recent games against UCLA, this game is expected to be back-and-forth with plenty of offensive advantages for both teams.
Verdict: Over 145.5
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