NCAA Tournament Thursday Night Betting Guides

NCAA Tournament Thursday Night Betting Guides article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Florida Gators

Our experts analyze the eight Thursday night games below, giving detailed matchup breakdowns, their favorite bets, and more.

#7 Nevada vs. #10 Florida

  • Spread: Nevada -2.5
  • Over/Under: 133.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

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

Nevada (29-4) entered the season as one of the leading contenders for the Final Four. After a 13-0 record in non-conference play, many wondered if the Wolf Pack would lose a game all season.

After sharing a Mountain West regular season title with a surprising Utah State team, followed by an early exit in the conference tournament, Nevada enters the NCAA Tournament with much debate over its potential. The Wolf Pack went 17-14-1 against the spread but just 1-4 in their last five games.

Florida (19-15) experienced a completely different season from Nevada: The Gators struggled early, falling to 9-7 after losing three of their first four SEC conference games. But they are now playing their best basketball of the season, defeating Arkansas and LSU in the conference tournament before falling 65-62 to eventual champion Auburn.

Florida is 8-5-1 on the road ATS, having covered their past seven road games away from Gainesville.

Nevada’s Explosive Offense

The Wolf Pack can score in bunches. They dominated the second half of their wins with athleticism and offensive aggression. Nevada ranks 26th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and are top 25 in 2P field goal percentage. The Wolf Pack will look to attack a Florida team that ranks a mediocre 106th in 2P defense.

Nevada is led by three seniors who are all possible NBA draft picks. Caleb Martin (19.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Jordan Caroline (17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), and Cody Martin (11.7 ppg, 5.1 apg) account for 60% of their per game scoring. The Wolf Pack also rarely give the opponent extra chances, ranking third-best in the country at offensive steal percentage and seventh in offensive turnover percentage.

Their only offensive issue is their inconsistent 3-point shooting. Nevada ranks 132nd in 3P efficiency and their leading scorer, Caleb Martin, has struggled (34.3%) to regain his masterful touch from last season.

Florida Turns Defense Into Offense

The Gators have well-documented problems on offense. They rank 211th in effective field goal percentage, 222nd in 3P%, and 200th in 2P%. However, the Gators have improved throughout the season and finished the SEC conference season ranked third in free throw shooting.

Florida used its stout defense to generate extra opportunities on offense. It ranked third in the SEC in defensive turnover rate, which, when coupled with their low offensive turnover rate, provides the Gators with a huge advantage.

The offensive improvement of senior KeVaughn Allen (12.1 ppg) was instrumental in their SEC Tournament run.  He excelled on both ends of the floor while shooting a perfect 9-of-9 from the foul line.  Freshman Andrew Nembhard had his best game of the season in the win over LSU, scoring 20 points along with the game-winning 3-pointer with a second remaining.

The Pick

Nevada has been too inconsistent to trust in this game. The Wolf Pack did not tally a big win all season, losing at New Mexico by 27, at San Diego State for the seventh consecutive year, and failing to even reach the Mountain West Finals. Florida has battled through 16 Quadrant I games and played great in the difficult SEC Tournament. The two-point spread is a gift, that you should gladly accept.

THE PICK:  Florida +2.5, would bet to Florida PK

Our Projected Odds for #7 Nevada vs. #10 Florida

  • Spread: Nevada -1.5
  • Total: 132.5
  • Proj Score: Nevada 67 | Florida 65.5
  • Win Probability: Nevada 53.1% | Florida 46.9%

#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Abilene Christian

  • Spread: Kentucky -22
  • Over/Under: 132
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

The butterflies will assist Abilene Christian in its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. It draws one of the blue bloods of college basketball in Kentucky. Although both teams have the Wildcats as their mascots, Abilene Christian is in just its sixth year of Division I play.

It has been an amazing season for ACU after losing two of its best players in B.J. Maxwell and Jalone Friday just last month. Despite the losses, the Wildcats were able to win 11 of their past 13 games, including the Southland Tournament. After a successful campaign in the SEC, Kentucky lost in the conference tournament semifinals to Tennessee. The only other team to beat Kentucky since the first week of January was LSU at home.

Kentucky Will Dominate the Glass

Kentucky should absolutely dominate on the glass at both ends of the floor. The Wildcats are 10th in the nation in offensive rebounding, while ACU ranks in the bottom third of the NCAA (against subpar competition).

One important factor in this game will be how often ACU allows Kentucky to get to the free throw line. The Wildcats have had a stellar season from the charity stripe, ranking 73rd in free throw percentage and ranking seventh in points distribution for free throws. Kentucky will be angling for the rim on each offensive possession.

Abilene Christian Has Two Key Strengths

There are reasons these Wildcats won the Southland. ACU is eighth in opponent turnover percentage and have the 19th-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation. ACU isn’t a team that relies on shooting from deep, but it has had success when a shot is needed.

One statistic to look at is Minutes Continuity, which measures how often the five players on the floor have played together year over year. There is a large discrepancy between the two Wildcat rosters. ACU is 72nd in minutes continuity while Kentucky is 324th thanks to huge roster turnover every year.

The Southland winner has plenty of experience playing on the floor together.

But size is also important. Kentucky is 34th in average height, 16th in blocks and eighth in opponent 2-point percentage. That may not work well for an Abilene Christian team that doesn’t have size and can’t even come close to matching up athletically.

The Pick

I would not be surprised to see Kentucky completely overlook this game in preparation for a dangerous Wofford team. The Terriers excel in 3-point shooting and are strategically different from ACU on offense.

Kentucky’s athleticism alone should make this an easy victory, but ACU does not turn the ball over, shoots well from deep and may be able to provide enough pressure to get some turnovers. I would wait for this number to steam out before tip-off before investing.

Collin’s Pick: Abilene Christian +22.5, but wait for +23 or better

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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: Kentucky -22.5
  • Total: 133
  • Proj Score: Kentucky 78 | Abilene Christian 55.5
  • Win Probability: Kentucky 99.3% | Abilene Christian 0.7%

#6 Villanova vs. #11 Saint Mary’s NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Villanova -4.5
  • Over/Under: 130
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

These two teams last met back in 2010 in the second round of the NCAA tournament when No. 10 seed Saint Mary’s upset No. 2 seed Villanova in Providence.

That Gaels team was led by guard Matthew Dellavedova and big Omar Samhan under the same coach they have today, Randy Bennett, who has been in Moraga for 18 years.

Villanova’s head man, Jay Wright, has also been on the main line for 18 years as the head coach of the Wildcats. The defending champs will look to add a third national title in the past four years, but will they stumble on the first weekend against Saint Mary’s once again?

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Most Important Matchup in Villanova-Saint Mary’s

Villanova is one of the most 3-point-reliant teams in the nation. That’s nothing new for the Cats under Jay Wright in recent years, but their 3-point frequency has ticked up significantly this season. In fact, only two other teams in college basketball shot more 3’s per field goal attempt.

That could spell trouble against a Saint Mary’s defense that has always emphasized limiting the 3-pointer under Bennett, especially late in the shot clock. That’s when Villanova usually gets its best looks by making the extra pass.

Saint Mary’s allows opponents to shoot just 31.8% from deep, which ranks in the top 50 nationally. More importantly, the Gaels have allowed an opponent 3-point rate of 31.8% — the ninth-lowest in the country and second-lowest among teams in the NCAA Tournament field.

The Gaels must contain this perimeter-reliant Villanova attack.

Battle of Snails

Besides its 3-point reliance, the other thing that sticks out when you look at Villanova’s profile is its pace. The Wildcats are in no rush on the offensive end, ranking 339th in Average Possession Length.

And Saint Mary’s is even more methodical on the offensive end, ranking 350th in that category. In a matchup of two pure snails, I think the under holds value especially since both defenses match up fairly well.

With a such slow pace expected, grabbing the points with Saint Mary’s becomes even more valuable.

Other Factors to Consider

This game will be played in Connecticut, which has to give a slight edge to Villanova for travel and potential fan presence. I make that edge worth approximately 1-point to the line.

However, that is somewhat mitigated by the rest advantage the Gaels will enjoy. Saint Mary’s hasn’t played since the WCC final on March 12.

Conversely, Villanova just played three games in three days this past weekend en route to a third-straight Big East championship. That could be a concern for a team that showed signs of fatigue down the stretch of the regular season.

Neither team is very deep, so that extra rest could be invaluable this time of the year. After considering all factors, I make this game Villanova -3 with a total of 126.

Stuckey’s Picks: 

  • St. Mary’s +4.5 (I’d play down to +4)
  • Under 130.5 (I’d play down to 128)

Action Network Projected Spread

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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: Villanova -3
  • Total: 137
  • Proj Score: Villanova 70 | St. Mary’s 67
  • Win Probability: Villanova 62.1% | St. Mary’s 37.9%

#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson

  • Spread: Gonzaga -26.5
  • Over/Under: 153
  • Time: Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Fairleigh Dickinson won and covered the 16-seed play-in game against Prairie View A&M. Aided by 42% from 3-point range and dominant rebounding, the Knights will pick up and make the flight to Salt Lake City for the first round against No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

The top-ranked Bulldogs will have had nine days off when the NCAA tournament starts, unlike many other top seeds. A 60-47 upset loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC Finals exposed a Zags team that shot 12% from 3-point range while being out rebounded 34-27.

Gonzaga should be well rested and motivated after that embarrassing loss. The committee was kind enough to put Florida State as the projected Sweet 16 matchup, a potential revenge game from last year’s tournament exit.

Can Fairleigh Dickinson Make This Interesting?

The Northeast Conference champions ride a nine-game winning streak into Salt Lake City with a strength of schedule of 339th. And there are a few advanced metrics that could make this game interesting from a betting perspective.

FDU is fifth in the country in 3-point percentage, and although the Knights don’t shoot from the arc that often, it is a weapon that can keep this game within covering range.

The Knights are close to the worst rebounding team in the nation, ranking 115th in offensive rebound percentage but a lowly 328th on the defensive side. But if the Zags have a weakness, it’s on the boards (128th overall in rebounding).

How to Beat Gonzaga

We have to assume Gonzaga will not shoot 12% from 3-point range like the WCC Championship against Saint Mary’s (though it’s worth noting that teams with great perimeter defense can stop Gonzaga, like Saint Mary’s, so mark that down for future rounds).

If there is a game for Gonzaga to get shooting back on track, it is against Fairleigh Dickinson, which ranks 215th against defending 3-pointers.

The Knights don’t have the athleticism to defend the Zags on the perimeter.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura

The Pick

If you have listened to the Action Network Colleges podcast, I have singled this game out as an under spot.

Salt Lake City has an elevation over 4,000 feet, which has an affect even at the pro level for visiting teams going against the Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets.

On the Gonzaga side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be playing a zone defense in the form of a 2-3 Syracuse or a 1-3-1 Baylor in their next game. I think Mark Few has spent the week preparing for a zone attack rather than Fairleigh Dickinson.

The first half and full game under should be considered.

As for the side, Fairleigh Dickinson does a few things that can get an inflated spread to the window. The Knights are 60th in the nation in free throw percentage, 115th on the offensive glass, and an average possession length on offense that ranks 260th translates to a lower scoring game.

I expect this number to steam, and Fairleigh Dickinson to potentially be on my card.

Collin’s Pick: Lean Under, Fairleigh Dickinson +27.5 or better

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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 -28
  • Over/Under: 153
  • Score vs. FDU: Gonzaga 90.5 | FDU 62.53
  • Win Probability for Gonzaga-FDU: Gonzaga 99.3% | FDU 0.7%

# 2 Michigan vs. #15 Montana

  • Spread: Michigan -15
  • Over/Under: 129.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:20 p.m. ET
  • TV: TNT
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa

    Montana (26-8) won the Big Sky regular season and conference tournament titles. It had a solid 53rd best non-conference strength of schedule and has the experience of facing the Wolverines in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. This will be Montana’s eighth postseason appearance in the past 10 years. The Grizz were 14-18 against the spread including 8-7 on the road.

Michigan (28-6) returns a solid nucleus from last year’s National Championship finalist. The Wolverines boast nine Quadrant I wins and a perfect 10-0 record against Quadrant II opponents. Michigan was 18-12 ATS, including 8-6 on the road.

Grizzlies’ Versatile Offense

Montana’s has still maintained a high level of offense despite losing leading scorer James Akoh in mid-February with a knee injury. The Grizzlies rank 12th in the nation in 2P efficiency and 25th in the country in 3P%. Montana also owns the seventh-best effective field goal percentage in the country.

Senior guard Ahmaad Rorie (15.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.1 apg) is a dynamic offensive player. He put forth a dominant performance against Weber State in the Big Sky semifinals, scoring 28 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the field and going 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

The Grizzlies feature three players –in Sayeed Pridgett (47.4%), Kendal Manual (43.2%) and Donaven Dorsey (45.3%) — who thrive from beyond the arc. With Michigan’s defense excelling in all metric areas, getting hot from 3 would greatly improve Montana’s chances.

Michigan Offensive Whole > The Sum of The Parts

The Wolverines lack a true go-to scorer, with freshman Ignas Brazdeikis (15.1 ppg) leading the way statistically. Their balance has been both a blessing and a curse. Michigan has struggled to score late in games and has blown late second-half leads in all three Michigan State games.

The biggest difference on offense is the reduced 2P efficiency. In the past two years, Michigan ranked eighth and 35th, respectively, in that category. This season, the Wolverines are ranked 105th. They shot much better from 3-point range earlier in the season and can struggle to get baskets in critical moments.

The Wolverines typically struggle at offensive rebounding but will find it even tougher against Montana’s 43rd best defensive rebounding percentage.

The Pick

Michigan head coach John Beilein is one of the best in college basketball, but this Wolverine team has struggled to put opponents away. They are just 3-3 in their past six games. Michigan will win this game but the 15-point spread is simply too many points.

The Pick:  Montana +15, would bet to Montana +14

  • Our Projected Spread
  • Spread: Michigan -16.5
  • Total: 132.5
  • Proj Score: Michigan 74.5 | Montana 58
  • Win Probability: Michigan 96.5% | Montana 3.5%

#7 Wofford vs. #10 Seton Hall 

  • Spread: Wofford -2.5
  • Over/Under: 144.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.

No. 7 seed Wofford (19-11 against the spread) has racked up 20 consecutive outright victories — the longest active winning streak in Division I — but it shouldn’t take No. 10 seed Seton Hall (17-16 ATS) lightly. The Pirates have covered in five straight affairs, winning four outright.

Which team provides more value in the Round of 64?

Stardom in the Backcourt in Seton Hall-Wofford

Marquette-Murray State will provide arguably the best individual scoring matchup in the Round of 64 in Markus Howard vs. Ja Morant, but this one isn’t far off.

Wofford two-guard Fletcher Magee (20.5 points per game) is an elite microwave scorer, especially from behind the arc (43.9%).

On the flip side, Seton Hall’s Myles Powell (22.9 ppg) provides just as much excitement via his ability to sink his pull-up jumper from anywhere. As play-by-play voice Gus Johnson would say, “Powell, from Trenton!

No matter which team ends up covering, there won’t be a shortage of thrilling moments from these two matchup nightmares.

Can Wofford Best Seton Hall’s Elite Perimeter Defense?

With Magee at the helm, the Terriers present the 11th-highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (118.4 points per 100 possessions) in the country, led by the second-highest 3-point clip (41.6%).

But the Pirates’ defense squared up well vs. countless perimeter-oriented offenses in Big East play, yielding the third-lowest 3-point clip during that stretch (34.6%).

Seton Hall point guard Quincy McKnight provided tremendous on-ball defense throughout, shutting down a hampered Markus Howard (wrist, 1-of-15 shooting) in the conference tournament semifinals.

The Pirates allowed the fourth-lowest scoring rate from behind the arc (32.8%) against their conference foes, an even though the Pirates are a below-average defensive rebounding team (29.6%), many of Wofford’s misses will trickle out further because it primarily shoots from distance. Defensive rebounding will come down to effort.

The Southern Conference is no layup drill — UNC Greensboro and Furman both possessed a shot at earning a ticket to the big dance — but I expect Seton Hall’s next-level defense to stifle Wofford’s 3-point attack just enough.

Wofford Has One Big Flaw

As often as Powell  jacks up a long-range jumpers, the Pirates have still relied on their interior offense during their recent hot stretch.

Paced by Powell and McKnight off the dribble drive, along with the 6-foot-10 Sandro Mamukelashvili in the low post, Kevin Willard’s bunch has manufactured the 97th-highest 2-point scoring rate in the nation (51.8%).

Wofford’s most glaring defensive flaw comes via defending the lane: The Terriers have let up a below-average 2-point scoring percentage of 50.9%.

Majors such as Oklahoma and Mississippi State were able to take advantage of the Terriers in non-conference play, and the same should happen in a spot where Seton Hall can control the tempo while speeding up a Wofford squad that surprisingly doesn’t favor that style of play.

Eli’s Pick: Seton Hall +2.5 (down to +2)

Our Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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: Wofford -1
  • Total: 141
  • Proj Score: Wofford 71 | Seton Hall 70
  • Win Probability: Wofford 50.2% | Seton Hall 49.8%

#3 Purdue vs. #14 Old Dominion

  • Spread: Purdue -12.5
  • Over/Under: 126
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:50 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.

Before digging into each team’s profile, I’d just like to go on record with a bold statement: This is one of my favorite potential upsets of this round. I am not naive enough to guarantee Old Dominion wins, as there are an infinite number of ways this can play out. Purdue winning by 30 is, of course, possible.

What I will say is that there are specific indicators present in this game that lead me to believe Old Dominion is undervalued as both a side and especially as a moneyline bet.

Purdue Will Present New Challenge for Old Dominion

Carsen Edwards is an excellent scorer who is also an all-conference player, but his recent performances have left a lot to be desired. In his past three games, he’s shot just 17-for-66 (25.7%) from the field, and 7-for-33 (21.2%) from 3.

In both non-conference and Big Ten play, Purdue was very deliberate, with slow tempo and offensive time of possession numbers, but incredibly efficient with the possessions it did have.

The Boilermakers take a very high number of 3s relative to their overall shots, and score 37.3% of their points from beyond the arc. Old Dominion is a reasonable 3-point defensive team, ranking in the top 100 in percentage allowed, but that’s still an advantage for Purdue and where it will attack.

It’s worth noting that in Old Dominion’s two strong non-conference wins vs. VCU and Syracuse, it didn’t have to worry about opposing 3-point shooting, as those two teams are in the bottom 10% of the entire country in 3-point percentage. Purdue will present different challenges than those teams did.

Old Dominion Has Rebounding Edge

The Monarchs rank 325th in adjusted tempo and 316th in offensive time of possession. Purdue plays deliberately as well, hence a very low total.

Old Dominion does not shoot well, but its advantage in this game is clearly the offensive glass, an area where Purdue really struggled in conference play. The Boilers were ninth in Big Ten play in OREB% allowed, and Old Dominion was the best in C-USA at securing them.

In a game that should have a very limited number of possessions due to tempo, gaining extra ones thru offensive rebounding is absolutely Old Dominion’s path to competitiveness. It will need Purdue to miss some 3s too, but that’s only half of the equation.

The Two Purdues

The most compelling factor for me in this game, aside from Matt Painter’s relative lack of tournament success despite talented teams, is how insanely different Purdue was at home vs. on the road/neutral courts this season.

In non-conference play, Purdue played six road/neutral games and went 2-4, with wins over App State and Davidson. It lost to Notre Dame on a neutral court, in a game that still perplexes me to this day.

The profile becomes more compelling in conference play, where the Boilers went 6-4 in true road games. That may sound perfectly reasonable, but the team was the beneficiary of an incredible number of lucky bounces in close games. They won two games in overtime — at Wisconsin and at Penn State — then won at Indiana by two and at Nebraska by three.

There are a handful of possessions that could have turned their profile into an 8-9-10 seed, something like what Minnesota has on paper right now. Their splits are just too compelling to ignore across the entire season and the entire profile is being inflated significantly by what they did at home, and I don’t think there’s any evidence that’s the type of team you’re going to get in Hartford on Thursday.

Taking the Points

With two teams playing slow and the favorite relying heavily on the 3-point shot (and struggling away from home), I think that creates the recipe for extreme volatility, which makes Old Dominion’s moneyline worth a shot at +800.

Also because the total is so low (and rightfully so), I think 12.5 is too high of a number as well, considering how few possessions there will be. Making an adjustment for Purdue’s home-road splits, I make this number closer to 9-9.5, and would play Old Dominion down to that range.

Ken’s Pick: Old Dominion +12.5/+800

Our Spread Projection

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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: Purdue -15
  • Total: 133
  • Proj Score: Purdue 74 | Old Dominion 59
  • Win Probability: Purdue 94.9% | Old Dominion 5.1%

#8 Syracuse vs. #9 Baylor

  • Spread: Syracuse -2
  • Over/Under: 132
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

This is one of the most intriguing first-round matchups because of each team’s respective defensive scheme.

There are only eight teams in the entire field that ran a zone defense at least 30% of the time during the regular season. Baylor and Syracuse were two of them — although Syracuse did so with much more regularity and the two zones are drastically different schematically.

Which team is better equipped to handle the other’s zone defense? Let’s take a close look at this matchup to determine which. school will move on for a likely date with North Carolina.

Howard Out for Syracuse

Wednesday night, some disappointing news dropped for Syracuse: Point guard Frank Howard was suspended for violating athletic department policy.

Howard has started almost every game over the last two seasons and averages 8.9 points per game.

The line didn’t immediately move on Wednesday, but Syracuse already has one of the thinnest rotations in the country.

Most Important Matchup in Baylor-Syracuse

Despite the drastic differences between the two zones, shooting will still matter. And the Bears are the far superior 3-point shooting team.

While their season-long 34.0% 3-point shooting doesn’t look that impressive, their percentage during Big 12 does. Baylor shot 37.3% during conference play, which led the league.

Syracuse shot just 33.0% from 3-point range (244th in NCAA). And unlike Baylor, it didn’t improve much as the season progressed. The Orange shot only marginally better during ACC play at 33.8%.

When it comes to perimeter shooting, Baylor has the edge, which is key against any zone. Just look at these teams’ respective zone offenses.

Syracuse scored just 0.832 points per possession in its zone offense, which ranks in the 16th-percentile nationally (per Synergy). It has one of the five-worst zone offenses in the entire tourney field.

Conversely, Baylor has been much more successful in its zone offense. The Bears scored a much higher 0.979 against opposing zones, which ranks inside the top 100 in the country.

Other Factors to Consider

The Bears rebound on the offensive end at an impressive clip. In fact, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the field and second-best nationally.

Baylor should have a field day in that regard against a Cuse zone that has historically been extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounds. That’s no different this season, as Jim Boeheim’s bunch ranks 335th nationally in opponent offensive rebounding percentage. Only Washington and Georgia State (two other zone teams) allow a higher clip.

Expect plenty of second-chance opportunities and easy put-backs when Baylor doesn’t connect from deep.

Baylor closed the season with four consecutive losses, but it’s not like the Orange ended theirs ablaze. They closed out the season with a 2-5 record, and those two wins came against ACC bottom-feeders Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Neither team comes in with much momentum.

In a game that I make a true coin flip, I’ll take the points with the better zone offense and superior rebounding team.

THE PICK: Baylor +2

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator 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: Syracuse -1
  • Total: 133.5
  • Proj Score: Syracuse 67.5 | Baylor 66.5
  • Win Probability: Syracuse 50.2% | Baylor 49.8%

Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are 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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