College Basketball Best Bets: 5 Expert Picks for Friday’s NCAA Tournament Games

College Basketball Best Bets: 5 Expert Picks for Friday’s NCAA Tournament Games article feature image
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Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Emanuel Sharp (Houston)

College Basketball Best Bets for Friday

GameTime (ET)Pick
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Specific betting recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

The Sweet 16 rolls on with four games on Friday, including two games consisting of No. 1 seeds.

If you're looking for betting value, we have you covered with Sweet 16 best bets and five picks for Friday's college basketball games on March 29.


Gonzaga vs. Purdue

Friday, March 29
7:39 p.m. ET
TBS
Gonzaga TT Under 74.5

By John Feltman

I’d argue that this is Mark Few’s best coaching job during his tenure at Gonzaga.

But I believe the road ends here.

Despite entering the matchup ranked seventh nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, the Bulldogs' electric offense is due for significant shooting regression.

The Zags rank tops nationally in 3-point shooting over the past two months – oddly enough, the Boilermakers rank second.

That might seem sustainable for a great offensive team, but Gonzaga ranks 313th in 3-point attempts per game.

The Boilermakers are an elite defensive team, especially outstanding in transition denial. The Bulldogs love to run and gun, and they’ll have a tough time against Purdue.

The other alarming issue for the Zags is their lack of depth. The last time these two teams played in November, big man Graham Ike got into early foul trouble, which put the Zags behind the eight-ball.

There’s no guarantee that the Zags will get into foul trouble, but considering how many fouls Zach Edey draws inside, I believe the refs will be whistle-happy as usual. That's not a dig at Edey, but it's become a national phenomenon that Edey generates a ton of fouls because of his massive frame.

Matt Painter is a terrific coach, and he's not naive to the fact that his superstar big man draws a ton of contact. I expect Purdue to smash the interior often, forcing the Bulldogs to go to their bench early.

If the Zags don’t have Ike’s physical presence inside, they'll become one-dimensional on the offense.

With looming shooting regression, I wouldn’t call that a recipe for success.

Pick: Gonzaga Team Total Under 74.5


Duke vs. Houston

Friday, March 29
9:39 p.m. ET
CBS

Houston -3.5

By D.J. James

The Houston Cougars won on the backs of their bench in the Round of 32 after four key players fouled out.

They should take advantage of their opportunity against Duke, though.

Duke has the ability to score inside and out, but Houston’s defense is the great equalizer. The Cougars are holding opponents to 30% from deep, while Duke shoots over 38% from 3. This is one of the best 3-point defenses the Blue Devils will have to face, so this could be a tall task.

On the interior, Houston is even more efficient defensively; the Cougars hold opponents to 43.1% from 2-point range. Duke will default to isolation ball often, and Houston is particularly strong in guarding the iso.

Houston will have to find a source for points. Even though the Cougars struggle with efficiency on offense, they should be able to find plenty of chances in this one. The Blue Devils rank 70th in 3-point percentage on defense and 109th in 2-point percentage.

Houston is particularly strong with finishing at the rim and in transition. Yes, Duke may not turn over the ball much, but Houston’s defense is probably the best the Blue Devils will have seen all season.

Neither of these teams play particularly fast, but the Cougars should gain the edge with the better defense between the two.

This should propel the Cougars to the Elite Eight, and they should be taken to -4.5.

Pick: Houston -3.5 (Play to -4.5)


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Houston -3.5

By Patrick Strollo

For the fifth season in a row, the top-seeded Houston Cougars will appear in the Sweet 16.

After outdueling Texas A&M in overtime on Sunday, battle-ready Houston should be primed to take on four-seed Duke.

This will be Houston’s toughest test, but the Cougars' combination of veteran leadership and experience tips the scale their way.

Houston’s long-term success is the result of outstanding defense. Once again, the Cougars lead the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and they’ll have to shut down Duke’s spunky offense.

Not to overextend myself, but Houston’s defense is special, ranking second nationally in effective field goal percentage (43.9%). The Cougars must smother the Blue Devils at all three levels on Friday.

It often goes under the radar, but Houston’s offense is pretty good. Given the strength of their defense, high-scoring Cougar games aren’t the norm, and their 74.1 points per game (156th nationally) reflects that.

However, the Cougars are still highly efficient when you adjust for their methodical pace, ranking 13th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency while averaging 120.2 points per 100 possessions.

They score efficiently on first-chance opportunities, but they're even better at creating second-chance opportunities, ranking third nationally in offensive rebounding rate (36.9%).

My model projects Houston as a 6.5-point neutral-court favorite, providing us a few points of edge over the market.

I recommend playing Houston at -5 or better.

Pick: Houston -3.5 (Play to -5)

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Houston -3.5

By Matt Gannon

It’s a “blueblood” vs. “newblood” matchup in the South Region.

This will be among the best matchups of the tournament, involving great offense vs. great defense.

Duke’s offense is a must-watch. The Blue Devils rank in the top-50 nationally in effective field goal percentage, 2-point shooting and 3-point shooting.

Meanwhile, Houston’s defense is better than elite, ranking in the top-15 nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed, 2-point shooting allowed and 3-point shooting allowed.

The Cougars' defense is slightly better than the Blue Devils’ offense, but great offense usually beats great defense, so this could be a wash.

But the other side of the ball – Houston’s offense against Duke’s defense – should be the X-factor that decides the winner.

In my opinion, the Cougars should win this matchup.

I love their physicality, which should lead to many offensive rebounds and second-chance points. They’re relentless and will grab every loose ball.

Meanwhile, Duke is a softer team that struggles with physicality, as shown in its losses to North Carolina (twice) and Arkansas.

Houston is on another level from those two.

Even if the Blue Devils hit their early shots, I trust Kelvin Sampson and company to battle back and get the job done with toughness.

Pick: Houston -3.5 (Play to -5)



Creighton vs. Tennessee

Friday, March 29
10:09 p.m. ET
TBS
Tennessee -2.5

By Tanner McGrath

Creighton runs a drop-coverage defense – affectionately known as the KalkDrop – where defenders overplay ball-handlers on the perimeter and shooters on the wing, funneling everything toward the dominant rim protector, Ryan Kalkbrenner, who sags to prevent rim buckets.

The scheme baits on-ball, middle-of-the-floor creation while preventing rim-and-3 attempts.

Tennessee does run a flex-motion offense that heavily utilizes cutters, and Creighton should deny those effectively.

But I doubt the Bluejays can stop Dalton Knecht because he’s among the nation’s best middle-of-the-floor creators.

Knecht ranks in the 90th percentile of D-I players in mid-range efficiency and is happy to work off the bounce.

As such, he’s cooked other drop-coverage defenses he’s faced, scoring:

  • 31 in the first matchup with South Carolina
  • 26 in the second matchup with South Carolina
  • 25 in the first matchup with Alabama
  • 39 in the only matchup with Florida

Creighton will hand Knecht the middle of the court, and he'll take it and exploit it.

On the other end of the court, Creighton runs an inside-out motion offense, leveraging Kalkbrenner as a post-up creator to drag defenses down and open up secondary off-ball actions on the perimeter. It generally gets Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Steven Ashworth in space for triples.

But Rick Barnes’ defense is spectacular at the rim (1.01 PPP allowed, 11th nationally), killer in the gaps (4.6 cutting points per game allowed, 11th) and overwhelming on the perimeter (.72 off-ball screen PPP allowed, 27th).

To summarize this best, Creighton ranks third nationally in rim-and-3 PPP (1.20), but Tennessee ranks fourth nationally in rim-and-3 PPP allowed (1.02).

Tennessee can stop everything Creighton wants to do. The Bluejays can’t stop Knecht.

One final, more anecdotal point: Creighton is soft. The Bluejays allowed Jermaine Couisnard and N'Faly Dante to singlehandedly keep Oregon alive in the second half of their second-round matchup.

How do you let two guys bully-ball you? Can you make any adjustments, Greg McDermott?

I don’t think so. Tennessee’s physicality and aggressiveness should control this Sweet 16 game, and the Vols’ schematic advantages should propel them to a convincing win.

Pick: Tennessee -2.5 (Play to -3)

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