March Madness Elite 8: Betting Previews and Predictions for Every Game

By the College Basketball Staff

#1 Gonzaga vs #6 USC#1 Michigan vs #11 UCLA#1 Baylor vs #3 Arkansas#12 Oregon State vs #2 Houston

All games are in p.m. ET unless otherwise specified.
This piece will be updated regularly with more games as they are completed.

#1 Gonzaga vs #6 USC

Tip: Tuesday, 7:15 on TBS | Spread: Gonzaga -8.5 | Total: 158

Spread Play

Well, something will have to give Tuesday night. Gonzaga has covered in all three of their first three games in the NCAA Tournament. USC has covered in all three of their first three games in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams have won by wide margins as well, with neither team having a single-digit victory thus far. USC has lost by double-digits three times this season, twice to Colorado and once to Utah, so my initial thought would be Gonzaga would be their fourth time losing by double-digits this season. The Trojans are playing tremendous basketball right now, and I am liking what I see from the Mobley brothers. Evan Mobley, a potential NBA Draft lottery pick, is averaging 16.3 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game this season. Isaiah Mobley is averaging 15.0 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans are also benefiting from the scoring prowess of Tahj Eaddy, who dropped 20 points on the Oregon Ducks last Sunday. The Trojans will offer an interior defensive presence that Gonzaga has not seen anything quite like this season. Teams are shooting an abysmal 41.5% on two-point shots this season against USC (1st in Division-I). The only cause for concern is will USC be able to generate just enough on offense to eke out a lead over the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Gonzaga is not a tremendous defensive unit, but they have put the clamps on most of the teams they have played in the NCAA Tournament thus far. A team has yet to score 72 points or more on the Bulldogs, while Gonzaga has not been held below 82 points in the NCAA Tournament. Drew Timme has been a nightmare for opposing teams in the NCAA Tournament. He is averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds in the last two games for Gonzaga. Corey Kispert continues to make it rain from beyond the arc this season, leading the nation with a 46.2% three-point percentage. The depth that Coach Few has makes Gonzaga so dangerous. In their last game against Creighton, the Bulldogs had double-figures scoring from all their starters, except for Jalen Suggs, who barely missed the mark at 9 points. This will be the classic “tortoise versus the hare” matchup. Can USC, the tortoise, play at a slow and steady pace, or will Gonzaga, the hare, simply run the Trojans off the court? The Trojans were able to shut down Oregon, who is ranked 8th in the KenPom Adjusted Offensive efficiency ranks, but the Trojans have two losses to Colorado, who ranks 13th in the KenPom Adjusted Offensive efficiency ranks. It has been a fun ride for USC, but I think Gonzaga will win this one by a double-digit margin. I will back Gonzaga -8.5 as my best bet in this one.

The Pick: Gonzaga -8.5

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

Total Play

I had mentioned earlier in the season when the dates were announced for the tournament that the unders might be a big play considering the events were compacted by a few days, and so far that hasn’t been too far off. Gonzaga and UCLA both employ fantastic offensive weapons and the current Gonzaga roster might be one of the most potent attacking units in college basketball history, especially the front five. USC has one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the country in Evan Mobley and the shooters and pieces placed around him to make them a top 15 unit in the country as well.

However, this tight schedule and a few other factors are slowing teams down. Despite blowing out Creighton, Corey Kispert had one of his worst scoring games of the season and the whole Gonzaga team was a touch slower than normal. USC played a conference team that they also blew out, but the scoring wasn’t out of control. Evan Mobley is going to make like a lot harder for Drew Timme and his scoring numbers will go down, and the overall length of USC will give Gonzaga a much harder time getting clean looks. According to KenPom these defenses are 7th and 4th in the country, respectively, and tonight we’ll see why as both teams slow their half court sets down to get the best shots available.

The Pick: Under 158

-Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)

#1 Michigan vs #11 UCLA

Tip: Tuesday, 8:57 on TBS | Spread: Michigan -6.5 | Total: 136

Spread Play

I’ve been on the “Michigan isn’t as good as we’re making them out to be” train all season and while I still think that’s true, they’re looking at a pretty favorable matchup at the moment. The Wolverines have been pretty lucky with some officiating decisions so far in the tournament and while their opposition has been good, Michigan has pushed through the loss of Isaiah Livers very well. Their 7th ranked offense and 8th ranked defense is playing accordingly and don’t seem to have intentions of slowing down.

UCLA has been exceptional in the tournament, making a huge statement by stymying Alabama’s killer attack with a slow pace and good shot making. While their front unit may struggle with the size of Hunter Dickinson, I think the frontcourt matches up well and should be able to hit shots of their own. Be it Jaime Jaquez, Jonny Juzang, Tyger Campbell (great name), or Jules Bernard, this frontcourt should do well. I just don’t really favor the forwards against Michigan’s size, even with Isaiah Livers out.

Overall, this UCLA team isn’t your grandfather’s team. They’re in the Elite 8 and were under-ranked like most of the Pac-12, but I just can’t see them pulling this game off. Michigan has the size and athleticism to make this game extremely difficult for UCLA to process efficiently and as much as it pains me, I don’t think the Bruins are capable of keeping it close. Hunter Dickinson will have the best game of this tournament and Michigan will move accordingly.

The Pick: Michigan -6.5

-Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)

Total Play

At about midday before tip off, the total for this game has come down a few notches from the 137.5 opening line that I bought in at to the current 136.0 even though the consensus has been favoring the over since the line debuted. Books everywhere are moving the price downward to more closely match the predicted lines on sites like KenPom and Haslametrics which are setting the total at ~135 total points. Those sites are pretty accurate but the books might not like the taste in their mouths if over 57% of the tickets on the total cash with the over total points. Since the line opened, their risk has only increased until the contrarian money comes in because people are still buying the line movement. 

The thing is, KenPom and Haslametrics account for as much scoring variance as they can but once the game has gone statistically final, everything after is generally irrelevant. That means that in a lot of cases, the final minute or so of the game and the last 30 seconds of the first half aren’t contributing to the total points in the real game. So if the metrics sites are cooking up a total around one point under the market total, the scoring variance of March between two teams that have been efficient from the charity stripe could send the points over. 

Those metrics also aren’t weighing recent performances as heavily as the context calls for. UCLA put up a monster performance against Alabama to close out overtime and halt the Tide’s scoring run even though Bama buried a buzzer beater to get them there. The Bruins were in charge pretty much the entire second half where they couldn’t miss a shot if they were actually trying to. 

With that being said, both of these teams have been playing at a slower pace this season and are sitting in the bottom 20% in the country when it comes to shot clock time spent per possession. Their goal may not be to eat up the clock but both teams’ style of play calls for all five guys touching the ball on pretty much every possession. Both teams are in solid scoring form after losing arguably their best players to season ending injuries and UCLA’s defense between the circles is still underrated because of being bogged down by the rest of the season’s stats. It’s looking like an overall offense versus defense tug of war and there’s been no sign of regression so if you’re Juwan Howard, the players, or even a sports bettor, you have to expect that the Bruins keep up their shooting. In a battle between two coaching narratives, I’m taking the over at 136.0 (-110) for a unit. Overs haven’t been strong in the last week but both of these teams are outperforming expectations every game and still have something to prove. 

The Pick: Over 136

-Quin Pezoldt (@QuintenEverett16)

#3 Arkansas vs #1 Baylor

Tip: Monday, 9:57 on CBS | Spread: Baylor -7.5 | Total:

Spread Play

I’m thinking this will be a contrarian play which makes me love it even more. I’m backing the Razorbacks +7.5 (-110) tonight for a unit! Arkansas started out pretty slow against Oral Roberts in the Sweet Sixteen but turned it on in the second half and secured the two point victory. They’ve won 12 out of their last 13 games overall with the only loss coming at the hands of LSU in a barn burner in the SEC Tournament semis. A couple of things stick out to me on why I think Arkansas can not only cover, but maybe win this game outright. For starters, their offense can keep pace with the Baylor Bears. Arkansas ranks seventh overall in the country with 81.7 ppg and Baylor is fourth at 83.0. The freshmen guard, Moses Moody, has emerged in the tournament and is averaging 13.7 points. Along with Moody, you have Jalen Tate and Davonte Davis rounding out a backcourt that I feel has the potential to keep pace with the Bears. And you can’t forget about the big fella, Justin Smith. Smith grabbed 11 offensive boards against Oral Roberts and has collected 33 rebounds over the first three games. Oh, and he’s also putting up 20.3 points per game in the Big Dance. 

His rebounding ability is one of the main reasons I like the Razorbacks to contain Baylor a little bit offensively. Arkansas ranks 12th in the country in rebounding as a team (39.9 per game) so limiting Baylor second chance opportunities will be huge tonight. Justin Smith’s inside presence is going to be a difference maker in this game. Additionally, Arkansas ranks 10th in adjusted defense (89.3) according to KenPom so I truly believe they’re going to slow down Baylor enough to keep this game very close.

The Pick: Arkansas +7.5

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

Total Play

I feel like an absolute maniac taking the under between these two high powered offenses, but I’m going to do it. Give me the under on 148 (-110) for a unit. I feel like a lot of people are forgetting that these squads are both strong defensively. I mentioned above that Arkansas is 10th in adjusted defense. Well, Baylor is ranked 27th with a rating of 92.0. I think early on the freshman guards of Arkansas may look to push the pace a little bit but if Baylor can contain them, I think they’ll opt to slow it down. After all, Baylor does rank 179th in tempo. Their experience in the backcourt will want to keep this a moderately slower game. Plus, both teams were abysmal from deep in their recent games with Baylor going 3/19 and Arkansas going 1/9. There’s going to be a lot of people holding uncashable tickets and feeling dumbfounded when this game ends 71-69 in favor of Baylor. 

This is March Madness. This is the Elite Eight. Defenses will be ready to rumble tonight. Take the under 148. 

The Pick: Under 148

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

#12 Oregon State vs #2 Houston

Tip: Monday, 7:15 on CBS | Spread: Houston -8 | Total: 129.5

Spread Play

This is one of my favorite bets of the entire slate. I am in full agreement with my colleague Quin that this will be a slow paced defensive battle that might be a first to 60 points wins kind of contest. In games like this it’s almost always a good play to go with the underdog and play on the extra points. On top of that Oregon State is not your average underdog. They have earned their right to play in this game. After limping into the PAC 12 tournament at only 2 games over .500, the Beavers survived fellow Elite 8 participant UCLA in overtime in the tournament quarterfinals before defeating arch rival Oregon in the civil war rematch, before knocking off Colorado by 2 points in the tournament championship final. All of that was the minimum OSU needed to do just to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, and boy have they made the most of it. They knocked off a solid Tennessee team in the first round as a lot of people predicted they would. Then the Beavers pulled off back to back stunners first over projected #1 NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham and OK State, then maybe an even more impressive upset win over Loyola Chicago, who many people thought would go to the Final 4 after upsetting Illinois.
Oregon State is on fire having won 6 straight games ATS. On top of that, they have been at least a 5.5 point underdog in each of these games including being at least a 6 point underdog in their three tournament games. Winning these three games straight up, the Beavers have covered the three spreads in their tournament wins by a minimum 14 points. I actually like Oregon State to win this game straight up, but especially in a hard fought defensive struggle like this game will be, it will be a close game and I don’t think that either team will win by more than 8 points. I love taking Oregon State plus the points. Take Oregon State +8 for 1 unit.

The Pick: Oregon State +8

-Matthew Vale (@matthewvale15)

Total Play

With a majority of the totals going under in the Sweet Sixteen, none went as low as the Syracuse and Houston game finishing with 108 points combined. From the field of 16, the Midwest region has the slowest average pace compared to the other regions and it wasn’t by a slim margin. According to Haslametrics, both Houston and Oregon State are ranked in the bottom 50 of the entirety of D-1 basketball in terms of pace this season (330th and 303rd respectively). On KenPom, they are between 318th and 326th so neither team is going to have that desire to score until the numbers on the shot clock turn red. 

Couple that snail’s pace with the fact that the defensive performances that the Cougs and the Beavers have put up in the tournament so far. OSU held Loyola Chicago to 33% from the field as a team and 22% from deep in a 65-58 game that took the total under by 2 points and in the game before that, they held Oklahoma State to 28% from the field and from deep. The Beavers have really stepped up their defense since arriving in Indy holding all 3 opponents below 34% from the field. They play defense for the occasion switching between zone and man through stretches mid-game or across multiple games depending on how Wayne Tinkle views the other team’s offensive threat(s). 

Houston hasn’t been as strong on defense but they’ve had it when they needed it against the Boeheims. Buddy Boeheim was the hottest shooter in the tournament until the Cougars put a lid on the bucket. Going into that game, Houston was holding onto the best defensive field goal percentage in the country. As a 2-seed, the Cougs are going to face their fourth double digit seeded team on their route to the Final Four. 

This is a good time to shop for a favorable under because the opening line started at 131 and is now down to 129.5. It’s believable that it can come down even farther to 129 or even 128.5 before tip even though tickets have been coming in on the side of the over. The smart money was on the under early and with Houston giving 8 points and a lower total each half point is valuable. I’m taking the under right now at 129.5 total points in the game. 

The Pick: Under 129.5

-Quin Pezoldt (@QuintenEverett16)

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