April 17, 2021

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March Madness Sweet 16: Betting Previews and Predictions for Every Game

By the College Basketball Staff

WestEastSouthMidwest
#1 Gonzaga vs #5 Creighton#1 Michigan vs #4 Florida State#1 Baylor vs #5 Villanova#8 Loyola Chicago vs #12 Oregon State
#6 USC vs #7 Oregon#11 UCLA vs #2 Alabama#3 Arkansas vs #15 Oral Roberts#11 Syracuse 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.

West

#1 Gonzaga vs #5 Creighton

Tip: Sunday, 2:10 on CBS | Spread: Gonzaga -13 | Total: 158

The quest for perfection carries on for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. After taking down the Oklahoma Sooners in the Round of 32, the Bulldogs have their eyes set on the Creighton Blue Jays. The Sooners came into the game guns blazing against the Bulldogs, thanks to some impressive shots by Austin Reaves, but Gonzaga proved to be too much for the Big 12 opponent to handle. After taking the lead on a Corey Kispert layup with 10:45 left in the first half, the Zags never looked back. With 5:40 left in the game, Austin Reaves hit a jumper to make it an eight-point margin… The Sooners could never get any closer than eight points to the Bulldogs. Gonzaga won the game by a score of 87-71, and covered the spread for a second consecutive game. Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert each had 16 points for the Gonzaga offense. Drew Timme had himself a day in the post for Gonzaga. The big man had 30 points and 13 rebounds on the day. Kur Kuath did his best to limit the easy looks for Gonzaga in the post. The Sooner big man had an astonishing five blocks on the day, but the quickness and athleticism of the Gonzaga Bulldogs proved to be too much for one man to handle.

The Bulldogs have continued to light up the scoreboard, as they have done all season. In the two games the Bulldogs have played, they have an average of 92.5 points scored. That is absolutely absurd. The Bulldogs shot the ball 49.1% from the field against Oklahoma, which is slightly below their season average, but the Bulldogs were lights out from the free throw line as they shot 88.5% as a team. Gonzaga is one of the nation’s best at pilfering balls in the passing lanes, and they had no problem generating seven steals on the day against the Sooners. Creighton will certainly have their work cut out for them trying to stop this juggernaut offensive unit.

Creighton limped their way into the NCAA Tournament, and yet, the Blue Jays find themselves one win away from the Elite 8. Only in March. After a narrow win over UC-Santa Barbara, the Blue Jays made a statement against the upset-minded Ohio Bobcats. The game was a back and forth affair for the first 15 minutes of the half, but Creighton went on a 16-3 run to close out the half. Ohio trailed by 15 and at halftime, and they ultimately fell short by 14 points. Creighton had the clamps down on the talented Ohio Bobcat guard, Jason Preston, limiting him to four points on 1-for-10 shooting. As a team, Ohio shot just 31.8% from the field. Opponents have struggled shooting the ball against Creighton for most of the season (40.2% opposing field goal percentage; 22nd in Division-I). Christian Bishop had a whale of a game, scoring 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting and he pulled down 15 rebounds on the day. Marcus Zegarowski netted 20 points in the ballgame, earning the right as the team’s leading scorer on the day. The starters accumulated 68 of the 72 points scored for Creighton against Ohio.

In order for the Blue Jays to pull off this monumental upset, two things must occur. First, do your best to make Drew Timme a non-factor in the post. Ryan Kalkbrenner may have to step up and play a more active role, at least from a defensive standpoint, to help out Creighton. Second, the Blue Jays need to value each possession like it’s a fine cabernet wine. The Blue Jays are only turning the ball over 11 times per game this season (30th in Division-I), so keeping the turnovers to single-digits will be key. If you are Gonzaga, stick to what has gotten you this far: run the opponent off the court. The Bulldogs are the nation’s most prolific offense, scoring 92.1 points per game this season. After the blow out loss in the Big East Championship Game, I do not have a ton of stock in this Creighton team. Gonzaga will win this game by a double-digit figure, so I will take my chances with Gonzaga -13 as my best bet.

The Pick: Gonzaga -13

-Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)

#6 USC vs #7 Oregon

Tip: Sunday, 9:45 on TBS | Spread: USC -2 | Total: 138

The Pac12 has been on a completely unexpected run in this NCAA Tournament and fortunately one more team gets to advance to the Elite Eight. Unfortunately though, one of these talented Western teams has to go home in the Sweet Sixteen after a solid season. In this third round, the “Conference of Champions” is a quarter of the field which is the highest remaining representation remaining from any conference. They are saying “I told you so” to the committee and everyone’s brackets. All four teams have a long way to go if the title drought is going to end in 2021. The oddsmakers are staying wise though labeling their odds to win the whole thing as low as +2500 (USC). As much as the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC are stronger conferences year in and year out recently, there’s no shortage of talent out West. Case and point—this game. 

USC and Oregon are arguably the two best teams in their conference with Oregon taking the regular season title even though USC thought they should’ve won. Neither team finished the Pac12 tournament the way they wanted and were obviously under-seeded going into the Big Dance. There’s no doubt these teams are playing with a chip on their shoulders and Oregon more so in this round because they took a 14 point loss to USC on Feb. 22 (their only matchup this season). Isaiah Mobley didn’t even play that game in South Los Angeles, clearing possessions for Tahj Eaddy. Eaddy lit up the Galen Center from deep shooting 6-11 and dropping 24 points on the Oregon defense. Drew Peterson also pitched in 15 points and 11 boards after he stepped in for Chavez Goodwin. Oregon was caught off guard off the rip and couldn’t finish inside the arc even without a Mobley brother. Since then though, Dana Altman has locked in and so has the 3-point shooting of the Ducks’ back court. 

Chris Duarte and LJ Figueroa handed Iowa a steamy, devastating L to end their season on Monday. Figueroa was the second leading scorer with 21 points shooting 5-9 from 3pt range behind Duarte who scored 23 points off of 75% from the field. And not to be forgotten, Will Richardson posted a solid score line of 19 points, 6 boards, and 7 assists with all of his boards coming from crashing the board on the defensive end of the court. Down low, Luka was doing his thing, hanging 36 points on the smaller Oregon line but the ball movement and the hustle from Dana Altman’s squad was too much for that weak Hawkeye defense they’ve been trying to sweep under the rug. The Ducks aren’t the deepest team in the field so it’s critical that the starting five are active weapons from here on out. The offense clicked like the potential shows it can and now they just need to hold onto that heat for another ~40 min to get revenge on the Trojans for the loss in the regular season. 

USC has held strong in the first two rounds too and performed up to their potential. The Trojans just absolutely demolished Kansas by 34 points earlier this week that saw the Mobley brothers combine for 27 points and 21 rebounds completely shutting the Jayhawks out of the short range. Of the remaining teams in the tournament, USC is only second to Alabama by a fine margin according to KenPom all because of the brothers locking down the glass. Two players might get you to the Elite Eight but any further than that, the supporting cast is going to need to pull the majority of the weight. Tahj Eaddy has been coming into his own along with Drew Peterson who have both averaged above 10 PPG and 4 RPG in their last 5 games with Eaddy dishing 4.4 dimes per game on top of that. From their last matchup against the Ducks, they don’t need to change the game plan just focus on closing out on 3pt attempts and preventing fast breaks because the Ducks had the most uncontested dunks in the last 5 tournaments in their last game. 

Oregon is going to want to keep the pace up and in control just like they did in their last win over Iowa keeping up the track meet conditioning because this is the second game in a row where there’s a legitimate threat in the post. If they continue to make their shots over the defense from deep, they could move on but attacking the paint is probably going to be a pipe dream. Their identity is their 6’6” height and Dana Altman is going to play to their guard’s strengths which is freeing them up through a myriad of screens and switches ultimately leaving Figueroa open in the corner or Duarte at the top. With USC taking away a good portion of the Ducks’ game, they’ll start with an advantage and if they get a rocket start like their last game, they’ll be in a good position for the Elite Eight. This will most likely be the game of the round and it definitely will be a great way to close the round. Take Over 138.0 total points (-110). Both teams have scored over 71 points in each of their last four games and are in great form. This is my favorite bet of the Sweet Sixteen.

The Pick: Over 138

-Quin Pezoldt (@QuintenEverett16)

East

#1 Michigan vs #4 Florida State

Tip: Sunday, 5:00 on CBS | Spread: Michigan -2 | Total: 143.5

Not that the players actually care, but most of us fans are keenly aware that Michigan is the lone Big 10 team still standing in this year’s tournament. For as much hype as the Big 10 got during the regular season, it’s safe to say it’s shocking that this conference could be entirely shut out from the Elite 8. Of course, with Syracuse falling on Saturday night, the same can be said for the ACC and Florida State. Everyone knew it was a down year for the ACC this season, but it’s amazing that after this game between the Wolverines and the Seminoles, either the ACC or Big 10 will be entirely eliminated from the field.

Michigan has flexed its top-10 nationally ranked offense (according to KenPom) during the first two rounds of the tournament, as they’ve put up 82 and 86 points against Texas Southern and LSU, respectively. Senior wing (and now sixth man since Isaiah Livers went down with a season ending foot injury) Chaundee Brown stepped up big against LSU, putting up 21 points on 6-9 shooting from the field and 6-6 shooting from the line. Look for him to be an x-factor in today’s game against the Seminoles; Brown also has a lot of experience against FSU from his days playing at Wake Forest during the previous three seasons.

While Michigan has the size needed to match up with the ‘Noles better than most other teams in the country in both the frontcourt and the backcourt, I actually think FSU is licking their chops at today’s matchup. The Seminoles’ length has harassed opposing offenses all season, particularly on attempts outside the arc; opponents are shooting just 32.6% from three against the Seminoles, ranking FSU 105th in the country in that category. Michigan is shooting 38.5% from downtown as a team on the season, but I’ll be surprised if they shoot at that clip today against FSU without Livers. Michigan also is not the most aggressive offensive rebounding team, which is normally something the Seminoles struggle with on defense. Lastly, FSU’s major achilles heel on offense is their propensity to turn the ball over, as they rank 254th in the country in turnover rate. In their most recent loss in the ACC Tournament championship game against Georgia Tech, the Seminoles turned the ball over 25 times. They’ve turned the ball over 15 times in each of their first two victories in this NCAA Tournament. Michigan, however, ranks 337th in the nation in turnover rate on defense, and they only forced three turnovers against LSU (albeit, in an 8-point win over the Tigers). So, FSU gets to face off against a Michigan team that doesn’t make its living on crashing the offensive boards and doesn’t force turnovers on defense. If FSU can keep Michigan at or below 35% from three and stay below 15 turnovers, they should win today’s game outright.

The Pick: Florida State +2

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)

#11 UCLA vs #2 Alabama

Tip: Sunday, 7:15 on TBS | Spread: Alabama -6.5 | Total: 145

Watch out CBB world, here comes the Tide! As they take on arguably the most storied program in the game in UCLA, Nate Oats is out to prove that Alabama can also be an elite basketball school. Oats’ squad has not lost since losing to Elite 8 contender Arkansas over a month ago. Since then, Bama has rattled off 8 wins in a row and does not look to be slowing down. To get to this point has been relatively easy for Alabama. First they took down Rick Pitino and Iona in the first round, winning by 13. Then the Tide absolutely steamrolled Maryland beating the Terps by 19 points. Alabama nearly dropped 100 on Maryland as they shot lights out shooting 53% from the field and 48.5% from 3! They also were a perfect 10 for 10 from the charity stripe as well. It was also a very balanced scoring attack by Bama as they had 5 players, including 3 off the bench, score in double figures. 

Now let’s turn our attention to the team from Westwood. For a team that barely snuck in the tournament, UCLA has already vastly exceeded expectations. They lost 4 games in a row leading into the tournament but the last three teams of which, Oregon, USC, and Oregon State are all still playing including 2 of those being among the Elite 8. Mick Cronin has done a fantastic job to bring some respect back to this once storied program. One may easily argue (myself included) that UCLA is sitting here after beating an extremely streaky Michigan State team, an overseed BYU team and 14th seeded Abilene Christian, but the result of the matter is that the Bruins are in the Sweet 16 which is all that matters at the end of the day. UCLA is primarily led by their offense which ranks 12th in the country in offensive efficiency. Interestingly enough, the Bruins rank 305th in the country in pace of play which means they like to slow down the game and take advantage of their fewer possessions, which is why the total is looking a little on the low side. UCLA is led by the sophomore duo of Jamie Jaquez Jr and Johnny Juzang. Juzang has been particularly impressive, leading the Bruins in scoring the last 2 games. The Bruins biggest issue is their defense. They come into this game ranking 58th in the country in defensive efficiency. 

Alabama is cruising right now and they are my pick from this game to go to the Elite 8, but how about the spread? Right now, the line is sitting at -6.5 in favor of the Tide. Looking at Alabama’s recent history they have won 8 in a row straight up and they have covered 5 of their last 7 games. Interestingly enough, the Tide happens to do very well against the PAC 12 conference as they have gone 8-1-1 ATS in their last 10 games against them. What should scare the Bruins about Alabama are the different ways they have shown they can win. In their first game of the tournament, they won a grind it out, strong defensive effort game over Iona. Then in their last contest, they shot Maryland out of the gym scoring nearly 100 points. This Alabama squad is too good and should easily beat UCLA. I do like the over in this game as well. I think Alabama’s aggressive, push the ball down the court style will influence this game more than UCLA’s slow it down, control the pace style. Alabama will score points at will against UCLA’s mediocre defense and UCLA will have to speed up their game to keep pace which will fall right into Alabama’s hands. I like a tease of Alabama with the over too, but let’s not get cute with this one. Alabama is the superior team and I think there is a good chance that they win by double digits.

The Pick: Take Alabama -6.5

Matthew Vale (@Matthewvale15)

South

#1 Baylor vs #5 Villanova

Tip: Saturday, 5:15 on CBS | Spread: Baylor -7 | Total: 141.5

Before March Madness tipped off, analysts, fans and bracket-fillers alike pegged Villanova as arguably the most upset-prone team in the field. The Wildcats limped into the tournament having lost three of their last four games, and the season-ending injury to star point guard and Co-Big East POTY Collin Gillespie would make you think that they would be an early exit in the Big Dance, right?

Wrong.

Jay Wright quickly reminded us why he is a premier coach in all of college basketball. His squad fended off an upset bid by No. 12 seed Winthrop in the first round and then absolutely thrashed No. 13 seed North Texas to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has quietly been one of the best players in the country all season and he’s proved it in the tournament. He recorded 22 points and 11 rebounds against Winthrop and followed it up with an 18-6-6 outing against North Texas. He isn’t the only threat, however, as sophomore guard Justin Moore has filled in nicely for the absent Gllespie, while forward Jermaine Samuels has provided another dimension in the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Like most Jay Wright teams, this crew plays slow and steady, maintaining one of the lowest paces in the nation and prioritizing ball security (3rd in the country in turnover %). 

Controlling the pace and the ball will be of the utmost importance for Villanova against this high-flying, entertaining Baylor team. The Bears’ journey to the Sweet 16 was much less dramatic, as they easily dispatched both Hartford and Wisconsin in the first and second rounds. Baylor is elite in every statistical category, just as a No. 1 seed should be. They rank in the top 5 in the country in offensive rating, effective field goal %, steal % and 3-point %. Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell comprise an essentially unguardable backcourt, Mark Vital and Flo Thamba lockdown the paint, and Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler provide sparks off the bench in a deep rotation. 

Baylor is the full package, plain and simple. 

This game really comes down to which Baylor team shows up. If it’s the Baylor team that struggled against Kansas State and lost to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament Villanova could spring an upset. If it’s the Baylor team that we’ve seen in the past two games, the Wildcats don’t stand a chance. I’m leaning heavily toward the latter here. The Bears are superior in every relevant statistic and seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. They have a plethora of offensive weapons and play at a pace with which Villanova won’t be able to keep up.

It’s Final Four or bust for the Bears this year and they know that. Scott Drew is going to have his team ready and I expect a double-digit victory for Baylor on Saturday. Bet accordingly.

The Pick: Baylor -7

– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)

#3 Arkansas vs #15 Oral Roberts

Tip: Saturday, 7:25 on TBS | Spread: Arkansas -11| Total: 158.5

The lack of non-conference games this season gave us a smaller-than-usual sample size of games to pick from in terms of drawing data from smaller teams. That’s probably the main reason that we so overvalued the Big 10 this season; our inclinations were much more prominent in our thought process and evaluations were doled out accordingly, and incorrectly.

However, there was a solid indication that Oral Roberts might be a team that was a bad match for bigger schools, and that was their non-conference schedule. Their location makes them a prime candidate to match up with Big 12 and SEC programs and they took advantage, playing five tournament teams before starting their conference schedule, including Arkansas. That first meeting came in December and the Hogs won by 11. If you’ll peep the spread, that’s where it’s based on.

Things have changed since that first meeting, though. Both teams have improved markedly and exceeded expectations, leading them to face off again. Max Abmas has evolved into an extremely efficient scorer with a ton of support from his swatch of shooters behind him, namely Kevin Obanar.

On the other side of the court we’ll see the likes of Moses Moody, JD Notae, and Justin Smith use their size and athleticism to push Oral Roberts out of their comfort zone and really force them to shoot perfectly if they’re going to move on. Arkansas’s defense is one of the best in the country and their length and steal numbers prove that. The team is loaded with talented individual and team defenders.

It’s a classic battle between two familiar entities, one offensive, one defense, one with an objective athletic advantage, the other overachieving beyond their dreams. As much fun as it might be to see a 15 seed advance to the Elite 8, I can’t see it happening. I think Arkansas rightfully won the first game and it wasn’t a fluke, plus they’ve improved on the season. If the tempos between these two teams were lower I might lean towards ORU, but with the teams playing so fast, Arkansas will get plenty of opportunity to make baskets.

However, I do believe that the tempo will favor the better shooting team enough that Oral Roberts can cover. Oral Roberts are shooting well over 38% from three and could be argued to be the best shooting team in the country from range over the course of the season. That isn’t a fluke either. Take the underdog to cover in a thrilling sequel.

The Pick: Oral Roberts +11

-Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)

Midwest

#8 Loyola (Chicago) vs #12 Oregon State

Tip: Saturday, 2:40 on CBS | Spread: Loyola -7 | Total: 125.5

We’re back for another action packed four days of college hoops! Getting us started is a matchup featuring two underdog teams looking to continue their deep runs towardss a national title. We have Oregon State representing the PAC-12 as champions while the Loyola Chicago Ramblers entered the tournament after winning the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Give me the under on 125.5 (-110) to start the day for a unit. Defense, defense, defense. That’s the key to advance in the NCAA Tournament and these two teams have it. Loyola boasts the second best defensive efficiency (86.1) in the country according to KenPom and they haven’t allowed more than 60 points to either opponent during this run. In fact, they just held the high powered Illini to only 58 in the upset victory. It should also be noted that these two squads rank way down the rankings in tempo so this will be a slower paced game. And with Loyola having several seniors in the lineup, I think they’ll have a huge focus on keeping the game at a pace they’re comfortable with. As for a winner, I think Loyola gets ‘er done this afternoon but I’m not willing to lay the seven points – although the Ramblers are 18-7-1 ATS this season. Oregon State has been on an immaculate run thus far and seven is a lot in a Sweet 16 game. The Beavers are 11-2 ATS as underdogs in their last 13 games this year. I think a play on the total is a safer mover today. 

The Pick: Under 125.5 

-Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

#11 Syracuse vs #2 Houston

Tip: Saturday, 9:55 on TBS | Spread: Houston -6.5 | Total: 140.5

Houston’s lucky to be here after overcoming a 10-point second half deficit in their last game against Rutgers. Houston was even down nine with less than 5 minutes to play before storming back to overcome the Scarlet Knights. This is a resilient squad that shoots a lot of threes, and it has done so at a solid clip over the last month or so to pull their season three-point shooting percentage up to 35.2%, cracking the top-100 in the country. The other thing Houston does incredibly well on the offensive end is gobble up offensive boards on their misses. Put these two together (strong perimeter shooting and offensive rebounding), and Syracuse’s 2-3 zone looks extremely gettable tonight.

The Orange, on the other hand, rode their offense and a pair of torrid outside shooting performances from Buddy Boeheim to back-to-back victories during the opening weekend of the tournament. Boeheim was a combined 13-23 (56.5%) from beyond the arc against San Diego State and West Virginia, while the entire Syracuse team was 29-58 (50.0%) from deep. Syracuse is a horrendous defensive rebounding team (340th in the country in defensive rebounding rate), and their 2-3 zone pushes opponents to take attempts from three-point range. The numbers bear that out, as Syracuse’s opponents have shot 44.2% of field goal attempts from three-point range (18th highest rate in the country).

This game is an extremely interesting matchup given Syracuse’s tendencies on defense and Houston’s strengths on offense. The Cougars should be able to overwhelm the Orange on the glass. But would you really bet against Syracuse and their offense right now? The five day layoff between the West Virginia game and today may have cooled ‘Cuse off a little, but I’m not comfortable betting on that. What I am comfortable with is the notion that both teams will be chucking from deep early and often, and I think ‘Cuse will have to be in catch-up mode on offense to hang with the Cougars’ three-point and offensive rebounding assault.

The Pick: OVER 140.5

-Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)