As sports fans, there are few things we love more than filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket on Selection Sunday. But from a betting perspective, putting money on the first weekend of the tournament isn’t necessarily a wise move. There are too many games being played by too many teams that we haven’t seen much of during the season.
Fortunately, the second weekend of the tournament is a little easier. By now, we’ve seen each team play two games in the tournament and have a better feel for who’s good, who’s a tough out, and who’s just excited to still be alive.
Hopefully, that leads to smarter, more educated picks. With that in mind, here are our best bets for the Sweet 16.
Syracuse +6.5 vs Houston
If Syracuse wasn’t technically a No. 11 seed, would the spread of this game be 6.5 points? To us, this game feels a little more like a toss-up. Since 2016, the Orange is 9-2 as a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team’s two wins last weekend only drive home the fact that Syracuse looks far better than a normal No. 11 seed.
It’s also worth noting that the Orange’s two losses during that 9-2 stretch in the NCAA Tournament both came against ACC teams that are familiar with facing Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. San Diego State proved in the First Round that teams unfamiliar with facing the Syracuse zone can look awfully foolish against it.
To be fair, nobody expects Houston to look helpless offensively. Quentin Grimes is an outstanding offensive player who can score in a variety of ways. But there’s no doubt that the Orange will make a concerted effort to prevent him from getting open looks. Meanwhile, Marcus Sasser has struggled shooting the ball in recent weeks while DeJon Jarreau is fighting through a hip injury, so the Cougars aren’t exactly at full strength.
Plus, the Orange can light up the scoreboard as well. Buddy Boeheim has been on a tear and is making everything. Syracuse also has three or four other players who can knock down perimeter shots not to mention Marek Dolezaj, who plays the center position but dribbles and passes like a guard. If Houston survives, it won’t be by much, which is why we like the Orange and the points.
Baylor -7.5 vs Villanova
If Collin Gillespie were playing, this might be a different story.
The Wildcats deserve a lot of credit for figuring things out after losing their starting point guard. However, all Villanova has done is beat Nos. 12 and 13 seeds. Facing Baylor will be a huge step up in competition level for a team that couldn’t beat Providence or Georgetown after Gillespie’s injury.
Even with Justin Moore stepping up for the Cats, it’s hard to envision Villanova being able to keep up with Baylor’s backcourt for 40 minutes. The Bears have three guards in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell who are better than any of Villanova’s guards. With the way those three share the basketball and shoot it from the outside, the Bears could be running circles around the Wildcats.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl could create problems for the Baylor frontcourt. However, that won’t be enough to offset the talent gap in the backcourt. If the spread were a little higher, one could make an argument that Villanova is good enough to stay competitive. One certainly shouldn’t discount the toughness of Jay Wright’s team. But 7.5 points doesn’t seem like that much with the way the Bears can pour in points.
Oregon State +7 vs Loyola
Loyola is probably going to win this game, but the oddsmakers might be drinking the Kool-Aid a little too much on the Ramblers. Granted, they beat both Georgia Tech and Illinois by double figures, but seven points still seems a little high for a No. 8 seed in the Sweet 16.
Let’s keep in mind that Loyola isn’t an offensive juggernaut. The Ramblers are averaging 71.5 points per game on the season, and that’s while playing most of their schedule against Missouri Valley teams. Outside of Cameron Krutwig, nobody on the team averages double figures despite the strong play of Lucas Williamson during the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Oregon State has a balanced roster that has figured things out over the last two weeks. Don’t lose sight that the Beavers have won five straight games, all against teams that were in the field of 68. Loyola, on the other hand, has only played six games all season against tournament teams, and three of those games were against Drake.
The Beavers have an elite scorer in Ethan Thompson, who averages 15.6 points per game. They have the size to deal with Krutwig with Roman Silva and Warith Alatishe. They also have a few players who can change games with their outside shooing like Jarrod Lucas and Zach Reichle.
Even with Loyola’s strong defensive pedigree, it’ll be difficult for the Ramblers to pull away in this game and cover the 7-point spread.
Alabama -6.5 vs UCLA
With all due respect, it seems like UCLA is in for a rude awakening in the Sweet 16. The Bruins did well to beat Michigan State in overtime to get into the field of 64. But after that, they only had to beat a couple of mid-majors to reach the Sweet 16. It feels like Alabama is a big step up competition-wise for a team that lost four in a row heading into the NCAA Tournament.
It’s also pertinent that the Crimson Tide is coming off one of its best performances of the season. It was raining threes against Maryland in the Round of 32, and if that continues, the Bruins don’t have a chance of advancing. With their tempo and their willingness to launch perimeter shots with reckless abandon, the Tide puts a ton of pressure on opposing teams.
While Mick Cronin has taken UCLA a long way in his two seasons, the Bruins may not be ready for that. Before the tournament, the Bruins had just two wins over teams in the field of 68. Knocking off a No. 2 seed that’s coming off a great performance seems unrealistic unless Johnny Juzang gets a lot of help from his supporting cast.
We’re expecting the Tide to roll by double digits in this game.
Gonzaga -13 vs Creighton
Most of the time, eating 13 points in a Sweet 16 game would be a bad idea. But Gonzaga isn’t just any team; they’re averaging 92 points per game on the season and have scored at least 87 points in each of their two tournament games. Also, we shouldn’t forget that Creighton is just two weeks removed from a humiliating loss in the Big East Tournament final against Georgetown.
While the Bluejays have five players who average double figures and a strong point guard in Marcus Zegarowski, it takes more than that to keep pace with the Bulldogs. Creighton’s lack of size could make it difficult to contain Drew Timme, who scored 30 points in his last game. It’s also not easy containing Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs, even if the Bluejays have good athletes on the wing.
The bottom line is that Creighton will have to play close to perfect just to be within striking distance in the closing minutes. Of the nine wins the Bulldogs have this season against teams in the field of 68, only one came by less than 10 points. Those wins include Kansas, Iowa, and Virginia, so they’ve won comfortably against quality teams. There’s no reason to think that will change, which is why we feel comfortable taking Gonzaga to cover 13 points.
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