The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is in the books, and with Saturday fast approaching, it’s time to jump right into our Sweet 16 picks. The Sundays, March 28 schedule provides a bit of everything, thanks a matchup between undefeated Gonzaga and hot-shooting Creighton, an evenly balanced showdown between No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama vs. No 11 UCLA and a Pac-12 showdown between No. 6 USC and No. 7 Oregon.
Longtime national college basketball writer Rob Dauster, the co-founder of The Field of 68 Network, previews his Sweet 16 picks for Sunday and identifies the bets worth a wager.
Read below for a breakdown of NCAA Tournament predictions and Sweet 16 picks,.
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SWEET 16 PICKS: SUNDAY, MARCH 28
#1 GONZAGA (28-0) vs #5 CREIGHTON (22-8), 2:10 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Gonzaga -1000 ML, Creighton +650 ML
SPREAD: Gonzaga -13
OVER/UNDER: 158.5 points
Click here for the full list of Gonzaga-Creighton odds.
I hate it when Vegas gives out what feels like the perfect line.
I really don’t think that Creighton has a chance to pull off this upset. The Bluejays are, in a sense, Diet Gonzaga. Low Carb Gonzaga. Gonzaga Zero, if you will. Both teams want to play the same way. They want to space the floor, they want to put the ball in the hands of their talented lead guard, they want to push tempo and they want to bang a bunch of threes.
And no one is going to beat Gonzaga playing Gonzaga’s game. Think about it like this: If you line up both of these teams side by side and go through position by position, is there any spot on the floor where Creighton is going to have the better player?
I don’t think that there is.
The problem, however, is that 13 points is a lot of points for a team that can get white hot from three and is capable of taking advantage of some of the weaknesses in Gonzaga’s defense.
Now, here’s the catch: I expect Creighton to take the air out of the ball here. Greg McDermott isn’t dumb. If I know that he can’t run with Gonzaga he is going t know that he cannot run with Gonzaga. Creighton has won games by slowing down the tempo before, specifically against UConn in the Big East tournament title game. They’ve done it against Villanova in the past. I would expect them to use the Saint MAry’s blueprint: Take 25 seconds off the clock, put Zegarowski in a high ball-screen, send one to the offensive glass, prevent transition. Their best chance is to make this a 65 possession game and hope they get hot from three on a night where Gonzaga isn’t making their shots. Embrace the variance of lower possessions.
If that’s the case, then the under is going to be the play here, as scary as that may sound. And if the under is in play, then that will make covering 13 that much more difficult. So that’s where I’m going to have my money here.
#1 MICHIGAN (22-4) vs. #4 FLORIDA STATE (18-6), 5 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Michigan -148 ML, Florida State +120 ML
SPREAD: Michigan -2.5
OVER/UNDER: 143 points
Click here for the full list of Michigan vs. Florida State odds.
Florida State really is not a good matchup for Michigan. The Seminoles switch EVERYTHING. Every ball-screen, every off-ball screen, every exchange, everything. The entire point of doing this is to eliminate your sets, to make it impossible for opponents to scheme up shots. That’s why he recruits nothing but 6-foot-6 athletes with freakshow wingspans. He’s going to dare your best player to try and beat one of his guys 1-on-1. That’s the entire premise of his defense.
And that’s not a great matchup for Michigan. The Wolverines don’t have a lot of great 1-on-1 players. We saw, in the loss to Illinois, what can happen when Mike Smith is forced into being the guy that carries the team. We’ve seen Franz Wagner struggle when tasked with carrying a heavier load. We’ve seen some of the limitations of Chaundee Brown and Eli Brooks. For my money, this is going to be the best game of the Sweet 16, and I am fascinated to see what Juwan Howard is going to scheme up to try and slow them down.
I think the answer is going to be riding Dickinson in the post, but the problem there is that FLorida State does have some size inside.
So I think the value here lies on Florida State’s ML at (+120).
#2 ALABAMA (26-6) vs. #11 UCLA (20-9), 7:15 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Alabama -295 ML, UCLA +235 ML
SPREAD: Alabama -7
OVER/UNDER: 144.5 points
Click here for the full list of Alabama vs. UCLA odds.
UCLA has been one of the best stories in college basketball this season. Despite losing the two guys that would have been their best players coming into the season — Daishen Nix and Chris Smith — they finished the season as a top four team in the Pac-12 and are now sitting in the Sweet 16, thanks to Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez.
But this is where their run ends.
The Bruins had a fortuitous path to get here. They drew team from the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in Michigan State, then got BYU, then got Abilene Christian. You can make the argument that their opponents have gotten easier every step of the tournament. That will not be the case with the Crimson Tide, who not only are the most dangerous offensive in the tournament this side of Gonzaga but who has a top three defense nationally and a number of wings — John Petty, Herb Jones, Keon Ellis — that can matchup up well with Juzang and Jaquez.
#6 SOUTHERN CAL (24-7) vs. #7 OREGON (21-6), 9:45 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: USC -132 ML, Oregon +110 ML
SPREAD: USC -2
OVER/UNDER: 138 points
Click here for the full list of Oregon vs. USC odds.
This is the hardest game for me to figure out. On the one hand, just six weeks ago, we all saw USC absolutely obliterate Oregon in LA, winning a game they led by 17 before the Ducks scored.
On the other hand, the matchup here just seems ideal for an Oregon team that plays at their best when they can take advantge of an opponent’s size. That’s exactly the conundrum here when trying to figure out who to back in this spot.
Truth be told, I think that both of these teams are in a good sell-high spot. USC drubbed a Kansas team that was never as talented as their seed would lead you to believe and was coming off of some COVID issues, while Oregon is coming off of a beatdown of an Iowa team that never had a chance to matchup with their perimeter talent. I think the play here is Oregon, but that has more to do with the fact that I think these teams are essentially even and getting points is where the value lies.
SWEET 16 PICKS: SATURDAY, MARCH 27
#8 LOYOLA-CHICAGO (26-4) vs. #12 OREGON STATE (19-12), 2:40 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Loyola -295 ML, Oregon State +240 ML
SPREAD: Loyola -7
OVER/UNDER: 125 points
Click here for the full list of Loyola-Chicago vs. Oregon State odds.
This is the matchup that we all wanted in the Sweet 16, right?
Why bother with Ayo Dosunmu and Cade Cunningham when we can have Sister Jean and Wayne Tinkle!
This game is going to be a grinder. Not only is Loyola the best defensive team left in the tournament, but the way that they can defend on the perimeter can take opponents out of what they want to run. They are just so disciplined on that end of the floor. They don’t give up offensive rebounds, they don’t foul and they don’t let you get clean looks at the basket.
All of that is problematic for an Oregon State team that, frankly, I just don’t have a great feel for. The Beavers finished 10-10 in the Pac-12, but given the way that this tournament has played out — and the fact that they won the Pac-12 tournament — should I be more impressed with that? Along those same lines, was Loyola’s dismantling of Illinois a sign that the Ramblers have also been significantly underrated all season long?
My gut here says the side to be on is Loyola. I don’t think that Tinkle and company will have an answer to Krutwig in the paint, the Ramblers should be able to take Oregon State out of their offense and at some point, the Beavers will start missing jump shots again.
But I’m very wary of laying seven points in a game where the total is 125.5.
Given how good Loyola’s defense is, and the fact that both teams rank outside the top 300 in possession length, according to KenPom, I think the under may actually be in play here.
#1 BAYLOR (24-2) vs. #5 VILLANOVA (18-6), 5:15 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Baylor -335 ML, Villanova +265 ML
SPREAD: Baylor -7.5
OVER/UNDER: 42 points
Click here for the full list of Baylor vs. Villanova odds.
There is never going to be a point in time where fading a team coached by Jay Wright feels comfortable in March. He’s 16-2 in his last five NCAA tournaments, and he has won a pair of national titles during that stretch. According to well-placed sources, that is good.
That said, not having Collin Gillespie changes things in this game in a major, major way. By now everyone knows about Baylor’s defense. They don’t allow middle, they overhelp when the ball is driven baseline and they are the best in the country at rotating out of it … when they are at 100 percent. There is reason to be concerned with whether or not they are at 100 percent right now, but the first half that they played against Wisconsin was as close to “the real Baylor” as we’ve seen since they went into their COVID shutdown. The number of practices that they were able to get in this week will only help.
As far as the matchup is concerned, without Gillespie, Villanova’s offensive outlet has been Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was absolutely electric in wins over North Texas and Winthrop. Neither of those teams had an answer for him at the five. I believe Baylor does. Mark Vital will not be overpowered in the post by JRE, and he can lock up point guards on the perimeter; he should be five against a five-man.
If JRE gets his faucet shut off, where is Villanova’s offensive coming from? Baylor’s perimeter players are just too good defensively to allow anyone else to be able to get it going.
I think Baylor wins this game by double-figures. The fact that Villanova is going to try and turn this into a 60-possession game is worrisome, but I do think the value is on the Baylor side here.
#3 ARKANSAS (24-6) vs. #15 ORAL ROBERTS (18-10), 7:22 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Arkansas -715 ML, Oral Roberts +480 ML
SPREAD: Arkansas -11.5
OVER/UNDER: 158 points
Click here for the full list of Arkansas vs Oral Roberts odds.
Justin Smith, baby!
The 6-foot-7 center for Arkansas averaged 24.5 points through the first two games of the tournament and was arguably the MVP of the South Region through the first weekend.
I don’t think that is going to change on Saturday.
What Oral Roberts wants to do is run high ball-screen after high ball-screen after high ball-screen. They put shooters everywhere on the floor, they create as much space as possible and then they try and allow their two future pros — Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor — to play 2-on-2 with all that space. Against opponents that play Colin Castleton and the likes of Zed Key at the five, that worked.
But Justin Smith will not be taken advantage of on the perimeter. He’s one of the best athletes in the sport. He played the three at Indiana before transferring. I think he is the guy that can limit ORU offensively. You can switch him onto Abmas, and Arkansas has enough big guards that can hold their own against Obanor. When that happens, this team just cannot get stops.
That said, Arkansas has had a propensity for slow starts. So while I do like the Hogs (-11.5), I will primarily be looking to snag them live if (when!) the slow start happens again.
#2 HOUSTON (26-3) vs. #11 SYRACUSE (18-9), 9:55 p.m. ET
MONEYLINE: Houston -286 ML, Syracuse +230 ML
SPREAD: Houston -6.5
OVER/UNDER: 141 points
Click here for the full list of Houston vs. Syracuse odds.
I think this is the most difficult matchup that Syracuse has faced in this tournament to date. Houston has seen plenty of zone this season, and while they haven’t been great against it — 70th percentile in PPP, according to Synergy, as opposed to 83rd percentile vs. man — they have been much better than West Virginia.
The Cougars are a good three-point shooting team, but they have been a great offensive rebounding team over the years. They rank second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Syracuse was the worst defensive rebounding team in this tournament.
That’s before you throw in the fact that Houston has consistently been elite defending the three-point line. Why is that relevant? Because in the last four games, Buddy Boeheim is averaging 28.3 points and shooting 55.8% from three on 10.8 attempts per game.
The more I’ve dug into this game, the more I think this is just a terrible matchup for the Orange. I will likely be staying away due to the question marks about the status of DeJon Jarreau, but after being on Syracuse early in the week, I am not longer at that point.
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