Despite just five underdogs winning outright in the Round of 32, that sets up for plenty of highly-anticipated games on Thursday and Friday. Let’s delve into my Sweet 16 picks, including a South Regional semifinal matchup between Arizona and Houston and one in the Midwest Region with Kansas and Providence.
Click on the odds below to place a bet, and continue the discussion in our Discord betting chat, where we break down what remains in the big dance. You can reference my pre-tournament power rankings and current ratings — ahead of my Sweet 16 picks.
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No. 1 Arizona Wildcats Vs. No. 5 Houston Cougars
For starters, my numbers make the line roughly Arizona -1, so there isn’t much value in the spread. If you’re going to a play either side, wait for a live number that’s more appealing instead. However, there’s still value in the total.
Which Team Dictates The Pace?
Just like when Tommy Lloyd was on Mark Few’s coaching staff at Gonzaga, the Wildcats tally the fifth-quickest adjusted tempo (via KenPom) in the country. On the flip side, Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars rank No. 334 in that department.
Even though Arizona presents more size at nearly every position, Houston boasts the premier gang rebounding clan across Division I. In particular, it’s racking up the third-highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Lloyd’s group struggles to restrict second-chance opportunities, as TCU accrued 20 in their Round of 32 overtime clash.
If the Cougars are gathering an abundance of offensive rebounds, that would inevitably hinder the Wildcats’ ability to zip up and down the court.
Projecting Lloyd’s adjustment isn’t straightforward. Arizona shied away from playing its two 7-footers — Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo — together to close things out against Horned Frogs despite expanding the lead with both on the floor.
But he may adjust early on if Houston exploits its most glaring concern. Regardless of which coach wins the tactical war, we’ll likely see a slower tempo play out.
Sampson’s Bruising Defense
Although the Wildcats’ half-court offense shouldn’t be taken for granted, they depend on what the Cougars’ defense hampers most — interior scoring. That’s because Houston pressures the ball and traps the post when its opponent seeks to score inside.
It’s not any easier from behind the arc with Taze Moore & Co. harassing teams into contested 3s. That doesn’t bode well for Arizona, either, as it doesn’t rely on perimeter looks nor take quality ones.
Moreover, Wildcats point guard Kerr Kriisa is dealing with an ankle injury that’s restraining his explosiveness. In fact, he forced up his fair share of poorly-timed shots in the win over TCU as a result.
Arizona – Houston Conclusion
Betting on an under involving Arizona is a volatile proposition. If the matchup develops as expected, though, we should get a lower-scoring brawl.
Best Available Total: Under
Eli’s Sweet 16 Picks: Under 145.5 (-110)
Result: Win (+0.93 units)
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No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks Vs. No. 4 Providence Friars
Kansas survived a scare against Creighton in its second game of the NCAA tournament while the Friars covered both of their opening round contests. What are the determining factors for this one?
Providence’s Inside-Out Attack
Ed Cooley running his offense through the paint is no secret. The Friars manufacture the top-55 usage rate in the low-post (via ShotQuality) — much of that thanks to the 6-foot-10 Nate Watson. Their senior center delivers around the rim, and he’ll be up against an exposable interior unit.
The Jayhawks anticipated David McCormack evolving into a two-way force, yet he’s failed to match those expectations, especially defensively. If Watson wins that battle, it should open up Providence’s perimeter arsenal. Kansas surrendered the fourth-highest percentage of open 3s in Big 12 play, and Cooley’s floor-spacers have cashed in on catch-and-shoot looks from distance.
Myself and much of the betting market anticipated shooting variance to plague the Friars over time. But that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. If Noah Horchler & Co. are on from deep once again, that’ll restrict the Jayhawks’ transition offense as well.
Limiting Kansas’ Fast-Break Shots
Here’s where backing the Friars can be dangerous. They’re one of the least efficient transition defenses in the country, and the Jayhawks profit consistently when they’re able to increase the tempo. A healthy Remy Martin off the bench aids that cause as well.
Nevertheless, Bill Self doesn’t run much pick-and-roll action, which would expose Providence’s half-court, ball-screen coverage. Hence, if Providence’s own offense is effective, it won’t allow for Kansas to expose its biggest weakness.
Plus, Justin Minaya, who could’ve easily won the 2021-22 Big East Defensive Player of the Year award, is capable of shadowing and slowing down Jayhawks star Ochai Agbaji.
Kansas – Providence Conclusion
I’ve doubted this Friars team all season long, yet I’m willing to back them to at least stay within a few possessions against a susceptible Jayhawks defense.
Best Available Line: Providence
Eli’s Sweet 16 Picks: Providence +7.5 (-110)