Who would’ve expected to see three Pac-12 teams in action on the second day of the Sweet 16? Or that we’d have to wait until Sunday to see the sole Big Ten team that survived the first weekend? It’s been a wild ride so far.
Now, it’s time to find out the teams that will make up the 2021 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. Let’s dig into each matchup from a betting perspective.
(5) Creighton vs. (1) Gonzaga -13, O/U: 158
|Pick||Mitch Ballock Over 2.5 3s | Creighton +13 or Nothing|
|Tipoff||Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET|
Gonzaga, which has won 32 consecutive games, will look to keep its undefeated season alive on Sunday against Creighton.
The Zags are an offensive juggernaut, led by a three-headed monster of uber-talented point guard Jalen Suggs, sharp-shooting matchup nightmare Corey Kispert and post-wizard Drew Timme.
Head coach Mark Few also has a number of role players that are seemingly a perfect fit and complement to the aforementioned trio.
The Zags get 48.7% of their shots at rim (3rd) where they shoot 72.5%, which leads the nation. They also play very fast (fourth in Adjusted Tempo) and are a transition juggernaut, leading the country in both percentage of shots (34.9%) and effective field goal percentage (65.9%) in transition.
And unlike last year, the defense does not appear to be an area of concern as Gonzaga ranks seventh in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom. This team is the deserved favorite to cut down the nets in April.
Meanwhile, Creighton has an extremely efficient offense that ranks 14th in effective field goal percentage. Outstanding junior point guard Marcus Zegarowski leads an offense that has outstanding ball movement without turning it over (28th).
The Bluejays are very 3-point reliant (37th in 3-point rate) but are more than capable of knocking them down at 36.5% on the season (52nd).
Nobody can really slow down the Gonzaga offense, but Creighton does have a very underrated half-court defense with great length and athleticism on the wings that could force Kispert and company into some tough shots.
However, the Bluejays don’t really turn opponents over, and I’m just not sure how they will slow down Timme in the post. Additionally, Creighton has struggled to defend in transition (40th percentile, per Synergy), which could spell doom in this particular matchup.
The Bluejays are an extremely experienced group but don’t possess a lot of depth. That could become an issue in a likely high-possession game, especially if it’s called tight. Creighton does not want to see that happen, as it has really struggled from the charity stripe all season.
Bet to Watch
I think this number is a touch too high, so it’s either Creighton or nothing for me.
It will likely come down to whether or not Creighton hits its outside shots, as we know Gonzaga should score on the low block and in transition with regularity. Plus, Gonzaga should own the defensive glass, so don’t expect too many second-chance points out of Creighton.
I think the X-factor could be Mitch Ballock. Can he have a game where he makes six-plus 3-pointers as he did against Seton Hall and Villanova — both Creighton victories in which it scored 85 and 86 points, respectively?
I assume the Jays will likely need to get to at least 85 in order to have a shot at pulling off this upset. Or will Ballock be completely silent as we’ve seen in a number of games this year?
Ballock’s output range, in a way, sums up this Creighton team, which has just been extremely inconsistent all season.
We’ve seen the Jays suffer four losses against non-tourney teams (Butler, Xavier, Providence, Marquette) and also drop two games against Georgetown — one at home and one in curious blowout fashion in the Big East Tournament.
However, we’ve also seen Creighton look world-beaters against tournament teams at times. If we get the “good” Creighton and its shots are falling, it probably covers this number. If we get the bad “Creighton,” this one will get ugly quick against a Gonzaga team that is just a model of consistency.
With Creighton being so 3-point reliant, that does increase the variance if you wanted to take a shot on the moneyline although the amount of possessions in Gonzaga games neutralizes that advantage a bit.
If you’re into props, I’d take a shot on Ballock over 2.5 3-pointers at +120 (DraftKings).
Target: Mitch Ballock Over 2.5 3-pointers | Creighton +13 or Nothing.
(4) Florida State vs. (1) Michigan -2.5 | O/U: 143.5
|Pick||Florida State +2.5 | Under 143.5|
|Tipoff||Sunday, 5 p.m. ET|
No. 1 seed Michigan survived a scare in the second round against LSU to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season.
Michigan is a complete team.
The Wolverines rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom. It all starts with 7-foot-1 freshman Hunter Dickinson, who is an extreme matchup problem on the offensive end and an elite rim protector defensively. He’s one of the reasons Michigan allows the 12th-lowest percentage of shots at the rim (per Hoop-Math) and ranks third in 2-point percentage.
Dickinson generally draws enough attention to open up spacing for the rest of the offense. And Michigan has plenty of shooters on the outside who can knock down open looks.
The Wolverines rank in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage. They boast an offense that moves the ball exceptionally well with a vast playbook that makes Juwan Howard’s bunch extremely difficult to prepare for.
Meanwhile, FSU also had to survive a scare, but that came in the first round against a pesky UNC Greensboro squad. The Seminoles then had a sweat-free win over Colorado in the second round.
This is your typical Florida State team under Leonard Hamilton. The Seminoles are as deep, athletic and long as any team in the country. They can create an abundance of matchup problems on the offensive end and aren’t reliant on any one player.
They also have the luxury of ranking in the top 20 in both 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding rate. That’s a comforting combination. Turnovers have been the primary issue when the offense sputters, as they rank 254th nationally in that department.
The FSU defense causes major issues with its versatility, which allows maximum “switchability” and flexibility. Opponents get nothing easy — especially at the rim, where FSU ranks 11th in field goal percentage — and are bothered on almost every attempt by FSU’s extreme length. Florida State plays a very aggressive brand of defense that utilizes a full-court press as well as relentless traps and double-teams in the half-court.
It’s a swarming defense that comes in waves with endless depth that looks to wear down opponents and never let them get comfortable. However, that aggressiveness does lead to a lot of fouls and leaves the Noles a bit vulnerable on the offensive glass.
Florida State wants to speed the game up (89th in Adjusted Tempo) with its pressure defense and transition offense. The Seminoles press at a top-five rate and get out in transition at a top-50 rate nationally.
Michigan, which doesn’t turn the ball over much, has graded out well against the press (80th percentile, per Synergy) but it’s only seen it in less than 5% of possessions. Michigan doesn’t have an elite transition defense from an efficiency perspective, but it does a tremendous job of limiting transition opportunities (40th-lowest rate in D-I).
Michigan can also battle with Florida State’s size in the interior, especially on the defensive glass, which is key against FSU. The Wolverines also have a phenomenal defensive chess piece in Franz Wagner, who can match up with Scottie Barnes when needed.
I also think this is a fairly positive matchup for Brandon Johns, who has seen his minutes increase with Isaiah Livers out with an injury. He won’t be too exposed defensively here and can help clean up offensive rebounds, which FSU will certainly allow.
That said, Florida State might not have to worry as much about its severe turnover issues against a Michigan defense that doesn’t really turn teams over. The Wolverines rank 337th in defensive turnover rate, which has to be music to the ears of Leonard Hamilton.
Without Livers (who I don’t expect to play), Michigan is not really deep at the moment.
That could become an issue if the game is called tight or late in the game against an FSU team that has seemingly infinite depth. For example, per KenPom, Florida State ranks 25th in bench minutes, while Michigan ranks outside the top 300.
Bet to Watch
I personally played Florida State +3 earlier in the week and fancy the Noles at anything over +2.
This is simply a numbers play for me since I make the line closer to +1 after adjusting Michigan down a bit for what appears to be a vastly overrated Big Ten.
The lack of non-conference play seemed to lead to inflated adjusted metrics across the league.
In fairness, you could also argue the ACC was a bit overrated after its performance in the tournament so far:
- UNC got blown out by Wisconsin
- Georgia Tech (albeit shorthanded) lost to Loyola Chicago
- Virginia Tech lost to Florida
- Virginia got upset by Ohio
- Clemson lost to Rutgers
Only Florida State and Syracuse got out of the first round alive.
I just think Florida State’s extreme length and athleticism will cause problems for Michigan on both ends of the floor.
FSU also has the size to interrupt the flow of the Michigan offense and contend with Dickinson inside without over-helping as many teams have to do, which opens up the rest of the floor for open shots.
It’s also worth noting that FSU did at least get to play in this arena last week, while Michigan did not. Ultimately, I just think this will be a super competitive game that comes down to the wire (assuming normal shooting luck for both teams), so I gladly snagged the three points.
From a total perspective, I’d look under here as I think both defenses match up fairly well with each respective offense.
Target: FSU +2.5 or better | Under 143.5 or better
(11) UCLA vs. (2) Alabama -6.5 | O/U: 145.5
|Pick||Alabama ML as Parlay Piece | Alabama -6 | Potential Alabama Live Bet|
|Tipoff||Sunday, 7:15 p.m. ET|
You have to give a lot of credit to UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. Not only did the Bruins lose highly-touted point guard Daishen Nix to the G-League before the season ever started, but they also lost Chris Smith and Jalen Hill to injury during the season.
Yet, Cronin still found a way to get his team through the play-in game against Michigan State and then through two more games to reach the Sweet 16. Point guard Tyger Campbell and company seem to be peaking at just the right time.
The same can be said for Alabama head coach Nate Oats, who also had to deal with a number of injuries throughout the season. Yet the Tide exceeded their preseason expectations and locked up a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama’s defense has been the biggest surprise this season, as it has graded out as elite throughout the entire season.
The offense is a high-variance unit due to its 3-point reliance, but the defense can still win games on off-shooting nights. Plus, it had to be a good sign for Crimson Tide fans to finally see the 3s start to drop in Bama’s most recent victory.
After hitting a bit of a rough stretch, the Tide hit 16-of-33 shots from beyond the arc against Maryland in the Round of 32.
If they can carry that through the rest of the tournament, look out.
Alabama is leading the rim-and-3 revolution.
The Tide take almost no 2-point jump shots (national-low of 12%). Everything is either at the rim or from 3. They lead the nation with a 79% rim-and-3 rate, per ShotQuality. The Bruins are almost the complete opposite. In fact, this is a matchup of two teams that contrast each other in many ways.
- Alabama wants to play fast (11th in Adjusted Tempo), while UCLA wants to grind games to a halt under Cronin (337th)
- The Tide either take a shot at the rim or from 3, while UCLA ranks 336th in rim-and-3 rate and takes the fifth-highest percentage of 2-point jumpers.
- Alabama is very 3-point reliant with a top-20 3PA rate, while UCLA ranks outside the top 300 in 3PA/FGA.
So, what gives?
Well, per Synergy, UCLA ranks in the top 50 in limiting transition opportunities and in the top 25 in points per possession in those scenarios. That’s critical against an Alabama offense that gets out in transition at the sixth-highest rate in college basketball.
In its first two games, UCLA faced two extremely post-reliant offenses in BYU and Abilene Christian, which each rank in the top 40 in post possessions, per Synergy.
Not only did Cody Riley and company do a tremendous job of defending the interior, but the Bruins also exploited the opposing bigs with mismatches on the other end. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, who has been tremendous of late, was usually the primary beneficiary.
That won’t be the case on Sunday.
Alabama ranks in the bottom-15 in possessions run through the post. If it can’t get out in transition, it wants to use its guards to dribble-penetrate and either get to the rim or kick out for a 3. That’s a glaring weakness for a UCLA defense that ranks outside the top 200 in 3-point attempt rate and is allowing teams to connect on 34.2% of those shots (198th).
Alabama is an excellent catch-and-shoot offense, ranking in the 86th percentile in those situations, per Synergy. The UCLA defense ranks in the fifth percentile in that department. Big yikes.
Alabama also recently saw the return of Josh Primo, who brings another outside shooting threat. I just don’t see how the Tide won’t get plenty of open looks here created by dribble penetration in the half-court.
And on the other side of the ball, UCLA won’t be able to exploit matchups in the pick-and-roll as it did in its last two games. The Tide have one of the most versatile defenses in the country featuring Herb Jones, who can take out Juzang if need be.
The offense gets all of the press for Alabama, but it’s the defense that ranks third in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom.
UCLA won’t turn it over at least, but it won’t get many easy looks here against a suffocating Alabama defense.
The Bruins do love to shoot 2-point jumpers, which Alabama will welcome. However, unless the Bruins can’t miss, this is a tough ask for a very talented but young bunch.
Bet to Watch
I just don’t think this is a very good matchup for UCLA. Yes, the Bruins do a tremendous job of keeping teams out of transition. However, I’m not sure their guards are up for the task in the half-court.
The kicker for me is that while Alabama gets out in transition a ton, it hasn’t been overly efficient when it does so. The Crimson Tide rank in just the ninth percentile in transition efficiency compared to the 80th percentile in the half-court, per Synergy. Meanwhile, the UCLA defense ranks in the 93rd percentile in transition, but just the 17th percentile in the half-court.
So, while it may seem counter-intuitive, UCLA making this more of a half-court game (which I think it will achieve) will actually play right into Alabama’s hands.
I personally think the line is pretty fair, per my power ratings.
However, the matchup heavily favors Alabama. I used the Tide as a ML parlay piece and will look for a great opportunity to back the Tide live. If the line dips back below 6, that would also be a buy-point for me.
Target: Alabama ML as Parlay Piece | Alabama -6 or better | Potential Alabama Live Bet
(7) Oregon vs. (6) USC -2 | O/U 138
|Pick||Under 138.5 | 1H Under 64|
|Tipoff||Sunday, 9:45 p.m. ET|
A Pac-12 tournament game in the Sweet 16?!?
I’m here for it, especially since these conference rivals genuinely don’t seem to like each other.
Isaiah Mobley when asked about USC’s upcoming matchup against Oregon: “They stole the Pac-12 championship from us.”
— Keely Eure (@keelyismyname) March 23, 2021
Both teams seem to be peaking at just the right time. Oregon, in particular, remains a bit undervalued in many season-long metrics as it had to deal with a number of key injuries throughout the season. When fully healthy, this is a top-20 team.
The Ducks are a very perimeter-oriented and balanced with pristine cutting and motion that ranks 10th in Adjusted Efficiency, per KenPom. They can flat-out shoot at 38.2% from 3 (15th nationally) with a top-100 frequency. Almost everybody in the rotation connects on at least 35% of their outside attempts.
Defensively, Oregon will throw various looks at its opponents. It goes zone over 25% of the time and is one of 20 teams in the country that pressed on at least a quarter of opponent possessions during the season. The Ducks also do a wonderful job of switching defenses within each possession.
Oregon’s primary weakness is its size. It does a decent job of gang-rebounding but is vulnerable on the interior against elite bigs.
Meanwhile, the Trojans will also throw out some press and zone but not at anywhere close to the frequency of Oregon.
USC gets it done with one of the most suffocating interior defenses in the country. The men of Troy rank fifth in Adjusted Efficiency and first overall in 2-point percentage.
Not surprisingly, USC ranks in the top 20 in field goal percentage at the rim and percentage of opponent 2-point jump shots, per Hoop-Math. The Trojans have pro-level talent and size inside with the two Mobley brothers: 6-foot-10 Isaiah and 7-foot Evan.
That duo also tends to dominate on the offensive glass, where USC ranks 12th in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. The offense is especially lethal in the half-court when Tahj Eaddy and others on the perimeter are making their outside shots to stretch the defense.
USC is a very long and physical team, so it draws plenty of fouls. However, the Trojans are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation at 64.3%.
They can also get a bit sloppy with the ball at times and don’t really force many turnovers on the defensive end.
Dana Altman, with five full days to prepare for this one, is a scary thought. He’s one of the best coaches in the business in a tournament setting. Not only is he a phenomenal game-planner, but his constantly-changing defenses are also very difficult to prepare for.
It’s one of the reasons Altman is 15-5-1 against the spread in the NCAA Tournament since 2005, per Action Labs.
That said, don’t sleep on Andy Enfield, who boasts a flawless 9-0 ATS record in the Big Dance. USC also has extra time to prepare for Oregon, and it’s already familiar with its league foe.
USC hasn’t seen zone or press a ton this year, so the sample size is fairly meaningless. However, for what it’s worth, it’s graded out well in both situations.
Can Oregon’s switching defenses and traps disrupt the USC offense enough to force turnovers and prevent it from getting into its sets long enough to neutralize the size disadvantage? That will be one major key.
The other will be how Oregon shoots from the outside. The Ducks simply won’t get much at the rim against USC, which should also own the glass as it did in the first meeting, 39-26.
Bet to Watch
I think this line is about fair, as I have USC as a little more than a 1-point favorite.
It will likely come down to 3-point variance. Oregon will need to have at least an average 3-point shooting night, while USC could run away and hide if it mirrors the 11-of-18 3-point shooting performance we saw against Kansas.
In their lone regular-season meeting, USC defeated Oregon, 72-58, at home in a game Isaiah Mobley didn’t even play. They shot a combined 17-of-38 (44.7%) from beyond the arc and the game still reached only 130 total points.
I saw slight value on this under from a pure numbers perspective. Plus, I think the familiarity and extra preparation time will work in favor of each defense.
If both teams shoot lights out from 3, it could certainly go over, but I think we get a grinder in the 60s.
Target: Under 138.5 or better | 1H Under 64 or better