After a first two rounds that left television and live audiences around the world speechless, the 2018 NCAA tournament returns Thursday. It’s on to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight and by the end of the weekend the remaining schools will advance to the heavily anticipated Final Four in San Antonio.
With eight tantalizing matchups to choose from spread out between Thursday and Friday night, there’s plenty of basketball betting action to be had in the round of 16. As the pretenders and contenders continue to be separated, here’s some picks to consider from the top online sportsbooks:
The winner of this contest will come down to a single question. Can Loyola Chicago continue to play the type of game it has and have a chance to win at the end? The Ramblers have pulled off two stunning last-second finishes in a row after holding their first two opponents to just 62 points each.
They take care of the ball and their sense of timely offense and clutch scoring has been off-the-charts. Unfortunately so has their opponents’. Nevada’s road to the Sweet 16 has been just as challenging if not more so than Loyola’s as the Wolf Pack came back from late deficits twice to win against well-coached 10th-seeded Texas (14 points at halftime) and tough-as-nails 2nd-seeded Cincinnati (22 points in 11 minutes).
Sister Jean and the Ramblers have become the darlings of the tournament, but in a very close game odds-wise it makes sense to give the edge to the offensively dynamic and timely Wolf Pack. Expect them to cover the 1.5-point spread and advance as the slim 20/23 favorite at Betfair. Bet the over as well (143 points), as the Wolf Pack’s key to victory will be their offense continuing to frustrate a sound defensive opponent.
The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups as the Aggies showed in their obliteration of 2nd-seeded North Carolina. The Tar Heels, an experienced yet more offensively-minded bunch couldn’t keep up with Texas A&M and were unwilling to get dirty against frontcourt monster Robert Williams.
Michigan, the best defensive team left in the tournament, shouldn’t have that problem when they matchup with A&M. The Wolverines were saved by a miraculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer from freshman Jordan Poole in their last game, so it’s highly unlikely they’ll let the Aggies sneak up on them as Carolina did.
Texas A&M can win grind-it-out games, and Thursday night should be no different, but this is a good matchup for the Wolverines and John Beilein will likely be headed back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014. Michigan should win (odds of 20/27 via Betway) and cover the 2.5-point spread, but bet the under (136 points) as the Wolverines’ defense will be the key.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was quick to make his annual criticism of where his team was seeded on Selection Sunday despite the Wildcats underwhelming during the regular season, finishing 4th in the SEC with 10 losses. But, as it usually does, Kentucky won the SEC Tournament and, thanks to utter chaos in its bracket, has a road to the Final Four easier than Calipari could’ve possibly imagined.
While playing two double-digit seeds in the first two rounds didn’t hurt the Wildcats, it’s not the reason they made it back to the Sweet 16. For this year’s freshman-laden Kentucky team, the regular season, as it often is, was all about breaking down the selfish tendencies of talented players and finding identity as a team.
The SEC Tourney and first two NCAA rounds are proof that the Wildcats are putting their talents together and peaking at the exact right time. Kansas State, no doubt the best team Kentucky has faced so far in the tournament, will give the Wildcats a game, but should be overmatched. Pick Calipari to advance (4/9 odds via Betway) to his sixth Elite Eight in nine years and for Kentucky to cover the spread (5.5 points).
Florida State shocked many with its late comeback and ousting of Xavier. The top-seeded Musketeers fell prey to the Seminoles’ chaos-creating defense and completely lost their composure in the game’s final five minutes. The Bulldogs are statistically very similar to the Musketeers but are better at taking care of the basketball and have a markedly better defense.
Many of Mark Few’s players were in the Final Four last year and with that experience comes poise that can’t be simply taught. As a team that many still consider under-seeded in contrast to the over-seeded Xavier, one could predict Gonzaga may find itself in a similar position with a late lead over FSU. Fortunately they might have the defensive wherewithal, composure and chip on its shoulder to close out the Noles.
Expect Gonzaga to get at least back to the Elite Eight (5/11 odds via Betway) and cover the 5.5-point spread as the Noles are the worst team against the spread left in the tournament. Take the over (152.5) as with two games each under their belts these two offensively gifted teams should be able to put up a lot of points.
Udoka Azubuike’s return has revitalized the Jayhawks and given them the inside defense they need to get past a ferocious Tigers team that’s been able to pummel the paint so far. Kansas has a more balanced team and at this point in the tournament having played a good frontcourt in Seton Hall, will know what to expect against Clemson and should have the coaching and talent to advance to the Elite Eight.
Take Kansas to win at 10/19 odds, cover a 4.5-point spread and take the over (142.5) via Ladbrokes. It's been a minute since Bill Self has made his way to a Final Four and as one of the two remaining top seeds the Jayhawks have more than a decent chance at storming on to San Antonio with a potential blueblood showdown against Duke looming.
Making an argument for West Virginia to pull off the upset is difficult, as Villanova has been a dominant force all season long, but the Mountaineers are one of the best defensive teams the Wildcats have faced and have an offense that can keep pace with them. Playing 1st-seeded Kansas three times this season gives West Virginia a good idea of what they could see from Jay Wright’s squad, and even though the Mountaineers lost those matchups they held big leads in two.
Villanova has been a perennial contender since the Big East recently realigned, but aside from winning it all in 2016 the Wildcats have only been past the round of 32 once (this season) in six years. There is certainly potential for a letdown and the Mountaineers have the team to capitalize on it. If you’re picking West Virginia to win (2/1 odds) or cover the 5.5-point spread, take the under (152.5).
It’s been said over and over again by coaches that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season. Luckily, Duke has only played conference opponent Syracuse once, beating the Orange 60-44 on Feb 24. It was recent, it was decisive and it showed that the Blue Devils know how to defeat Jim Boeheim’s ugly, physical brand of zone defense.
Coach Krzyzewski and Boeheim know eachother all to well so it will likely come down to who has the more talented side, which Duke does in spades. Syracuse will keep it close and beat a generous 11.5-point spread, but Duke is battle-tested and better equipped than any team in the tournament to get past the Orange. Consider taking the under (133.5 via Betfair), however, as it will still be a grueling and likely low-scoring affair.
Many thought the loss of star center Isaac Haas would throw the Boilermakers for a loop, but they responded with a tough win over a good Butler team to advance to the Sweet 16. Purdue runs deep and still has its scoring leader in Carsen Edwards (18.2 ppg) its rebounding leader in Vincent Edwards (7.2 rpg) and Matt Haarms, who leads the team in blocks per game (3.2), has been a fine fill-in under the basket for Haas.
The Red Raiders faced two solid defensive teams in the Lumberjacks and Gators in the first two rounds, but Purdue will be a whole different animal. It will still likely be, as a good number of games of the tournament have been, a defensive slugfest so take the under (137.5). That being said, the Boilermakers and Matt Painter have plenty to prove and an opportunity to do so making them a good selection to cover the slim 1.5-point spread and move on the Elite Eight (20/23).
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