March Madness Sweet 16 Thursday Predictions from Pro Bookmaker
The Sweet 16 games that tip off Thursday and Friday feature some of college basketball’s powerhouses — and a few surprises.
Four teams in the Sweet 16 began March Madness at the No. 10 seed or below. These are Miami (No. 10), Iowa State and Michigan (both No. 11), and the Cinderella, No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s.
Do these lower seeds have a chance against teams like Purdue and Villanova?
Gambling.com asked professional bookmaker Casey Lewless for insight into the Sweet 16 matchups. Lewless is a veteran Nevada oddsmaker now managing Penn National’s sportsbooks in Louisiana.
Below is his analysis of the eight games on Thursday and Friday. The Elite 8 matchups take place this weekend, followed by the Final Four on April 2-4 at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
Sweet 16 Predictions
Arkansas vs. Gonzaga
The first game on Thursday is the Arkansas Razorbacks versus the overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs. This should be an up-and-down affair, as indicated by a high total of 154.5 points.
This game matches the inconsistent Hogs versus the more reliable Bulldogs. For Arkansas to have a shot, they need to utilize their athleticism versus the more skilled Gonzaga team.
For Arkansas, JD Notae needs to avoid some of the unnecessary fouls, and it wouldn't hurt if Drew Timme, the Zags center, had an off game.
I see Gonzaga advancing but Arkansas sneaking in a backdoor cover, losing by 5-8 points, thus covering the 9-point spread.
Michigan vs. Villanova
On Thursday, the second game features the team some questioned even belonging in the tournament, the Michigan Wolverines, versus Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats.
There are some coaches whose names are mentioned come tournament time every year, such as Coach K and Tom Izzo, but Jay Wright is as good as any during March.
Collin Gillespie returned to Villanova just for this moment after missing last year’s Dance. Villanova shoots their way out of a lot of easy wins, and the result is a much closer game than need be.
A quick shout out to Michigan point guard Frankie Collins, who filled in last week and played exceptional basketball. It’s nice to see someone from Henderson, Nevada, excel on the big stage.
Eli Brooks is usually a do-it-all kind of guy for the Maize and Blue, but Villanova puts five of them on the floor at a time.
Villanova is too good. Take Villanova at -5. Maybe the play of the day is the Over at 135.
Texas Tech vs. Duke
This will be a real test for the Blue Devils on the Coach K Farewell Tour.
The Red Raiders play as staunch a defense as anyone in the country, and Duke's inexperience comes to the forefront at times, as they play as individuals and not a team.
Paolo Banchero of Duke is as skilled a 6-foot-10 big man as we have ever seen. Terrence Shannon is a great player for Texas Tech.
My experience tells me the officials help Coach K as much as possible, but I'll go with what most will consider an upset.
Texas Tech is -1, and the total is 136.5. I’ll go Red Raiders 60-57.
Houston vs. Arizona
Great matchup here, as the length of Arizona matches up against Houston's athleticism.
In an ironic twist, the best player for Houston is Kyler Edwards, who departed Texas Tech when coach Chris Beard left.
Houston is playing as well as they have all year and made a very good Illinois team look mediocre.
Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd is in his first run as the head man after spending years on Mark Few's bench at Gonzaga. Bennedict Mathurin has been outstanding all year for Arizona and is another great player coming out of Canada.
My pick: Arizona 78-74 in a nail-biter.
Saint Peter’s vs. Purdue
This is a mismatch on paper and the court. The big Cinderella team usually struggles after receiving adulation all week.
Additionally, in the worst-kept secret in basketball, Coach Shaheen Holloway is departing Saint Peter’s for his alma mater, Seton Hall, after this is over.
Too much height for the Boilermakers in Zach Edey at 7-4, plus the talent of Trevion Williams, the driving ability of Jaden Ivey and the outside shooting of Sasha Stefanovic.
Purdue coach Matt Painter is an outstanding X’s and O’s coach. Purdue rolls, something like 72-56.
Providence vs. Kansas
Providence coach Ed Cooley is very underrated, as his name pops up for many jobs every year. According to rumor, he was the choice if Juwan Howard had turned down Michigan.
For Coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks, Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack drive the team, but the key will be the outside shooting of Christian Braun.
Providence is a scrappy, physical team and will likely cover the seven points.
This might be a situation where I do a 75-25 split, with 75% on Providence at +7.5 and 25% on Providence +280 on the moneyline. With a point total of 142, if you like Kansas, lean to the Over. If you like the dog, lean to the Under.
North Carolina vs. UCLA
Great matchup. North Carolina has been playing as well as anyone lately, as their questionable outside shooting has been exceptional the past three weeks.
As for UCLA, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, and the rest of the Bruins have looked ahead all year to just this moment.
Brady Manek was a great pickup for North Carolina as a transfer from Oklahoma.
Coaching will matter here, as Hubert Davis looks like he has no clue out there, while UCLA plays with Mick Cronin's tough Kentucky kid mentality.
Take UCLA at -2.5. The over at 142.5 could go either way.
Miami vs. Iowa State
Every year there is a team that flies under the radar. You question whether that team belongs in the tournament, but they pull out a win or two.
This year, it's Iowa State, which landed in the Sweet 16 by beating a very average LSU team and a pedestrian Wisconsin team.
Miami guard Charlie Moore, on his third college, has found a home after being at Cal and DePaul. Miami’s Isaiah Wong and Sam Waardenburg can stretch out defenses.
Iowa State has gotten this far with a lot of transfers and with smoke and mirrors. The most dangerous teams are playing with house money and have nothing to lose, like the Cyclones.
But take Miami at -2.5, and if Iowa State contributes, the Over 133.5.
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