NCAA Tournament Betting: Two Bets to Make for the Sweet 16

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NCAA Tournament Betting: Two Bets to Make for the Sweet 16
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Upsets and chaos dominated headlines in the first weekend of March Madness betting

Power programs such as Purdue, Arizona and Virginia were ousted by Farleigh Dickinson, Princeton and Furman, while Arkansas knocked off the defending champions, Kansas.

Alabama and Houston are the only No. 1 seeds remaining and have the best odds to win March Madness. The Crimson Tide are +310 with the Cougars second at +410, followed by UCLA (+850) and Connecticut (+900).

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The Sweet 16 starts on Thursday, and here are two bets worth making. 

Gonzaga +2.5 (-115) vs. UCLA FanDuel

Depending on what side of the spread you were on for Gonzaga’s matchup with TCU, the ending was either a debilitating bad beat or a miraculous cover.

With the buzzer-beater Gonzaga has now failed to cover in three of its last four games and is the worst team against the spread left in the tournament field (13-21-1). Thursday’s matchup with UCLA will be just the fourth time all season Gonzaga will enter as an underdog. It failed to cover in defeats at Texas in November and Saint Mary’s in February. The only win as an underdog came in December when Gonzaga topped Alabama in Birmingham. 

But since I picked Gonzaga as a solid national title future bet a few weeks ago at +3000, it’s fitting to look to back the Bulldogs in this spot. 

Three of UCLA’s five losses came to offenses that ranked in the top 10 in efficiency on KenPom. Arizona topped the Bruins twice, and Baylor, who has the second-ranked offense, put up the most points scored against UCLA in an 80-76 win over the Bruins in November. And that was when UCLA had Jaylen Clark — one of the best defenders in the country who is out for the season with an Achilles injury. 

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Gonzaga’s offensive metrics have remained elite, with the Bulldogs ranking first in KenPom and BartTorvik. Besides Adem Bona, the Bruins don’t have numerous quality big defenders to throw at Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. It’s been another banner tournament for Timme, who became just the seventh player in history to record 20 or more points in nine games at The Big Dance during the TCU victory. 

Timme’s footwork and craftiness inside can lend to drawing numerous fouls, which could spell trouble for Bona. In 15 games, Bona has committed four or more fouls and has had three or more fouls in 27 of the team’s 36 games. If Bona doesn’t avoid foul issues and can’t stay on the floor, UCLA’s chances of limiting Timme dwindle. 

Gonzaga will never be an elite defensive team. But given its efficient offense, the team needs to have solid 6-8 minute defensive stretches to build a gap. It has gotten that as of late and this postseason. In four tournament games — two in the WCC and the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament — Gonzaga is allowing opponents to convert just 40% of their shots over that span. 

UCLA’s limited frontcourt options in defending Timme and an improved Gonzaga defense make +2.5 a worthy bet. 

San Diego State +8 vs. Alabama DraftKings

San Diego State singlehandedly saved the Mountain West Conference from embarrassment. Before the Aztecs' win over Charleston on Friday, the conference was 1-14 in the First Four/First Round games in the NCAA Tournament since 2016. 

SDSU made the Sweet 16 after topping 13-seeded Furman, the Cinderella team that knocked off Virginia in the first round, and will now take a step up in competition when it faces Alabama. 

The Aztecs rely on their length and athleticism on the defensive end to stifle opponents. SDSU has the fifth-best defense according to KenPom and is one of the best teams at defending the 3, with teams making just 28% of attempts beyond the arc against the Aztecs. 

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This could bode well, given Alabama averages the fourth-most 3s per game (29.6). Charleston ranked just ahead of Alabama at 30 attempts per contest, and the Cougars struggled against the Aztecs' length, making just 5 of 24 3s in the loss to SDSU. Furman is 11th in 3s taken per game (27.4) and was held to 6 of 26 from beyond the arc.

Alabama is more athletic, skilled and better at basketball in every way than Charleston and Furman. Still, it’s worth mentioning SDSU has already faced high-volume 3-point shooting teams in this tournament. 

Alabama is an impressive 20-15-1 against the spread this year but just 8-9 when it shoots below its season average of 34% from 3. SDSU also plays at one of the slower paces, ranking 256 in adjusted tempo at BartTorvik. 

If the Aztecs can get the game to become a grinder, they have a shot at staying within a few possessions. 

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Bryce Derouin

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