The RSVP list for the Final Four is quickly filling up. Two spots are taken. Two spots remain. Which teams join Baylor and Houston this weekend?
Fresh off a clean sweep Monday, we’ve got another incredible opportunity to recreate the magic Tuesday. Ahead is why USC and Michigan are the bets you definitely want to consider for Tuesday’s Elite 8 slate.
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(Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook; subject to change.)
No. 6 USC vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-9) – 7:15 p.m. ET
Two west coast teams in the West Regional. Perfect.
Gonzaga (30-0) looks to remain perfect when they take on red-hot USC, who has covered all three of their NCAA Tournament games thus far.
We all know Gonzaga is the best team in the country and expected to win this game, but in sports betting, we must constantly remind ourselves we’re not always betting on the team. We’re betting the number. And while the Zags are no strangers to heavy point spreads, they’ve covered only half of their wins this season against the spread. With that in mind, I’m always up for a good angle to bet their opponent. When the metrics line up, I pull the trigger.
Let’s make a case for USC, who match up well with the Zags in nearly every significant metric. The Trojans are undoubtedly Gonzaga’s toughest opponent in 2021. USC comes into Tuesday playing brilliantly, winning six of their last seven games. They feature one of the best duos in the nation, brothers Evan and Isaiah Mobley. Evan Mobley figures to be taken early in the upcoming NBA draft.
When looking at KenPom’s ratings, the rest of the team matches up well, too. Gonzaga is ranked 1st in offensive efficiency and 7th in defensive efficiency, while USC is ranked 14th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency. On the surface, there’s no reason for Gonzaga to be 9-point favorites in this game.
So, where are the outliers?
It’s certainly not in the interior, where USC and the Mobleys have a height advantage, even against Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. Both teams are top-20 in total rebounding, too. USC has the best 2-point defense, while Gonzaga has the best 2-point offense.
It’s not from beyond the arc. USC is making over 50% of their 3-point shots, while Gonzaga, with brilliant 3-point shooter Corey Kispert, makes 42.5% as a team in that span.
The only outlier is public perception, which explains why the Zags are receiving 67% of bets. Betting with the public may have paid off Monday, but Vegas always catches up. In this matchup, it’s clear that we want to be on the books’ side based on the metrics, as it presents much better value.
Gonzaga has also yet to be smacked in the mouth, playing weak opponents up until this point. Their most formidable opponent in 2021 was BYU (whom USC beat by 26) and finished the season ranked just 86th in strength of schedule. On the other hand, the Trojans played the 24th-ranked strength of schedule against one of the nation’s best conferences, the Pac-12.
But like any bet, there are caveats. The key for USC covering the spread might come down to the charity stripe. The Trojans only averaged 64.6% (327th) from the free throw line this season and will certainly need to shoot better to compete. Still, I love this pick as the underdog of the day.
I’m backing USC to cover this large spread and become the first team to seriously threaten Gonzaga’s perfect season.
The Pick: USC (+9)
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 1 Michigan (-6.5) – 9:57 p.m. ET
Tuesday’s late game features a team expected to reach the Elite 8 and another looking to continue an improbable Cinderella run. Top-ranked Michigan takes on First Four contender UCLA in one of the most intriguing battles of the week.
The Bruins come in winners of four straight games, covering all of them, giving sports bettors plenty of reason to start buying in on the dream run in the process. Michigan, the second-best team against the spread this season, comes in comparatively hot, winning three straight Tournament games by eight or more points.
Michigan is elite, impressively ranking 7th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency. The Bruins’ metrics aren’t as good, but it doesn’t mean the Wolverines should take them lightly. They’ve certainly proven they belong in the Elite 8, ranking 11th in offensive efficiency while playing in the incredible Pac-12.
Understandably, the public likes UCLA to cover the spread. But UCLA’s 54th-ranked defense, which is especially weak against 3-point shooting, is in for a rude awakening Tuesday. The Bruins have been saved by their opposition’s horrendous shooting beyond the arc, but they likely won’t get that saving grace against Michigan (38.3% from downtown).
UCLA also won’t get the luxury of missed free throws like they did against Alabama. The Crimson Tide finished the game shooting a dismal 44% from the line, unquestionably contributing to UCLA’s overtime win in the Sweet 16. Michigan has one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, converting 77.4% of their attempts.
The Bruins also haven’t played a center like Hunter Dickinson, who shoots a ridiculous 60.2% from the field. In short, Dickinson and the Wolverines, the 48th-tallest team in the NCAA, should obliterate inside the point in a way UCLA hasn’t yet seen in the Tournament. It’s a skill mismatch Juwan Howard’s squad will exploit and just one of the many factors pointing this game to Michigan’s favor.
No spreads are locks this late in the Tournament, but if UCLA finds themselves needing to foul late, you can count on Michigan to convert. For that reason (and so many others), I’m comfortably laying the points with the Wolverines.
The Pick: Michigan (-6.5)
Best of luck to all! Enjoy the madness.