The field of 68 has been whittled down to 16 teams, all still vying for the holy grail of college basketball. There’s no Cinderella left to steal headlines since I refuse to consider one of the winningest programs in college basketball an underdog story simply because they’re the lone double digit seed still dancing into the second weekend. With 4 big games each night, we’ve taken to the betting ranks to offer a few thoughts on what to expect and where to potentially invest this weekend.
Kentucky (18-17-1 ATS) vs West Virginia (19-13 ATS)
Vegas Line: Kentucky -13.5 & 136.5
My Line: Kentucky -14.5 & 132
Betting Trends: Kentucky 45%/West Virginia 55%
Offensive Efficiency: Kentucky 6/West Virginia 38
Defensive Efficiency: Kentucky 1/West Virginia 36
What to look for: West Virginia lives on creating the turnover. They’re #1 nationally in that department. There’s one small problem when playing Kentucky; the Wildcats are among the top 40 in the nation protecting the basketball themselves. UK played a similar version (yes I know there are still differences in the version of the press) twice during conference play only turning the ball over 22 times in total, easily dispatching of the Razorbacks by double digits in each meeting. Both the Mountaineers and Wildcats are elite when it comes to crashing the offensive glass, something WVU is required to do nightly given that they’re the worst shooting team remaining in the field. The biggest problem I see for WVU is where they actually rank in defensive efficiency defending both inside and outside the arc: 304 and 283 respectively.
Trending: Kentucky is 2-12 under this season in non-conference games and 8 of their last 9 ATS results have fallen within 3 points of the closing number.
What will happen: the UK train that’s started 0-2 ATS isn’t a reason for Big Blue nation to panic. I’m not sure I’d be running to lay the lumber with Kentucky in this spot but I really don’t believe WVU can slow UK down enough with the press to pull off the upset. I do believe the total is awfully high for a WVU team that needs to speed Kentucky up but at the same time still play this game in the low 60’s to have a chance. WVU’s lack of size causes major problems here defending the Lexington Skyline and UK should roll on into the Elite 8.
Betting lean: Under the total
Wichita St (18-14-1 ATS) vs Notre Dame (15-13 ATS)
Vegas Line: Wichita St -2 & 137
My Line: Wichita St -3 & 135.5
Betting Trends: Wichita St 58%/Notre Dame 42%
Offensive Efficiency: Wichita St 15/Notre Dame 3
Defensive Efficiency: Wichita St 13/Notre Dame 102
What to look for: There isn’t a more fluid team to watch on offense in the entire country than Notre Dame if their shots are falling. Led by a tandem of seniors in Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, this may be Mike Brey’s best shot to get to a final four… one that just so happens to be in his backyard. Problem for the Irish is Wichita St does everything they do and arguably does it a little better, with the lone exception of scoring the basketball. Neither team beats themselves turning the rock over, both ranking in the top 10 nationally in that department. My issue here is that Notre Dame doesn’t force turnovers defensively either, ranking 274th nationally there and contributing to an overall defensive efficiency rating outside the top 100.
Trending: Wichita St is 54-32 their last 86 games when installed as a favorite and 41-20 ATS when playing teams with a winning record.
What will happen: Notre Dame has been the “it” team since winning their conference tournament. You don’t eliminate Duke and North Carolina if there isn’t something special going on inside the locker room. Add to that momentum the emotional roller coaster that Coach Brey has been on since his mother’s passing prior to their round of 32 game. On the other side Greg Marshall has elevated his coaching legacy again this year but beating in-state brethren Kansas was a cherry on top of an already great season. His challenge will be getting his team to refocus with so much still to play for this March. I believe talent on these rosters is pretty comparable but coaching is what will make the difference down the stretch. Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton left last year’s tournament at the hands of Kentucky. They’ll want that revenge game in the regional final so bad they can taste it, meaning the Shockers’ defense is the difference as they keep dancing.
Betting lean: Wichita St ML (anything less than -140)
Arizona (23-13 ATS) vs Xavier (17-17-1 ATS)
Vegas Line: Arizona -10.5 & 135.5
My Line: Arizona -11.5 & 134
Betting Trends: Arizona 61%/Xavier 39%
Offensive Efficiency: Arizona 7/Xavier 21
Defensive Efficiency: Arizona 3/Xavier 57
What to look for: Two coaches that should be quite familiar with one another tangle Thursday night at Staples. We know all too well about Arizona’s current form right now, winners of 13 straight games and going 10-3 ATS in the process (2 of 3 non covers vs UCLA). Arizona can attack you in a myriad of ways working inside out in the halfcourt — happy to feed Ashley, Tarczewski, or Hollis Jefferson on the low block while relying on the sharp shooting of 6th man Gabe York to keep opponents honest. Xavier’s been a difficult team for me to figure out this year despite having them ranked in my top 25 nearly the entire season. Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds are a load inside but against an Arizona team that has athletic bigs I’m not sure they’ll find scoring on the interior easy. My major concern is Xavier’s guards, wgo are often hit or miss from the perimeter.
Trending: Xavier has been an ATM when it comes to the NCAA tourney, going 21-4 ATS including 2-0 to start this dance.
What will happen: Sean Miller knows this is his best, most complete team in Tucson since he left Xavier to take the job. Arizona benefits immensely from playing at the Staples Center in southern California, which has historically given them a homecourt edge when it comes to tournament games. I personally don’t think oddsmakers built that into the opening number of 10 and that’s why we saw initial support for the Wildcats in this spot. Normally I’ll do everything I can to make the case for a double digit dog this deep in the dance, especially one that has the ability to score consistently. However I just can’t back the Muskies here, not after seeing Arizona find a second gear at the defensive end against Ohio St last week, proving they can turn a small deficit into a big lead in a matter of minutes. This will be a game where I find myself sitting on the sidelines unless a live opportunity or halftime angle presents itself.
Betting lean: Under but only if the total gets to 137.5
Wisconsin (18-17 ATS) vs North Carolina (20-16-1 ATS)
Vegas Line: Wisconsin -6 & 142.5
My Line: Wisconsin -4.5 & 144
Betting Trends: Wisconsin 56%/North Carolina 44%
Offensive Efficiency: Wisconsin 1/North Carolina 12
Defensive Efficiency: WIsconsin 42/North Carolina 50
What to look for: You can’t ask for a better regional semifinal than Wisconsin against North Carolina. Bo Ryan and his Badgers are intent on getting back to the Final Four by hanging their hat on offense as opposed to defensive brilliance like years past. We all know about Frank Kaminsky in the middle but it’s the likes of Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig that will determine this outcome. UNC will have to figure out their rotation since it looks as though Kennedy Meeks (11.6 PPG / 7.4 RPG) will be sidelined per Roy Williams. However don’t sleep on this Tar Heels’ perimeter defense that’s 12th best in the land compared to Wisconsin who comes into the game at 286 defending the 3 point line.
Trending: Roy Williams’ teams are 24-5 ATS in the 1st half of tournament games.
What will happen: I picked Wisconsin before the tournament as one of 3 teams I thought could upset Kentucky and win the national championship. Over the last 2 games I’ve tempered my expectations considerably given the Badgers’ inability to play lock down defense for extended stretches. In my opinion they were fortunate to get through Michigan St in the conference title, and there’s some concern that the athletes of the Tar Heels will pose major match-up issues. I’ll call coaching in this game a wash but it will be UNC’s ability to get to the offensive glass, even without Meeks, against an outstanding defensive rebounding team in the Badgers that gives them a chance. However something tells me to steer clear of betting this match-up pre-tip.
Betting lean: Pass