We’ve had a few days to rest and recover from a wild opening weekend of the NCAA men's tournament. Now it’s time to get back to business.
The Sweet 16 begins Thursday with two East region games in New York City and two more from the West region in Las Vegas.
Here are my quick thoughts on each game from a betting perspective, which way I’m leaning and which games I’ve already bet.
(All odds via BetMGM)
No. 7 Michigan State (-1.5) vs. No. 3 Kansas State
This is an awesome matchup but a tough one to handicap. There was never a point this season where it felt like Michigan State hit its stride, but the Spartans have put up back-to-back impressive wins over USC and Marquette in the tournament. The fact that MSU beat Marquette despite shooting 2-of-16 from 3 is a very positive sign for the Spartans.
Kansas State has been surpassing expectations all season long — from being picked last in the Big 12 to advancing all the way to the Sweet 16. As much as I don’t want to bet against MSU coach Tom Izzo in March, I don’t want to go against K-State guard Markquis Nowell playing at home in New York City. I lean toward MSU because I think the Spartans are better equipped to play half-court offense if the game slows down, but I’m likely going to pass on this game.
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn (-4)
UConn has been dominant in the second halves of its wins over No. 13 Iona and No. 5 Saint Mary’s. The Huskies can beat you in a multitude of ways and have the looks of a Final Four team. I like them in this matchup vs. Arkansas.
The Razorbacks posted an impressive win over No. 1 seed Kansas, but I don’t want to overreact to that. Kansas quietly was not playing that well down the stretch and was without coach Bill Self. Arkansas is talented but can play some pretty disjointed games and are a poor outside shooting team. Arkansas really got back in the game vs. Kansas via offensive rebounding and second-chance points. If UConn’s big men take care of business on the glass, I like the Huskies to win and cover the four points.
No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 4 Tennessee (-5.5)
Tennessee upset Duke in the second round in a game where the public overwhelmingly sided with Duke. Tennessee was able to use its size and experience to bully the young Blue Devils. The Vols also shot way better from 3 than usual and ended up winning the game outright. But this is still the team that barely beat Louisiana in the first round and has been terrible on offense since point guard Zakai Zeigler was lost to a knee injury.
Florida Atlantic pulled away late to beat darling 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson but returns to the role of underdog here. I think FAU can play loose and give the Vols a real upset scare. I like the Owls +5.5 as I return to the very profitable venture that is fading Rick Barnes in the NCAA tournament.
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA (-1.5)
This is another tough one. UCLA is dealing with a bunch of injuries, so why is it still favored in this matchup vs. Gonzaga? It’s a curious line that perhaps is trying to push bettors toward Gonzaga as a slight underdog. I feel like we could be getting UCLA at a discounted rate, so that’s the side I’m favoring right now.
I also like the under 145.5 quite a bit, and not just because unders have been so profitable during the tournament. I feel like average bettors are going to flock to the over here knowing that Gonzaga plays in high-scoring games (heck, the Gonzaga-UCLA Final Four game in 2021 was 93-90). But with UCLA pretty banged up, I think the Bruins will want to play at a slower pace. I also trust UCLA’s guard play more than Gonzaga’s.
What’s going on in the NBA?
With college basketball taking center stage, it’s a light night in the pros.
There are only four NBA games on tap for Thursday. The New York Knicks are 2.5-point road favorites over the Orlando Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 4.5-point road favorites over the Brooklyn Nets, the New Orleans Pelicans are favored by 8.5 points at home over the Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers are giving 4.5 points at home vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Knicks are on the second night of a back-to-back while Orlando has won two of its last three. The Knicks are coming off consecutive losses and have three days off following Thursday night’s game. This line feels kind of light, so Orlando might be worth a look as a home dog here.
Busy night in the NHL
There were only two games in the NHL on Wednesday but Thursday’s offerings are robust. There are 12 games on the schedule.
Some of the more intriguing matchups to sort through include the Carolina Panthers (-145) hosting the New York Rangers (+120), the Florida Panthers (-130) hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs (+110), the Ottawa Senators as home underdogs (+120) vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning (-145) and the Calgary Flames as -140 home favorites over the first-place Vegas Golden Knights (+115).
What’s the best bet?
Of the four Sweet 16 matchups, my favorite bet is taking Florida Atlantic +5.5 over Tennessee.
I think there will be an overreaction to how Tennessee played vs. Duke and a lot of public money on the Vols. The Owls are a live dog in my opinion. Hoot hoot.