The NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 continues Sunday with a great lineup of four games featuring a heavy favorite, one conference’s last chance, and a battle between familiar foes. @cwsdjt and I (@IowaZach) broke down the games and provided our favorite side for each. Let’s go!
Gonzaga (-13.0) vs. Creighton
Gonzaga has basically been a video game cheat code this year. The best team in basketball bar none is not only undefeated, but they’ve also won with an average margin of victory of 23.5 points and only allowed one team (West Virginia) to finish a game within ten points of them. This is clearly Gonzaga’s tournament to lose.
Standing in the way of that goal is Greg McDermott’s No. 5 Creighton Bluejays. The Big East Tournament runner-ups’ path to Gonzaga should’ve been a relatively easy one with matchups against No. 13 UC-Santa Barbara and No. 12 Ohio, but it took everything the Bluejays had to avoid the first-round upset, narrowly beating UCSB 63-62. They bounced back against Ohio in a game where they never took their foot off the gas, allowing each one of their five starters to reach double figures while smothering the Bobcats on their way to a 72-58 victory. It was a “prove it” game, and they did just that.
Gonzaga will win this game, it’s just a question of “by how much”. The Bulldogs have a historically great offense that averaged a nation-leading 92.1 points per game this season. They play at a faster pace than any team in the tournament and can beat teams in so many different ways. Four of their five starters averaged double digits this season, and the one who didn’t (Andrew Nembhard) turned in the sixth-best Assist to Turnover Ratio in the country (3.52). To top it all off, they have the seventh-best defense in college basketball, according to KenPom. There’s simply no real flaw to exploit in this team, but if you had to dig for an edge, it would be from downtown. Creighton does hit 9.6 threes per game, which ranks 21st in the country, while Gonzaga allows 7.6 (143rd). If Creighton wants to have any chance against this juggernaut, they’ll need to have a record-setting night from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, that’s just not something I’m willing to bet on.
@IowaZach pick: Gonzaga -13.0
Michigan (-3) vs. Florida State
This could be the most entertaining game of the weekend. The Michigan Wolverines are the final Big Ten team left, and they were able to force a Sweet 16 appearance after shutting down Cam Thomas in the final minutes of their game against LSU. Florida State plays large, and as seen in Michigan’s contest against Illinois, Hunter Dickinson can struggle against a comparable big.
FSU also distributes the ball extremely well with five players averaging at least nine PPG. Pace could be an issue for the Wolverines. They play at the 246th ranked tempo, according to KenPom, so their saving grace is that FSU turns the ball over plenty of times. If they can make the Seminole guards fumble the ball a few times, they should be fine, but this is the game where missing Isaiah Livers will hurt Michigan the most. He is their sharp-shooter, so Eli Brooks and Mike Smith have large shoes to fill.
Since these teams have identical rebounding numbers, Michigan does not have much of an advantage in this department either. Given the issues Florida State could cause with their ball distribution and size, they could win this game outright.
@cwsdjt pick: Florida State +3
Alabama (-6) vs. UCLA
Alabama is a pleasantly fun team to watch in the tournament. They are one of the smartest teams left and could be one of the main bumps in the road for Gonzaga to possibly make the title game. The Crimson Tide must tackle the UCLA Bruins first.
The PAC-12 has looked fantastic thus far with 25% of the remaining field. However, in this matchup pace will be an issue, and if Alabama starts hitting threes, it could be over much quicker than UCLA fans would like to admit. Rick Pitino and the Iona Gaels had a game plan for Alabama, but their talent triumphed. ‘Bama went on to crush Maryland in a 19-point rout.
The best approach the Bruins can take is replicating the Iona game as closely as possible. They need to dictate the pace, but if they fall behind the third-ranked possession length in the country, they have no chance to get themselves back into the game. Alabama may struggle on the glass, but once they build a lead, they are unstoppable, especially against a team that runs at the 337th-ranked tempo, per KenPom.
UCLA’s defense will have some issues catching up to the Tide since their power is in their forwards and Alabama is the polar opposite. I bought the half-point to get it to -6, but this can be played to -7.
@cwsdjt pic: Alabama -6 (-120)
USC (-2.0) vs. Oregon
Sunday’s nightcap will feature a rematch between two PAC-12 foes, and it should be a good one. The last time these two teams met (in Los Angeles), the Trojans nearly doubled up the Ducks in the first half and never looked back, ultimately winning 72-58. You can bet Oregon is looking for some revenge on a neutral court.
Both of these teams can score points. USC put up 75 points per game over the course of the 2020-21 season and Oregon logged 72.5, but KenPom ranks the Ducks’ offense slightly higher (No. 10) than USC’s (No. 15). Oregon doesn’t necessarily shoot the three all the time, but when they do they are top-20 in terms of efficiency (.382). USC’s offense flows through their 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley. The 2020-21 PAC-12 Player of the Year is long and towering but also moves really well. He has a butter-smooth turnaround shot and excellent awareness, often drawing double and triple teams only to feed one of his teammates cutting to basket. On the outside USC also has senior guard Tahj Eaddy, a step-back specialist who averaged 13.5 points this season.
This game will come down to defense, and on paper the edge goes to USC who holds offenses to the fourth-lowest FG% in college basketball (.387). The Ducks are no slouch on defense either, allowing just 65.5 points per game led by PAC-12 All-Defensive guard Chris Duarte, but they are also vulnerable on the inside, ranked 200th in the country in opponent two-point FG%. Although they ultimately blew the Hawkeyes out, the Ducks allowed Iowa big man Luka Garza to feast in their last game when he went off for 36 points. Even if Duarte can control Eaddy near the perimeter, I think the Ducks are going to struggle mightily with Mobley, and as soon as they shift their focus inside, Mobley has the ability to find his teammates.
@IowaZach pick: USC -2.0
There you have it, folks! Use promo code ONTAP at BetRivers to match your $250 deposit all throughout March Madness. Also, be sure to follow @OnTapBets on Twitter where the On Tap Bets crew will provide picks and highlights all throughout March Madness, so be on the lookout!