After a wild weekend of hoops, the Sweet 16 promises to impress basketball fans furthermore. The Saturday slate has an intriguing slate of underdogs and impressive two-round showings by upper seeds. @IowaZach and I (@cwsdjt) have a pick for each game, so let's get right to it.
Loyola-IL (-6.5) vs. Oregon State
Both of these tournament longshots are coming into this game confident -- and for good reason. Loyola shocked the country last week when they dismantled the No. 2 Illinois Fighting Illini 71-58, putting on a defensive clinic and holding one of the country’s most prolific offenses to their lowest scoring total of the season. Two days earlier they did the same thing to No. 9 Georgia Tech in a 71-58 win.
Oregon State has been just as impressive in their early tournament run, perhaps even more so considering as a 12 seed they were immediately matched up against the country’s fourth-best defense in Tennesse. They won that game 70-56 before moving on to projected No. 1 overall NBA pick Cade Cunningham and the Oklahoma State Cowboys, where they won 80-70. That’s right. These two teams have won each of their first two tournament matchups by an average of 11.5 points, as 8 and 12 seeds!
This Loyola team has objectively the best defense in the country, allowing just 55.8 points per game. On the offensive side of the ball, they are beyond efficient. They attempt just 52 field goals per game but shoot at a 50.4% clip, good for fifth-best in college basketball. The Ramblers' offense runs through Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Cameron Krutwig, who averaged 15 points per game in 2020-21. The 6-foot-9 senior was impressive in Loyola's victory over Illinois, where he scored 19 points and pulled in 12 rebounds against one of the most physically dominant big men in the country in Kofi Cockburn.
On paper, Oregon State is nothing to write home about when compared to Loyola, but this team has simply been getting it done lately. The Beavers are on a five-game winning streak heading into this matchup. That includes an impressive run through the PAC-12’s best (UCLA, Oregon, Colorado) on their way to a conference tournament championship.
Loyola’s defense has only allowed 70 or more points only three times throughout their 2020-21 campaign, and they are 0-3 in those games. If Oregon State wants to keep this game close, that has to be their goal. In Loyola’s matchup with Illinois, big man Kofi Cockburn did have 21 points, but Oregon State has nowhere near the post game that Illinois does and will have to rely on the deep ball, an area in which they barely cracked the top-100 in this season. I simply don’t think Oregon State has anywhere near the firepower necessary to keep this game close against Loyola's defense. Yes, they did it against Tennessee, but Loyola is on a different level.
@IowaZach pick: Loyola-IL -6.5
Baylor (-6.5) vs. Villanova
Villanova has seemingly hit a groove, even after losing the heart and soul of their team in Collin Gillespie. Led by James Robinson-Earl, 'Nova was able to push past both Winthrop and the North Texas Mean Green in the quest for another title. They absolutely throttled North Texas, but Baylor seems to be a different beast right now. The Bears struggled out of the gates of a 21-day COVID-19 pause in early February, but they look more true to form than they had been so far in the tournament. Their top-three offensive efficiency rating from KenPom should be able to propel them to an Elite 8 appearance. They only allowed 118 combined points through their first two rounds, which ensures their current defense is more in line with their defense before their pause.
Guards can help win titles more than any other position, and Baylor has two absolute studs in Davion Mitchell and first-team All-American, Jared Butler. The only issue for Baylor is crashing the glass on defense, where they rank 232nd in allowing offensive rebounds. Since they force the third-most turnovers in the nation, however, they should be able to negate those issues in the rebounding department. If Robinson-Earl struggles with foul trouble, Villanova is toast. Jermaine Samuels can step up if Robinson-Earl is not himself, but Baylor will push the pace on offense. If they build a lead, 'Nova will struggle to come back given their 332nd-ranked tempo, according to KenPom. -8 would be the cutoff on betting this game, so get a strong number while you can.
@cwsdjt pick: Baylor -6.5
Arkansas (-11.5) vs. Oral Roberts
There has been no bigger story in the tournament than the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. One of only two 15 seeds to ever make the Sweet 16, Oral Roberts has pulled off magical upsets against Ohio State and Florida as 15- and 9-point underdogs, respectively.
Arkansas delivered as expected in their first-round matchup against Colgate, easily covering the -8.5 spread before winning outright as a 1.5-point underdog against the lower-seeded Texas Tech Raiders in round two. This will be a battle between two high-flying offenses. Each of these teams averages more than 80 points per game, ranking 12th (ORU) and seventh (ARK) in the country, although they do it in different ways. Oral Roberts ranks first in the country in three-pointers per game at 11.3, but 262nd in two-pointers. They have one of the best guard/forward tandems in basketball with Max Abmas (24.6 points per game) and Kevin Obanor (19.0 points per game), each of whom is better than 43% from beyond the arc. Arkansas, on the other hand, is all about getting to the basket. Led by 2020-21 SEC Rookie of the Year Moses Moody, the Razorbacks are a top-15 team in two-pointers made per game. They play at the 17th-fastest pace in basketball, according to KenPom’s Adjusted Tempo measurement.
The real difference between these two teams is that Arkansas can actually play defense. They can rebound well on both ends of the court and force turnovers at a healthy clip. The same cannot be said for Oral Roberts, who throughout the season was statistically one of the worst defenses in the country.
There is good news for Oral Roberts, however. While Arkansas is not going to let them drive the ball, they will let them shoot the three. The Razorbacks allowed opposing teams to attempt 23.1 three-pointers per game this season, and as previously outlined, this just happens to be Oral Roberts’ specialty.
As magical as it’s been, I do think Oral Roberts’ historical run ends in the Sweet 16. Their porous defense will be exposed by this fast-paced, high-scoring Arkansas offense. That said, I think this game is going to be closer than expected. If the Golden Eagles can stick to their ways and put together a decent night shooting from beyond the arc, they will keep this game close. Who knows, maybe they could even become the first-ever 15 seed to make the Elite 8. Crazier things have happened, just not in the NCAA Tournament.
@IowaZach pick: Oral Roberts +11.5
Houston (-6) vs. Syracuse
Buddy Boeheim put on a show through the Syracuse Orange's first two matchups with an average of 22 PPG, but Houston is one of the toughest teams left in the tournament for a reason. Per KenPom, they have a top-11 defense and top-seven offense. Syracuse only has a top-17 offense, which is clicking on all cylinders so far in the tournament field with impressive wins over West Virginia and San Diego State. The Cougars snuck past the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a relatively epic comeback. They showed their cards, and given the way the Orange handled a daunting task in Miles McBride and Derek Culver, they should be able to take on Quentin Grimes and Houston.
Syracuse will slow the pace down on defense with their patented 2-3 zone, but Houston will be able to overcome some aspects of the Orange defense since they play slowly as well. However, the driving force behind this bet is Syracuse's ability to knock down threes. If they can move the ball at a faster pace on offense and build a lead, Houston may struggle to catch their opponent. Houston will lock down defensively, but since the Orange averages nearly 16.3 seconds per possession, look for Syracuse to hold onto the cover, even if they may not ultimately win. Play this game to +6.5.
@cwsdjt pick: Syracuse +6
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!