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Thursday’s Sweet 16 Best Bets | March Madness

Brent Booher

Updated: Mar 28, 2024

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After a four-day break from an onslaught of Wendy’s house music and duets from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren, the NCAA Tournament resumes on Thursday night with one of the juiciest Sweet 16 slates in recent memory.

Despite a slew of underdog wins in the Round of 64, the second round of the tourney was incredibly chalky with 15 of the 16 betting favorites advancing to the second weekend.

So while we had a generally uneventful second round of action aside from a couple of games, the table is set for some tremendous basketball in the build-up to find out who will be the last 4 teams standing in Glendale, Arizona on April 6.

Without further ado, here are my favorite bets from each of the four games in action tonight.

No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 2 Arizona

Looking at the slate of games tonight, if there is an upset lurking, it’s going to be in this matchup of feline mascots.

Clemson enters tonight’s game with two different elements of their game that can give this Arizona team some issues.

Just like their first matchup against New Mexico, Clemson will draw an Arizona team that fares much better when they dictate the pace and tempo of the game.

Arizona loves to speed the game up and play in a free-flowing offensive attack. They boast the 16th quickest tempo in the country and have the 9th-most efficient offense based on Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

The Wildcats don’t take a high-volume of three-point shots, as they rank 286th overall in the land in three-point attempts, but when they do take shots from downtown they tend to hit them at a high rate as they have the 19th best three-point shooting percentage in all of college basketball.

On the other hand, Clemson takes a much more methodical approach on both ends of the floor. The Tigers have a tempo ranking of 257th, but boast the 25th most efficient offense in the land. In other words, they operate much better in the half-court offense where they lean on their three seniors PJ Hall, Chase Hunter, and Joseph Girard.

The winner of tonight’s game will be the team that can impose their preferred style of play on the other side. If Arizona can turn this game into a fast-paced, up and down type of game, then they can run away from a Clemson team that simply does not have the athletes that Arizona has.

However, if Clemson plays in a similar manner as they did against their previous opponents in this tournament and they can slow down the pace, suddenly this matchup becomes a very dangerous one for an Arizona team hoping to play in a Final Four just a short 90 minute drive away from campus.

Look for the Tigers to steer this game into a lower pace and to stick around for much of the game tonight. I like Clemson to cover and I think the game will stay under the total.

Best Bets: Clemson +7.5, UNDER 152.5

No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 1 UConn

In the second Sweet 16 matchup to kick off tonight’s action we get a rematch from the 2023 National Championship when the San Diego State Aztecs look to enact some revenge against the defending National Champion UConn Huskies.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, a good chunk of the team that went on a run into the National Title game a season ago is no longer there, while most of the Huskies team that comfortably beat this Aztecs team still is.

If you watched any of UConn’s matchup against Northwestern on Sunday, you’d immediately be led to believe that the only team that could beat UConn this season is probably UConn. When Dan Hurley’s squad is firing on all cylinders, they look unstoppable.

Over their last eight tournament games, the Huskies have indeed been firing on all cylinders.

Since their opening round loss in 2022 to 12-seeded New Mexico State, UConn has rattled off eight straight wins in the NCAA Tournament with the closest margin-of-victory being a 72-59 over Miami in last season’s National Semifinal.

UConn was up by as much as 30 points in their Sunday win over Northwestern before taking their foot off the gas at the end and settling for a modest 17-point win.

Barring San Diego State being able to clone Jaedon Ledee or sneak Kawhi Leonard into a uniform, the Aztecs are going to need a monumental face plant to keep pace with a UConn team that somehow seems hungrier to repeat than they were to win their first title as a group last year.

The Aztecs have a punishing defense that suffocates teams beneath their talent level, as illustrated by their wins over UAB and Yale, but UConn is a completely different animal.

San Diego State’s biggest problem with this season’s team compared to the one that lost by 17 in the title game last year is that this iteration cannot shoot the basketball, which is unfortunately still a big part of the game of basketball.

They enter tonight’s game ranked 283rd overall from distance and are 209th overall in effective field goal shooting percentage. Those are two hideous metrics to carry into this particular matchup.

Brian Dutcher deserves a world of credit for the work he’s done at San Diego State, but once again his season will end at the hands of Dan Hurley, and once again this matchup figures to be very one-sided in favor of the Huskies.

Lay the big spread with UConn and back the under if you want to stick to a total.

Best Bets: UConn -11.5, UNDER 136

No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 North Carolina

If you’re a bettor that’s clamoring for a game that will surely have 40-minutes of endless up-and-down play and a frenetic NBA like pace, Alabama vs. UNC was made for you.

Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide LOVE to play at an exhilarating tempo (3rd highest in the country) and shoot a high-volume of shots from distance (19th overall in the country).

This was fully on display in Alabama’s 109-96 win over Charleston, before Grand Canyon did a great job in mucking up the pace enough to keep that game lower scoring and within reach before fading away late.

The good news for the Tide tonight is that North Carolina should be a lot more accommodating to Alabama’s preferred style of play than the WAC Champions were.

The bad news for the Tide is that their soft defense and penchant for fouling will give Carolina ample opportunity to keep pace with the high-octane Alabama scoring machine.

Alabama enters tonight’s game with the 5th-highest opponent free throw rate and a defensive rebounding ranking of 309th overall. They also don’t force many turnovers (278th overall turnover rate) so if their opponents are making their shots, you tend to see final scores involving Alabama pushing 180 combined points and above.

This is precisely what I foresee happening tonight as Hubert Davis will lean on the tandem of Armando Bacot and RJ Davis with enough outside shooting from Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan to put the Bama defense on skates all night.

North Carolina also does not force many turnovers on defense (310th overall) and play at a quick-pace themselves, so my favorite lean in this game comes in riding the over 173.5.

Best Bet: OVER 173.5

No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 2 Iowa State

Clashing styles highlight the best matchup on Thursday night when Illinois and Iowa State square off for a date in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

Illinois enters tonight’s game with the #1 rated offense in the country, while Iowa State enters tonight’s game with the #1 rated defense in the country.

The Illini have been on a roll of late, in large part because of their explosive scoring duo in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask. Shannon has notched 28 points per game in the tournament so far, with Domask chipping in 17 points per game and a triple-double in their blowout win over Morehead State.

Iowa State has continued to play their stifling defense in the NCAA Tournament, holding South Dakota State and Washington State to just 60 points per game and a shooting percentage under 40.

As is the case in the first matchup of the night between Clemson and Arizona, the winner in this game will be the one who imposed their style on their opponent better than the other. I just think Illinois has a bit too much firepower for the Cyclones to overcome, particularly with how Shannon and Domask have been playing at the outset of the tournament.

If I had to set the number in this game, I’d have had Illinois as a slight 2-3 point favorite. Instead they are the betting underdog and I see a lot of value on the Big Ten Tournament Champions to continue their season tonight.

Best Bet: Illinois ML +100

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