Mar 24, 2021
Sweet 16 Handicapping Breakdown & Betting Analysis
Despite the chaos in the bracket, five of the top eight seeds in the tournament remain and a few are healthy favorites to move to the Final Four given that only one No. 3 seed and one No. 4 seed are left for the usual expected Sweet 16 pairings.
Here is a look at the possible concerns for each of the favorites to move on, while also looking for the deeper seeded squad with the best chance to make the Final Four in each region.
Handicapping the West Region
Seed, Team (Odds to win Region)
Favorite Concerns – Gonzaga
Gonzaga showed a little vulnerability in the Round of 32 against Oklahoma as the Sooners jumped out to a 12-4 lead early in the game. The Sooners made a few late charges but couldn’t get over the hump late to really put the outcome on the line.
Gonzaga won by 16 but that was an inflated final margin thanks to a flagrant foul in the final minute while it is worth noting that Oklahoma was playing without a key player De’Vion Harmon.
Gonzaga didn’t allow quality 3-point looks in that game but Austin Reaves was able to penetrate the Gonzaga defense with relative ease, making high percentage shots or dishing off to a teammate for a layup or dunk frequently.
Gonzaga could have been in for a greater score if not for a 26-12 edge in free throw attempts as the 3-point shooting for the Bulldogs was mediocre even against a Sooners defense that has allowed strong shooting from 3-point range this season.
This region had some intrigue when the bracket came out as Gonzaga faced the other top four seeds in the regular season with wins over (2) Iowa, (3) Kansas, and (4) Virginia. A rematch in the regional final is no longer in play though Gonzaga and Oregon did meet last season with a 73-72 overtime win for Gonzaga in the Bahamas.
Creighton barely survived the opener vs. UC-Santa Barbara but found its stroke vs. Ohio connecting on 43 percent of 3-point shots.
Being a high-volume 3-point shooting team and the best defense that Greg McDermott has had in 11 seasons at Creighton gives the Blue Jays some potential but the chances for a Sweet 16 upset are likely slim for the biggest point-spread underdog of the round.
Final Four Sleeper Threat – USC
A big reason that Oregon and USC featured two of the weakest Pac-12 schedules this season is that they only played each other once.
USC led wire-to-wire in a late February win by 14 in Los Angeles where interior scoring greatly favored the host. Both teams shot well from 3-point range but Oregon also only received five points at the free throw line. Oregon was +6 in turnovers but lost the rebounding battle 39-26.
While Oregon’s destruction of Iowa made headlines, USC’s 34-point win over Kansas was perhaps the most impressive result in the tournament so far.
USC had outrageous shooting numbers vs. an elite defense and dominated the rebounding including a 35-18 edge on defense.
USC has the size to minimize the success that Drew Timme had in the Round of 32 and the Trojans blasted Gonzaga’s best WCC competition with a 26-point win over BYU in December.
The Trojans look like a viable threat to spoil the perfect run for the Bulldogs but first they will need to get by what will likely be a great game with conference rival Oregon, no easy task given how well the Ducks played in their lone tournament game so far.
Handicapping the South Region
Seed, Team (Odds to win Region)
Favorite Concerns – Baylor
The Bears turned in a 47 percent 3-point shooting game vs. Wisconsin looking like the team that started the season 18-0 and led the nation in 3-point shooting.
It wasn’t a great Wisconsin team this season and the Big Ten as a whole has looked greatly overrated as one shouldn’t give the Bears too much credit.
Baylor had an 18-5 edge in free throws made while actually losing the rebounding battle. Baylor was also +10 in turnovers and still had just a modest 13-point margin of victory.
The Bears didn’t shoot the 3-point shot very well in the opening win over Hartford and Jared Butler in particular has not shot well in the postseason despite leading the team in 3-point makes and attempts this season.
The Bears may be most at risk in the Sweet 16 as the potential matchup with Arkansas or Oral Roberts looks like a more attractive pairing for the top seed in the South.
Arkansas has had narrow escapes in both tournament games, trailing much of the way vs. Colgate before pulling away in the final minutes while Texas Tech had a great opportunity to win late in a back-and-forth Round of 32 contest.
Given the seeding the Razorbacks look like the clear favorite to advance but Oral Roberts shouldn’t be ruled out as the Golden Eagles won’t mind the pace and are among the nation’s best 3-point and free throw shooting teams.
Final Four Sleeper Threat – Villanova
Many dismissed Villanova’s chances in this tournament as the team dropped a pair of close games to end the season following the injury to Collin Gillespie.
The Wildcats handled a competitive game with Winthrop despite not shooting very well from long range and dominated North Texas in the Round of 32. That was a favorable pairing compared to the expected matchup with Purdue but 15 3-point makes at a 50 percent clip made this Wildcats squad resemble Jay Wright’s recent championship teams.
Villanova shoots at an above average rate all over the floor and should be able to trade scores with Baylor. The success for the Bears on defense is built on creating turnovers but Villanova has the lowest turnover rate in the entire nation so the extra opportunities Baylor is accustomed to aren’t likely to be there.
Villanova isn’t a great defensive team like the 2016 and 2018 championship teams were but this team is likely to hang around and is capable of a flurry of outside makes to make a run in this Sweet 16 test.
Baylor’s 3-point defense is mediocre and there is a sizable gap in the free throw shooting numbers between these teams in favor of the underdog should the game require clutch free throws late.
Handicapping the East Region
Seed, Team (Odds to win Region)
Favorite Concerns – Michigan
Michigan is certainly the top seed considered most at risk in the four regions as the other three teams in this grouping are collectively the most formidable.
Michigan is also the only Big Ten team left standing in a tournament that started with nine Big Ten teams including five teams seeded #4 or better as the conference numbers have to be questioned to some degree.
The absence of Isaiah Livers hasn’t led to a loss for Michigan yet but he was the team’s top 3-point shooter, not to mention a strong defender and veteran leader.
Michigan did make 10 3-point shots in the Round of 32 win over LSU hitting at a 40 percent clip as Eli Brooks has stepped up making 8 of his 15 tries in two games. The game with LSU was a tight contest and Michigan has very small guards which could mean some problematic matchups moving forward, particularly with the current draw of Florida State.
While the Seminoles have been an inconsistent group, actually losing three of the final five games before the tournament, Florida State likely has the best shot to beat Michigan in this quartet.
The strengths and weaknesses in comparing these teams are similar with great 3-point shooting and very effective interior defense numbers. Both teams are solid at the line but the problem area for Florida State is turnovers and Michigan ranks in the bottom 20 nationally in creating takeaways.
Offensive rebounding could be an advantage for Florida State and the quality of shots available to Brooks and Mike Smith seem likely to be limited as every player in the Florida State rotation will tower over Michigan’s guards.
Final Four Sleeper Threat – Alabama
Calling Alabama a sleeper is certainly a stretch as the Tide are a No. 2 seed and wouldn’t be much of an underdog in a potential regional final game. Alabama has the No. 3 defensive efficiency in the nation and given the lack of postseason experience for this group, getting tested in the first two rounds was likely beneficial to the growth of the team.
Alabama shot 53 percent and put up 96 points against one of the better Big Ten defenses in the round of 32 as the chances to beat Michigan are favorable.
The regional semifinal game with UCLA will certainly be a difficult game however. The Bruins are the more impressive team physically and a group that was inconsistent throughout the year seems to be playing at its best on a three-game run to the Sweet 16.
It has been a favorable draw for the Bruins avoiding Texas but the defensive effort in the tournament has certainly exceeded the season numbers for Mick Cronin’s team.
UCLA’s 3-point shooting could slip against Alabama’s excellent 3-point defense and the scoring options for the Bruins outside of Jonny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez have been limited as the Tide are in a good position to move on and remain a serious threat to make the Final Four.
Handicapping the Midwest Region
Seed, Team (Odds to win Region)
Favorite Concerns – Houston
The bracket has broken incredibly well for Houston with all of the other top seeds bowing out before the Cougars have had a chance to face them.
Houston probably should have been on that list as well as they trailed nearly the entire way vs. Rutgers in the Round of 32, including still being down eight points with about four minutes to go before a couple of big breaks went their way.
Houston’s 3-point shooting hasn’t been there in the two tournament games and the AAC squad’s schedule can come into question after struggling vs. a mediocre Big Ten team.
DeJon Jarreau is clearly not at 100 percent despite his great effort and heroics in the last game while star freshman Tramon Mark hasn’t proven to be a consistent option in the postseason yet.
Houston’s defensive numbers are amazing on the season but the Cougars didn’t play a top 100 schedule and Syracuse is lurking as a dangerous Sweet 16 draw.
Jim Boeheim has once again taken a mediocre team on the NCAA Tournament bubble on to a nice NCAA Tournament run. The Orange has been shooting the lights out in the first two games hitting 55 percent vs. San Diego State and 52 percent vs. West Virginia.
Houston has better defensive numbers than those teams but not by a wide margin as the Orange will be a serious threat to move on if Buddy Boeheim continues his monster production pace.
Syracuse is also likely to better its season numbers on defense with a zone that many teams aren’t as accustomed to and size and length that Houston hasn’t faced often this season.
Final Four Sleeper Threat - Oregon State
It doesn’t necessarily add up for Oregon State to be in this position but the Pac-12 tournament run looks even more impressive at this point given that UCLA and Oregon are still playing as well.
The Beavers didn’t have a fortunate draw to get here; instead beat super talented power conference teams that combined will likely feature a trio of NBA lottery picks in a few months. They didn’t win on a fluke shot or tight finish either; they won by double-digits in both games while only trailing in the opening minutes vs. Oklahoma State.
Loyola Chicago is an incredibly impressive and efficient team but the draw for Illinois on a short turnaround was a perfect set-up for the upset.
Oregon State will have a week to game plan for the Ramblers and Oregon State was the Pac-12’s best 3-point defense this season. Oregon State has capable interior size and overall at every position the Beavers could have a physical edge.
The Beavers also prefer the slow pace that Loyola Chicago will employ as the Beavers may be the double-digit seed with the most realistic Final Four opportunity, mostly thanks to the chaos in the bracket that they helped create.
Odds per BetMGM - Subject to Change
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