For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, all 16 favorites won in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. That includes No. 1 seed Duke, which avoided a disaster when a last second tip-in by 13.5-point underdog Central Florida rolled off the rim to allow Duke to escape with a 77-76 victory. That was the closest call in the Round of 32.
That leaves all four No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds plus two No. 4 and one No. 5 seed in the Sweet 16. No. 12 Oregon is the only surprise among those teams remaining. But three No. 12 seeds pulled opening round upsets. That included Oregon (+2) over Wisconsin 72-54, Murray State (+3.5) over Marquette 83-64 and Liberty (+7) over Mississippi State. Also, No. 12 New Mexico State (+6) just missed in a 78-77 loss to No. 5 Auburn, who is the only No. 5 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. No. 12 seeds went 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS with the best ATS results of any of the opening round seeds.
Thursday and Friday went the way of the underdogs. Thursday’s dogs went 9-7 ATS, and Friday was better with underdogs going 11-5 ATS. But Saturday and Sunday favored the favorites, who were 16-0 SU and 11-5 ATS on the closing lines at FanDuel Sportsbook. Eleven of the 16 second-round games were decided by double digits. Two results were impacted by the opening and closing line including No. 3 LSU’s 69-67 win over Maryland. Also, No. 2 Tennessee (-8) needed overtime to take out No. 10 Iowa 83-77 after the Hawkeye’s came all the way back from a 25-point deficit to force overtime.
As we move to the Sweet 16, know that in the history of the modern NCAA Tournament since 1985, there has never been all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Elite Eight. The NCAA Tournament champion has been either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in 24 of the last 28 tournaments. And since 1997, the eventual national champion has been seeded no lower than No. 3 in every year except 2014 when UCONN pulled the shocker as a No. 7 seed.
Five Best Bets in the Sweet 16
1. Purdue (+1) over Tennessee
Did you watch that near collapse by Tennessee against Iowa? The Volunteers blew a 25-point lead before escaping in overtime 83-77. Now, it’s a much tougher matchup and opponent in Purdue. The Boilermakers rank top 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency and are a solid defensive team.
Tennessee struggled with turnovers (16) to allow Iowa back in the game, and in the Vols’ 77-70 opening round victory over Colgate, Tennessee allowed 3-pointers in droves — 15 to be exact. Purdue is peaking and just hit 16 three-pointers in their rout of defending national champion Villanova, 87-61.
Tennessee’s offense is electric and ranks No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency with multiple threats. They have shown Final Four potential, and PG Jordan Bone has more than 200 assists this season to feed the inside, outside attack of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
But Purdue has its own outstanding point guard in Carsen Edwards (23.6 PPG), who poured in 42 points against Villanova. Purdue was co-Big Ten regular season champs, and while they have not faced an offensive team as dynamic as Tennessee over the past nine games, the Boilermakers have still held those opponents to 60 PPG on 36% FG and 28% from the arc. We trust Purdue HC Matt Painter to plan accordingly and make better adjustments than Vols HC Rick Barnes.
2. Florida State (+7.5) over Gonzaga
This is a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 contest. Florida State was a six-point underdog and beat Gonzaga 75-60, holding the Zags to 34% shooting. Both teams are better this season, and Gonzaga ranks No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency. But Florida State has a top-10 defense with great length and strength and a top-30 offense in efficiency despite poorer shooting in this matchup.
FSU is far more battle tested through the rigors of ACC play. They’ve beaten Virginia and had a near-miss against Duke. Wins over NCAA tournament teams Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, LSU, and Purdue prove this is a plenty capable underdog. We’ll bite with these points even with coach Leonard Hamilton having to make adjustments against Gonzaga’s talented team.
3. Michigan State (-280) over LSU
If you like moneyline favorites, Michigan State may be your best bet in the Sweet 16. Lay the six points if you like as well, a few coaches are better with time to prepare than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. And few coaches are less experienced than LSU interim coach Tony Benford, who took over for suspended head coach Will Wade in early March amid turmoil.
LSU has won a number of close contests during their terrific season. Yet close wins over Yale and Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and a one-and-done SEC tournament loss to offensively-challenged Florida in a 76-73 defeat suggest the end of the line for LSU.
Michigan State is extremely strong, balanced and top 10 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Experience, a Player-of-the-Year point guard, inside/outside shooters, and strong rebounding make the Spartans and their Hall of Fame coach an Elite Eight entry with Duke perhaps on deck.
4. Texas Tech (+2) over Michigan
Since we like Texas Tech to win this game, a moneyline play is also in order at +115. This West Region semifinal in Anaheim should be a defensive dandy, as Texas Tech and Michigan rank No. 1 and No. 2 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive rankings. Both teams made a run to the Elite Eight last year, and either team is capable of knocking off any No. 1 seed.
Michigan held Montana and Florida to 0.8 points per possession in a pair of dominant defensive performances to reach the Sweet 16, and PG Zavier Simpson had 19 assists. Neither of those two opponents has much offense, and Tech has held their two opponents to near 41 percent FG and 30 percent from the arc while also facing offensive juggernaut Buffalo.
The Red Raiders have a defensive turnover percentage of 23.1 this season, which is terrific, and are a top shot-blocking team led by 6-foot 10 Tariq Evans. Then, Davide Moretti is an outstanding 3-point shooter (46%), and the Red Raiders have a star offensive performer in sophomore swingman Jarrett Culver. He leads the team in scoring (18.8 PPG) and assists and will be playing in the NBA when he decides to turn pro. Culver’s player efficiency rating this season is through the roof, and his 45 points, 18 rebounds, and 12 assists in the NCAA Tournament equate to champion-level performance.
5. Texas Tech to win National Championship (+2300)
No team has an easy path to the Final Four or National Championship, but Texas Tech (28-6) offers the best value on the board. The Red Raiders were 25 to 1 at the start of the tournament and trading at 75 to 1 in late February. The Big 12 regular season champs have the No. 1 rated defense in the NCAA Tournament, and KenPom adjusted defensive ratings have Tech No. 1.
Texas Tech closed the regular season with nine straight wins, and the offense was also in top form, scoring 78 or more points in seven games. The Red Raiders’ ability to defend without fouling and constantly contesting shots is superb. as was their complete domination of an outstanding Buffalo team in the second round with a 78-58 win. Buffalo was one of the highest-scoring teams remaining in the tournament.
Texas Tech has to beat Michigan and then either Gonzaga or Florida State to reach the Final Four, where Duke or Michigan State is likely next. That seems improbable until you watch very well-coached Texas Tech play, and Duke has proven a bit more vulnerable.
Want more Sweet 16 picks and analysis? Check out this video from our own Matt Perrault breaking down his own best bets for Thursday’s games.