Mar 9, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Erik Stevenson (10) moves to the basket during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
Gallery Sports Betting Picks – March 16, 2023
11:15 a.m. CT: No. 8-seed Maryland vs. No. 9-seed West Virginia
The Pick: West Virginia -2 (-110) at Caesars
The West Virginia Mountaineers and Maryland Terrapins will open the Round of 64 on Thursday morning in an 8/9 seed matchup, with the winner most likely taking on No. 1 overall seed Alabama. The slightly-favored Mountaineers are led by head coach Bob Huggins, who is 19-6 in his career in first-round games and has led WVU through an incredibly turbulent Big 12 schedule. Huggins has coached West Virginia to six Sweet 16s and a Final Four, while Maryland head coach Kevin Willard has yet to reach the second weekend as a head coach despite leading Seton Hall to five NCAA Tournament appearances before arriving in College Park. The Terrapins’ biggest issue in year one under Willard has been an inability to win when they go on the road (2-9 overall and 1-9 in Big Ten play), a factor that could make a difference against the battle-tested Mountaineers. West Virginia has performed only slightly better in road games (3-8) but has done so against a much stronger overall schedule (5th vs. 49th nationally, per KenPom). The Mountaineers come from a much stronger conference overall in the Big 12 and ought to disrupt Maryland’s preferred slow pace of play with Bob Huggins’ patented “Press Virginia” defense.
11:40 a.m. CT: No. 4-seed Virginia vs. No. 13-seed Furman
The Pick: Furman +6 (-110) at Caesars
Furman and Virginia will link up in Orlando for a Round of 64 matchup Thursday, with the winner taking on either San Diego State or Charleston in its next game. This is a great spot to fade the Cavaliers, who have already been upset by a No. 14 seed and a No. 16 seed in Tony Bennett’s tenure as head coach. Virginia is known far and wide for its pack-line defense that aims to keep its opponents from getting into the paint for easy baskets. Unlike many more conventional opponents, Furman is comfortable shooting over defenses. The Paladins quietly boast one of the most efficient offenses in the nation and rank No. 1 in the country on converting 2-point shots (59.1%). Furman ranks just 257th nationally in average height but catches a break heading into Thursday’s game as Virginia will once again be playing without its most efficient rebounder in Ben Vander Plas. Both teams boast plenty of experience, but Furman’s top-two scorers really stick out. The Paladins are led by a pair of fifth-year seniors in guard Mike Bothwell and forward Jalen Slawson, the latter of whom routinely steps beyond the 3-point line and will force the Cavaliers to guard the perimeter with bigger players.
Because of Virginia’s extremely slow tempo, it is not unusual for Tony Bennett’s team to struggle to establish a margin on its opponents. The Cavaliers actively seek to limit possessions but have struggled to make shots over the last month. If Furman’s relentlessly efficient shooting takes hold early, an outright win will be well within the Paladins’ grasp.
5:50 p.m. CT: No. 8-seed Iowa vs. No. 9-seed Auburn
The Pick: Auburn -1 (-105) at BetMGM
Iowa and Auburn will meet in a Round of 64 matchup Thursday afternoon, almost certainly for the right to battle No. 1-seed Houston. Thursday’s game will be a de facto home game for the Tigers, who travel 110 miles to Birmingham while Iowa travels almost seven times that distance. The Tigers hold a distinct coaching advantage, as head coach Bruce Pearl has reached five Sweet 16s over his 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the Final Four with Auburn in 2019. Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey has never advanced beyond the Round of 32 in his 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, posting a 6-9 record in Tournament play overall.
Thursday’s game also represents a stark clash of styles, with the offensive-minded Hawkeyes hoping to solve Bruce Pearl’s stingy Tigers. For my money, I think defense will travel best in this spot – and while Auburn doesn’t exactly light it up from a shot-making perspective, Iowa’s 308th-best effective field goal percentage allowed per KenPom will give the Tigers plenty of opportunities to shoot themselves out to a lead. Both teams limp into the tournament following four losses in their last six games, but all four of Iowa’s losses during that span have come to teams ranked 40th or lower in KenPom’s overall efficiency margin rankings. Auburn, meanwhile, has dropped just two such games all season. I’ll take the Tigers with a short number and a coaching advantage to advance.