Mar 16, 2023; Orlando, FL, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Dereck Lively II (1) dunks the ball against Oral Roberts Golden Eagles forward Connor Vanover (35) during the first half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Gallery Sports’ Betting Picks: March 18, 2023
1:40 p.m. CT: No. 5-seed Duke vs. No. 4-seed Tennessee
The Pick: Duke -3 (-110) at Caesars
The fifth-seeded Duke Blue Devils will take on No. 4-seed Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in Orlando, and I’m backing Jon Scheyer’s team to maintain the incredible momentum it carried into the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee limped to the finish line this season, finishing the season with a 5-7 stretch that ended with an SEC Tournament quarterfinal loss to Missouri. The Volunteers are without do-it-all point guard Zakai Ziegler and are struggling on offense in a major way as a result. The Volunteers are elite defensively because they absolutely have to be, but that is unlikely to be enough against this surging Duke team.
Duke has now won 10 straight games after Thursday’s blowout of trendy upset pick Oral Roberts largely because its exceptionally young roster has adjusted well to high-level college basketball and understands their roles. This spread is so short because of how highly-regarded Tennessee is in analytical rankings like ShotQuality and KenPom, but much of that is based on a resume that no longer reflects how the Volunteers are playing. Duke’s rim protection with Dereck Lively II and Kyle Filipowski is as good as any in the country, meaning Tennessee will need an exceptional shooting night to keep up. We’ve seen the Volunteers struggle on multiple occasions versus Kentucky’s length and athleticism, and Duke is an even more powerful and athletic version of the Wildcats. Expect the Blue Devils to bully the Volunteers and reach the Sweet 16 in New York.
4:15 p.m. CT: No. 8-seed Arkansas vs. No. 1-seed Kansas
The Pick: Kansas -3 (-110) at Caesars
Eighth-seeded Arkansas and No. 1-seed Kansas will battle Saturday in Des Moines, where I expect an extremely pro-Kansas crowd and for the Jayhawks to roll into the Sweet 16. Kansas is as polished, tested, and experienced in a tournament setting as any team in this tournament and should take advantage of the inconsistent Razorbacks. Between Jalen Wilson, Gradey Dick, and Dajuan Harris, the Jayhawks have playmakers everywhere and have shown an ability to execute against elite competition en route to a dominant Big 12 campaign.
Arkansas, while talented, did not enter the NCAA Tournament playing well. Eric Musselman’s team lost four of five to finish the season. Most importantly, for Saturday’s Round of 32 matchup, the Razorbacks do not take good enough care of the basketball. Arkansas ranks 184th in the country in avoiding turnovers per KenPom, while Kansas earns steals on 12.6% of opposing possessions (17th nationally) and ranks ninth in defensive efficiency overall. This Arkansas team is 2-8 on the road this season, and Saturday’s game will certainly take place in a hostile environment. When Kansas takes a lead, Arkansas will likely struggle to shoot their way back into the game – the Razorbacks rank outside KenPom’s top-300 in 3-point shooting. Kansas has been the better of these two teams all season, so laying only three in what I view as a semi-home game is a gift with the Jayhawks.
7:40 p.m. CT: No. 7-seed Northwestern vs. No. 2-seed UCLA
The Pick: OVER 126.5 (-110) at Caesars
Seventh-seeded Northwestern will take on No. 2-seed UCLA in Sacramento on Saturday night, and I think this total is too low. Sure, both teams play slow, and yes, UCLA is the No. 1 defensive efficiency team in the country per KenPom – but recent results make this projected total look like an outlier. Six of Northwestern’s last seven games have gone over 126.5 combined points, while six of UCLA’s last eight have as well. Some of this value is being created by UCLA’s loss of sophomore Jaylen Clark, who grades out as one of the best defenders in the country. ShotQuality’s advanced projections make this total 134.3, so analytics and eye tests agree on the over having value.