Sweet Sixteen Betting: UCLA vs Kentucky

kentucky-ucla-march-madnessUCLA’s 2016 season was a disaster as the team went 15-17, leading to calls for Steve Alford’s job. But what a difference a year makes since the Bruins (31-4) are now in the Sweet 16, with a chance to make their first Elite Eight appearance since 2008.

They got here with solid victories over 14-seed Kent State (97-80) and 6-seed Cincinnati (79-67). The latter proved a good challenge before UCLA faces Kentucky, a team just as talented as itself.

As for John Calipari’s squad, they’re in familiar territory, having made the Sweet Sixteen in six of the past eight seasons. But given the quality of their opponent, this is one of the few times the Wildcats haven’t been favored in a Sweet Sixteen matchup.

Who will move on and face the winner of UNC/Gonzaga? Find out as we discuss both teams’ chances and offer some betting advice.

UCLA (31-4) vs. Kentucky (31-5); Friday (Mar 24 @ 9:35pm)
GTBets.eu Betting Line: UCLA 0 (-110); Kentucky 0 (-110)

Why the Bruins will Cover the Spread

lonzo-tj-leafWith apologies to Baylor and Oregon, UCLA is the best and most-talented #3 seed in the tournament. You could easily argue that they’re under-seeded, but a third-place conference finish in the Pac 12 relegated them to this position.

If you look at the Bruins’ schedule, they got revenge for all four of their losses, which included Oregon, USC, and Arizona (twice). This is a squad that faced a number of quality opponents during the year, and they’re as prepared for a deep tournament run as anybody.

The Bruins feature a nice mix of youth and experience in their lineup. They’re led by Pac 12 Freshman of the Year Lonzo Ball (14.7 PPG, 7.6 APG) and fellow freshman T.J. Leaf (16.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG). Sophomore guard Aaron Holiday (12.5 PPG) also chips in plenty of points. Leadership is provided by senior G Bryce Alford (15.6 PPG), senior G Isaac Hamilton (14.0 PPG), and junior C Thomas Welsh (10.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG).

With six double-digit scorers, it’s not hard to see how UCLA led the nation in scoring at 90.2 PPG. This is a big reason why we at GTBets.eu have the over/under set at 165.5.

Kentucky can also score (85.2 PPG), but we like the Bruins if this turns into a shootout. In fact, this is exactly what happened when the teams met in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, with UCLA prevailing 97-92.

The one concern if you’re thinking of betting on the Bruins is that they’re just 1-4 against the spread (ATS) in their last five contests. They either win or lose this game, but it’s hard to put lots of faith in them judging from the ATS performance.

Why the Wildcats will cover the Spread

deaaron-foxOutside of a mid-season 82-80 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers (16-16), Kentucky beat everybody they were supposed to. They also notched significant victories over North Carolina and Florida. Currently on a 13-game win streak, the Wildcats have played their best basketball when it matters most.

You almost have to like that Kentucky lost to UCLA earlier this season because they have the revenge factor going for them. Of course, this team has a lot more to bank their hopes on than just revenge.

For starters, they’re led by three potential NBA lottery picks in De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG), Malik Monk (20.0 PPG), and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (13.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG).

UCLA has their own lottery hopefuls as well in Ball and Leaf. But three trumps two in this case, and we really like Kentucky from an overall talent perspective.

Senior forward Derek Willis (7.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is also crucial to the Wildcats since he’s been through tournament runs before and provides a veteran influence.

From a betting perspective, Kentucky hasn’t been any better than UCLA, going 1-4 ATS in their last five contests. They failed to cover in victories against Northern Kentucky (79-70) in the first round, and Wichita State (65-62) in the second round.

Final Thoughts on Kentucky vs UCLA

With lottery picks on both squads and an even betting line, you could flip a coin to decide this one. But we slightly favor the Bruins to win again because they have the best player on the floor in Ball, and they’ve performed better against elite competition. Kentucky, on the other hand, topped a weaker conference and lost marquee games to both Kansas and Louisville.

Final Score Prediction: UCLA wins 90-88

Sweet Sixteen Betting: Butler vs UNC Analysis

unc-butler-bettingThe North Carolina Tar Heels lost the 2016 championship game by 3 points to Villanova last year. The sting of this loss has motivated them to an ACC title and the 2017 tournament’s top overall seed. But they won’t be happy until they get complete redemption in the form of a title.

All has gone according to plan so far for UNC, with a 103-64 victory over 16-seed Texas Southern, and a 72-65 win against 8-seed Arkansas. The latter was a nice test for the Tar Heels as they gear up for an even bigger challenge in Butler.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, they closed their regular season and conference tournament on a sour note, losing to both Seton Hall and Xavier (Big East tournament). Despite these losses, Butler did enough to attain a No. 4 seed, largely thanks to two victories over Villanova during the Big East conference schedule.

They’ve put their seeding to good use, knocking off 13-seed Winthrop by a score of 76-64, and 12-seed Middle Tennessee by a tally of 74-65. Are these tune-up games enough for the ultimate challenge in UNC? Let’s find out by discussing how both teams will fare in this Sweet Sixteen contest.

Butler (25-8) vs. UNC (29-7); Friday (Mar 24 @ 7:05pm)
GTBets.eu Betting Line: UNC -7.5 (-110); Butler +7.5 (-110)

Why the Bulldogs will Cover the Spread

kelan-martin-butlerEver since Brad Stevens turned this program into a giant killer in the mid-2000s, Butler has continued to notch quality wins over the years. 2017 was no different since they earned nine wins over tournament teams, including Villanova (twice) and Arizona.

But there were also a couple of puzzling losses to Indiana State and St. John’s. Given the opponent, we don’t expect an empty performance from Butler on Friday night.

North Carolina and the Bulldogs have some familiarity with each since Butler has upset the Tar Heels twice in the past five years. It’s not unfathomable to think that they can do it again, although this is a tougher UNC squad than the ones that were beaten before.

One thing that Butler has going for them is experience, with most of their rotation players being juniors and seniors. Junior forward Kelan Martin leads the team with 16.0 PPG and 5.8 RPG. Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz (11.1 PPG) is another important cog for the Bulldogs. Other contributors include freshman G Kamar Baldwin (10.0 PPG), senior G Avery Woodson (8.9 PPG), and senior G Kevan Savage (8.0 PPG).

Butler is a smart, disciplined team that can beat anybody in the country when at their peak. And if they bring their A-game, it’s possible that they’ll upset the Tar Heels once again.

One big reason to wager on the Bulldogs is that they’re 7-1 against the spread (ATS) in their last eight contests as an underdog.

Why the Tar Heels will Cover the Spread

North Carolina emerged from the nation’s toughest conference with a championship, thus setting them up to be March Madness favorites.

The one unsettling thing about UNC is that they blew a 17-point, first-half lead against the Razorbacks. North Carolina came back for the victory, which could serve as the scare they need to stay focused.

Team stars Joel Berry and Justin Jackson struggled in this contest, making just 2-of-13 and 5-of-14 shots respectively. But Kennedy Meeks came up big, hitting 7-of-13 shots, grabbing 11 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots. The bench also shot well, nailing a combined 7-of-11 field goal attempts.

This represents one of the biggest problems in trying to contain UNC because they have too much talent. If Jackson or Berry aren’t on, then other players like Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye can step up when needed.

Another issue Butler needs to worry about is the Tar Heels’ size. Few match up well with this team, which, thanks to Jackson’s versatility, starts four forwards and plays two more in the rotation.

From a betting perspective, UNC seems like the safe bet here because they’re 5-1-1 ATS when favored by seven points or more.

Final Thoughts on Butler vs. UNC Betting

This is a tough game to call because both North Carolina and Butler have been on fire regarding the spread. As mentioned before, the Bulldogs are 7-1 ATS as an underdog recently, while the Tar Heels have gone 5-1-1 ATS as a favorite of -7 or better. Their lone loss was the 72-65 win over Arkansas, where they failed to cover -11.5.

As stated before, we believe North Carolina will cut down the nets in Phoenix, thus avenging their loss last year. But can they defeat Butler by 8 points or more? Normally we’d say no, but given how close the last game was, we expect the Tar Heels to come out on fire.

Final Score Prediction: UNC wins 79-68

Does Xavier Have a Chance Against Arizona in Sweet 16?

xavier-vs-arizonaWith only 16 teams left in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the true Cinderellas have been sent packing. Gone are the Nevada’s and Princeton’s that we discussed before the tourney.

The closest thing we have to a Cinderella now is the Xavier Musketeers, an 11-seed that made it here with a 76-65 victory over Maryland, then a 91-66 blowout against 3-seed Florida State.

Their next opponent is 2-seed Arizona, a team that many think has the potential to win it all. We also believe they have the talent since we ranked the Wildcats #7 among the remaining Sweet 16 teams. Meanwhile, we only have Xavier sitting at #14.

Can the Musketeers surprise the basketball world and move on the Elite Eight? Find out as we cover the Arizona vs. Xavier matchup.

March 23 @ 10:09pm EST
Betting Odds at GTBets: Arizona -7.5, Xavier +7.5

Only three times in NCAA Tournament history has a No. 11 seed advanced to the Final Four – LSU in 1986; George Mason in 2006; and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. Based on the trend over the last decade-plus, we’re do for another double-digit team in the Final Four.

But the odds suggest that it won’t be Xavier, given that FiveThirtyEight gives them just an 8% chance of making it to Phoenix. We at GTBets have them with the worst odds of winning the championship at +5000 right now. Nevertheless, this is a solid team that’s coming off a 25-point win over a No. 3 seed, so they have to be taken seriously.

The big reason why the Musketeers blitzed Florida State is because they hit 11-of-17 shots (64.7%) from three-point range. They also made 71% of their shots around the basket and outscored FSU 36-26 in the paint.

xavier-florida-stateAt first glance, it feels like Xavier just got hot and the Seminoles couldn’t keep up. But the latter ranked in the nation’s top 30% for field goal percentage allowed at the rim (52.3%), and 21st overall for block rate. That said, we expect the good inside play to continue against Arizona, which allowed 64.1% shooting around the rim to 15-seed North Dakota State and 7-seed St. Mary’s.

Another thing that Xavier does well is rebound, given that they got offensive rebounds at a 34.9% rate, ranking 29th in the nation. This could cause trouble for the more-talented Wildcats if they surrender extra possessions to a lower seed.

If the Musketeers can execute their game plan and get by Arizona, they have a realistic path to the national championship game as well.

The only No. 1 seeds left – Kansas and North Carolina – are on the other side of the bracket. The winner of Xavier/Arizona plays the winner of Gonzaga/West Virginia to see who advances out of the West Region. While neither of these are easy matchups, they also aren’t the Tar Heels or Jayhawks.

If the Musketeers become just the fourth team in history to make the Final Four, they’d take on the East winner, which will be between the Florida/Wisconsin and Baylor/South Carolina winners. No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 1 seed Duke have both been eliminated from the East Region.

Assuming Xavier can complete an unlikely run to the finals, they could face UNC, Kansas, No. 2 Kentucky, or No. 3 UCLA.

North Carolina would be a nightmare matchup for the Musketeers due to their size, offensive rebounding percentage (42.2%), and 121.6 points per 100 possessions. According to Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor system, UNC would be an 8.6 favorite over Xavier – probably even more on the betting lines – while Kansas and Kentucky would be 7.1 and 7.5-point favorites respectively.

But obviously we’re getting ahead of ourselves here because Xavier has a very tough test in front of them right now. However, if they can muster yet another upset, then the Musketeers have a shot at going deeper in the tournament than anybody would’ve fathomed before March Madness began.

Sweet Sixteen Betting: See All 16 Teams Ranked

unc-arkansasIt’s another March Madness, and another year of busted brackets. Teams like Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Michigan weren’t supposed to make it this far, but they’re here, two games within a trip to Phoenix.

What are their odds of winning it all? Find out as we rank the entire Sweet Sixteen field and discuss how this relates to their GTBets.eu betting odds.

#16: No. 7 seed South Carolina
Plays: No. 3 seed Baylor
Betting Odds: +4500

south-carolina-beats-dukeThey say that the tournament is about great guard play, and the Gamecocks have this in Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 PPG) and P.J. Dozier (13.8 PPG). They got here by blowing out 10-seed Marquette 93-73, then shocking 2-seed Duke with an 88-81 victory. South Carolina got hot in the second half to defeat a Blue Devils team that’s faced scrutiny all season. They’ll have to get hot again to beat Baylor since they don’t have a lot of talent beyond Thornwell and Dozier.

#15: No. 7 seed Michigan
Plays: No. 3 seed Oregon
Betting Odds: +1600

michigan-vs-louisvilleMichigan is the hot pick right now because they’re on an unbelievable streak. Winners of 7 straight, and 12 of the last 14 games, the Wolverines’ good run continues with tournament victories over 10-seed Oklahoma (92-91) and 2-seed Louisville (73-69). The latter busted a lot of brackets and has many thinking that Michigan can go further. But our main concern with this team is their rebounding and defense, which doesn’t give us much confidence heading into the Oregon matchup.

#14: No. 11 Xavier
Plays: No. 2 Arizona
Betting Odds: +5000

xavier-florida-stateIf you’re looking for a long-shot to score big with, the Musketeers are it. They have solid guard play with Trevon Bluiett (18.5 PPG) and J.P. Macura (14.3 PPG), and they easily handled their first two opponents in 6-seed Maryland (76-65) and 3-seed Florida State (91-66). However, a No. 11 seed has never made it to the championship, and only three have made it to the Final Four. Odds are that they don’t even beat Arizona, but it’s not impossible.

#13: No. 4 Purdue
Plays: No. 1 Kansas
Betting Odds: +2000

caleb-swanigan-purdueLed by Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan (18.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG), Purdue doesn’t have to look far for consistency and production. They can also rely on Vince Edwards (12.7 PPG) and Dakota Mathias (9.9 PPG), who was also a Big Ten all-defensive selection. They’ve beaten 13-seed Vermont (80-70) and 5-seed Iowa State (80-76) so far. But Kansas will be a far bigger test than either of these schools.

#12: No. 3 Oregon
Plays: No. 7 Michigan
Betting Odds: +1800

dillon-brooks-oregonMuch has been made about the Ducks losing forward Chris Boucher (ACL) in the Pac 12 tournament. And this is one reason why Michigan-over-Oregon is a popular upset pick in the Sweet 16. But the Ducks still have plenty in the cupboard, including Pac 12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks (16.4 PPG), Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bell (2.1 blocks), and guard Tyler Dorsey (14.0 PPG). They were tested by an underrated Rhode Island team (75-72) last round, which means the Ducks won’t take Michigan lightly. But as for their overall championship hopes, it’ll be tough without Boucher on the floor.

#11: No. 8 Wisconsin
Plays: No. 4 Florida
Betting Odds: +1600

wisconsin-villanovaThe Badgers came into this tournament as an underseeded team, and they proved it with a 65-62 victory over the defending champion Villanova. Some call this a shocker, but it’s hard to say that considering how Wisconsin has been to the Final Four in two out of the last three years. Can they make it three out of four years? Their betting odds don’t offer much value, but this is still a dangerous 8-seed.

#10: No. 4 Butler
Plays: No. 1 UNC
Betting Odds: +4000

butler-east-tennessee-stateThe former gold standard for mid-majors, Butler has been just as successful as a member of the Big East. Led by forwards Kelan Martin (16 PPG) and Andrew Chrabascz (11.1 PPG), the Bulldogs play a strong team game where they don’t beat themselves. Butler hasn’t slayed any giants, knocking off 13-seed Winthrop (76-64) and 12-seed Middle Tennessee State (74-65) en route to the Sweet Sixteen. As we discussed before, UNC is our odds-on favorite to win, so the Bulldogs must play their absolute best to advance.

#9: No. 4 West Virginia
Plays: No. 1 Gonzaga
Betting Odds: +1500

West Virginia has a chance to beat everybody thanks to their high-pressure style, which forces teams to deal with a full-court press the entire game. This team has several stoppers, including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter (2.5 steals), Big 12 all-defensive selection Nathan Adrian (9.7 PPG), and guard Tarik Phillip (1.8 steals). Bob Huggins’ squad got by 13-seed Bucknell (96-80) and 5-seed Notre Dame (83-71) with tough D. But they’ll also need to be sharp-shooters against Gonzaga because the latter boasts a strong half-court defense.

#8: No. 3 UCLA
Plays: No. 2 Kentucky
Betting Odds: +1000

lonzo-ball-uclaIf we’re to listen to the craziness of Lonzo Ball’s dad, LaVar, then this Bruins team is the greatest of all time. Make no mistake, though, this team is for real with the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year Lonzo (14.7 PPG, 7.6 APG), forward TJ Leaf (16.2 PPG, 8.2RPG), and coach’s son Bryce Alford (15.6 PPG). The road is difficult ahead, with Kentucky this week, and a potential date with UNC in the Elite Eight. But UCLA does already own a win over Kentucky this season.

#7: No. 2 Arizona
Plays: No. 11 Xavier
Betting Odds: +650

arizona-2017-march-madnessThe Wildcats are a chic pick to win it all, hence betting odds that don’t offer you much value. Led by forward Lauri Markkanen (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Pac 12 tournament MVP Allonzo Trier (17.1 ppg), it’s not impossible to see them winning. But they have yet to face a real test, beating 15-seed North Dakota State (100-82) and 7-seed St. Mary’s (69-60) thus far. We like them to make the Final Four since they have the easiest path.

#6: No. 1 Gonzaga
Plays: No. 4 West Virginia
Betting Odds: +600

gonzaga-march-madnessIt seems that the Bulldogs get the overrated billing every year for two reasons: 1) they dominate weak West Coast Conference competition, and 2) they’ve never made it past the Elite Eight. Earlier this year, we covered why this is the Gonzaga team to fear the most because they play great defense. They’re also balanced, with West Coast Player of the Year Nigel Williams (16.7 PPG), forward Zach Collins (10.3 PPG, 1.7 BPG), and center Przemek Karnowski (12.4 PPG). With victories over 16-seed South Dakota State (66-46) and 8-seed Northwestern (79-73), they haven’t done much to prove the naysayers wrong. Gonzaga needs two more wins to make the Final Four and quiet the haters.

#5: No. 3 Baylor Bears
Plays: No. 7 South Carolina
Betting Odds: +1500

baylor-march-madnessThe Bears are our favorite value pick right now at +1500 odds. They feature forward Jonathan Motley (17.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG), guard Manu Lecomte (12.3 PPG), and all-defensive selection Ishmail Wainright (1.7 SPG). Ranked No. 1 to begin the year, Baylor fell off as the season got deeper. But they still have the potential and talent to make their first Final Four since 1950. With an overachieving South Carolina in front, we think Baylor can definitely get to the Elite Eight.

#4: No. 4 Florida
Plays: No. 8 Wisconsin
Betting Odds: +1000

florida-virginia-march-madnessThe thing to love about the Gators is that they play viscous defense, shutting down both 13-seed East Tennessee State (80-65) and 5-seed Virginia (65-39) up to this point. Florida also has a balanced scoring effort, with guards KeVaughn Allen (13.4 PPG), Canyon Barry (11.8 PPG), and Kasey Hill (9.7 PPG) leading the way. The Gators have more talent than Wisconsin, and they stand a good chance against the Baylor/South Carolina winner too.

#3: No. 2 Kentucky
Plays: No. 3 UCLA
Betting Odds: +950

kentucky-2017-march-madnessThe Wildcats have plenty of scoring power in SEC AP Player of the Year Malik Monk (20.0 PPG), SEC tournament MVP De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG), and foward Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg). But they’ve been held in check during victories over 15-seed Northern Kentucky (79-70) and 10-seed Wichita State (65-62). They have a chance for revenge against UCLA in the next round, then a possible date with UNC looms in the Elite Eight. Whatever happens, we love their +950 betting odds at this stage.

#2: No. 1 Kansas
Plays: No. 4 Purdue
Betting Odds: +500

kansas-2017-march-madnessKansas has no shortage of star power, with Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason III (20.8 PPG, 5.8 APG), Big 12 Freshman of the Year Josh Jackson (16.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG), and guard Devonte Graham (13.3 PPG). This talent came in handy with dominating victories over 16-seed UC Davis (100-62) and 9-seed Michigan State (90-70). A Kansas-UNC matchup is entirely possible in the Final Four. And this would be right up the Jayhawks’ alley because they’ve fared well against Roy Williams in the past.

#1: No. 1 UNC
Plays: No. 4 Butler
Betting Odds: +450

josh-jackson-kansasAfter losing in last year’s finals, the Tar Heels have had laser-like focus for most of the season. This showed in the first two rounds, as they knocked off 16-seed Texas Southern (103-64) and 8-seed Arkansas (72-65). They have carryovers from last year’s successful team, including ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG), guard Joel Berry II (14.4 PPG), and forward Isaiah Hicks (12.4 PPG). The competition will be tough, with potential dates against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, and Kansas in the Final Four. But UNC has the talent and pedigree to get it done and bring another national championship to the school.