March Madness Betting Guide: Sweet 16, Friday
The back half of the Sweet 16 gets rolling at 6:30 pm ET on Friday night. Will it be a night of upsets, or will the chalk move on?
Filling out a bracket is the main attraction for most sports fans this time of year, but the fun doesn't have to stop there. It's also the perfect opportunity to place some bets on the college basketball odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Which games should draw our attention? Let's find out.
Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.
San Diego State (5) vs. Alabama (1)
San Diego State +7.5 (-115)
At first glance, this spread seems befitting of the top overall seed over a 5 seed, but the San Diego State Aztecs shouldn't be underestimated in this spot.
This is no disrespect to the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team that's worthy of its lofty seeding. Our nERD rankings place Alabama number one overall, while KenPom and BartTorvik rate the Crimson Tide second behind only the Houston Cougars. Alabama is a team with few weaknesses, boasting the nation's 3rd-best adjusted defense and 15th-best adjusted offense, per BartTorvik
According to our numbers, the Crimson Tide meet all the historical criteria of prior champions, hitting high benchmarks in nERD, offensive rating, and defensive rating. No one would be surprised if they won it all.
But here's the thing. It may surprise you that San Diego State qualifies as a champion-level team in all those metrics, too. That data say they're that good.
They would make our short list of contenders were it not for one important caveat: seeding. That's because 21 of the last 22 champions have been a 3 seed or better. The only exception was a 7 seed (the 2014 Connecticut Huskies), but they were the equivalent of a 4 seed in our database.
All of this is to say that while history suggests the Aztecs won't go all the way, they should be able to put up a strong fight against the Crimson Tide. All three rating systems view San Diego State as a top-15 squad, and BartTorvik even goes so far as to rank them 10th.
San Diego State largely earns its high marks by being elite in adjusted defense (4th), and although they don't have the offensive firepower of Alabama, they're still well above average in adjusted offense, too (52nd).
It's worth noting that the Crimson Tide love to play at a fast pace (5th in adjusted tempo) and rain down threes (9th in three-point attempt rate), so if they get hot from long distance, it's probably lights out for the Aztecs. San Diego State prefers to play at a deliberate pace (256th in adjusted tempo) and doesn't shoot as often from beyond the arc (251st in three-point attempt rate), making them an unlikely candidate to mount a comeback if they get down big.
However, the good news for San Diego State is that Alabama is actually just an average team in three-point shooting percentage (168th), so they're hardly immune to cold shooting nights. If that's how things play out, this could turn into the lower-scoring contest the Aztecs want.
Our model loves San Diego State +7.5 and thinks they have a 63.6% chance of covering. It projects Alabama winning this matchup by a mere 2.8 points.
Miami (5) vs. Houston (1)
Houston -7.5 (-105)
We're going the opposite route with the other 1 seed playing on Friday, and that's because the Miami (FL) Hurricanes are arguably the weakest team left in the field outside of this year's Cinderella story, the Princeton Tigers.
KenPom, BartTorvik, and nERD all rank Miami outside the top 30, the only Sweet 16 team other than the Tigers to earn that distinction. While the Hurricanes are 9th in adjusted offense, per BartTorvik, they have the worst remaining adjusted defense (112th) -- and that includes Princeton.
Meanwhile, as noted earlier, Houston rates as the best or second-best team of the tournament, and that's reflected by them being roughly top-10 in adjusted defense and top-5 in adjusted defense.
It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the Cougars thus far, who needed second-half runs against both Northern Kentucky and Auburn to advance, but the extra rest for leading scorer Marcus Sasser, who's been dealing with a groin injury, should help them reassert themselves.
Given the recent play of these teams, the majority of bets are gravitating toward Miami's side of this spread, and even if Houston performs well, their sluggish pace (343rd in adjusted tempo) could hurt their chances of pulling away, as well.
But in looking at their resumes as a whole, I'm still backing the superior team to win in a comfortable fashion, and BartTorvik projects the Cougars to win by 8.2 points.