February 23, 2024


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A pair of Sweet 16 underdogs will make some noise in the Big Dance tonight


Our long wait is over. After three dark and lonely nights without the NCAA Tournament, the Sweet 16 tips off tonight. I don’t know how we managed to get through the last 72 hours without it, but we did it, and we may be stronger, better people for it.

I mean, probably not, but stranger things have happened, right? After all, Saint Peter’s will be playing a Sweet 16 game tomorrow night. Anyway, tonight’s newsletter is about tonight’s Sweet 16 games, but before we get to the picks, let’s catch up on what else is happening in the sports universe.

Now how about some sweet picks for the Sweet 16?

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook

🔥 The Hot Ticket

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No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 5 Houston — South Region, 9:59 p.m. | TV: TBS

Latest Odds:

Houston Cougars

  • Key Trend: Arizona is only 3-10 ATS in its last 13 games as a favorite at a neutral site, including 0-2 this season.
  • The Pick: Houston +1.5 (-110)

If you read Monday’s newsletter, you had a good idea that this bet was coming. I told you to take Houston to win the South Region because, according to power ratings, the Cougars are a better team than Arizona and should be favored against them. I also told you that Houston was a 2.5-point underdog, and we were likely to see that line shrink.

Sometimes being right isn’t great, but hopefully, you jumped ahead of the movement and got it then. If you didn’t, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of value on the Cougars getting 1.5 points. Now, that’s not to say this is some sure thing (my inbox suggests that some of you think every bet should win). I wouldn’t have Houston favored over Arizona by more than 1.5 points. This is very likely to be a close game that comes down to the final possessions, but I like Houston’s experience should things get iffy.

Jonathan Coachman is joined by Mike McClure, Justin Perri, Micah Roberts and Larry Hartstein to dish out the best bets for Thursday. Download and follow The Early Edge on Apple Podcasts and Spotify 

Arizona has a significant size advantage over the Cougars, but Houston is an elite team on the offensive glass, and despite Arizona’s size, it has not been a solid defensive rebounding team this season, ranking 194th nationally with a rate of 28.4%. Also, on the sidelines, while Tommy Lloyd was a long-time assistant at Gonzaga and has done a fantastic job with Arizona, this is still his first time in the Sweet 16 as the person in charge. Houston’s Kelvin Sampson has done this before, as his Houston team reached the Final Four just last season.

I expect that we’ll see an active Houston defense create havoc with the Wildcats tonight and force a lot of turnovers — a weak spot for Arizona — while winning the battle on the glass. Arizona will use its size on the interior for offense, but Houston’s sturdy enough defensively to make the Wildcats work for everything they get. From Houston’s standpoint, the greatest area of concern is if it gets in foul trouble. The Cougars foul a lot already, and Arizona does a good job of getting to the line, where it makes a fair share of its free throws.

If it becomes a free-throw battle, the scales tilt strongly toward Arizona, so we’ll be in trouble if the refs call things tight.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model has a pretty healthy lean toward one side of the spread as well.

💰The Picks

🏀 NCAA Tournament

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Arkansas — West Region, 7:09 p.m | TV: CBS

Latest Odds:

Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Pick: Gonzaga -10 (-110) — I’m not going to overthink this one. While I’m never going to be excited about taking a double-digit favorite in a Sweet 16 game, this strikes me as an awful matchup for Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been an inefficient offense all season long, which has caused them to run hot-and-cold during games, and they aren’t going to get away with that against Gonzaga. While the Hogs’ defense has been solid throughout the season — it was the best in the SEC during conference play — I don’t see how they match up tonight. Gonzaga is just so much bigger.

Sure, Arkansas has Jaylin Williams, who is 6-feet-10, a solid defensive rebounder, and a good shot-blocker, but Gonzaga has 6-10 Drew Timme and the 7-foot Chet Holmgren. Williams will likely be tasked with defending Timme on the interior, so who is Arkansas putting on Holmgren? Stanley Umude and Trey Wade split most of the time at the four, but both are only 6’6. If you put Williams on Holmgren, then one of those two has to deal with Timme, who will obliterate them in the post.

The only way I see Arkansas staying in this game is if JD Notae goes supernova, but he’s played poorly for most of Arkansas’ last five games.

Key Trend: Arkansas is 0-4 ATS in its last four NCAA Tournament games.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 11 Michigan — South Region, 7:29 p.m | TV: TBS

Latest Odds:

Michigan Wolverines

The Pick: Michigan +5 (-110) — In the NCAA Tournament, casual fans love rooting for Cinderella because it’s fun to see upsets. I agree, but I root for Cinderella for a different reason. I want early upsets because double-digit seeds are great to bet on the second weekend. Seriously, since the 2011 NCAA Tournament, double-digit seeds that are underdogs have gone 21-7-1 ATS in their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups. This brings us to a Michigan team that is the No. 11 seed in the region but is better than your typical No. 11 seed.

Michigan’s biggest problem this season has been on the defensive end, but I’m not sure Villanova is the best team to exploit Michigan’s defensive deficiencies. Michigan also has a pretty significant size advantage on the Wildcats, as Nova doesn’t have anybody in its regular rotation taller than 6-7. Meanwhile, Michigan has 7-1 Hunter Dickinson, 6-11 Moussa Diabate and 6-8 Caleb Houston. There’s a good chance that the Wolverines will dominate the glass, making it much more difficult for Villanova to pull far enough away to cover. 

Key Trend: Since 2011, underdog double-digit seeds are 21-7-1 ATS during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: I’m not including it in tonight’s newsletter, but there is a fourth game between Duke and Texas Tech, and the Projection Model has strong plays for both the spread and total.

 🏀 Cinderella Parlay

I know we’ve got a lot going with the tournament already, but what do you say we liven things up a little? We’re betting two dogs against the spread already, what if they both win outright? Let’s sprinkle a little on this parlay that pays +495.

  • Michigan (+190)
  • Houston (+105)


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