Luckett's Locks: 8 bets for NCAA Tournament second round
That was a fun two days to open the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Things are developing quickly.
Everyone is finding out Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win their conference, criticism is coming hard and heavy for Tony Bennett and Matt Painter, and the Duke hype only continues to grow. However, this is just the start. There will be more stakes and better matchups over Saturday and Sunday with Sweet 16 berths on the line.
Our against-the-spread (ATS) plays finished 5-5 for the first round after a hot start fizzled late. We’ve crunched some more numbers to find some more winners as this elite weekend comes to a close.
Let’s get to the window.
Furman vs. San Diego State Under 137.5
The Fur Man was our tournament darling until Princeton over Arizona happened on Thursday. Then that was overtaken by Fairleigh Dickinson. The Paladins caught some luck thanks to that third-and-a-mile heave by Virginia’s Kihei Clark, but they’re set to face a similar opponent in round two. San Diego State has a better defense than Virginia and the size to hurt the SoCon champ inside.
Unders are 12-2 in San Diego State games with nine straight covers. The Aztecs will again own the pace of play and turn this matchup into a grinder.
Duke vs. Tennessee (+3.5)
Duke is playing some elite defense and has won 10 games in a row. The Blue Devils are the flavor of the month with five consecutive covers. However, all of those have come against the ACC and Oral Roberts. Duke is still just 9-12 ATS in their last 21 games and will face a Tennessee team that also owns a top-10 defense since February.
Duke and Tennessee are the Spiderman meme. Great defense, good front court size, and iffy offense. The value here is with the underdog in the 50/50 matchup. Lock in the Vols despite Rick Barnes’ mediocre tournament record (26-26).
Princeton (+6.5) vs. Missouri
Princeton logged their first NCAA Tournament win since 1996 on Thursday. The Tigers will have a great shot at making that two wins on Saturday evening in Sacramento.
Per Bart Torvik, Missouri is No. 76 in adjusted efficiency since Feb. 1 while Princeton is just inside the top 100. Mitch Henderson’s team should be able to score efficiently against a bad Missouri defense. Meanwhile, Princeton is a great defensive rebounding team and that should remove some of Mizzou’s offensive efficiency. Those two factors should allow the Ivy League champs to stay within the number. Jump on the No. 15 seed again.
Northwestern vs. UCLA (-7.5)
UCLA has the No. 1 defense with six double-digit victories. Northwestern has a sub-90 offense with a 2-4 record in their last six games. Don’t overthink this.
There’s a case to be made that UCLA was underseeded. Mick Cronin’s team has been a top-five squad all season long and got a nice motivation bump by losing a close game to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game. That will lead to another cover in Sacramento. Lay the points as UCLA rolls.
Maryland vs. Alabama (-8.5)
Alabama nearly covered on Thursday without star Brandon Miller hitting a shot. The best team in college basketball is going to be a tough out in this tournament. Maryland will look to take their swing by slowing the game down. That won’t be enough.
We see a bounce back from Miller as Bama’s defense could overwhelm a Maryland team with perimeter shooting issues. The Tide get a big win in Birmingham and cover the eight and change.
Pittsburgh (+5.5) vs. Xavier
Pitt is it! Following another cover on Friday afternoon in the upset win over Iowa State, Jeff Capel’s team is now 24-10-1 ATS with nine outright upsets. The Panthers have matched up well against Iowa State and Mississippi State, but Xavier’s top-10 offense will present some more challenges in Greensboro.
However, the ACC program is playing with a lot of confidence and should be able to go blow-for-blow against the No. 3 seed. Don’t be surprised if a shootout occurs. Pitt stays within the number as this strong ATS run continues.
Creighton vs. Baylor (-1)
Perhaps the best Round of 32 game will occur in Denver. Both Baylor and Creighton are bonafide top-20 teams capable of making run to the Final Four. We should get a heavyweight fight in the South Region.
Baylor’s defense is the weakest unit in this matchup, but Creighton has not performed well in this spot all season. The Blue Jays have not won a game as an underdog this season. That continues on Sunday when the Bears move to Sweet 16.
TCU vs. Gonzaga (-4)
The over streak for Gonzaga suffered a loss on Friday night, but Mark Few’s team still scored 82 points in the win over Grand Canyon. An argument can be made that the Bulldogs are the best team in basketball right now.
That theory will be tested on Sunday night against a good TCU team that plays with pace. However, that playing style will benefit Gonzaga’s juggernaut offense that goes for 80-plus points again and covers the small number.