Elite Eight Odds, Spread, Picks & Predictions for Saturday (2022 March Madness)

And then there were eight. It’s fair to say there are several teams in the 2022 NCAA Tournament field who not many people (or nobody, in the case of St. Peter’s) expected to be competing for a spot in the Final Four in New Orleans.

I was one of the many who thought Gonzaga and Tennessee would still be playing this weekend. Whoops. Thanks for nothing, Mark Few and Rick Barnes.

Saturday’s slate of games shapes up to be an excellent night of basketball, starting with Houston vs. Villanova and capped with Duke taking on Arkansas.

Here are my best bets for each game.

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(5) Houston Cougars vs. (2) Villanova Wildcats, 6:09 p.m. ET

  • Spread: Houston -2.5
  • Total: 128

Throw the seeds out the window in this matchup. Houston was grossly under-seeded by the selection committee and has dispatched UAB, Illinois and Arizona in almost seamless fashion. On the flip side is a Villanova program that has made it to its fourth Sweet Sixteen in six years.

Houston is simply a pain in the ass to play against. They are ferocious defensively, ranking sixth in adjusted efficiency and eighth in both 2-point and 3-point defense. Houston held an outstanding Arizona offense to 60 points Thursday night, which was only the second time the Wildcats had been held to a scoring total that low.

Offensively, the Cougs play at a slow pace and do the bulk of their damage inside. Houston also crashes the offensive glass, ranking fourth in that category. The duo of guard Kyler Edwards and forward Fabian White Jr., lead the offense, but center Josh Carlton, guard Taze Moore, and guard Jamal Shead all get in on the action. The Cougars share the ball effectively, ranking 22nd in assist rate.

Now the question is whether Houston can take down another Wildcat. But the Villanova Wildcats are an entirely different animal.

Arizona played at the sixth-fastest tempo in the country. Villanova plays at the 346th fastest-tempo. Talk about a difference in styles.

This is your traditional Villanova squad. Play slow, move the ball and look for the best shot. That formula has worked exceptionally well, as the Wildcats rank 10th in adjusted efficiency offensively and 54th in 3-point shooting.

Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels all can beat you on any given night. But this isn’t Wright’s deepest squad, as only six guys played the majority of the game.

Villanova also takes care of the ball extremely well, which is a must against a Houston team that ranks 27th in turnover rate. But the Wildcats are a bit vulnerable in the interior, especially if Eric Dixon gets in foul trouble. Villanova also ranks 198th in defensive rebounding, a glaring concern against Houston.

However, Houston’s aggressive defensive style can get them into trouble, as they foul at a pretty high rate. That’s a dangerous formula against a Villanova squad that shoots 82.6% at the line. You don’t want to get into a free throw shooting contest with Nova. If this game is called tight, Houston could be in trouble.

This line feels right to me, but I would lean Houston moneyline, as their advantages in offensive rebounding, depth and 3-point defense outweigh Villanova’s strengths. For my best bet, I’m taking the first half under. These two teams play at glacial paces, and are strong defensively. I could see this game starting slowly before opening up more in the second half.

Best bet: First half under 59.5 (Caesars), lean Houston moneyline

(4) Arkansas Razorbacks vs. (2) Duke Blue Devils, 8:49 p.m. ET 

  • Spread: Duke -4
  • Total: 147.5

The dream is still alive for Coach K’s farewell season. Everyone expected Texas Tech to make Duke uncomfortable Thursday night. It was the other way around. The Blue Devils sped up the Red Raiders and hit shots when they mattered most. It was an impressive showing from a Duke team many (including myself) doubted entering the tournament.

The public might be looking ahead to a potential Duke vs. North Carolina rematch in the Final Four. But the Blue Devils can’t look past an Arkansas team that relishes the underdog role.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is quickly emerging as one of the best tacticians in the country. After struggling to get past Vermont and New Mexico State, the Razorbacks held top-seeded Gonzaga to just 37.5% shooting in the biggest upset of the Sweet Sixteen aside from St. Peter’s.

The formula for beating the Blue Devils isn’t all that different, although it might be hard to repeat. Arkansas has to muck the game up and generate easy points in transition. The Razorbacks forced 15 turnovers against Gonzaga Thursday. However, Duke hardly turns the ball over, ranking 15th in turnover rate.

Arkansas has also gotten some good fortune on the perimeter defensively in this tournament. Gonzaga went 5-of-21 from deep, New Mexico State went 6-of-26 and Vermont went 9-of-24. Arkansas ranks just 237th in defensive 3-point rate and 112th in defending the long ball. Regression could be coming against Duke, who has hit nearly 37% of their threes on the season.

Duke is loaded with high-end talent, led by lottery pick Paolo Banchero, who has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the country when he’s on his game. Wendell Moore Jr., Trevor Keels, Mark Williams and AJ Griffin also average double figures in scoring. And sophomore guard Jeremy Roach took over late against Texas Tech, scoring 15 points in the win.

Duke’s strength has been 2-point shooting during this tournament. That happens to be Arkansas’ strength on the defensive end, as it ranks 45th in 2-point defense and 51st in block rate. The battle inside between big men Mark Williams and Jaylin Williams will be fascinating to watch.

Offensively, Arkansas is kind of ugly to watch. The Razorbacks rely primarily on JD Notae, who has 56 points in the tournament. To say Notae is a volume shooter might be an understatement. But he hasn’t been efficient, as he’s shooting 30% from the floor. If Notae is on his game, Arkansas can absolutely hang around.

Another reason Arkansas isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch is because they rely quite a bit on getting to the free throw line. The Hogs rank 27th in free throw rate. That’s where Duke’s relatively unaggressive defensive makeup is beneficial, as the Blue Devils foul at the second-lowest rate in the country. However, Arkansas only went 9-of-14 from the charity stripe in its win over Gonzaga.

Taking favorites in this tournament makes me squeamish, as there isn’t that much separating these teams. However, Duke has better guards and better top-end talent than Gonzaga (no offense to Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme). I’m rolling with Coach K in what should be another really good game.

Best bet: Duke -3.5 (BetMGM)

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