NCAA Tournament Survivor Guide For the Elite Eight (Saturday)

What happened to all the No. 1 seeds? When Arkansas and Houston upset Gonzaga and Arizona on Thursday night, it guaranteed that we would have fewer than two No. 1 seeds in the Regional Finals for the first time since 2013. However, while three of the four No. 1 seeds have fallen, there is no shortage of intrigue with Saturday’s two Elite Eight matchups.

Houston and Villanova is a thrilling matchup of two non-Power Five conference tournament champions who have made Final Four appearances in the last four seasons. And in the West Region, Duke plays another must-see game as it could be Mike Krzyzewski’s last in a rematch of the 1994 National Championship Game.

Depending on your NCAA tournament survivor pool’s rules, you may be asked to make just one pick for the entire Elite Eight or one selection each day the Elite Eight is played (Saturday and Sunday). We will assume two different choices are needed, so be on the lookout for tomorrow’s column as well. With three picks remaining, now is a crucial time to focus on how to survive and advance and leave yourself with enough teams to pick in the Final Four and beyond.

As we have done since the Round of 32, we rank all games in order of most confidence to least confidence and provide a short narrative for each.

Here is a list of odds for both favorites to win their Elite Eight on Saturday (odds courtesy of BettingPros consensus).

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Best Picks in Order of Most-to-Least Confidence

Duke -179

Survivor pool contestants likely thought they would be navigating an Elite Eight with the Duke Blue Devils playing Gonzaga for a trip to the Final Four. Instead, the Blue Devils enter as the biggest favorites on Saturday’s slate, and those still alive in their pools need to decide if Duke is destined for an appearance in the national championship before they use them now.

Duke’s run to the Elite Eight was not without drama, as they trailed both Michigan State and Texas Tech with less than five minutes remaining. However, late in those two games, the Blue Devils kicked it into a different gear that not many teams have. Duke finished its game against Michigan State on a 20-6 run and outscored Texas Tech 12-5 over the final 3:19 on Thursday. More impressive was Duke’s entire second-half offensive performance against the Red Raiders. The Blue Devils shot 71% against the nation’s top-ranked defense, and that 71% is the most allowed in a half by Texas Tech over the last seven seasons.

While Arkansas did not have a similar offensive explosion in its win over Gonzaga, the Razorbacks were impressive defensively. Arkansas held Gonzaga to 68 points but faces the challenge of limiting a Duke team that has scored at least 78 points in eight of its last nine games. Thus, if forced to choose between Duke or Houston in the Elite Eight, we have more confidence in the Blue Devils.

Houston -134

In what was a surprise to some, Houston was “only” a 1.5 point underdog to top seed Arizona in the Sweet 16. However, the game seemingly played out precisely as oddsmakers suggested it would, given the low spread. The Cougars brought the game’s pace to a grinding halt, and Arizona’s 63 possessions were its fewest in a game all season. Houston has held 19 opponents to fewer than 60 points (second to only San Diego State’s and North Texas’ 20), and a primary reason is the methodical pace with which the Cougars play.

Villanova will have no such issues playing at a slow pace, especially since the Wildcats’ bench is shorter with the season-ending injury to freshman Jordan Longino. Thus, Houston does not have the advantage over Villanova that it has over most opponents when they play the game at a pace that others are uncomfortable with.

Villanova is disciplined and experienced, does not beat itself, and has proven that their clutch free-throw shooting (on pace to break the Division I record) is a weapon that helps them close out tight games. FiveThirtyEight gives Houston the best chance to cut down the nets, but they are not even the biggest favorite on the day’s slate. And if you do believe in Houston’s ability to win it all, that is all the more reason to save them for the Final Four or beyond, depending on how many competitors are still alive in your survivor pools.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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