Jim Root's March Madness Round of 32 best bets: Spartans spear Blue Devils

Photo of Jim Root

Jim Root

NCAAB· 1 month ago

Show Bio

College basketball expert and member of the 3-man weave. Catch me on Pickswise giving you my NCAAB best bets!

Saint Mary’s +3 over UCLA (-110)

Line available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing. Playable on the money line too.

These two teams had decidedly different paths to reach this game. The Gaels took Indiana to the woodshed, demolishing the storied program by a staggering 29 points. UCLA, on the other hand, epitomized the “survive and advance” axion against a game Akron squad.

That’s a small factor here. Saint Mary’s did not have to grind out a difficult victory, giving them a slight mental and emotional edge heading into a second game in 48 hours. 

The more important factor, though, is the Gaels’ coaching and overall discipline. With a short turnaround and very little prep time, teams will fall back on their overall principles. Few teams have a higher standard than this Saint Mary’s team.

The Gaels are loaded with veterans, boasting 4 seniors and 2 juniors among their top 6 rotation players. They rarely take poor shots, and their defensive rotations are as crisp as any team in the sport. With that as a baseline, I trust Saint Mary’s more than a talented but erratic UCLA squad. 

One concern is that Saint Mary’s thrives on forcing foes into difficult jump shots. With Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez and Jules Bernard, UCLA is one of the best “tough shot-making” teams in the country. Bennett knows this, though, and will funnel the ball to the Bruins’ other offensive options. 

If UCLA is scalding hot, this bet is in trouble. But I believe Saint Mary’s is a (much, much) better version of Akron, who frustrated the Bruins into a brutish slugfest. I like +3 quite a bit, but I also think the Gaels win outright, so taking the money line is a perfectly reasonable approach as well.

Be sure to check out our full game preview for UCLA Bruins vs Saint Mary’s Gaels

Saint Peter’s vs Murray State Under 130 (-110)

Line available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing. Playable down to 128.

No offensive performance in the first round was more stunning than Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks thrashed Kentucky to the tune of 1.13 points per possession in pulling off a wild upset.

Watching the game, it felt like the Peacocks were abnormally hot, and Shot Quality agreed. An objective analysis of that game scored it as a 22-point loss for Saint Peter’s. Again – that’s an outlier. We have to look at this game through the lens of the entire season.

To put it simply, Saint Peter’s was a poor offensive team for most of the year. The Peacocks rank 243rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. They sit at 259th in effective field goal percentage and 317th in turnover rate. Scoring enough to keep up with another outstanding foe for a second straight game will be a chore.  

To hang around, they will need to force Murray State into a half-court game. The Racers have been susceptible to being slowed down. Teams like Morehead State, Austin Peay and Tennessee State successfully limited possessions against the far more talented Racers. 

I am not certain whether Saint Peter’s can score enough to keep up with Murray State, even in a slow game. But I do think the 15-seed upstart can force the game to a crawl, though, meaning the under has value. I would take it down to 128.

Be sure to check out our full game preview for Saint Peter’s Peacocks vs Murray State Racers

Michigan State +7 over Duke (-110)

Line available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing. Playable to +6.

Michigan State has not been on top of its game recently. Per Shot Quality’s data, the Spartans “lost” 14 of their final 15 games, based on the quality of shots each team took. 

But basketball is not played on paper, and the Spartans have won 5 of their last 8, including an incredibly impressive victory over a lethal Davidson squad on Friday.

Duke, on the other hand, was somewhat less impressive against Cal State Fullerton. The Blue Devils narrowly missed covering, but the lack of defensive intensity and awareness from the end of the regular season persisted. 

Over its last 5 games, Duke has allowed the following points per possession tallies: 1.25, 1.14, 1.13, 1.24, and 0.94. While that final number may seem like a positive, it was against a Big West foe. The eye test tells me Duke’s defensive problems remain.

Michigan State is by no means an offensive juggernaut, but they have copious shooting (37.4% from 3-point range, 22nd nationally) and run solid action. Duke has not corralled a comparable offense in early a month. 

As is standard in my best bets, a word of caution to close out. Mike Krzyzewski has owned Tom Izzo for years: over 15 meetings, Duke is 12-3 overall. Notably, though, Izzo and Michigan State toppled a mega-talented Blue Devil squad in the 2019 NCAA Tournament to reach the Final Four.

I would bet this one down to +6 – lines are sharp at this point in the season.

Be sure to check out our full game preview for 

Notre Dame +7.5 over Texas Tech (-110)

Line available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing. Playable to +7.

You hear it every season: a play-in winner always wins in the Round of 64. Of course, you hear it because it’s true: a First Four team has made the second round in 10 of the last 11 seasons. This year, that is Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish have been incredibly impressive through two tournament games. They dominated the paint against a (theoretically) more physical Rutgers team, then smacked Alabama less than 48 hours later after traveling across three time zones. Paul Atkinson has been a huge reason why. The former Columbia center has racked up 19.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg in the two NCAA Tournament games, and he gives the Irish a fighting chance in the paint against Texas Tech’s phenomenal defense.

Notre Dame’s shooters have also been cooking. Cormac Ryan had a career-high 29 points against Alabama, and stretch big Nate Laszewski is 9-for-12 from the field this week. 

Fading Texas Tech is a scary proposition right now. The Red Raiders were an inferno against Montana State, jumping out to a 32-9 lead and never looking back. They shot 12-for-20 (60%) from beyond the three-point line.  That game stands out as more of an aberration than a rule, though. Texas Tech’s offense has been a bugaboo for most of the season, and Notre Dame will not be so easily steamrolled early in the game.

Fatigue is a concern for the Irish, but not enough to push me away from taking +7.5 in what should be a half-court game. I would also take +7 if that’s what is available.

Make sure you head to our March Madness hub for tons more NCAA Tournament picks, best bets and parlays!

Want even more March Madness Picks? Be sure to check our March Madness Predictions each day, along with our best March Madness Parlays.

Virginia Bonuses

See All
PointsBet

$500

Get 5x $100 Risk-Free Bets!

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Make a bet of up to $100 and receive a refund if you lose

Get this offer once a day for the first 5 days you sign up

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

DraftKings

$200

Bet $5 on Any MLB Game, Get $200 if Your Team Wins!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5 on any MLB team to win their next game

Win $200 in free bets + any cash winnings from your original wager

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.

BetMGM

$200

Win $200 If ANY NBA Team Makes a 3-Pointer!

Sign up for a new account with BetMGM, and make a deposit of $10+.

Place a $10 moneyline bet on any upcoming NBA game.

Win $200 if either team in your selected game makes a 3-pointer

21+ and new players only. Full terms available at BetMGM Sportsbook.

DraftKings

$150

Bet $5 on any NBA team, Get $150 in Free Bets if they win!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5 on any team to win an NBA playoff game

Win $150 in free bets if your team wins

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.

BetMGM

$200

Win $200 If A Goal Is Scored In ANY NHL Game!

Sign up for a new account with BetMGM, and make a deposit of $10+.

Place a $10 moneyline bet on any upcoming NHL game.

Win $200 if either team in your selected game scores a goal

21+ and new players only. Full terms available at BetMGM Sportsbook.

DraftKings

$150

Bet $5, Win $150 on any UFC 274 fight!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5 on any fighter to win at UFC 274

Win $150 in free bets if your fighter wins

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.

PointsBet

$2,000

Get $2,000 in Risk-Free Bets!

Register for a new PointsBet account & deposit

Receive a free bet refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds bet loses

& a free bet refund up to $1,500 if your first two PointsBetting Wager loses

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Caesars Sportsbook

$1,100

Get up to $1,100 in First Bet Insurance!

Sign up for a new Caesars Sportsbook account

Make your first deposit of $50+

If your first bet is not a winner, get it all back as a free bet (up to $1,100) if you lose!

21+. Terms and conditions apply.

BetRivers

$250

Get a $250 Deposit Bonus!

Sign up for a new BetRivers account using promo code PICKSWISE

Make a deposit & get it doubled up to $250 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $100

Must be 21+. Play in IA Only. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-BETS OFF

Unibet

$500

Get a $500 Risk-Free Bet!

Register for a new Unibet account & make a deposit

Place your first bet up to $500 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $500

New players only. Terms & conditions apply. 21+. VA only.

BetMGM

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet!

Register for a new BetMGM & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

FanDuel Sportsbook

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet!

Register for a new FanDuel Sportsbook account & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

DraftKings

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Deposit Bonus!

Register for a new DraftKings Sportsbook account & deposit

DraftKings will match 20% of your deposit up to $1,000 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $500

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

Monkey Knife Fight

$100

Claim 100% Instant Deposit Match up to $100!

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.

Yahoo DFS

$25

Get $25 in Site Credit With Yahoo DFS When You Deposit $5!

Register for a new account with Yahoo DFS and deposit $5+

Enter a $5 DFS contest

Upon entry, you will receive a bonus $25 in credit into your account!

21+ and new players only. Full terms available from Yahoo DFS.

TVG

$300

Get a $300 Risk-Free Bet with TVG Racebook!

Register for a new TVG account and make a deposit

Place your first single horse win-type bet up to $300

If your horse doesn't win you'll get a refund up to $300

21+. T&C's apply. Please gamble responsibly.

TwinSpires

$200

Get a $200 Sign-Up Bonus with Twinspires Racebook!

Open your TwinSpires.com account using offer code BET200

$200 bonus cash will be credited in increments of $100 for every $400 wagered

To earn the full $200 bonus players must wager $800 within 30 days

21+. Terms and conditions apply.