March Madness Elite 8 Best Bets: NCAA Tournament Picks for Elite 8 Day One - Saturday, March 30

Mar 28, 2024; Boston, MA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) reacts after making a basket against the Iowa State Cyclones in the semifinals of the East Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at TD Garden.
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Sam Avellone


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Long-time suffering Browns fan born and raised in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area who now resides in SEC country. University of South Carolina alum. Sports handicapper for close to 10 years with a primary focus on NCAAB while enjoying NFL, PGA, NCAAF, NBA, and Soccer. For Sam Avellone media enquiries, please email
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Aside from UConn’s convincing win over San Diego State, Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchups were highly contested with entertaining 2nd halves. Clemson survived Arizona’s run after the intermission to advance to its 1st Elite 8 since 1980. Alabama outscored North Carolina by 10 in the 2nd half to earn the program’s 1st Elite 8 berth in 20 years. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini outlasted a late run by the Cyclones to advance to the Elite 8 for the 1st time since 2005.

With just 2 games to choose from, options are much more limited than they were last week. However, I found a spot I like Saturday’s Elite 8 matchups. Don’t forget to check out all of the March Madness content, including picks on every game until a champion has been crowned.

Let’s dive in. 

March Madness Elite 8 Day One Best Bet 

Odds available at Caesars Sportsbook at the time of publishing

Illinois Fighting Illini +9 (-110) vs UConn Huskies 

Going against UConn is a scary proposition, especially given how convincing the Huskies have been in March. However, the caliber of offense they have played to this point is nowhere near that of Illinois. In fact, the Huskies have not played an offense as good as Illinois since they lost at Creighton on February 20 (Tyler Kolek did not play in either of the contests between Marquette and UConn in March). The Illini are 4th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in March per BartTorvik. They have scored at least 85 points in 4 of their 6 postseason games and averaged more than 1 point per possession against the most efficient defense in the country in the Sweet 16 despite shooting only 31% from the perimeter and 52% from the free-throw line. Shooting percentage aside, the Illini connected on 9 3-point attempts and were reliable on their 2-point attempts, scoring 1.14 points per shot inside the arc. Illinois was also very good in transition, where it scored 1.25 points per possession according to Synergy.

Terrence Shannon Jr. figures to be the great equalizer in this matchup, possessing too diverse of a skillset for Tristen Newton and Alex Karaban to defend — and too much experience for the freshman Stephon Castle to limit for a full game. The 5th-year senior has scored at least 25 points in 7 straight games dating back to the regular-season finale against Iowa, but scoring is not all he does. Shannon has at least 2 steals or 2 assists in all 6 postseason games, and he pulled down at least 4 rebounds in 4 of those contests. Surrounding him is a cast of shooters that can make defenses pay for over-helping and a reliable “Robin” in Marcus Domask, who averages nearly 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Furthermore, Coleman Hawkins’ ability to stretch the floor could force Donovan Clingan to uncomfortably defend in space, simultaneously opening up cutting lanes for Quincy Guerrier and Ty Rodgers.

Illinois’ defense has been a topic of discussion in recent weeks, but it has improved dramatically. The Illini ranked 264th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 290th in opposing eFG% in February. However, since March 1 the Illini are 85th and 125th, respectively, in those metrics. They have been especially good at limiting perimeter shots in March, which may be an attribute that can somewhat limit UConn’s offense — or at least prevent it from going on prolonged runs. For what it’s worth, Illinois allows just 0.25 kill shots per game according to EvanMiya, which is top 35 nationally. If the Illini can prevent multiple UConn scoring runs, they should be able to keep this game within the number — especially with Shannon’s reliability on the other end. 

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