NCAA Tournament College Basketball predictions & best bets for second round Day 1: Duke & UCLA keep rolling
After a wild and unpredictable regular season, this year’s NCAA tournament has got off to a terrific start. We’ve got 8 more games on tap for Saturday, as the college hoops action should be electric for 12 consecutive hours. Thanks to a brutal Drake defeat, I went 1-2 on my Day 2 best bets, which brought me to 15-8 over my last 23 best bets in this column, so let’s keep the momentum going!
Let’s take a look at my best bets for Saturday, but make sure you also check out our March Madness basketball picks for the day’s biggest games.
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Money line parlay: Duke over Tennessee & UCLA over Northwestern (+120)
Odds available at FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing.
A number of college basketball blue bloods will highlight the Round of 32 slate on Saturday, and we’ll be focusing on Duke and UCLA in a money line parlay for our first best bet. The Blue Devils are 3-point favorites against the Tennessee Volunteers, while the Bruins are 7.5-point favorites over the Northwestern Wildcats. However, due to end-of-game variance expected with a single-elimination tournament, I’d rather stay away from laying points. Instead, I’ll opt for a money line parlay that pays out at about +120 odds.
For starters, Duke has looked extremely impressive over the course of the last month, including a convincing run en route to an ACC tournament. I was skeptical of how that would translate to the Big Dance, but Duke was rock solid in a dominant victory over Oral Roberts on Thursday. While I wouldn’t ordinarily expect the Blue Devils to benefit from a horrendous shooting performance from their second consecutive opponent, they have the fortune of playing a Tennessee team that can’t do much right on the offensive end at the moment. The Volunteers clearly miss point guard Zakai Zeigler, and I expect their struggles from the field to continue against a red-hot Duke defense.
Over in the West Region, the UCLA Bruins should feel comfortable in their second round matchup against Northwestern. The Wildcats play excellent defense and do just enough on offense to get by. Well, that happens to basically be a much lesser version of UCLA. The Bruins are an effective offense that still ranks 24th in adjusted efficiency at KenPom, while they also have the top defense in the nation at KenPom and BartTorvik. Even without PAC-12 defensive player of the year Jaylen Clark, UCLA should cause major problems for the Northwestern backcourt and I expect the Bruins to control the pace and tempo of this game on the other end. Look for a convincing victory as UCLA hits the second weekend for the 3rd straight season.
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Penn State Nittany Lions +5.5 vs Texas Longhorns (-110)
Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing.
Penn State’s recent stretch is something we’ve seen before in March, typically among teams that have the profile of a “cinderella” story. A few weeks ago, the Nittany Lions were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament entirely, but Micah Shrewsberry’s team has been playing like a top-25 team in recent weeks. It took a pair of buzzer-beating victories to end the regular season to put Penn State on the right side of the bubble, before 3 straight wins in the Big Ten tournament brought it within one shot of knocking off Purdue in the Big Ten title game. Now in their first tournament game in 12 years, the Nittany Lions thrashed Texas A&M on Thursday, thanks to a great defensive effort and outstanding shooting performances from Jalen Pickett, Andrew Funk and more.
Penn State is an elite shooting team from behind the 3-point, as the Nittany Lions take and make threes at a top-5 rate in the nation. That’s how this stout Texas defense can be beaten, especially considering that the Longhorns will have a considerable edge in the paint. Penn State plays at a very slow tempo and this should favor the underdog Nittany Lions as they’ll try to limit the possessions and keep the ball out of the hands of Texas’ dynamic guards. If the Longhorns don’t shoot for a high percentage from the 3-point line, Penn State will certainly be live in this one. I’ll take the points with the Nittany Lions one more time.
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