NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Day 2 best bets from college basketball expert John Martin: Houston rises to the occasion

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John Martin


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NFL handicapper for Pickswise.
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College basketball is weird. It’s random and wacky. Teams that rank in the top 20 in 3-point shooting have their worst days (looking at you, Arizona), while teams that stumble into the tournament after losing to Boston College are on to the Elite Eight (looking at you, Clemson). The single-game elimination nature of the tournament makes it unlike most every other format in the world, and that’s why we love it. Dreams are made, hearts are broken and coaches get extended or fall out of favor with their fanbase entirely. That’s the beauty of it! With that said, let’s get to the second half of the Sweet 16 with our best bets for Friday’s action.

It’s likely your bracket is busted already heading into today’s action. But hey, that’s okay! We can still win some bets. Let’s stay hot with our March Madness best bets today, but make sure you also check out our college basketball picks for EVERY game throughout March Madness.

Houston Cougars -4 over Duke Blue Devils (-110)

Odds generally available at the time of publishing.

Houston became the first team since 1987 to win an NCAA Tournament game with four or more players fouling out when they won 100-95 in overtime against Texas A&M. I’d wager that they were the first time ever to win with that happening, while also allowing 25+ offensive rebounds and putting their opponent on the foul line 46 times. Everything possible went against the Cougars here, and they still managed to win against an extremely tough opponent. Now they draw a Duke team that, stylistically, is the total opposite. They want to play high-octane, finesse, free-flowing basketball. Houston will allow no such thing.

Jared McCain going off against James Madison was probably the worst thing for him, as Kelvin Sampson’s team will look to take him out of the game early and often, and my guess is he will be successful. This Houston team is built for March. They guard, they rebound, they play passing lanes, and generally make life hard. Unlike Texas A&M, Duke is nowhere near as deep and likely won’t have many places to turn if McCain isn’t going nuclear. This figures to be a tough day at the office for Kyle Filipowski, who even if he does draw fouls on the Houston bigs is far from an automatic shooter at the foul line. We’ll lay the 4 with the Cougars to get the job done in Texas.

Creighton Blue Jays +3.5 vs Tennessee Volunteers (-110)

Odds generally available at the time of publishing.

Neither Creighton nor Tennessee should be proud of their shooting performances in the second round. Tennessee made one three against Texas, and it didn’t come until the second half. Creighton, one of the best shooting teams in the country, couldn’t buy one against Oregon and was uncharacteristically woeful. Both teams survived and advanced. The difference is, I think Tennessee’s performance might’ve been a little more predictive than Creighton’s. I expect the Bluejays to play drop coverage with big man Ryan Kalkbrenner anchoring the defense, which should really force the Vols to make shots outside of the paint. They’ll be willing to live with anyone not named Dalton Knecht, and that’s usually not a recipe for success for the Vols. Creighton is potent enough offensively to keep this game close, and that’s my suspicion.
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