March Madness Sweet 16 Bets: Miami’s Size, Tennessee’s Defense Headline Slate

The 'Canes should give Houston a game


March 22

We’ve reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament and now that our brackets are mostly busted, we can turn our full attention to handicapping the next eight games.

After scratching and clawing my way to a 6-5 opening-round record — I’m still upset with Gonzaga for taking its foot off the gas against Grand Canyon — we’re onto Thursday and Friday. And here’s hoping my Texas national title bet stays alive through a tough two-game gauntlet with Xavier and whoever emerges from Houston-Miami.  

Fingers crossed.

Here are my favorite bets for this year’s Sweet 16:

FAU-Tennessee 1H Under 61.5 (-115) (Thursday)
Tennessee’s defense has been downright nasty lately.

The Volunteers held Louisiana to 55 points and Duke to 52 in their first two tournament games and boy did they set the tone from the opening tip. Rick Barnes’ bunch plays at a snail’s pace and when you combine that with rugged man-to-man defense, high-quality shots aren’t plentiful.

Basketball analytics wizard Ken Pomeroy lists the Rocky Toppers as the best three-point defense in the entire country. They’re holding opponents to an insanely low 26.4% clip from downtown. And that’s on average. Florida Atlantic is no slouch on D, either. The Owls went blow-for-blow with a very physical Memphis squad and they have an absolute anchor in the middle with 7-foot-1, 250-pound center Vladislav Goldin negating shots at the rim.  

This one should be a rock fight, but I want to avoid all those late free throws in the second half.

Miami +7 (-105) vs. Houston (Friday)
Houston’s Marcus Sasser looked every bit the part of an All-American in the Cougars’ 81-64 second-round victory over Auburn and barring a setback, his groin injury appears to be A-okay going forward.

Yet I still thought this line would open around 5.5.

Multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks initially posted 7 and after back-and-forth movement up to 7.5, then down to 6.5, the number has mostly settled at 7. So there’s really good two-way action at this point.

I believe Miami possesses the size and offensive firepower to hang around with Houston for 40 minutes. The Cougars are a tremendous team, but it’s difficult to ignore the way they tend to physically impose their will against less-physical teams. I’ll bet against that happening versus a Hurricanes group that won’t be intimidated.

If the ‘Canes can avoid those long scoring droughts, they’ll be fine.   

Creighton -9.5 (-120) vs. Princeton (Friday)
This game is fascinating to me.

After a monumental upset over Arizona as a 14.5-point underdog, Princeton continued its unexpected tournament run by slaying Mizzou as a 6.5-point underdog. The Tigers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967 and many bettors that were spurned in the first two rounds will undoubtedly be too willing to jump on the Ivy League bandwagon.  

“Princeton is shaping up to be one of the most popular dogs of the weekend,” one Las Vegas bookmaker told NESN. “We’ll probably need the favorite to deliver because all the Johnny come latelys will take the points.”

Ironically enough, Creighton opened as a 9.5-point favorite in Las Vegas and the Bluejays were bet up to -10 almost immediately. The Jays are one of the most efficient teams left standing and they have 12 double-digit wins since conference play tipped off on Dec. 16.

We’re definitely seeing reverse line movement, where more bets are showing for one side, but respected money is driving the market the other way. And in this specific case, the money is betting on the carriage to turn into a pumpkin.

Sam’s Sweet 16 bets:
FAU-Tennessee U61.5
Miami +7
Creighton -9.5

RECORD: (130-140, +16.7)

Thumbnail photo via Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via USA TODAY Sports Images

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