2021 NCAA Tournament Elite 8: Day 2

Mar 29, 2021
2021 NCAA Tournament Elite 8: Day 2

Already through the Sweet 16 and the first half of the Elite 8, college basketball continues through Tuesday with another pair of March Madness games. With highly competitive contests across the board, betting markets remain exploitable even at this time of year.

We have two No. 1 seeds in today's slate in Michigan and Gonzaga. However, UCLA (11) and USC (6) both represent the PAC-12 in the Elite 8 as both overcame substantial competition to get here. At this point, every team has played three games. With the markets often over-correcting to small samples, betting markets can still be exploited even at this stage of the season. With that said, here are a few notable trends worth exploiting on Tuesday's slate of games.

2021 NCAA Tournament Elite 8: Day 2

Michigan (1) vs. UCLA (11)

Michigan -7 (-110 at FanDuel)

After beating Texas Southern and narrowly routing LSU, Michigan put together a complete performance against Florida State in the Sweet 16. Supposedly a tough matchup for the Michigan big men, the Wolverines dominated Florida State in the paint. Meanwhile, former play-in team, UCLA, has now routed Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian and Alabama on their way to the Elite 8. Currently, Michigan sits as a seven-point favorite over UCLA in a game with a 136.5-point total.

One of the stronger front courts in all of basketball, Michigan beat up on Florida State’s 10th-ranked interior defense, even without Isaiah Livers. Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr. all scored at least 13 points in that game, while securing at least six boards apiece. Unlike Florida State, UCLA does not possess a strong interior presence. They rank 158th in interior defense and no longer have Jalen Hill to man the paint. Relying on elevated minutes from Cody Riley, this remains one of the top mismatches in the Elite 8.

On the other side, UCLA does possess certain matchup advantages. On the year, UCLA has shot 39% from three as a team. Collectively, Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaques all shoot at least 35% from three, with the latter two up at 40%. Michigan does look weaker outside at first glance. The Wolverines rank third in interior defense, but 112 against the three. However, their overall style of defensive play limits three-point shots from opponents. Teams facing Michigan take just 19.6 three-point shots per game, which ranks 66th in the country.

Lastly, it took overtime for UCLA to overcome an Alabama team that shot 44% from the line and 25% from three. On the year, Alabama shoots 71% from the line and 35.2% from three. With Michigan holding advantages across the board and starting to regain their form sans Livers, laying the seven points with the Wolverines remains the top bet against the spread here.

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Risk: 1.1 units on Michigan -7 on FanDuel to win 1 unit.

Gonzaga (1) vs. USC (6)

Gonzaga -9 (-110 at FanDuel)

Absolutely demolishing every opponent they've faced so far this tournament, USC has now routed Drake, Kansas and Oregon on their way to the Elite 8. Likewise, Gonzaga defeated Norfolk State, Oklahoma and Creighton with ease. However, bookmakers still project this contest to play in favor of Gonzaga. Currently, the Bulldogs sit as nine-point favorites in a game with a 154-point total.

While USC has played their best basketball of the season, Gonzaga simply plays with a different level of skill. With 29 games played to date, Gonzaga only has one victory that even came within 10 points this year. From an efficiency perspective, Gonzaga holds all of the edges. The Bulldogs rank first on offense and 11th on defense, while USC ranks 35th on offense and 23rd on defense.

More specifically, USC excels at defending the paint with Evan Mobley. The Trojans rank first in interior defense but 160th against the three. Unfortunately for USC, Gonzaga shoots 37.3% from three. Three-point specialist Corey Kispert currently shoots 46% from beyond the arc, giving the Bulldogs a massive advantage here.

One thing to watch for is that USC sometimes gets careless with the basketball. They commit 12.4 turnovers per game, which ranks 236th in the country. Meanwhile, Gonzaga forces turnovers at the 48th-highest rate. USC also struggles with free throws. The Trojans shoot 64.6% from the line, ranking outside the top 300. While these metrics haven’t mattered in their first three blowouts, a competitive affair against Gonzaga remains an entirely different story. With edges favoring the Bulldogs, Gonzaga remains a sharp bet at anything below a double-digit spread.

Risk: 1.1 units on Gonzaga -9 on FanDuel to win 1 unit.

USC/Gonzaga Game Total Over 153.5 Points (-106 at FanDuel)

While Gonzaga holds numerous edges in this spot, USC should also find ways to score. The Trojans have looked impressive in the NCAA tournament, scoring at least 72 points in all three victories. With Gonzaga already averaging an absurd 91.8 points per game, the over certainly remains live in this Elite 8 contest.

From a tempo perspective, this game projects to play above the league average. Gonzaga averages 76.4 possessions per game, while USC comes in slightly above-average at 70.3. Also pointing towards the over, Gonzaga and USC rank first and 35th, respectively, in offensive efficiency.

As mentioned above, Gonzaga holds an immense edge from beyond the arc over USC. However, USC possesses an NBA lottery pick in Evan Mobley. Mobley currently averages 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Gonzaga ranks 57th in interior defense, but they don’t always face elite competition in the WCC. However, in non-conference play, Gonzaga faced a few elite big men. Among that group, West Virginia’s Derek Culver notched 18 points and 15 boards. Iowa’s Luka Garza scored 30 points, with 10 rebounds. While the sample size remains small, they have shown a weakness against elite big men.

Beyond the arc, Gonzaga also ranks 100th in three-point defense. USC shoots 36.3% from beyond the arc, which ranks 65th in the country. Individually, Tahj Eaddy and Drew Peterson both shoot 39% from beyond the arc.

While Gonzaga plays solid defense overall, they’ve still allowed over 70 points on 12 occasions this season. Outside their conference, Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia, Virginia and Oklahoma were all able to eclipse 70 points against this squad. With both the pace and matchups on each side playing to the over, 153.5-points looks attainable here.

Risk: 1.06 units on USC/Gonzaga over 153.5 points on FanDuel to win 1 unit.

For the most up-to-date picks check out my Twitter or subscribe to our Discord. This sheet from Dan Rivera tracks all my betting picks (and those from the rest of the betting staff) on the year. Just click on the tab with my name on it for the results.

*All lines accurate at the time of publication.

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