NCAA Tournament Survivor Guide For the Elite Eight (Saturday)

Mar 24, 2023 - 2:02 PM

We knew we had an NCAA Tournament providing us with a lot of parity when 11 different conferences were represented in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010. And from an excitement standpoint, Thursday’s games did not disappoint, as we had our first overtime game of the tournament (Kansas State beating Michigan State) and another instant classic to add to the Gonzaga-UCLA rivalry. A bit of history was also made, with Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell setting the record for most assists (19) in an NCAA Tournament game and No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic earning its first Elite Eight berth in school history.

Depending on your NCAA tournament survivor pool’s rules, you may be asked to make just one pick for the entire Elite Eight or one selection each day the Elite Eight is played (Saturday and Sunday). We will assume two different choices are needed, so be on the lookout for tomorrow’s column as well. With three picks remaining, now is a crucial time to focus on surviving and advancing and leaving yourself with enough teams to pick in the Final Four and beyond.

As we have done since the Round of 32, we rank all games in order of most confidence to least confidence and provide a short narrative for each.

Here is a list of odds for both favorites to win their Elite Eight on Saturday (odds courtesy of BettingPros consensus).

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2023 NCAA Tournament Guide (March Madness)

Best Picks in Order of Most-to-Least Confidence

UConn (-135)

Both favorites playing on Saturday have equal -135 moneyline odds, but if pressed to decide who we are more confident in, it would have to be UConn. Per Bart Torvik’s power ratings, the Huskies have been the best team in college basketball since the calendar turned to February. While Gonzaga is No. 2 in that span, UConn has been more consistent for longer, ranking third among D-I teams since January compared to Gonzaga at No. 6.

Gonzaga is coming off an emotionally draining victory against UCLA, where it had to claw back from 13 points down in the second half and fight off a furious Bruins rally late. We have seen this script play out before, where Gonzaga had just one day off after a hard-fought victory against UCLA (in the 2021 Final Four), only to get steamrolled by Baylor 86-70 in the national championship after just one day’s rest. While that Baylor team is more talented than this UConn team, arguably no team has looked more dominant in this year’s tournament than when the Huskies dismantled Arkansas by 23 points (it led by 29 at one point) in the Sweet 16.

UConn is one of two teams remaining (Houston is the other) that ranks in the top 13 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency metrics, and Gonzaga’s lack of consistency on the defensive end is worrisome against Adama Sanogo and company.

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Kansas State (-135)

It seems blasphemous that a team with 34 wins (currently the most in D-I) is an underdog in the Elite Eight. However, many public bettors are still down on Florida Atlantic, given that they come from Conference USA, while Kansas State is more battle-tested out of the Big 12.

Kansas State’s Jerome Tang became the first Big 12 coach to win his first three career NCAA Tournament games, but the Wildcats have much more of the “been there before” persona, as this is the Wildcats’ third Elite Eight since 2010. In addition, point guard Markquis Nowell is the first player in 18 years to accrue at least 64 points, 42 assists, and 11 steals in any three-game span, let alone three games in the NCAA Tournament, per OptaSTATS. However, if forced to decide between using UConn or Kansas State, we would side with the Huskies. The Owls have a knack for blowing that team approach up and forcing teams to play heavy isolation basketball, as they rank second nationally in assists per field goals allowed. In addition, Florida Atlantic is 23-11-1 ATS this season, tied for the best ATS mark of teams in the tournament field. 

Provided Houston or Texas makes the Final Four out of the Midwest, we would have UConn as an underdog to either team, which means there is no reason to save the Huskies to be able to use them beyond this point.


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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

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