Two early NCAA tournament Sweet 16 bets I like

By Adam Burke  ( 

March 20, 2023 12:20 AM

Sweet 16 schedule set for Thursday and Friday

The first four days of the NCAA Tournament certainly did not disappoint, but now we wait a few days for the Sweet 16 to begin. Eight games spread evenly across Thursday and Friday will take place in New York City (East), Las Vegas (West), Louisville (South) and Kansas City (Midwest), with the East and West Regions on Thursday and the South and Midwest Regions on Friday.

We’ll have a ton of time to break down these games from every possible angle, but here are some early thoughts and picks to consider for the Sweet 16.

Michigan State Spartans (-1, 137.5) vs. Kansas State Wildcats

I went against Sparty on Sunday and lost with Marquette, but I’ll give it another go this week against Kansas State. The handicap is pretty similar to me, but hopefully with a different outcome. Michigan State relies a ton on jump shots, as over 70% of their shot attempts are mid-range 2s or 3s. Their shot share on Close Twos is only 29.1% per Bart Torvik. The weakest part of Kansas State’s defense is rim protection, so we’ll see if Michigan State changes up the offensive philosophy.

Kansas State’s shot share on Close Twos is 43.4%, which represents an even bigger gap than what we had in the Marquette game. One big difference, though, is that Kansas State held opponents to just 29.7% on 3s and really closed out well on the perimeter. Also, Kansas State got to the free throw line a lot during the season and ranks 48th in FT Rate. Michigan State ranks 318th.

A lot of people will likely gravitate towards Tom Izzo and Michigan State here for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they rank fifth in the nation in 3P%, yet only went 2-of-16 in the win over Marquette and are 7-of-30 for the tournament. Keep in mind that this is a team that was 49-of-85 (57.6%) over the final four regular season games to skew the numbers a bit. They were above average, but they went nuclear at the end of the regular season. In the last three neutral-site games, regression has hit in a big way.

Kansas State is also only shooting 9-of-36 from 3 in two games, yet had two really efficient performances on 2s. They were just below the national average in 3P%, but they were certainly better than 25%. I think you can wait on this line and maybe get a little bit better of a price, but I like how the Wildcats match up here.

Pick: Kansas State +1

Xavier Musketeers vs. Texas Longhorns (-4, 147.5)

Texas will be in a familiar setting for Friday’s nightcap in the Sweet 16, as they’ll be right back at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City where they won the Big 12 Tournament less than two weeks ago. In that event, Texas held Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas to .687, .898 and .826 points per possession. Obviously those are teams that they know well, but head coach Rodney Terry and a tremendously experienced roster has several days to break down Xavier.

I do think the familiarity will help Texas, but that’s far from the only reason I like the Longhorns. Xavier doesn’t see a ton of ball pressure in the Big East, but the Big 12 was known for turnovers, boasting the second-highest TO% on defense at 20.6%. Texas was a huge part of that with a TO% of 22.4%. The Longhorns also take good care of the ball, so I’d expect some extra possessions in this game. Xavier is great with the ball, but not as great without it.

Texas is top-20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, while Xavier has a top-10 offense, but the 73rd-ranked defense per Torvik. Xavier has a blind spot defending the 3 that could come to the forefront, especially if Texas’s defense does what it has done against the 3 of late. During this six-game winning streak, opponents are only shooting 33-of-122 from 3 (27%). 

Texas is just the better all-around team and this is a pretty short number with what should be a Texas-heavy crowd and a team that ranks fifth in Torvik’s rankings since Feb. 1.

Pick: Texas -4

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