After a 2-2 stalemate yesterday, the betting column is back to give you a preview for the Elite Eight. It’s been a crazy March so far, and we have navigated through the chaos-filled month pretty well, going 15-7 ATS since champ week. I got one big play on the slate tonight, and I will do a breakdown of both games tonight, giving a lean towards props, sides, totals etc. Let’s get on to the breakdown.
Midwest Region: No. 12 Oregon State vs No. 2 Houston
Spread: Houston (-8)
This battle in the elite is going to be a defensive war. Just look at the total, and I don’t think oddsmakers can make it lower. This is a matchup between two of the best defensive teams in college basketball.
Let’s start with Oregon State who has been one of the best stories in March. On February 25th, the Beavers were 12-9 overall with a non-conference loss to Portland -- freakin Portland. A month later, the Beavers are one win away from the Final Four, Since that 12-9 start, the Beavers are 9-1 straight up with seven wins over Ken Pom top 50 teams and four wins over top 15 Ken Pom teams.
Looking ahead to this one, the Beavers have virtually been at least a five-point underdog in every game they have played this month. We have seen the Pac-12 dominate this tournament, and the Beavers have beat the four other Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams at least once, and they beat Oregon twice. It’s fair to say the Beavers are the hottest team in college basketball right now.
The Beavers have done this by being fantastic on the defensive end, clutch at the free-throw line, and having timely three-point shooting. Wayne Tinkle has coached his ass off. Oregon State has befuddled teams on the defensive end routinely switching matchup zones and man to man. The Beavers execute both at an extremely high level. Guards Jarod Lucas, and Ethan Thompson have been one of the best guard combos in this tournament. Lucas has been slept on this entire tournament. Torres mentioned in his tweets that Lucas was a top recruit who broke multiple California high school scoring records and was a star on the 2018 Compton Magic team that featured Johnny Juzang, Evan and Isaiah Mobley, and Onyeka Ongwu. Point being, Lucas could play just about anywhere in college basketball.
On the other side, Houston has been one of the more underappreciated teams in the country since Kelvin Sampson took over. The Cougars were a Tyler Herro buzzer-beater away from being at this same point in 2019. Now the Cougars have the group to make a legitimate national title run. Houston wins the hard way, playing tenacious defense and dominating the boards. Beyond that, Houston is one of the best teams in the country at defending the pick and roll. They consume the entire middle of the floor and make you play from the wing to the baseline. Houston ranks second in offensive rebounding percentage, sixth in defensive efficiency, and first nationally in effective field goal percentage. Houston has an elite guard trio with Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser, and DeJon Jarreau. My one concern with Houston is they have faced and beaten only one top 20 Ken Pom team all year. That was against Texas Tech back in November. Houston has beaten a 15, 10, and 11 seed to reach this point. Oregon State is a team that can match their physicality.
Prediction: While I like Houston to win this game ultimately, I believe Oregon State has a real shot to keep this thing close. I love Jared Lucas and Ethan Thompson to continue to be elite shot makers in this game. Ethan Thompson has been an elite Iso player on the wing. You have to be able to make tough shots against Houston.
Furthermore, Houston’s defense is extremely aggressive, and Oregon State does an elite job at drawing fouls- 21 percent of OSU’s points come from the free-throw line. During conference play, Houston always gets the benefit of the doubt. They play like Rick Pitino’s tough, old-school Louisville teams where they foul on every possession. But the refs can’t call everything, so they get away with a lot. So there is a good chance the whistle decides this game.
Houston is going to have to dominate the offensive boards once again. The Beavers rank outside the top 200 in defensive rebounding percentage. Outside of Grimes, Houston has shown major inconsistencies shooting the ball this entire tournament. Oregon State’s defense will force Houston to shoot a lot of jump shots, so if Oregon State can be competent on the boards, they will have a chance to win this game in the closing minutes.
With that said, I will continue to ride the Oregon State hot train for my best bet of the day.
The pick: Oregon State (+8)
South Region: No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 1 Baylor
Spread: Baylor (-7.5)
Can Arkansas’s pulloff the upset?
If you follow the Aaron Torres Podcast, then you know about the Muss Buss. In just his second year in Fayetteville, Eric Musselman has gotten the Razorbacks to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1995. Musselman has used a great recruiting class and the transfer portal to create an elite team. The Razorbacks have had two thrillers in the final minutes of each of their last two games. Arkansas held on to beat Texas Tech and then had a 12 point second half comeback against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. Davonte Davis gave the Razorbacks a two point lead on a contested two point jumper with five seconds to go, and Max Abmas' potential game winning three-pointer was just an inch long.
Point being, the Razorbacks are at this point, despite not playing their basketball in this tournament. In reality they have to play better than they did on Saturday. Arkansas shot 1-9 from three and 37 percent from the field in their win against Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles had multiple chances to secure the game, but they couldn’t hit an open three.
So yes, Arkansas has to be elite on the offensive end in order to win this game. The Razorbacks will have the most talented player on the floor with potential lottery pick Moses Moody. The guard matchup between Moody and Davion Mitchell will be must see T.V. Moody is averaging 17 points per game but he is shooting 36 percent from the field after going 4-20 against Oral Roberts. Moody will have a four-inch height advantage over Mitchell, and we know Musselman’s offense is centered around spread isolation. Moody is going to have to score at least 24 (in an efficient way) to keep them in this game.
Then there's Davonte Davis, the other freshman in the Arkansas back court who may need to step up once again. Davis hit the clutch shot to put the Razorbacks in this spot and he is averaging 14 points per game in this tournament. Arkansas is going to be able to blatantly drive against Baylor’s defense. Which means the Razorbacks are going to need to hit their fair share of tough pull ups. That is one thing Davis is elite at.
Why Baylor Will Win: I'll get to my prediction for the spread in a minute, but let me start by saying, yes, I believe Baylor will win. The Bears' defense is back. Baylor overcame a seven point halftime deficit beating a talented Villanova team 62-51 despite shooting 3-19 from three. They have one of the best perimeter defenses in the country, they rank third nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Astoundingly, Baylor has allowed less than a point per possession in this entire tournament. I know Hartford, Wisconsin, and Villanova aren’t your typical offensive juggernaut, but that stat is still incredible.
Because Baylor had defensive lapses coming out of their quarantine, I actually think the Bears may be underrated in this spot. As mentioned above, I think Moses Moody is the one guy who can give them trouble. But the other Razorbacks guards don’t really worry me. Arkansas has the potential to bomb away from three, but they have not shot well all tournament. They’re only other shot is dominating Baylor on the offensive boards with Justin Smith.
Also Arkansas doesn’t run a ton of offensive sets, Musselman plays a four-wide isolation trying to find mismatches for his athletes. The problem here, there isn’t a clear “mismatch” Musselman can really exploit.
Offensively, the Bears have yet to get the ball rolling. Baylor ranks second nationally in three point percentage, but they haven’t had a hot shooting night all tournament. Arkansas is slightly above average in defending the arc, ranking 138th nationally. After closely watching Arkansas’s game against an Oral Roberts team that was known for shooting the three- I think Baylor is going to find tons of success here.
Prediction: I lean Baylor -7.5 here. I’m a Muss homer so it’s extremely hard to pick against him. But their path to victory here is marginal. Arkansas has the tendency to get down big and have to climb back. Baylor has done a great job all year of turning 11 point leads into 20 within minutes. If you like the Hogs wait for a live opportunity in-game. Arkansas is going to have to shoot the ball extremely well, and based on what they have shown this tournament I don’t see them doing that. Baylor is simply due to get it going offensively.
I’m still waiting for that lights out shooting performance from Mitchell, Teague, or Butler. With a Final Four trip on the line, I think we see it tonight.
Follow Austin on Twitter @AMontgomeryLive