The first weekend of March Madness was as crazy as ever, as the 2021 NCAA Tournament seemed to award college basketball fans for a two-year wait for the event.
There were countless upsets in the opening rounds. No. 2 seed Ohio State fell to 15-seed Oral Roberts. Abilene Christian broke Texas’ heart with two late free throws to make it to the Round of 32. Ohio won as a 13 seed over the reigning national champion Virginia Cavaliers. Loyola Chicago toppled No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round of the tournament.
And, of course, two trends continued for another year. Syracuse made it to the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed while one of the eight teams in the First Four, UCLA, also advanced that far.
If you bet on any of the big upsets thus far, congratulations! It has been a difficult-to-predict tournament with all the upsets, but the payouts from picking the right underdogs has been huge. And there will continue to be opportunities to make money by betting favorites, picking the right sleepers, and creating some intriguing parlays that could be more likely to happen than you’d think.
What are the best bets for the Sweet 16? Sporting News has you covered with some top trends, advice, and picks to take a chance on as March Madness heads towards its second weekend.
March Madness odds for Sweet 16
Below are the opening March Madness odds for the Sweet 16, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to the FanDuel sportsbook.
|Oregon State vs. Loyola Chicago||LUC -6.5||LUC -270||125.5|
|Villanova vs. Baylor||BAY -6.5||BAY -270||139|
|Oral Roberts vs. Arkansas||ARK -11.5||ARK -620||159|
|Syracuse vs. Houston||HOU -6||HOU -260||140|
|Creighton vs. Gonzaga||GON -11.5||GON -1000||158|
|Florida State vs. Michigan||MICH -3||MICH -162||145|
|Oregon vs. USC||USC -1||USC -118||139|
|UCLA vs. Alabama||ALA -5.5||ALA -235||142.5|
March Madness best bets for Sweet 16
Loyola Chicago (-6.5) vs. Oregon State
The Beavers have had a nice run in the Pac-12 tournament and the first couple rounds of March Madness, but it seems likely to come to an end against the Ramblers. Loyola Chicago just knocked off No. 1 seed, and one of the major title favorites in this tournament, Illinois with a dominant defensive display. The Ramblers are allowing the fewest points per game in college basketball (56.1) and rank No. 1 overall in defensive efficiency per the KenPom rankings. Frankly speaking, they’re not your average 8 seed and they easily could’ve been given a top-five seed in this tournament with no complaints.
Loyola Chicago will have a chance to continue its run as they can stifle Oregon State’s offensive attack, something that neither Tennessee nor Oklahoma State was able to do. Expect Cameron Krutwig to help pick apart the defense and lead the Ramblers to a solid victory.
Syracuse (+6) vs. Houston
Death, taxes, and Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse squad making the Sweet 16 when they are a double-digit seed. Those are the things that you can count on in the world. Yes, the 11-seeded Orange are in the Sweet 16 and have a potential shot at a Final Four run because of the chaotic nature of the Midwest region. Taking down Houston will be no easy task, but one of the Cougars’ best players, DeJon Jarreau, is playing through a hip pointer. He may be better off with extra time to rest, but it was clearly impacting him during a game that Houston nearly lost against Rutgers.
Houston’s seventh-ranked offense in terms of efficiency may suffer a bit if Jarreau is less than 100 percent. That could open the door for Syracuse and their 17th-ranked offense to set up an upset bid. At the very least, we’re willing to take the points here as the red-hot Buddy Boeheim (27.5 points per game in the tournament) should have a chance to keep this close and finish within six points.
USC (-1) vs. Oregon
Both of these Pac-12 teams played well in their second-round matchups. Oregon dropped 56 first-half points on their way to an upset win over Luka Garza and the Iowa Hawkeyes. USC demolished Kansas and dealt them the third-worst loss in Jayhawks program history. Which team has the upper hand in this matchup? It’s USC. They have a ton of size on their roster, including star player Evan Mobley (7-0), while Oregon had just one player taller than 6-6 play at least 10 minutes against Iowa.
Unless 6-11 Franck Kepnang, an inexperienced freshman who reclassified to join the Ducks in the spring, can play some extra minutes and cause the Mobley some problems, this looks like a game where USC will have an advantage. Plus, USC won by double-digits against the Ducks earlier in the year. So, if we only need to take one point to get USC, we’ll take a shot on them.
March Madness best parlays for Sweet 16
Creighton vs. Gonzaga OVER 158 and Oral Roberts vs. Arkansas OVER 159
These two games have what is, far and away, the highest point total on this slate, so it makes sense to include them as potential over/under bets. Creighton vs. Gonzaga has all the makings of another high-scoring affair. Gonzaga has scored at least 82 points in nine of their last 10 games played and leads the NCAA in scoring average at 92.3. Creighton’s no slouch either, as they are averaging 76.5 points per game, tied for the 44th-most in the NCAA. They are only averaging 67.5 points in two March Madness games, but perhaps they’ll come out with some extra firepower in this one. Even if they don’t, Gonzaga’s always a threat to score 100, so they can make up for any shortcomings on the Blue Jays side.
As for the Oral Roberts vs. Arkansas game, the over is appealing on paper. Both teams rank in the top 40 NCAA-wide in terms of pace and Arkansas should be able to rack up some points on the 15 seed Golden Eagles. That said, Oral Roberts should also be able to score. They rank 11th in the NCAA in 3-point percentage this year at 38.5 percent, yet during this tournament run, they’ve only made 31.6 percent of their deep shots. There’s bound to be some regression to the mean, so they could be in for a nice 3-point shooting day. That, of course, will mean more points in a fast-paced game.
Betting the overs in college is always a risky proposition, especially when they’re both this high. But for a +255 mark, it could be worth a shot in these two contests.
Loyola Chicago (-6.5) AND Baylor (-6)
We’ve already discussed why the Ramblers are a good pick, but there’s a simple reason that pairing them with the Bears seems like a good option.
Baylor has beaten both of their NCAA Tournament opponents by 13+ points so far this year. They score the third-most points in the NCAA at a mark of 83.8 points and have only allowed 65.8 points per game on the season. Obviously, some context has to be applied, as they did rack up some big non-conference wins, but they have beaten six ranked teams this year by six or more points. Villanova is certainly a strong team and has played well to start the tournament, but without their star player Collin Gillaspie, they may eventually struggle to put things together on offense. That could come against a Baylor team that is rounding into form at the right time.
Getting +264 juice on two medium-sized favorites seems like a good combination here. So, we’ll take it and hope that Baylor’s offense shows up in a big way and Loyola Chicago’s defense balls out again.
Syracuse (Moneyline) AND Alabama (-5.5)
Here’s an upset-based parlay that could pay out big. As outlined above, Syracuse should have a chance to keep it close with Houston if Jarreau isn’t at 100 percent, and Boeheim has been on fire during the tournament. They have a chance to win, and while the point spread is undoubtedly safer, taking a risk for a big-money bet could be worthwhile.
To further take advantage of a potential Syracuse bet, you can pair them with one of the favorites with a solid point spread. In this case, Alabama is the choice. The Crimson Tide have won both of their tournament games by 13+ points and while UCLA is on a three-game winning streak, they have yet to play an offense as good as Alabama’s. The Bruins will likely see their stretch of wins over Michigan State, BYU, and Abilene Christian come to an end, so getting ‘Bama for 5.5 points seems like a solid value.
On this bet, we’d get +501 juice. It’s by no means an easy bet to win, but if it pans out, it will certainly be well worth our while.