Best Bets: The Bettor’s Guide to the Elite Eight

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SATURDAY, MARCH 30

(All times eastern, all lines and totals via DraftKings Sportsbook)

6:09 p.m. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

  • SPREAD: Gonzaga (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 139.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Gonzaga 72, Texas Tech 67.5
  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 72, Texas Tech 69

Texas Tech is the best defensive team in college basketball. They are also one of the very best defensive teams in the country at stopping ball-screen actions. They rank in the 99th percentile on Synergy in defending pick-and-rolls, which is significant because so much of what Gonzaga does in the halfcourt offensively comes down to what they can get out of ball-screen actions featuring Josh Perkins.

So once again, Perkins is going to have his work cut out for him against one of the best defenses — and best defensive point guards — in all of college basketball. Matt Mooney can flat out guard, and he is going to ensure that everything Perkins does is hounded. Against Florida State, Perkins put on a clinic in the first half, finishing with 11 points and four assists in the first 20 minutes as Gonzaga built an 11 point lead. That lead was big enough to survive a 10 minute stretch in the second half where Perkins lost his mind, committing four turnovers and finding himself at fault for a shot clock violation.

He was good enough in the first half that it didn’t matter.

And that is going to be critical for Gonzaga that he does the same on Saturday.

I also think that it is important to note here that with Killian Tillie back in the fold, Gonzaga looked downright impenetrable defensively at times. Tillie didn’t add much to the box score against Florida State, but it was striking how often he was in the first place at the right time. His presence on the court lifts a Gonzaga team that is already much-improved on that end of the floor, and it allowed Gonzaga to play lineups with Tillie, Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke that had all kinds of length and athleticism.

That might be where Gonzaga’s real advantage here lies. Texas Tech, for as good as they are, doesn’t have a ton of size, length or athleticism outside of Tariq Owens, at least not when compared to the players Gonzaga has. The question is going to be how well Gonzaga matches up Jarrett Culver. Tech’s all-american is a 6-foot-6 wing that plays as an initiator for the Red Raiders, and the best matchup Gonzaga has for him might actually be Jeremy Jones or Geno Crandall. In three tournament games, Culver is averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 boards and 5.3 assists. Slowing him down slows down Texas Tech’s offense.

PICK: I tend to lean Gonzaga here. As much as I love this Texas Tech team, I think Gonzaga ends up finding a way to pull out a win in this one. With the way the Zags are guarding right now, I think they get enough stops to cover. I also think this will be a close game and I’m not sure I feel comfortable needing a five-point win, but Gonzaga will certainly be the side I’m on.

8:29 p.m. No. 1 Virginia (-4.5) vs. No. 3 Purdue, 127

  • SPREAD: Virginia (-4.5)
  • TOTAL: 127
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Virginia 65.75, Purdue 61.25
  • KENPOM: Virginia 67, Purdue 63

The best way to breakdown Virginia’s vaunted Pack-Line defense is to run offense that involves a lot of movement and off-ball screening action. You want to force Virginia’s defense to chase, to get them moving so they are pulled out of the paint.

No team left in the tournament runs more beautiful and complicated actions that Purdue, and frankly, it’s out of necessity. They don’t really have anyone that can create in isolation. When, for example, they get to the end of a shot clock, the best play for them isn’t putting someone in a ball-screen and letting them go, it’s to run Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline off through that dribble-handoff action and dare the Hoos to try and chase them.

I think that it is also worth noting that the Pack-Line dares teams to beat them over the top with the three-ball. Purdue shooting 37.1 percent from three, takes more than 45 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc and gets nearly 40 percent of their scoring off of threes, which is 21st nationally.

The flip side here is that I’m not quite sure how Purdue is going to matchup with UVA. I’d assume that Nojel Eastern gets put on De’Andre Hunter, but that means that Grady Eifert will be asked to chase either Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome all over the floor when Virginia has their three-guard lineup in the game. And while they haven’t really shown it yet in this tournament, the ‘Hoos are actually a really dangerous team on that end of the floor. Kyle Guy is 3-for-26 from three in this tournament, but he is unquestionably one of the elite shooters in all of college hoops. Jerome, too. Hunter is a top ten pick that, in this writer’s opinion, is the second-best player in college basketball when he shows up.

But given their pace, given some of their struggles in this event and given the fact that this Virginia program seems to be playing with a mental block that keeps them from getting where they want to get to in March, if Purdue hits them with one of their offensive explosions — like we saw in the first half against Villanova and the second half against Tennessee — UVA could find themselves in a hole they can’t dig out of.

PICK: I tend to lean towards Purdue here, but I don’t feel great about either side.

SUNDAY, MARCH 31

2:20 p.m. No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Auburn

  • SPREAD: Kentucky (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 142
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Kentucky 72.25, Auburn 69.75
  • KENPOM: Kentucky 73, Auburn 71

Everything about this game changed when Chuma Okeke went down with his knee injury. He’s so important to the way that Auburn wants to play. Not only is he a floor-spacing four-man that can beat slower defenders off the dribble, he’s big enough to hold his own in the paint and is a play-maker defensively.

Put simply: He spaces the floor, he ignites their transition game and he’s the guy that can guard P.J. Washington without mucking up Auburn’s offense.

Kentucky and Auburn played twice this season. Auburn needed a furious second half comeback to lose by two points at home, and they were sandblasted, 80-53, in Lexington. According to HoopLens.com, Okeke was not on the floor for 28 possessions in those two games combined. With Okeke, Auburn scored 1.12 points-per-possession. Without him, they scored 0.64 PPP.

PICK: That’s enough to get me on the Kentucky side. Yes, I know Washington is banged up. Yes, I know that Auburn is still dangerous, and that the likes of Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and Malik Dunbar will do their damnedest to fill in for Okeke.

I just can’t see them being nearly as effective.

5:05 p.m. No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State

  • SPREAD: Dule (-1.5)
  • TOTAL: 149.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 75.5 Duke 74
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 77, Duke 76

I think this is a tougher spot for Duke than some may realize. The Blue Devils have not been a very good team when it comes to defending ball-screens this season, and the one thing that the Spartans have excelled at more than anything this year is putting Cassius Winston into ball-screen action and letting him roll.

I also think that this is going to be a matchup that the Spartans win on the glass. Like LSU, Duke has a roster full of big, physical athletes that still manage to find a way to get beaten to the offensive glass, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a program not named North Carolina that has consistently been better than Michigan State at getting to the boards in recent seasons. Zion Williamson and company will get their’s when it comes to second chance points, but Michigan State will, at the very least, make them work for it.

The problem for the Spartans starts with the size and athleticism on the Duke roster. Assuming Reddish is healthy and ready to play — which, frankly, is no guarantee — Duke is going to have a serious advantage at every spot on the perimeter. My guess is that Kenny Goins (maybe Xavier Tillman?) ends up on Williamson while Aaron Henry is matched up with R.J. Barrett and Matt McQuaid draws Reddish. Those are going to be tough covers, although I do think that the fact that Tre Jones can be helped off* will do a world of good in saving Winston’s legs.

*(I fully expect Michigan State to help way off Jones, but it is worth noting that he scored a career-high 22 points and hit five threes in the Sweet 16.)

I’m also worried about the fact that Michigan State wants to run, and that Duke will thrive in a game that becomes uptempo. This is, again, where Jones comes into play. He’s a terrific on-ball defender, and if there is a knock of Winston, it’s that he can struggle with turnovers.

PICK: I’m going against everything that I have said all season long, because I think that this is the game where Duke gets done in. They’re only in the Elite Eight right now because: UCF missed an alley-oop and had two layups roll off the rim in the second round after Tre Jones hit five threes as Ahmed Hill’s game-tying layup air-balled.

I will be on Michigan State (+1.5).

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 K-State, 90-78

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats on Tuesday night.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Vols up to No. 2

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Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.

RISING AND FALLING

The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.

IN AND OUT

The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.