March Madness 2022: Elite Eight picks and predictions
Shane McNichol finds the value and picks out his best bets for the Elite Eight round of March Madness.
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The Final Four is always lauded as the big moment of the NCAA Tournament, with a full week of lead up and plenty of excitement surrounding the national semi-finals.
Yet every year, we’re treated to some of the season’s best basketball in the Elite Eight round. Eight teams play four games across the country, with a chance to continue their season and chase a championship is on the line.
This season is no exception, with a fantastic slate of matchups on the bracket. For bettors, this is a prime chance to close out a weekend of excitement with, hopefully, a few wins.
I’ve been skeptical of Villanova throughout the Wildcats’ run through March, in which they nabbed both a Big East Tournament title and a spot in the Elite Eight. Despite a lack of size and a dearth of depth, Villanova has done what veteran-laden, well coached teams do – relied on their strengths and found ways to win.
I’m sticking to my guns, betting on those flaws to eventually outweigh Villanova’s intangible advantages.
The Wildcats have balked against intense, high pressure defenses this season and Houston fits that bill. The Cougars are one of the most cohesive, elite defenses in college basketball, loaded with versatile and springy players who can make life difficult for Villanova’s playmakers.
Villanova has also struggled against elite competition this season. The Wildcats are 20-1 against Quad 2, 3, and 4 opponents this season, but just 9-6 in their Quad 1 games. From a bettor’s perspective, that has played out as well.
Villanova is 1-4 this season as an underdog and just 1-3-1 against the spread in those games. Eventually, the Wildcats were going to run into a top-level team in this tournament. Houston is a top ten team by most metrics. This game can go either way and I lean stay away, but if you’re going to take a side, go with the Cougars.
Duke played one of the nation’s best defenses in the Sweet Sixteen, but the Blue Devils responded by playing one of their best offensive games of the season and dispatched Texas Tech.
Arkansas’ defense is nearly comparable to the one Duke just defeated, yet the Razorbacks have more firepower on the other end of the floor.
When Texas Tech’s defense started to leak, the Red Raiders lacked the shooting and playmaking to answer on the other end. Coach K switched to a zone and Texas Tech had no answer. Arkansas won’t have that issue, relying on the always potent JD Notae for scoring and offensive creation.
Duke’s offense isn’t likely to hit on all cylinders twice in three days and the red-hot Razorbacks are sure to make the Blue Devils battle. I’ll take the Hogs and the points, thinking this might be the last time we see the retiring Coach K on the sidelines.
The Jayhawks have emerged as the favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans, as the last remaining top seed in the field. The way Kansas is playing, that is warranted.
Remy Martin is starting to look healthy and deliver on the promise that many expected to see from him when he transferred to Kansas after four years starring at Arizona State. He led the Jayhawks in scoring Friday night, sparking a Kansas offense that was otherwise fairly flat.
Miami has advanced on the strength of its backcourt. Isaiah Wong and Charlie Moore have been creating for the Canes, in the halfcourt but especially in transition. That is less likely to continue against a Kansas team that is deep and athletic on the perimeter.
There’s been a ton of chaos this weekend, but something needs to go as planned. Kansas should take care of business here.
On the other hand, maybe we’re due for a little more chaos.
Saint Peter’s has not reached this point in the tournament by playing like most Cinderellas. The Peacocks aren’t just launching threes and getting lucky – they’ve outplayed each of their three NCAA Tournament opponents.
The Saint Peter’s defense is a legitimate weapon and can’t be brushed off as a fluke. The Peacocks ranked in the top 40 in defensive efficiency before the tournament started. That ranking has drifted up to 24th. Saint Peter’s has allowed the seventh-lowest effective field goal percentage in college basketball this season.
North Carolina’s offense is driven by Armando Bacot on the offensive glass and the Tar Heel guards creating off the dribble. Despite the big-time pedigree of RJ Davis and Caleb Love, we’ve seen nothing to suggest they will be able to crack the Saint Peter’s defense. If Carolina’s offense is relying just on second chance points, the Heels won’t have the scoring to run away from Saint Peter’s.
I like the Peacocks getting the eight-point spread, but based on the last two weeks, there’s no reason they can’t pull off the upset here. Everything sounds crazy until it happens. A 15-seed in the Final Four would be a bad bet on Selection Sunday, yet now based on the way things have broken, I’ll take Saint Peter’s to win in Philly on Sunday.