As we continue to gear up for the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 round, here are three matchups that could result in potential March Madness upsets: Illinois vs. Iowa State, NC State vs. Marquette, and Houston vs. Duke.

Best March Madness Sweet 16 Upset Predictions and Bets Today Illinois vs. Iowa State Prediction and Pick

The Illinois vs. Iowa State game might be one of the hardest Sweet 16 matchups to predict in the 2024 NCAA Tournament up to this point, because neither team was truly tested in the first two rounds.

Terrance Shannon Jr. is on an absolute heater for the Illini, averaging a ridiculous 31 points since the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Indeed, over the past five games, Illinois has beaten four teams that qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Iowa State, on the other hand, looked more mortal when it fell behind Washington State early in Saturday’s game, but the Cyclones were essentially perfect from there on out, finishing with an easy 67-56 win.

While Iowa State is the higher seed coming into Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game, it seems that the Cyclones are a more one-dimensional team than the Illini. Iowa State is one of the more paint-heavy scoring teams in this year’s tournament, and despite high efficiency, the Cyclones have seemed reluctant to shoot the 3-ball at times.

That strategy is going to be tough for the team to employ against a very strong set of Illinois forwards who aren’t really going to allow any sort of size mismatches. It should be a great game, but the Illini have been more dominant in the tournament so far and have a much more diverse attack. Don’t be surprised to see Illinois moving on to the Elite Eight, because the Illini are my first March Madness underdog pick.

The Pick: Illinois +1.5 (-110)

Houston vs. Duke Prediction and Pick

The Blue Devils and Cougars are set to play one of the biggest games of the tournament to date, and one of these two potential national champions will not be advancing to the next round.

So far in March Madness, Houston has appeared to be the more vulnerable team, barely surviving No. 9 Texas A&M in a Round 2 OT shootout on Sunday. The Aggies exposed a huge issue with the Cougars’ defense when their 6-foot-3 senior guard, Tyrece Radford, grabbed a game-high seven offensive rebounds.

On the night, A&M outrebounded Houston 26-11 on the offensive boards. It was clearly not just a size mismatch that caused the rebounding disadvantage, but also a lack of hustle and laziness from the Cougars when boxing out. Houston is a very guard-heavy team, so to prevent free second-chance scoring opportunities, the Cougars will have to show more effort on defense.

Duke, on the other hand, is coming off its drubbing of the previously red-hot James Madison Dukes. The Blue Devils dominated every facet of the game in their 93-55 win over JMU on Sunday. They should be primed for a big win against Houston, since they can take full advantage of their forward and center mismatches, as well as their rebounding advantage. Houston’s issues on the boards will create second-chance opportunities and open the perimeter for Duke freshman Jared McCain and the team’s other highly productive guards to light up the scoreboard.  

The Pick: Duke +4.5 (-115)

NC State vs. Marquette Prediction and Pick

There were so few upsets in Round 2 of March Madness that the current Sweet 16 includes 15 teams with at least a No. 6 seeding. The one outlier is NC State, which won its first national championship against Marquette exactly 50 years ago this week.

This time around, NC State has taken down No. 6 Texas Tech, and the Wolfpack also ended No. 14 Oakland’s tournament dreams in the second round. Senior DJ Burns Jr. led the way against the Golden Grizzlies on Sunday with a double-double, pacing the team in scoring with 24 points in addition to his 11 rebounds. Fellow forward Mohamed Diarra posted a double-double, too, with 11 points and 13 rebounds as the Wolfpack fired themselves into the Sweet 16.

This will be Marquette’s their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2013. The Golden Eagles put together a great offensive effort as a team on Sunday, when five Marquette players recorded double-digit point totals in a win over Colorado.

That said, Marquette has been outrebounded by both Colorado and Western Kentucky in this tournament, and that could prove to be a major factor against the Wolfpack if NC State shoots the ball more effectively than Marquette’s previous two opponents.

As the tournament's lowest remaining seed, NC State has a point to prove. With 6.5 points on their side, I’ll take the spread on the Wolfpack to finish off my March Madness upset picks today.

The Pick: NC State +6.5 (-110)

Odds are subject to change*

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