The NCAA Tournament Round of 16 continues Sunday with a big four-game schedule featuring a big favorite, a last chance at the conference title, and a battle between familiar opponents. @cwsdjt and I (@IowaZach) discuss the games and give our favorite side of each match. Let’s go!

Gonzaga (-13.0) vs Creighton

Gonzaga has been mostly a video game cheat this year. The best basketball team not only remained undefeated, but also won by an average margin of 23.5 points and allowed only one team (West Virginia) to finish within ten points of them. This is clearly a loser’s tournament for Gonzaga.

Craighton Bluejays number 5 Greg McDermott stands in the way of that goal. The road to the Big East tournament at Gonzaga should have been relatively easy with games against no. 13 USC-Santa Barbara and no. 12 Ohio State, but the Blues had to pull out all the stops to avoid a first-round upset, narrowly beating USSB 63-62. In a game where they never took their foot off the gas and had each of their five starters reach double digits, they defeated the Bobcats en route to a 72-58 victory. It was a game where they had to prove it, and they did.

Gonzaga will win this match, it’s just a question of by how much. The Bulldogs have a historically good offense, averaging 92.1 points per game this season. They play at a higher pace than any other team in the tournament and can beat teams in a variety of ways.  Four of the five starters have double-digit averages this season, and the one who doesn’t (Andrew Nembhard) ranks sixth nationally in turnover rate (3.52). Additionally, they have the seventh best defense in college basketball according to KenPom. There isn’t really a weakness on this team that can be exploited, but if you had to dig over the edge, it would be from the middle. Creighton is still making 9.6 three-point shots per game, which is 21st nationally, while Gonzaga is allowing 7.6 (143rd). If Creighton wants to stand a chance against this giant, he’ll need a record-breaking evening in archery. Unfortunately, it’s not something I would bet on.

@IowaZach calling: Gonzaga -13.0

Michigan (-3) vs Florida State

This could be the most exciting game of the weekend. The Michigan Wolverines are the last team in the Big Ten and were able to work their way into the Sweet 16 after knocking off Cam Thomas in the closing minutes of the game against LSU. Florida State plays big, and as we saw in Michigan’s game against Illinois State, Hunter Dickinson might struggle with similar size.

FSU also distributes the ball very well, averaging five players with at least nine PPG. For a glutton, this could be a problem. According to KenPom, they play at a pace of 246, which allows them to prevent FSU from overplaying the ball often. If they can get the Seminoles’ guards to make a few runs, they should be fine, but this is a game where the absence of Isaiah Livers will hurt Michigan the most. He’s their shooter, so Eli Brooks and Mike Smith have big shoes to fill.

Since these teams rebound about equally, Michigan doesn’t have much of an advantage in this area either. Given the problems Florida State can cause with their ball distribution and size, they can win this game outright.

@cwsdjt pic: Florida State +3

Alabama (-6) vs UCLA

Alabama is a fun team to watch in the tournament. They are one of the smartest teams left, and could be one of Gonzaga’s biggest stumbling blocks to winning the title. The Crimson Tide must first take on the UCLA Bruins.

So far, the PAC-12 looks fantastic with 25% of the field left. But at this rate, there’s going to be a problem, and if Alabama starts hitting three-pointers, it could happen much sooner than UCLA fans want to admit. Rick Pitino and Jonah Gaels had a plan for Alabama, but their talent prevailed. Bama crushed Maryland in a 19-point victory.

The best approach the Bruins can take is to mimic Iona’s game as closely as possible. They need to dictate the pace, but when they fall behind against third-placed players, they have no chance of getting back into the game. Alabama may struggle on the glass, but once they get a lead, they are unstoppable, especially against a team that KenPom says has a 337 pace.

UCLA’s defense will have a hard time catching up with the Tide, as their strength lies in their offense and Alabama is the opposite. I bought half a point to put him at -6, but he’s playable to -7.

@cwsdjt pic: Alabama -6 (-120)

USC (-2.0) vs Oregon

Sunday night’s game is a rematch between two PAC-12 opponents, and it should be interesting. The last time these two teams met (in Los Angeles), the Trojans nearly doubled the Ducks in the first half, eventually winning 72-58. You bet your ass Oregon wants revenge on a neutral field.

Both teams can score. During the 2020-21 season. USC scored 75 points per game, Oregon 72.5, but KenPom ranks the Ducks’ offense slightly higher (#10) than USC’s (#15). Oregon doesn’t always shoot from the three-point line, but when he does, he’s in the top 20 in efficiency (.382). USC’s offense runs through 6-foot-8 freshman Evan Mobley. The 2020-21 PAC-12 Player of the Year is tall and long, but he also moves very well. He has a fluid shot and excellent touch, often pulling double and triple teams to play a teammate to the basket. USC also features senior guard Tahj Iddi, a rebounding specialist who is averaging 13.5 points this season.

This game will come down to defense, and on paper USC has the advantage, as it holds the offense to the fourth-best shot percentage in college basketball (.387). The Ducks’ defense isn’t bad either, scoring just 65.5 points per game under defenseman Chris Duarte, but they’re also vulnerable from the inside, ranking 200th in the country in two-point shooting percentage. Although they eventually beat the Hawkeyes, the Ducks enabled Iowa big man Luke Garza to savor their final game with 36 points. Even if Duarte can control Eaddy on the perimeter, I think the Ducks will have a very hard time against Mobley, and once they focus on the inside, Mobley will have the ability to find his teammates.

Vote for @IowaZach: USC -2.0

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