I’ve reasoned for a while now that the only way systematic sports handicappers ever get “streaky” is because final scores are like weather patterns. On “calm” days, only the variables taken into account by the sports-forecaster come into play, and so all predictions work out more-or-less the way they’re supposed to. “Bad weather” can come in the form of spot showers, sudden voltage, or (more likely) a frustrating and consuming L-streak as the lightning of unexpected factors strikes again.
The metaphor works well for 2022’s men’s March Madness bracket, in which an event everyone thought was “the earthquake” of the opening 2 rounds turned into merely a warning flash prior to the weekend’s biggest shock.
The overlooked “Peacocks” of Saint Peter’s have been called the biggest surprise of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Just a #15 East region seed alongside teams like Kentucky, Purdue, and defending March Madness champion Baylor, the plucky upstarts have knocked off big-league and mid-major favorites alike in Kentucky and Murray State to achieve a Sweet Sixteen berth. It’s only the 3rd time a #15 seed has done it.
But no shell-shock could have been bigger than #1 seed Baylor playing its way out of March Madness on the first weekend of basketball. The Bears were especially not expected to lose to #8 seeded North Carolina, which lost a grand total of 5 games in the much-maligned ACC’s conference slate this season.
Baylor didn’t go down without a protracted battle, coming from 25 points behind to force overtime against the underrated Tar Heels. For a brief moment, it seemed as though the Bears would surpass Duke’s historic 23-point comeback victory over Louisville with another miracle finish in an even more prestigious setting.
Undaunted, the Tar Heels outscored the Bears 13-6 in OT to score the upset.
UNC has brightened into a 3-to-1 pick to reach the 2022 Final Four. North Carolina, however, is still a (+2.5) point-spread underdog against UCLA in a Sweet Sixteen tip-off on Friday. Saint Peter’s is expected to be playing to cover at least a (+10) spread against Purdue. Elsewhere, the lack of stunning W/L outcomes is a bit deceptive.
Gonzaga remains the March Madness betting favorite at nearly 2-to-1 odds to win the school’s maiden national title. Zags, however, had episodes en route to a 7th consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Sun Belt representative Georgia State was surprisingly competitive in Gonzaga’s Round-of-64 game in spite of missing key players to injuries and foul trouble. Memphis held a 10-point halftime lead on Gonzaga in the West regional follow-up match on Saturday, but NBA lottery prospect Drew Timme finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds as Gonzaga stormed back for an 82-78 win.
Gonzaga faces #4 seed Arkansas as a (-430) moneyline and (-9) point spread favorite in a Sweet Sixteen tip-off on Thursday.
#2 seeded Duke has joined UNC in claiming postseason redemption for the ACC. Coach K’s Blue Devils are a (+1500) futures pick to win the NCAA Tournament after eliminating Michigan State of the Big Ten. Duke avoids an immediate meeting with Purdue thanks to bearing a #2 seed, but opposing Texas Tech is a (-1.5) favorite over the Blue Devils on Thursday, perhaps a better line than a Big Ten opponent would draw following a so-far-disappointing tournament for the latter conference.
Look out for the AAC…in more than just pigskin. Houston’s line to win the national championship has brightened to (+850) at FanDuel Sportsbook, but the Cougars are anticipated to run into a roadblock against #1 South region seed Arizona this week. Whichever opponent survives to play in the Elite Eight will face Michigan, a team that’s largely cruised to 2-0, or another legacy team in Villanova.
#1 seed Kansas is thought to have the easiest road to the Final Four, garnering shorter odds to reach New Orleans than the Gonzaga Bulldogs. KU plays Providence of the Big East as a (-7) point favorite on Friday, then if victorious, meets the winner of a curious middle-seed duel between Miami and ISU.
KU is only a (+2000) or 20-to-1 pick to defeat Gonzaga in 2022’s championship game. Gamblers and bookmakers are all-but-ignoring the results of the opening 2 rounds for each team, in which Kansas had marginal issues defeating Creighton following a breezy Round-of-64 win, while Gonzaga suffered a scare in both rounds. #16 seeded Georgia State was surprisingly competitive in Gonzaga’s Round-of-64 contest, despite missing key players to injuries and foul trouble. Memphis held a 10-point halftime lead on Gonzaga in the West regional quarterfinals on Saturday, but blue-chip NBA prospect Drew Timme finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds as the Bulldogs stormed back for an 82-78 win. Gonzaga faces Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks won’t face higher than a #4 seed in the South region, given Miami and Iowa State’s upset paths through the opening 2 rounds.
WagerBop users shouldn’t assume that the Jayhawks will cruise to the Big Easy. Providence polished-off the dangerous Richmond Spiders 79-51 in the Round of 32, while Miami defeated the bracket-darling of SEC programs in Auburn to reach the regional semis. Our forecast is that Kansas will reach the Final Four, but not without dealing with a worrisome share of injury, fatigue, and drama along the way.
2022 Men’s Sweet Sixteen Moneyline Odds, Spreads, and Quick Picks
Favorites to Cover: Gonzaga, Miami
It’s clearly time for the Gonzaga Bulldogs (-9.5) to really get going, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Zags make a statement against the (+375) Razorbacks. Don’t pick point-spread favorite Villanova (-5) to cover over Michigan, though. The Wolverines are about to bear-down defensively, making Under (135) a far better pick.
Kansas is not a terrific bet to cover (-7.5) over Providence. In fact, the punditry that’s given KU a (-200) favorites’ line on a Final Four bid could work against the methodical Jayhawks against the pluckier of mid-major tourney teams.
Miami is a fantastic pick to cover (-2.5) points against Iowa State, as the ACC could be taking the role of the Pac-12 in last year’s big dance. Get ahead of that trend.
Underdogs to Win: Duke, North Carolina
There have been multiple “smear job” editorials about Coach K come through the blogosphere in the past 2 weeks, with few specific charges other than the iconic hardwood professor’s vaguely bad attitude after losing NCAA Tournament games. (Most coaches simply skip the “vague” part and have a bad attitude after losing.)
It reminds a lot of the St. Louis editorialist Bernie Miklasz, who used to write about how lousy of a coach Tom Osbourne was, even as Nebraska went about 800-100 in the W/L column under the option-football guru. Not only has Coach K racked up a similar record of 1200+ wins and less than 400 losses as a head coach in Division 1, but it’s thanks to him that we have a gold-medal Team USA basketball squad now too.
Does the Blue Devils’ worldwide betting action suffer as a result of all the unfathomable hate? Maybe not, but Duke shouldn’t be a 1/1 slight underdog against Texas Tech in any case. Nor is it understandable why UNC is drawing an underdog’s (+2.5) point spread for a clearly evenly-matched battle with UCLA.
The Enigma: Purdue vs Saint Peter’s Line Movement
Purdue has proven the most popular pick-to-cover of the Sweet Sixteen, opening at around a 10-point margin before shooting to (-12.5) at major sportsbooks. FanDuel Sportsbook has gone so far as to offer a novel “Void” proposition on its championship March Madness odds, in which the unnamed Peacocks can give every gambler a refund if they win the Final Four. Perhaps the bookmakers feel that they’ve got to help drum-up fan support for a Cinderella, since no one is betting on Saint Peter’s.
Maybe somebody should be betting on the Peacocks, at least insofar as this Friday’s tip-off is concerned. Bob Huggins’ post-Round of 32 commentary that Saint Peter’s “aren’t athletic,” made through a regrettably condescending smile, is typical of how mid-major Cinderella bids are really thought-of by basketball nerds each spring. But it’s not important that a Cinderella offer-up a hundred quality big men, it’s only crucial that the team’s longest and most-fearsome cagers are healthy and playing well in a short tournament setting. Saint Peter’s has already turned to 6’9″ and 6’10” veterans like Kenechukwu “KC” Ndefo and stout defender Doug Edert.
Zach Edey is taller than all of them, of course, but Edey only bucketed 11 points in Purdue’s high-scoring Round of 32 victory, and isn’t a prohibitive cover-the-spread weapon at this time…forwards who score 15+ points consistently are more of the ticket ATS. Purdue’s trademark backcourt will make flashy 2-point plays at a faster tempo than the Peacocks can defend, but it’s hard to build and hold a 13+ point lead that way, especially against an opponent that shot 50%-plus from beyond the arc in Round 1.
It wouldn’t take a very long hot streak from downturn for an already-sizzling underdog to produce single-point margins on the scoreboard (at least) throughout mid-game and the 2nd half. That makes Saint Peter’s (+12.5) a superb ATS bet on Friday.
WagerBop’s Picks to Reach 2022 Final Four: Houston (+200), North Carolina (+370)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.