The Round of 64 continues on Friday. With March Madness in full swing, find best bets for the Friday slate here, including previews & predictions for Baylor vs. UCSB, Marquette vs. Vermont, Miami vs. Drake, and Kansas State vs. Montana State.
College Basketball Best Bets 3/17/23
March College Basketball Record: 51-44-2 (+1.03 units)
3 Baylor Bears vs. 14 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
The Gauchos are running hot to close the season as they won four straight games to finish the regular season before winning three straight to win the Big West tournament. Baylor, meanwhile, has lost four of their last six games including twice to Iowa State.
Baylor’s defense is a massive red flag entering the tournament, particularly at the rim. Per Hoop-Math, the Bears allow opponents to shoot 72.6% at the rim, which is the highest rate in the country. Meanwhile, UCSB ranks 40th in frequency of shots at the rim.
The Gauchos’ offense is led by sophomore guard Ajay Mitchell who averages 16.4 points per game and ranked first in the Big West in offensive rating among qualified players. Mitchell is a pro prospect very capable of making tough shots in the clutch, and he’s making over 68% of his shots at the rim in halfcourt settings.
Of course, Baylor’s offense is elite as well – they rank 2nd in KenPom adjusted efficiency on that end. However, they’re somewhat dependent on transition scoring as they rank 268th in ShotQuality points per possession (PPP) in the half court.
Transition scoring won’t be frequent against a UCSB team that ranks 30th in half court PPP allowed and 84th in turnover rate on offense. Baylor also won’t get to the line as often as they’d like against UCSB who ranks top 120 in defensive free throw rate.
UCSB ranks 302nd in adjusted tempo which will limit possessions and overall variance. The Gauchos are also a highly experienced team – five of their seven players that averaged over 17 minutes per game were seniors. Don’t be shocked if they win outright.
Best Bet: UCSB +11 (play to +9.5)
2 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. 15 Vermont Catamounts
My good friend and former colleague Tanner McGrath is perhaps the biggest Vermont fan in the world, and as such, I have learned more than I ever expected about that team this season. And I’m excited to say that I think they have legs in this 2-15 matchup.
Vermont has plenty of the attributes you look for in a double-digit underdog. They play at a slow pace as they rank 314th in adjusted tempo and turn the ball over at the ninth-lowest rate as they rarely give opponents opportunities to get out in transition.
The Catamounts love to work in isolation and kick out to open shooters as they rank 47th in isolation frequency and 25th in frequency of catch-and-shoot three-point shots per ShotQuality. That should be an effective formula against a Marquette defense that ranks just 321st in ShotQuality PPP.
Vermont has tons of experience with its three leading scorers – Dylan Penn, Finn Sullivan, and Aaron Deloney – all seniors who pour in 10+ points per game. All of the team’s six players that average 20+ minutes are seniors, as well.
Fantastic timing on the double from Finn Sullivan and a nice pass in transition.
Highly impactful defensive player for Vermont pic.twitter.com/TcWXAk639K
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) March 11, 2023
Marquette’s head coach Shaka Smart has also been one of the most profitable as an underdog, going 92-59-3 (60.9%) ATS in that role, while he’s just 134-156 (46.2%) as a favorite, according to Bet Labs. As a favorite here, Smart is worth a fade.
The Catamounts made some tweaks to their lineup halfway through the season and they have been electric since then, winning 15 straight games. Most notably, they adjusted their center rotation with Illeri Ayo-Faleye getting more minutes and adding much-needed athleticism and post defense on the interior.
During the Selection Sunday show, I texted Tanner in excitement that Vermont drew Marquette, a team I believe is way overseeded. While Marquette likely pulls out the win, this one should come down to the wire.
Best Bet: Vermont +11 (play to +10)
5 Miami Hurricanes vs. 12 Drake Bulldogs
A good way to get a sense of which double-digit seeds have the best chance of pulling off the outright upset is by looking at the spread. No spread is shorter among those teams than Drake being just a 2.5-point underdog against Miami.
The biggest concern for Miami here is the injury to forward Norchad Omier. He suffered an ankle injury against Duke in the ACC Tournament and his status is very much in doubt here. As the only starter over 200 pounds on a team that ranks just 226th in average height, lacking his presence in the middle would be huge.
The Canes are 0.23 points per possession better with him on the floor, which would be a massive difference. Omier was shooting over 60% inside the arc this season and ranks top 35 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Even if Omier plays, he might not be at 100% in this game.
The Bulldogs are led by sophomore MVC Player of the Year Tucker DeVries, a legitimate NBA prospect who’s at Drake because he wanted to play for his dad, coach Darian DeVries. With the oldest backcourt in the country featuring 25-year-olds D.J. Wilkins and Roman Penn, Drake’s offense is seasoned and tough to prepare for.
Not many dudes smoother than Tucker DeVries this year in college hoops. Just has perfect footwork, elite touch, and looks great getting into his pull-up. Here's him just calmly attacking a heavy closeout, taking a relocation dribble into the midrange, and stopping for a 15-footer pic.twitter.com/VfPRZyMBeH
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) November 22, 2022
Drake’s offense has leveled up since DeVries started calling more pick-and-roll sets with Penn as the lead ball handler, and that matches up perfectly as Miami is a putrid 335th in PPP against ball screen plays per ShotQuality.
Drake is one of the oldest teams in the country, and they’re peaking at the right time as they rank 12th in Bart Torvik’s ratings since February 8th. Miami’s defense is a major red flag and Drake has the pieces to exploit it. I like the Bulldogs to win this one outright and I wouldn’t be shocked if they close as a favorite if Omier is ruled out. I personally made this a 2-unit play, one on Drake +2.5 and one on the ML.
Best Bet: Drake +2.5 (play to -1 if Norchad Omier is ruled out)
3 Kansas State Wildcats vs. 14 Montana State Bobcats
Montana State is one of the most under-the-radar teams entering this tournament despite being in the dance for the second straight season. The Bobcats are a very experienced team with four of their five starters being upperclassmen and they ended the year strong with wins in 14 of their final 15 games.
Kansas State, on the other hand, crashed out in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. The Wildcats finished third in the conference in the regular season, but they might be the most overseeded team in the entire field of 68.
The Wildcats had one of the best home-court advantages in the country this season and their home-road splits were drastic on both ends. They were the seventh-worst team in Haslametrics’ away-from-home rating and they finished 5-6 ATS on the road compared to 13-4 ATS at home.
Kansas State is led by two fifth-year seniors, guard Markquis Nowell and forward Keyontae Johnson. Despite those two having loads of experience, though, they both average over three turnovers per game and the Cats rank 299th in turnover rate.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, rank 75th in turnovers forced. Montana State’s Darius Brown was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, and he will be a tremendous asset in guarding Nowell.
Montana State is an excellent rim protecting team as they rank sixth in PPP allowed at the rim per ShotQuality. That’s a problem against a K State team that ranks third in frequency of shots at the rim – they’ll need to work more on the perimeter than they typically like.
Jubrile Belo is a huge part of that effort on the interior. The London born forward dealt with some injuries during league play, but he has averaged at least a block per game in each of his four seasons.
Belo is also averaging 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds over his last six games, and he should be a consistent threat to score against a Kansas State defense that’s elite against the three but 226th in PPP allowed on post-up possessions.
Finally, Montana State should be able to take advantage of Kansas State’s foul-happy ways. The Bobcats rank 5th in free throw rate on offense and the Wildcats rank 298th on defense, sending opponents to the line way too often.
Raequan Battle, who averages 17.4 points per game for Montana State, gets to the line about four times per game and makes 83.8% of his foul shots. That could be a huge factor in this game, and the former Washington transfer has Power Five pedigree.
Kansas State could be in trouble here. The Bobcats are my favorite underdog of the first round, and I believe they’re very live as a threat to win this game outright. I’ll happily take all 8.5 points the sportsbooks are offering. This is a 2-unit play for me, and I wouldn’t fault you for taking some ML as well.
Best Bet: Montana State +8.5 (play to +6.5)