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Thursday NCAA Tournament Wagers

Arkansas (+9½) vs Gonzaga

Arkansas has been incredibly dominant for most of 2022, winning 17 of its last 20 games, with two of the losses coming by five points combined. During that span, the Razorbacks defeated Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, demonstrating time and time again that they're more than capable of taking down an elite opponent. Arkansas features a strong defense, ranking No. 14 in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving us additional reason to believe they'll compete in a close game. Gonzaga allowed Memphis to keep the game close in the round of 32, and Arkansas ranks higher than Memphis in both overall efficiency and defensive efficiency, yet another reason to think the Razorbacks will keep this competitive. I'll take the points.

Michigan vs Villanova (-5½)

These two teams are not on the same level. Villanova has won 21 of its last 24 games, with two of the losses being by a single possession. The Wildcats are ranked eighth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and 30th in defensive efficiency, excellent all the way around. Michigan, meanwhile, went 7-7 in its last 14 games leading up to the NCAA tournament, hardly a team playing great basketball. Michigan looked sharper in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, although it's worth pointing out that this marked the first time Michigan won back-to-back games since early February, something that didn't happen very often this season. Michigan also has a shaky defense, ranking fourth-worst in the Big Ten during conference play this season. The Wildcats' potent offense will likely take advantage. All in all, Villanova is the more balanced, more consistent team, my pick for advancing into the Elite Eight and covering in the process.

Texas Tech vs Duke (+1)

These two teams are nearly dead-even across the board. Duke's fourth-ranked offense is countered by Texas Tech's number one defense, while Texas Tech's offense, ranked at No. 46, is similarly countered by Duke's defense, ranked at No. 44. These overall rankings are certainly useful, however, it's also important to note that Duke had the best offensive and defensive efficiency in the ACC during conference season, suggesting that its defense tightened up as the season progressed. Texas Tech's offense ranked fifth in the Big 12, which isn't bad, but it also doesn't measure up to Duke's. The Red Raiders actually have a major area of concern in offensive three-point shooting making just 28 percent of their three-point attempts during conference play, the lowest percentage in the Big 12. Coincidentally, this is a critical issue against Duke because the Blue Devils allowed the highest rate of three-point attempts on defense in the ACC this season. It's always possible Texas Tech can get hot from behind the arc in any given game, but I wouldn't count on it because history is not on its side when it comes to three-point scoring. Additionally, Duke is also the more talented team, which inevitably reveals itself at some point in a game and will likely play a factor in Duke scoring on Texas Tech's defense. Either way, in a close game, I like the team that's significantly better at free throws and three-point shooting. I'll take Duke.

Houston vs Arizona - Under 145

A battle of heavyweights, Houston currently ranks number two in the country in KenPom's overall adjusted efficiency standings, with Arizona next in line at number three. Both teams are exceptionally balanced, Houston in particular, ranking No. 10 in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Arizona leans on its offense a little more, ranking seventh in offensive efficiency, and 19th in defensive efficiency, but regardless, both teams are elite on both sides of the court. This will also be a battle of philosophy, with Houston playing at a slow, methodical pace compared to Arizona's blitz-like offensive attack. The Wildcats are always a threat to sabotage any under bet given their offensive prowess and propensity to run down the court, however, this hasn't been the case against teams like Houston that excel on defense and play at a slow tempo. In both games that Arizona played against UCLA this season, the score hit under 145, a seemingly apt comparison considering that Houston ranked better on defense and slower in tempo than UCLA this season. For Houston, the Cougars played 18 conference games this season and the total landed under 145 in 14 of those games. Ultimately, I'm betting that Houston's defense and style will do their job in giving us a low-scoring game, hitting the under in the process.

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