NCAA Tournament 2021: Breaking Down And Betting The Sweet 16

FairwayJay breaks down the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 match-ups, odds and historical trends of the top-seeded teams.

Big early upsets set the stage for betting the Sweet 16

It's been two years since we've been able to evaluate and break down the Sweet 16. Now the 2021 NCAA Tournament continues, and many online sportsbooks had to be ecstatic about the opening round upsets and results. Especially with No. 1 seed Illinois going down in the Round of 32, as the Fighting Illini were a big liability in the futures market for many leading online sportsbooks

NCAA 2021 Sweet 16So the Sweet 16 pairings are set, and the pairings are quite different from the 2019 NCAA Tournament when all 16 favorites won in the Round of 32. That was a first time occurrence in the history of the NCAA Tournament. But this year's tournament still features a number of longshots and Cinderella stories. 

You can check out all the scores, highlights and recaps of the opening round and Round of 32 at, plus see an updated NCAA Tournament bracket

Sweet 16 Match-ups and Lines

The regional semifinals tip off on Saturday, March 27. All times Eastern. 

 - No. 12 Oregon State vs No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-6.5) - 2:40 p.m.
 - No. 5 Villanova vs No. 1 Baylor (-6.5) - 5:15 p.m.
 - No. 15 Oral Roberts vs. No. 3 Arkansas (-11.5) - 7:25 p.m.
 - No. 11 Syracuse vs No. 2 Houston (-6) - 9:55 p.m.

Sunday, March 28

 - No. 5 Creighton vs No. 1 Gonzaga (-13.5) - 2:10 p.m.
 - No. 4 Florida State vs No. 1 Michigan (-3) - 5:00 p.m. 
 - No. 11 UCLA vs No. 2 Alabama (-6) - 7:15 p.m. 
 - No. 7 Oregon vs No. 6 USC (-2.5) - 9:45 p.m. 

Elite Eight Projections 

The Elite 8 follows on Monday and Tuesday. Should the four favorites win on Saturday, it will set up the most interesting Elite 8 matchups on Monday with defensive dominators Houston vs Loyola Chicago, and a high-scoring shootout between Baylor and Arkansas.

Gonzaga continues to look unstoppable in their pursuit of becoming the first undefeated team to win the national title since Indiana in 1976. The Zags toughest match-ups are ahead after they dispose of Creighton. USC has a defensive profile and top-5 adjusted defensive efficiency ranking to put up a fight, and the Trojans were most impressive in destroying Kansas last round. USC coach Andy Enfeld has taken another team to the Sweet 16 after previously becoming the first coach and No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2013. Now Oral Roberts is the second No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16 this year, but the end of the line is near for the Golden Eagles, who finished fourth in the Summit League.

Oregon is so well coached by Dana Altman and efficient on offense, but the Ducks will now have to beat teams that actually defends, which Iowa did not. UCLA is playing their best basketball for proven coach Mick Cronin, but either Alabama or Michigan likely looms in the Final Four, although Florida State is clearly capable and athletic enough to beat the Wolverines. But the Seminoles are not getting by Alabama or certainly Gonzaga. Coach Leonard Hamilton is often questioned or criticized at this stage of the tournament and often outcoached. Michigan coach Juwan Howard has no past NCAA Tournament coaching experience.

Both Michigan and Alabama rank top-10 in KenPom's adjusted defensive rankings. So does Gonzaga, who is also the best offensive team in the country with a top, proven coach in Mark Few. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are probably the best team in the tournament since 2015 Kentucky - who was undefeated with numerous pros on their roster - and lost in the Final Four to defensive, well-coached Wisconsin. So it's possible, just not likely the Zags could get beat.  

If you’re considering making any future bets to win the NCAA Tournament at this point, here are the updated odds from leading online sportsbook BookMaker:

Team Odds Team Odds
Gonzaga +140 USC +2700
Baylor +360 Oregon +3300
Michigan +875 Syracuse +3750
Houston +915 Villanova +4000
Alabama +1100 Oregon State +4500
Loyola Chicago +1600 Creighton +5000
Florida State +1900 UCLA +6500
Arkansas  +2000 Oral Roberts +11500

Recent History of No. 1 seeds in NCAA Tournament

History for #1 top seeds since 1985 shows them going 85-23 SU in the Sweet 16. That includes 70-23 SU vs. teams seeded #4 or #5. Until 2015, #1 seeds were getting bounced out of this round going back to 2010, but in the last five editions (not including 2020 with no tournament) #1 seeds are 15-1 SU and 11-5 ATS (or 11-4-1 as Gonzaga line closed -3 in 2017).

In the last tournament in 2019, all four No. 1 seeds made the Sweet 16 and three played 4 or 5 seeds (2-1 SU/1-2 ATS). North Carolina lost badly as a favorite to Auburn. Gonzaga went on to lose in the Elite 8 along with Duke, while Virginia needed overtime to hold off Purdue. Virginia won in the national semifinals in a controversial one point win over Auburn, and then won the thrilling finish in overtime over Texas Tech to capture the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship - and cost me a pretty big payday on Texas Tech at +7500 (I hedged some in championship). 

#1 Virginia (-8.5) beat #12 Oregon 53-49
#1 Duke (-7) beat #4 Virginia Tech 75-73
#1 Gonzaga (-7.5) beat #4 Florida State 72-58
#1 North Carolina (-5.5) lost to #5 Auburn 97-80

#1 Villanova (-5) beat #5 West Virginia 90-78
#1 Kansas (-5) beat #5 Clemson 80-76

#1 Kansas (-5) beat #4 Purdue 98-66
#1 North Carolina (-7) beat #4 Butler 92-80
#1 Gonzaga (-3.5) beat #4 West Virginia 61-58

#1 Kansas (-5.5) beat #5 Maryland 79-63
#1 North Carolina (-5) beat #5 Indiana 101-86
#1 Virginia (-6) beat #4 Iowa State 84-71
#1 Oregon (-3) beat #4 Duke 82-68 

#1 Kentucky (-13.5) beat #5 West Virginia 78-39
#1 Duke (-4.5) beat #5 Utah 63-57
#1 Wisconsin (-6) beat #4 North Carolina 79-72

There is another statistical profile that points to #1 seeds being more vulnerable to losing to a #4 or #5 seed in the Sweet 16. It's a solid situation that uses scoring margin as another criteria in pointing to Sweet 16 winners. Top #1 seeded teams with a scoring margin of less than 14 points per game are more likely to get knocked off by a #4 or #5 seed, which makes Michigan most vulnerable. 

Gonzaga (+23.4)
Baylor  (+18.0)
Michigan (+10.9)

Elite 8 Final FourGonzaga, Baylor, Houston (+19.5) and Loyola Chicago (+15.7) were the top four college basketball teams in scoring margin this season. Gonzaga is averaging a remarkable 92.1 points per game this season. Baylor (83.8), Arkansas (82.0) and Oral Roberts (81.5) are the other tournament teams averaging at least 80 points per game this season including through the NCAA Tournament. 

Gonzaga's scoring margin heading into the 2019 Sweet 16 was +23.9. They beat FSU, but lost in the Elite 8 to a top defensive team in Texas Tech. 

Sweet 16 Stats and 3-Point Shooting

 - Alabama leads the nation in 3-point attempts with 961, or 30 per game. That's 46.7% of their field goal attempts. Oral Roberts (46.3%) and Villanova (45.1%) are next in 3-point rate, or percentage of shots from beyond the arc. 
 - Oral Roberts (10.8) and Alabama (10.7) lead the nation in made 3-pointers per game, and Baylor is just behind (10.4).
 - Baylor (41.52%) leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage. Of the NCAA Tournament teams, Michigan, Oral Roberts and Oregon are next hitting 37 to 37.5% this season including in March Madness. 
 - Gonzaga and Michigan are the two remaining teams that rank top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings, according to KenPom. But Michigan is playing without one of their star players, injured forward Isaiah Livers.

Pac-12 Surges in NCAA Tournament 

What a run by the 'Conference of Champions' in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Pac-12 has gone 9-1 in the tournament thus far with four of five teams advancing to the Sweet 16. Eight of the wins were by double-Pac-12 NCAA March Madnessdigits, and bettors were rewarded with a 9-1 ATS mark on Pac-12 teams. The highest seeded team was No. 5 Colorado, who is the only team eliminated. Now the Pac-12 is looking for it's first Final Four participant since 2017, and first National Championship since 1997. 

Meanwhile, the Big Ten was an utter embarrassment. Nine teams entered the tournament, and just one remains, No. 1 Michigan. Eliminated are high seeds Illinois (1), Ohio State (2), Iowa (2) and Purdue (4). KenPom rated the Big Ten as the best conference, followed by the Big 12, which also has just one team remaining in No. 1 Baylor. 

Texas coach Shaka Smart has a losing conference record during his 6-years as the Longhorns coach. He's 0-3 in the NCAA Tournament with all three losses as favorite. He only 'earns' $3.2 million annually for such accomplishments in the Big 12. Texas quite simply dropped the ball with an inexplicable, season-worst 23 turnovers in a stunning 53-52 first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Abilene Christian. 

That's led to one prominent media member calling for his firing. Many big money Texas boosters agree.

"There are very few losses in sports that lead to an immediate firing,'' ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted. "Texas losing to Abilene Christian has to be one of them.'' 

Such is the scrutiny, excitement and measuring stick of March Madness.

You can bet on it.

FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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