If the spreads for the Elite Eight looked a little high, it's because they are for this round.
We usually see good matchups and low spreads at this point in the men's tournament. Over the last six tournaments, only five of the 24 Elite Eight games had a spread higher than seven points, according to Matt Eisenberg's tournament guide. No tournament in that stretch had more than two games with spreads that high. This year, in a tournament filled with upsets and underdogs covering, all four Elite Eight games have a spread of at least 7.5 points.
It seems odd that, of all years, this is the tournament with four huge Elite Eight spreads. Here are the picks for the Elite Eight, with odds from BetMGM and all times Eastern.
No. 2 Houston (-8) vs. No. 12 Oregon State, 7:15 p.m. Monday
While sports betting has gone mainstream, we still don't speak about great streaks against the spread like we do with traditional winning streaks. Otherwise, the Oregon State Beavers would be getting even more attention.
Since Jan. 16, Oregon State is 18-3-1 against the spread. The Beavers have been underdogs in 19 of those 22 games. Even someone who isn't a regular bettor can understand that's the type of streak that almost never happens. A team isn't supposed to cover more than 85 percent of the time over two-plus months.
The reason ATS trends aren't necessarily predictive is sportsbooks adjust. If a team has gone 18-3-1 against the spread, the books will start inflating spreads to stop anyone riding that streak (this happened in the NBA during the Utah Jazz's hot streak this season). But this line is still fairly high. KenPom projects Houston to win by 9, so maybe it's shaded a bit to the red-hot Beavers, but not by much.
Houston is a very good team. The Cougars do pretty much everything well and have been fantastic all season. But you already know where this pick is going. Oregon State deserves more respect than they're getting, even after a fantastic stretch of covering spreads.
Pick: Oregon State +8
No. 1 Baylor (-8) vs. No. 3 Arkansas, 9:57 p.m. Monday
Arkansas hasn't been great this tournament, but the Razorbacks are winning. They beat Texas Tech and Oral Roberts by two points each. Survive and advance. Baylor had a rough first half against Villanova, but a great second half ensured a third straight double-digit win. The Bears are championship-level good and for all the talk about how unbeatable Gonzaga is, Baylor can give them a game if they meet in the final game of the season.
They will have to get past Arkansas first, and that's not easy. Arkansas didn't have one loss all season against a non-tournament team, and since Jan. 16 they're 15-2. That came playing mostly in a tough SEC. I like Baylor but there's no reason Arkansas can't test them. This is too many points for a Razorbacks team that has been very good most of the season. I think the Bears win but they'll be in a fight.
Pick: Arkansas +8
No. 1 Gonzaga (-9) vs. No. 6 USC, 7:15 p.m. Tuesday
If you're taking Gonzaga here, you're paying a tax.
Of all the money bet on the point spread for the Gonzaga-Creighton game Sunday, 80 percent was on Gonzaga. And despite Gonzaga having the highest spread of that round — the Bulldogs have been the biggest favorites in every round this tournament, including the Elite Eight — Gonzaga improved to 3-0 against the spread in the tournament. The Bulldogs got a bit lucky to cover in the second round against Oklahoma, but easily covered in the other two games.
This line is inflated a bit. USC, despite its No. 6 seed, is a talented team. USC coach Andy Enfield is an unbelievable 10-0 against the spread in his NCAA men's tournament career. KenPom has Gonzaga projected to win by seven. But BetMGM had to know that a seven-point spread on Gonzaga would lead to an avalanche of Bulldogs bets. They'll probably get most of the bets even at nine points.
This is harder than the two Monday games, but I'll reluctantly take the underdog. Gonzaga is great but it was 12-12-2 against the spread before the tournament. Sportsbooks adjust when teams keep covering spreads, and there's no bigger story right now than undefeated Gonzaga. You are taking the worst of the number if you bet Gonzaga in this round, or probably in either of the final two rounds if the Bulldogs keep winning. I have to take USC, though it's not a comfortable spot to be in.
Pick: USC +9
No. 1 Michigan (-7.5) vs. No. 11 UCLA, 9:57 p.m. Tuesday
So much for Michigan being vulnerable.
Despite Isaiah Livers' injury and the Big Ten flaming out in the tournament, Michigan has looked fantastic. The Wolverines were a deserving No. 1 seed and their dissection of a talented Florida State team was impressive. Juwan Howard has done a fantastic job at Michigan.
While I've picked against Michigan all three rounds, citing Livers' injury as a potential hazard, this pick isn't about not liking the Wolverines. I'm over that; Michigan has clearly adjusted to the injury and hasn't missed a beat without one of its most valuable players. This is more a pro-UCLA pick. The Bruins have played well lately, and their top players can keep it close. The line just seems too high considering how the Bruins are playing.
In this tournament of underdogs, in an Elite Eight with four spreads that all seem high, it just seems like the right move to take all four dogs against the spread.
Pick: UCLA +7.5
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