We might get used to this 2021 NCAA tournament format.
While it's unusual to shift everything back a bit, having Sweet 16 games all day on Saturday and Sunday, followed by four Elite Eight games between Monday and Tuesday night is a pretty good deal for sports fans.
Let's break down the Sweet 16 from a gambling perspective with Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab and Scott Pianowski. Here is a look at the West and East regions, which play Sunday (we already gave our thoughts on the South and Midwest earlier in the week):
Gonzaga is down to +150 to win the title. Is there still value in that?
FS: I'd say no. I remember 2015 Kentucky, 1997 Kansas and 1991 UNLV. The best teams sometimes come up just short. It's hard to win six games in the tournament. But at the same time, if you think about betting anyone else you immediately come back to, "But Gonzaga ... "
Gonzaga did look a little mortal in the second half against Oklahoma and got a lucky cover, but it wasn't like there was ever a moment in which it felt like the Sooners could win. The Bulldogs are a great college basketball team and they're four wins away from a serious conversation about their rank among the best ever. If you took Gonzaga +150 I wouldn't say you're crazy, it's just not the type of play I'd do.
SP: I wanted some Gonzaga exposure so I tied them to a couple of hockey plays I liked and now have them around 9-1 for a solid ticket. Of course I could have just bet the hockey sides alone and banked the cash, but I wanted a seat on this bandwagon. Now I can play around with it. (Gonzaga is -450 to win its region at BetMGM, which is ridiculous, and yet, if they offer the con side of that, I won't be taking that, either. Yes, I am afraid of that team.)
Michigan at +900 (per BetMGM) looks pretty darn interesting. The depth players on the roster have stepped up - they're not Isaiah Livers, but that was always a deep roster. What hurts Michigan is the depth of the East — that's probably the deepest of the four regions, based on who survived. I love that they score on every portion of the court, and don't rely on one critical player. They can be carried by several guys, but it doesn't have to be *that* guy.
And yet I still think Florida State plays two guys too many. I am nothing if not a contradiction.
The East region is wide open, odds-wise. Are you betting Michigan?
FS: I'm not. I'm being stubborn but I still think Isaiah Livers' injury comes back to get Michigan. Maybe Chaundee Brown has a crazy tournament breakout and the Wolverines keep rolling, but I'll lose a bet or two finding out. I'm still fine with my pre-tournament Final Four pick of Alabama, though there's not much value left at +200 to win the region. Holding a Florida State +300 ticket might be the way to go. Either way, Michigan at +125 to win the region is a pass for me. Told you, stubborn.
SP: Obviously Brown's performance was shocking, but in my mind Eli Brooks becomes a key meter for the Wolverines. He's looked for his shot more since Livers got hurt, and Brooks was all over the sheet against LSU (21, 4, 7). He certainly doesn't have to be Michigan's best player, but they need him to be confident and assertive. So far, so good.
I'm going to lay the big number with Gonzaga again. The Bulldogs are -13 against Creighton on Sunday. They're the one team in the tournament that can intimidate an opponent simply by walking on the court. Their ball-movement is angelic; they get so many open and easy shots. They can play poorly for a 5-10 minute stretch and still win by 17.
I wish someone from the future told me to hammer all the Pac-12 teams and fade the Big Ten (Michigan is the lone survivor of nine). How do we view UCLA? I had them losing in the First Four, for crying out loud, now they're 3-0 and trying to take down Alabama. Is 6.5 points enough to ride the Bruins?
FS: I always struggle with teams like UCLA. They were in the First Four for a reason. They weren't particularly great late in the regular season either, so it's not an Oregon State type tale where they came in on a hot streak. But they have played really well. It's always hard for me to back a team that looks entirely different once it get to the tournament, though it happens. I'm not sold on UCLA yet, and am worried it'll cost me at least one more time.
By the way, I think I'm with you on laying the number with Gonzaga again. There's something to be said about not stepping in front of a speeding train.
Which bet on Sunday interests you most?
FS: To me it's Florida State. I'll have them with points and on the moneyline. It would be nice to see Leonard Hamilton finally break through; he's had a heck of a run there. But the game that I feel like I should have a strong opinion on but don't is USC-Oregon. I was on Oregon coming into the tournament and caught a nice win on them vs. Iowa. USC looks nothing like a No. 6 seed, I've banked two wins on them already this tournament, and I understand anyone who thinks Evan Mobley should be the first overall NBA draft pick over Cade Cunningham. He fits the modern game perfectly. It's a fun game between two hot teams and I'm not sure which way I'm leaning yet.
SP: The USC-Oregon game is the toughest call on the card. The Trojans laid waste to a Kansas team that was ordinary to begin with, and had a recent COVID-19 pause. I don't know how to consider a win, lopsided as it may be, over Kansas. (Have we ever seen a year where the blue bloods did so little? Kentucky and Duke didn't make the tournament, Michigan State was a First Four loser, North Carolina merely got an 8-seed and was trounced.)
Oregon had a bye in the first round (the no contest against VCU), and then rained 3s against an Iowa team that had no idea how to communicate and guard behind the arc. The halftime pundits were adorable after the first half — Oregon runs up a 56-46 lead and the panel wants to talk about Oregon's effective defensive strategy. THE DUCKS JUST SCORED 56 FLIPPING POINTS IN 20 MINUTES. Maybe Chuck was in a hurry to pick up Spike Lee and film another commercial.
Is there another creative way to make money on Gonzaga? Corey Kispert is +450 to be the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, while Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs are both +600. I know it’s not exactly like the Super Bowl/QB hack that allows you to sneak value on a favorite, but maybe there’s something here.
As far as sides go, I think the other side of the bracket is more appealing for the weekend. Trust me on the Cougars.