This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
With the first round of the Elite Eight on tap, Steve Peralta previews the upcoming action and offers up his best bets for Saturday's betting board.
Florida Atlantic vs Kansas State
Based on overall efficiency numbers, this matchup is as close as it gets. That being said, Kansas State has an edge in a couple of critical areas.
First, while Florida Atlantic has a potent offensive attack, it also lives and dies by the three-point shot. The Owls take them at the 35th-highest frequency in the country, and combined with its 37 percent make percentage, yields the 25th-highest three-pointer point distribution among all D1 teams. This skill set is incredibly effective against average teams, but Saturday's opponent is no average team. Far from it. Kansas State has played outstanding perimeter defense all season long, holding opponents to under 31 percent on shots from behind the arc, while also limiting Big 12 opponents to 29 percent during league competition, the lowest percentage allowed in the conference. Given this elite perimeter defense, it seems far less likely that Florida Atlantic will see its typical success from long-range.
Second, on the other end of the court, Kansas State is effectively the best-scoring team that Florida Atlantic has faced all season. The Wildcats rank 35th in KenPom's offensive efficiency standings, although it's also important to note that they've played the fifth-toughest slate of defensive teams in the country, per KenPom. Kansas State's offensive numbers during the nonconference season were solid, but it really stepped up its game against Big 12 competition. During the conference season, Kansas State posted the third-highest offensive efficiency rating in the Big 12, making them a formidable scoring threat, as they've shown throughout the NCAA tournament thus far. The Wildcats displayed their sky-high offensive ceiling on January 3rd when they traveled to Austin and dropped 116 points on Texas in regulation. And considering how Texas has also been playing, this kind of performance speaks volumes to the Wildcats' scoring capabilities.
One other important note for this game — both teams love pushing the pace. Kansas State recorded the fastest tempo in the Big 12 and ranked 43rd in the country, while Florida Atlantic ranked 92nd in offensive tempo among all D1 teams. Based on the scoring potential of both teams and their preferred style, this game has a good chance of seeing a ton of points scored.
When it comes down to it, Kansas State is the more dynamic team and is more battle-tested. The Wildcats are also well-suited to stop Florida Atlantic's typical three-point barrage, giving the former a clear edge on defense. It's possible that the Owls will still find a way to make their usual number of long-range shots, but even then, I'm betting that Markquis Nowell and company will find a way to get the job done. I'm on Kansas State and the over in this matchup.
College Basketball Best Bet: Kansas State -2 & Over 144.5
Connecticut vs Gonzaga
Connecticut has now ascended to the top of KenPom's overall efficiency standings, something that seemed inevitable based on the way it has played for most of the year. Prior to entering the conference season, the Huskies steamrolled every opponent in sight, collecting double-digit wins over the likes of Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State. UConn endured a rough patch in January, but it has since returned to form, winning 13 of its last 16 games. And arguably more impressively, the Huskies have covered the spread in 10 of its last 12 games. Their record speaks for itself, but it's also important to note that Connecticut is easily the best and most balanced team remaining in the tournament, ranking third in KenPom's offensive efficiency chart and 13th on the defensive end.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, once again enters the game with the highest offensive efficiency rating in the land, but its defense is a much different story. The Bulldogs rank 73rd in defensive efficiency and rank below the D1 average in both two-point and three-point field goal percentage allowed, not particularly stout any way you look at it. Gonzaga has only lost five games this season, but the defense has been its Achilles heel almost every time. In fact, four of Gonzaga's losses came against teams that have a top-50 offensive efficiency rating, and three of the five came against teams that rank in the top 15. If history is any indication, the Bulldogs are going to have an extremely difficult time slowing down the Huskies.
Looking at the bottom line, UConn is simply the better team. The Huskies are elite on both ends of the court, while Gonzaga can only make a similar claim on offense. Given a short line, I'm taking the Huskies in this one.
College Basketball Best Bet: UConn -2.5
Saturday College Basketball Best Bets:
Here's a recap of my best college basketball bets for Saturday:
- Kansas State -2
- FAU vs Kansas State - Over 144.5
- UConn -2.5
For up-to-date information on the latest college basketball odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the College Basketball odds page on RotoWire.
Sports betting is officially live in the state of Massachusetts, just in time for March Madness. To get the most bang for your buck when selecting a sportsbook as a new customer, check out these Massachusetts Sports Betting Promos.