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Best College Basketball Bets Today | NCAAB Picks March 28

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published March 28, 2024
8 min read
Best College Basketball Bets Today March 28

Our second week of NCAA Tournament basketball has arrived! The field has been narrowed to 16 teams, primarily top seeds, including the UConn Huskies, Purdue Boilermakers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Houston Cougars, and others!

For this slate on Thursday, March 28, 2024, we will focus on No. 5 San Diego State versus No. 1 UConn, No. 4 Alabama versus No. 1 North Carolina, and No. 3 Illinois versus No. 2 Iowa State. Let’s examine these three games and why we believe there could be value in betting on them!

No. 5 San Diego State @ No. 1 UConn

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: UConn -11 (-112)

In the Sweet 16 of this season’s NCAA Tournament, we get a rematch of last season’s national championship. Will the San Diego State Aztecs get revenge on the team that kept them from securing their first national title in program history, or will UConn continue steamrolling teams on its way to back-to-back championships?

This matchup looks a bit different than the 2023 version, as Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo, and Andre Jackson Jr. are replaced with Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle for UConn, while Reese Waters joined the returning Aztecs in place of Matt Bradley and Keshad Johnson.  

Still, both teams have plenty of returners and some likely animosity from San Diego State, last year’s runner-ups. 

UConn has been sensational this season, not skipping a beat despite losing three players to the NBA. Indeed, it helps when Donovan Clingan, Alex Karaban, and Tristen Newton return and Cam Spencer (Rutgers) and Stephon Castle (five-star freshman) join the program; however, the Huskies’ dominance is mesmerizing.

The Huskies have won 23 of their past 24 games by an average margin of nearly 17 points despite playing in the Big East, the nation’s second-hardest conference (per KenPom). Additionally, they have shot 50% from the field, 38% from behind the arc, and 75% from the charity stripe while holding opponents to a 39/29/76 shooting split. UConn also turned the ball over 8.7 times per game in that stretch. 

We don’t know what head coach Dan Hurley said in the locker room after the team lost to Seton Hall on December 20th, but it worked.

Meanwhile, San Diego State had a somewhat underwhelming season, failing to win the Mountain West Conference regular season or the MWC Tournament. Despite not dominating the Mountain West, the Aztecs still enter this game with a 26-10 record and rank 17th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. 

Additionally, San Diego State made its second consecutive Sweet 16 after sneaking by No. 12 UAB and dismantling No. 13 Yale. However, the Aztecs have yet to be truly tested by a top-tier team in the NCAA Tournament, as their first two opponents were double-digit seeds. Can the Aztecs’ tenth-ranked defense (KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) stop the Huskies’ second-ranked offense (adjO)?

Don’t expect the Aztecs to keep this game even remotely close. They simply don’t have the offense (54th in adjO) to keep up, and despite Jaedon LeDee’s impressive isolation skills, UConn has several big forwards who can make life challenging for him. And he can forget trying to score over or around 7-foot-2 future lottery pick Donovan Clingan.

UConn’s defense is anchored around Clingan; it holds opponents to the fourth-lowest two-point percentage in the nation. Unfortunately, for the San Diego State Aztecs, their lack of three-point shooting (31.8%, 284th nationally) will allow the Huskies to pack the paint defensively more than they already do. Recently, UConn has turned the notch up defensively (eighth in adjD), and SDSU is a one-trick pony on that end of the floor. 

Seeing UConn shoot 3-for-22 from three-point land in its last game and still thrash Northwestern by 17 points is all the proof we need that this team is as close to unbeatable as we have seen in recent seasons. If the Huskies do lose, it won’t be to the Aztecs. And we aren’t concerned about their ability to cover in this game, either.

No. 4 Alabama @ No. 1 North Carolina

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: North Carolina -4.5 (-112)

North Carolina has continued to impress, winning 10 of its past 11 games, with the only loss coming to the N.C. State Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament. In that stretch, the Tar Heels shot roughly 46% from the field and 36% from behind the arc and have outscored opponents by more than 13 points per game. The Heels have also held opponents to an impressively low 40% shooting overall!

However, the main difference between North Carolina and its opponents in its last 11 games has been rebounding. They have outrebounded opponents by roughly ten boards per game, which is a sizable differential in any conference.

Meanwhile, Alabama has had to rely heavily on Mark Sears for offensive output so far in the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson Tide star guard scored 26 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out six assists against Grand Canyon in the Round of 32. 

The increase in his usage, which is already high, was due to the absence of guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr., who had to leave the game due to a head injury. Wrightsell’s availability for the Crimson Tide’s third game of the tournament is in question, as he is listed as “day-to-day.”

While Alabama coasted through its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, both bouts were against double-digit seeds. The Crimson Tide have performed poorly this season against top-ranked teams; their 4-10 Quad 1 record entering the tournament is even deceiving! In fact, Alabama has a 0-6 record this season against teams that are now No. 1, 2, or 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Further, Alabama won’t get an advantage in disrupting its opponent’s pace because the Tar Heels (41st in adjusted tempo) love to play fast. North Carolina is also a superior defensive team (sixth in adjD), holding opponents to the 16th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. 

As seen in the Tar Heels’ last game against Michigan State, it has no problem heating up quickly, so keeping up with Alabama won’t be an issue, either. They were down 12 points with just over nine minutes left in the first half in their Round of 32 game against the Spartans but wound up leading by nine points at halftime.

This elite Bama offense will score points, but the Heels’ second-ranked defensive rebounding (DREB%) unit will limit its second-chance opportunities. Expect a close game, but UNC will pull away in the end!

No. 3 Illinois @ No. 2 Iowa State

All odds are available via DraftKings Sportsbook but are subject to change.

PICK: Illinois +1.5 (-112)

Well, this ought to be fun! The Iowa State Cyclones, who have the No. 1 ranked defense (adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom), face off against the Illinois Fighting Illini, who have the No. 1 ranked offense (adjO) for a shot at an Elite Eight appearance. We can finally test the old basketball adage, “Great offense beats great defense,” and see if it holds up!

Let’s start with the Iowa State Cyclones, a team responsible for two of the Houston Cougars’ four losses this season. Iowa State finished the 2023-24 campaign as the fourth-ranked team in the country, narrowly missing out on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Like many other top teams thus far in March Madness, Iowa State has left little doubt about its capabilities, winning both of its first two NCAA Tournament games by double-digits; however, its defense has not been as dominant as usual. As a matter of fact, the Cyclones have allowed opponents to shoot close to 43% from the field in those games.

On the other side, the Fighting Illini have steadily climbed the rankings throughout the year, starting as the 25th-ranked team in the nation and ascending to No. 10 by the end of the season. But locking down a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship and following that up with two convincing NCAA Tournament wins in the Round of 64 and Round of 32 has made Illinois a dark horse Final Four squad.

This season, the Fighting Illini ranked 31st in eFG% and 104th in three-point percentage. So, how are they the top-ranked team in the adjusted offensive efficiency metric? Illinois’s standing in “adjO” is due to several factors, including its pace (71st in adjusted tempo), points per game (sixth in PPG), offensive rebounding (16th in OREB%), and ball protection (72nd in turnovers per game). 

The Fighting Illini’s offensive success can be primarily attributed to the trio of Coleman Hawkins, Marcus Domask, and Terrence Shannon Jr., who has been exceptional recently. Shannon averages 31.6 points per game on a 53/42/88 shooting split in his past five games, all of which have come in the Big Ten Conference and NCAA Tournament. 

Shannon isn’t alone in his recent play, though. Marcus Domask posted a triple-double in the Fighting Illini’s Round of 64 game against Morehead State, and Dain Dainja, a center who has come off the bench for most of the season, dropped 21 points and eight rebounds.

Of all the remaining NCAA Tournament teams, Illinois ranks first in effective field goal percentage in its past three games (62.9%) by a large margin. The Fighting Illini have also pulled down 39% of their misses (ninth in the nation) and have committed the 24th-fewest turnovers and 42nd-fewest fouls per game in that stretch.

Illinois’ only potential downfall is on the defensive end of the floor, where it ranks 91st in adjusted defensive efficiency, but even that metric doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. The Fighting Illini have held opponents to the 46th-lowest effective field goal percentage and foul the 40th-fewest times per game of any team in the nation. The only area that Illinois truly struggles in is forcing turnovers (sixth-fewest). 

With Shannon Jr. playing as well as he is right now, the Illinois Fighting Illini should secure a win. His near-32-point average in the past handful of games is ludicrous. The Cyclones also have had trouble with high-powered offensive attacks this season, dropping games to BYU and Baylor. This will be that kind of a game.

Another concern for the Cyclones is their struggles on the defensive glass; they ranked 223rd in defensive rebounding percentage this season, propped up by a more concerted effort on their home floor. Iowa State had the 23rd-worst DREB% on the road of any team this season. 

While this game is on a neutral floor and not on the road, Iowa State’s rebounding weakness could open the door for the Fighting Illini’s superb offensive rebounding, giving them plenty of second-chance opportunities.

Lastly, Iowa State’s defense will have a challenge honing in on him with Domask’s playmaking and facilitating right now. Illinois has too many offensive weapons, and we aren’t ready to believe in Iowa State’s offense, at least not enough to outscore the Fighting Illini.

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Andrew Norton

148 Articles

Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.

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