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Best College Basketball Bets Today | NCAAB Picks March 31

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published March 31, 2024
8 min read
Auburn Tigers vs. Tennessee Volunteers Prediction

Sunday’s slate consists of the final two Elite Eight games: the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers vs. the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers and the No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack vs. the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils. Only one game stands between those four teams and the Final Four!

Below, we break down Tennessee vs. Purdue and N.C. State vs. Duke, including analysis of each team’s NCAA Tournament run to this point, their respective betting lines, and our prediction and picks for these two massive matchups!

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No. 2 Tennessee @ No. 1 Purdue

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

PICK: Tennessee +3 (-110)

No matter what happens for the rest of the Purdue Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament run, they have proven that they have grown exponentially since last season’s first-round loss to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. Purdue has dismantled all three of its opponents, winning by double-digits against No. 16 Grambling State, No. 8 Utah State, and No. 5 Gonzaga. 

The Bulldogs, in particular, were red-hot entering the NCAA Tournament, having won 16 of their past 18 games and averaging a team shooting split of roughly 55/43/79 in their past 12 games.

The Boilers put a beatdown on Gonzaga, continuing their hot shooting streak; they finished the game with a field goal percentage of 57.1% and a three-point percentage of 45% against the ‘Zags. Purdue also committed just eight turnovers and 11 fouls, limiting mistakes on both ends of the floor. 

So far, in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, Purdue has shot roughly 54% from the field and 43% from behind the arc while holding opponents to a combined shooting split of 40/31/70. The Boilers have gotten excellent play from 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, the reigning player of the year in college basketball. Edey has averaged a ridiculous 27 points and 16 rebounds through Purdue’s first three tournament games, hitting a mindboggling 67.4% of his field goal attempts.

Purdue also got an awe-inspiring Sweet 16 performance from Braden Smith, who finished with a Rajon Rondo-esque stat line of 14 points, 15 assists, and eight rebounds against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a formidable opponent. 

Smith and Lance Jones have stepped up as the primary backcourt pieces for this Boilermakers team, which becomes nearly unguardable when they hit three-pointers. Luckily for them, that has been the case for most of the season, as they are first in the nation in three-point percentage.

On the other side, the Tennessee Volunteers are looking for their first Final Four appearance in the school’s history, which is a surprise considering they have had a solid program. Most recently, Tennessee defeated the Creighton Bluejays courtesy of a massive 18-0 run to extend its lead in the second half. Creighton fought back to make it a four-point game, but the Vols put it away in the final minutes.

Tennessee won despite missing its sixth-leading scorer, Santiago Vescovi, who had the flu. The Vols also got out of the Round of 32 despite making just one of their first 21 three-pointers, relying on their stout, third-ranked defense (adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom) and ball protection to help them scoot by Texas.

These two teams faced off earlier in the 2023-24 regular season, with the Purdue Boilermakers securing a four-point win over Tennessee in the Maui Invitational. It took a 27-point explosion from Fletcher Loyer, a guard who averages 10.5 points per game, for the Boilers to win over the Vols. 

Edey had his usual 23-point and 10-rebound outing, but the Vols did something impressive: they held Braden Smith and Lance Jones, Purdue’s star backcourt duo, to a combined ten points, eight rebounds, and three assists.

Tennessee’s starting point guard, Zakai Zeigler, was recently announced as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, which is well-deserved given the chaos he creates on the perimeter. This will be a tough matchup for Smith, who has struggled with quick, pesky, physical guards at times in the past. 

Additionally, the Volunteers committed 30 fouls in their first matchup against Purdue and still kept the game close. Fouls have not been called nearly as frequently in this season’s NCAA Tournament, giving the more physical Vols an intangible advantage. Edey will dominate, as usual, but don’t expect Purdue’s guards to get many good looks against this Tennessee team.

No. 11 N.C. State @ No. 4 Duke

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

PICK: N.C. State +7 (-110)

Strong guard play matters a lot in the NCAA Tournament, and the Duke Blue Devils have gotten a boatload of that through their first three games of March Madness. Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, and Jared McCain have been fantastic for the Blue Devils, shooting the ball at a high percentage and protecting the ball on offense.

McCain had a 30-point explosion in the Round of 32 against the James Madison Dukes, while Roach had 14 points in the Blue Devils’ low-scoring Sweet 16 matchup against top-ranked Houston. Proctor has also had two double-digit scoring efforts so far in the tournament!

The Blue Devils narrowly escaped a back-and-forth game against Houston; they capitalized on the unfortunate injury to Jamal Shead to advance to another Elite Eight. However, Duke has not necessarily proven unbeatable, as it has beaten two double-digit seeds and a No. 1 seed without its best player for most of the game.

Now, another double-digit seed stands in Duke’s way. Just a few weeks ago, it was inconceivable that the N.C. State Wolfpack would be dancing in this season’s NCAA Tournament, yet the impossible happened. N.C. State won five games in five days to run the table in the ACC Tournament, punching its ticket to the dance via an automatic bid! 

While that feat alone was miraculous, many questioned whether the Wolfpack could keep up this level of play into the NCAA Tournament. However, they have not skipped a beat, logging three wins against quality teams, including No. 6 Texas Tech, No. 14 Oakland, and No. 2 Marquette. 

The Wolfpack have gotten scalding hot at the optimal time and now have a battle with the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils, one of the teams they beat on their way to an ACC Tournament championship! Can they win their ninth consecutive game and make one of the most unlikely Final Four runs in the history of the tournament?

While we aren’t confident about the Wolfpack’s chances of winning against Duke outright in this one, they should play the Blue Devils close until the end. N.C. State has been tremendous at defending the perimeter during its eight-game winning streak, holding opponents to 28.8% shooting from three. This will come in handy against a Duke team that ranks 13th in three-point percentage this season.

Duke also won’t have an answer for D.J. Burns Jr., a versatile center who can pass out of the post and use his strength and physicality to muscle shots up over and around defenders. Kyle Filipowski is a versatile 7-footer, but he does not have the strength to defend Burns in the post. Frontcourt bench player Ryan Young will also give up a ton of weight and strength to Burns, meaning there isn’t any Duke player who can adequately defend him.

N.C. State has outrebounded its three NCAA Tournament opponents by roughly seven rebounds per game, meaning it won’t be bullied on the glass by Duke. The Wolfpack have also shot 37.1% from three in that stretch, which is not too far under the Blue Devils’ season average of 38%. Expect this game to be close.

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AUTHOR

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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