This might not be the path that many fans saw coming at the outset of March Madness, but we have arrived at the Elite 8. We have seen upsets galore throughout the first week of the tournament, including a 16-seed toppling a one-seed, and on Saturday, two of the tournament’s four regions will be settled once and for all.
In the West, top-seed Kansas was dispatched on day two of the tournament by Arkansas, giving opportunities to some of the other contenders. That meant a pretty open Sweet 16 field, in which UCLA, the two-seed, went down to Gonzaga, while UConn handily defeated Arkansas to take their place in the Elite 8.
Meanwhile, in the East region, chaos has truly taken hold. Purdue, the top overall seed, went down on day one to Fairleigh Dickinson. Marquette, the two-seed, was knocked out in the Round of 32. In the Sweet 16, nine-seed Florida Atlantic put on a lockdown defensive show against Tennessee, while Kansas State outlasted Michigan State in a thriller.
With each region set for a final showdown, it’s time to take a look at the first day of Elite 8 action.
|(3) Kansas St.||-2 (-110)||o144.5 (-110)||(9) Florida Atlantic||March 25, 6:09 PM|
|(3) Gonzaga||+2 (-110)||o153.5 (-110)||(4) Connecticut||March 25, 8:49 PM|
(9) Florida Atlantic vs (3) Kansas State (-2, 144.5 o/u)
Time (ET): 6:09 PM
Odds to win the tournament: Florida Atlantic (+1800), Kansas State (+1100)
Previous tournament games:
Round of 64 – FAU 66, Memphis 65 (Owls covered as 1.5-point underdogs, teams played under 153-point total)
Round of 32 – FAU 78, FDU 70 (Owls didn’t cover as 15.5-point favourites, teams played under 148.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – FAU 62, Tennessee 55 (Owls covered as 5.5-point underdogs, teams played under 131.5-point total)
Round of 64 – KSU 77, Montana St 65 (Wildcats covered as 8.5-point favourites, teams played over 139.5-point total)
Round of 32 – KSU 75, Kentucky 69 (Wildcats covered as 3-point underdogs, teams played over 142.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – KSU 98, MSU 93 (Wildcats covered as 2-point underdogs, teams played over 137.5-point total)
Watching them play, you would never know that the FAU Owls have just one prior appearance in the NCAA Tournament. As the team makes its first Elite 8 appearance ever, it becomes quickly apparent how they got here. Trailing by five at the half, the defence shut down the Vols to take control in the second half.
On the other side of this matchup, it took plenty of time for Kansas State to topple favoured Michigan State. It took a heroic effort from Markquis Nowell, who broke the NCAA tournament record for the most assists in a game with 19, to walk away with the tight last-second victory. He even had his own Willis Reed moment at Madison Square Garden, returning from an ankle injury to continue his record-breaking performance.
The Elite 8 isn’t new territory for the Wildcats. They were last here in 2018 and have thrived this year thanks mostly to a strong defence and an offence that managed to be at its best when it was needed the most. Keyontae Johnson had 22 points in the victory, though that rightfully took a seat behind Nowell and his record-breaking performance.
For the Owls, the upsets continue to roll. Very few had them toppling the bigger, stronger Vols, let alone out-rebounding them 40-36. They are also the first team from C-USA to reach an Elite 8 and are within touching distance of making some serious history. The FAU offence has taken a backseat to the defence, which stepped up to shut down Memphis and Tennessee.
This could turn out to be a tight defensive battle at the end of the day. Yes, the Wildcats managed 98 points against a strong Michigan State team, but the outburst is not how they got here in the first place. They have a top-20 KenPom defence and that will likely show in a tightly contested battle that will determine one of the participants in the Final Four.
Betting stat to know: The under is 5-1 in the Owls’ last six games overall, but the over is 5-0 in Kansas State’s past five NCAA Tournament games.
Best bet: Kansas State has played over the total in all three of its tournament games, while FAU has gone under in all three of its tournament contests to this point. The 144.5-point total may be a lofty one given how the FAU defence has been performing of late. Expect a tightly contested game and take the under.
(4) Connecticut vs (3) Gonzaga (+2, 153.5 o/u)
Time (ET): 8:49 PM
Odds to win the tournament: Connecticut (+500), Gonzaga (+500)
Previous tournament games:
Round of 64 – UConn 87, Iona 63 (Huskies covered as 9.5-point favourites, teams went over 141-point total)
Round of 32 – UConn 70, St. Mary’s 55 (Huskies covered as 4-point favourites, teams pushed 125-point total)
Sweet 16 – UConn 88, Arkansas 65 (Huskies covered as 3.5-point favourites, teams went over 140-point total)
Round of 64 – Gonzaga 82, Grand Canyon 70 (Bulldogs didn’t cover as 15-point favourites, teams played under 156-point total)
Round of 32 – Gonzaga 84, TCU 81 (Bulldogs didn’t cover as 4.5-point favourites, teams went over 152.5-point total)
Sweet 16 – Gonzaga 79, UCLA 76 (Bulldogs covered as 2-point underdogs, teams went over 145.5-point total)
When it comes to favourites left in the tournament, the Huskies could well be a team that everyone should be watching out for. The Huskies dominated the Razorbacks, never trailing and leading by as many as 29 points en route to their third double-digit win of the NCAA Tournament.
Things were a little tougher for Gonzaga, which advanced to the Elite 8 by defeating West Region-favourite UCLA. It took a three-pointer from Julian Strawther with just over seven seconds to go to lift the Zags to the win and an appearance in the Elite 8. The Zags now face perhaps their toughest test in this tournament to date.
UConn has been a team on a tear even prior to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have won nine of 10 and were dominant on both sides of the floor. They shot 57.4% from the field compared to just 31.7% shooting for Arkansas. They also dominated on the glass, out-rebounding Arkansas 43-31.
Gonzaga has shown a lot of resilience to get to this point. The Zags trailed by 13 at the half against UCLA, but benefited from an 11-minute field goal drought from the Bruins. Both teams rallied, but a late three-pointer from the Zags proved to be the difference maker.
It’s hard to not like what the Huskies are doing here. They have been dominant at both ends of the floor, winning each of their games by double-digits. The Zags, usually in the favourite’s seat, have needed to overcome obstacles in order to get to this point. Which trend will continue and send one team on to the Final Four?
Betting stat to know: The Huskies defence has shut down each opponent so far, and their 81.6 points per game through the three contests is perhaps more impressive. They have blown out all three opponents on the way to their 12th Elite 8 appearance while dominating at both ends of the floor. UConn is 8-1 against the spread in its last nine games overall.
Best bet: Though it could be more fun to pick a different stat, the over/under of 153.5 points is most certainly in danger here. The Huskies average nearly 82 points per game in this tournament while the Zags are leading the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 58.5%. If viewers are lucky, this will be an offensive battle that goes down to the final few possessions. Take the over.