2023 NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: Tips & Predictions From Our Experts
We have arrived! The field of 68 is set and centerstage is ready for the competition and drama that awaits us.
This year’s tournament bracket is full of fantastic first-round matchups, plenty of controversy and high expectations.
Our experts are here to provide a ton of picks and perspectives before you wager at your favorite sportsbook or fill out your office pool sheet.
Let’s check out what our guys Alex, Erik, Jon and Micah have to say about the big dance.
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2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Touranment: Free Experts Picks And Predictions
What surprised you the most with the tournament seeding?
Feartheturtle: I’m pretty surprised that NC State got in over Rutgers and Oklahoma State and also avoided the play-in game. It was not an egregious omission, as the bubble was quite weak, but interesting to see that Oklahoma State is 20 spots higher than NC State on KenPom.
In terms of specific spots, I am surprised that Kansas gets stuck with a probable tough second-round matchup against Arkansas (very dangerous nine-seed). Duke gets a friendly, longer-path draw (OBVIOUSLY), where if they survive a feisty Oral Roberts squad (all hail Max Abmas), they get a Tennessee team down one of their most important players (Zeigler). And then potentially Purdue (the worst one seed by far, IMO) in the Sweet 16.
Ebeimfohr: Not a ton of surprises, since everything in conference tourney week played out relatively according to plan. But a quasi-surprise is how different the committee ranks teams compared to the analytics sites like KenPom and BartTorvik. The committee puts a team like Kansas State on the 3-line, but St. Mary’s, a 5, and Memphis an 8. Meanwhile, Kansas State. is 24th overall on KP/BT, while St. Mary’s is 15 spots ahead of them in KP and Memphis is 16th overall in BT. This is important, because the betting markets largely align with the analytics and NOT the committee’s evaluations.
Varncass: The only thing that surprised me was Texas A&M being a 7-seed, considering how well they played down the stretch. However, it made sense when you look at the resume and see they had two awful losses and didn’t do much in the non-conference.
darddog: I was kind of surprised that Nevada got in ahead of bubble teams like Oklahoma State, Rutgers and Clemson. What I do like is that the tournament committee is starting to value teams by their resume and not what conference they’re in. In years past, it felt like mid-majors almost had to win their conference tournaments even to get acknowledged. Nevada getting in is a good sign going forward. With the seeding of the ACC, overall, I think it shows how bad that conference was with the highest seed only getting a No. 4.
What is your favorite opening-round pick against the spread?
Feartheturtle: Arkansas -1.5 – Arkansas is 9-12 in its last 21 games, but they have played an insane schedule and only one of those losses was to a team outside the top 51 in KenPom. Also, Nick Smith is back for the Razorbacks, so this is really a different team than they have shown most of the season. Illinois is a team I was very high on early in the year, but have been souring on them over time, as they have no clear identity and really lack consistency.
The Mitchell twins are going to make things difficult for Dain Dainja to do much down low and Devo Davis should cause some issues for Illinois ballhandlers. This could be a pretty sloppy game, but I see Nick Smith going for 20+ in a Razorbacks’ winning effort.
Ebeimfohr: Drake +2.5 – I’m sort of cheating here, because this is a bit injury-dependent. While everyone is talking about Marcus Sasser, Zakai Ziegler, Jaylen Clark and other injuries, Norchid Omier’s ankle sprain for Miami over the weekend is right there in terms of importance.
You could argue Omier is the most important player on the team, as he’s their only interior presence in their 4-out perimeter attack. He has one of the best rebounding rates in the country (41%), an elite 5% block rate and the 150th-best offensive rating in the nation. Drake would be the favorite if he were to miss the game, and his status is very much in doubt.
Varncass: Oral Roberts +7.5 – I instantly thought that opened too high, and a quick check of KenPom has it at 3 there, and 5 at BartTorvik. ORU is experienced, has a stud go-to player in Abmas, and Duke has looked better but still played in an extremely weak ACC.
darddog: Iona +9.5 – I haven’t been sold on UCONN all year and will take Rick Pitino’s experience in the NCAA Tournament over him all day. Fouls are one theme in the big dance. Referees advance in the tournament just like teams do and more “by-the-book” calls are made, because they don’t want to get dinged. UCONN fouls at a ridiculous rate and I think Iona can take advantage. Iona also has two guards that can absolutely light it up in Daniss Jenkins and Walter Clayton. I’m not a Danny Hurley fan, at all, so it would be very satisfying to see a technical foul by him to give Iona the late cover.
What is your favorite opening-round game total pick?
Feartheturtle: Creighton/NC State Over 137.5 – I see this game playing at a pretty steady up-and-down tempo, and both teams are littered with shot makers (Terq & Joiner vs. Nembhard & Alexander) and high-efficiency players (Morsell and Clark vs. Kalkbrenner).
I don’t see NC State having any chance of slowing down the Creighton offense. We have seen time and time again that NC State gets into these wild back-and-forth games where the score totals creep into the 80s and even 90s. Expecting fireworks here.
Ebeimfohr: Charleston/SDSU Under 143.5 – While Charleston is a fun, fast-paced mid-major, no one rolls into a game with SDSU and dictates the pace. We’ve especially seen that in matchups with New Mexico in the Mountain West, who had the 20th-best offense and a top-20 pace, who could barely crack 70 points against the Aztecs. I respect Charleston, big time, and they have some shotmakers, but in a must-win tournament game, I don’t see SDSU getting into a shootout.
Varncass: Mississippi State/Pittsburgh u131.5 – In games that Mississippi State wins, they absolutely control the tempo and the game on the defensive end. I think Pittsburgh is in for a rude awakening against one of the best defenses in the country in the Bulldogs, who can really bog down a game with a slow pace and stingy D. Miss. State is also DEAD LAST in the nation in 3-point percentage, while Pittsburgh’s defense is built to make you shoot threes. In an NCAA tournament gym, considering the nerves, I bet we see a ton of bricks.
Darddog: Utah State/Missouri over 154.5 – Offense will be on display in Sacramento on Thursday morning, as both of these teams rank in the top 15 of KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings. They also are in the top 100 in terms of pace. Utah State has a decent defense, but Missouri’s potent offense with Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge is tough to stop.
Favorite statistic to weigh for tournament matchups/predictions?
Feartheturtle: For handicapping matchups, I rely on attempting to understand how teams play and comparing their team-level component metrics (3PA/FGA, point distributions, FTA/FGA, OR%, TO%) to assemble an expectation of how each team will approach the game.
Additionally, I like to look at Shot Quality metrics, especially Rim & 3-Rates, which help identify the players and teams that are taking the most valuable shots. Shot Quality metrics help understand a bit how teams are playing when accounting for playing above or below expected shotmaking baselines.
Ebeimfohr: Probably rebounding. We know in any college basketball game that shot-making has a ton of variance, no matter the schematic matchup or talent of the players. But rebounding is much more predictable and consistent. The easiest way to overcome the dreaded poor shooting night in March is by generating extra opportunities on the offensive boards (or limiting your opponents to just one look).
Varncass: I like to take a team’s defensive tendencies into account and then see if the opponent can exploit that, or if they are going to have immense trouble exploiting that. For example, If Team A sags and allows a good number of threes for the tradeoff of denying dribble drives, I am likely to take Team B, if they are a good three-point shooting team, and the opposite if they are a poor three-point shooting team.
darddog: My process really doesn’t change from the regular season. I look at what teams/players are good at, and if the opposing team limits that or can exploit it. It sounds simple, but NCAAB matchups from game-to-game change so much that a player/team might have a great matchup one night and a horrible one the next. I know I’ve already mentioned it a few times, but foul tendencies also weigh in, especially when looking at game totals. In terms of a single statistic, effective FG% on KenPom is a big one for me.
Which longshot has the best odds to win the title now?
Feartheturtle: UCONN, 24-1 – Per Barttorvik tournament win metrics, UCONN has a 5.1% chance to win the title, which means you want 20-1 or better to feel good about EV of your future bet. FanDuel currently has UCONN at 24-1, so to me, that range is the longest I would be looking at for actually winning the title.
Ebeimfohr: Memphis, 125-1 – Hopefully, you got in on the Tigers at +20000, but these odds are still way too long. They are healthy, with the return of Alex Lomax and Malcolm Dandridge – two sneaky critical role players for their defense and versatility. They’re one of the most experienced teams in the entire tournament, and they have two superstars in Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams.
Memphis has been tested with super close losses to number one overall seed Alabama, as well as Houston. They own wins over VCU and Auburn, and they just knocked off Houston in the AAC final, albeit without Marcus Sasser. They’re shortchanged as an 8, but they draw the most vulnerable 1-seed in Purdue in the second round (who I’ll be picking them to beat) in easily the weakest region.
Varncass: West Virginia, 125-1 – Feels like almost every team is a “longshot” the way the entire bracket is balanced, but if you’re looking for a deep team out of left field, I think WVU +12500 is a decent bet.
I would imagine WVU wins this tournament more than one out of 125 times, considering they have incredible metrics – they are 17th in KP and 19th in BartTorvik with a balanced offense where anyone on the floor can score. They force turnovers and are battle-tested, playing in the best conference in the nation. It’s a massive longshot, but the odds are too much, considering teams in similar spots like Memphis and Texas A&M have much shorter odds.
darddog: Creighton, 40-1 – Remember in the offseason when the Jays were the darling of the NCAAB world when they landed Baylor Scheierman in the transfer portal and basically returned their whole team?
This team kind of got forgotten about after Ryan Kalkbrenner got hurt and they had a rough December/January. They are a solid defensive team and their guards have gotten better as the year went on. I think they have a good chance to advance out of the bottom of the South and give Alabama a run. I also think Kansas State with Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson should be shorter odds than 50-1.
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Which 12-seed, or higher, has the best chance for an opening-round upset?
Feartheturtle: Charleston – I like Charleston to beat San Diego State, straight up, in what is a battle of very contrasting styles. Charleston plays uptempo and shoots a lot of threes, while San Diego State plays extremely slow and tries to just grind out ugly wins. This is a matchup where I am not sure the Aztecs can match their firepower offensively if the threes are falling for Charleston.
Ebeimfohr: Furman – I went with Drake above, so we’ll pivot to Furman here. This Virginia team is just about as “blah” as it gets, and we know their style can be super vulnerable in March.
They have no real go-to scorers, and despite his defensive limitations, they do miss Ben Vander Plas’ ability to stretch the floor as a big. This is a team who lost to Boston College (and nearly lost to Louisville) within the last month, and they draw a talented and veteran Furman team.
The Cavs will, of course, slow it down and play great defense, but that leaves them super susceptible to the variance of shot-making, and Furman has a sneakily elite offense that shoots a ton of jumpers with high-level shot-making and tons of experience.
Varncass: Drake – It has to be Drake for me. Tucker DeVries is an absolute stud for the Bulldogs, while they draw a Miami team that has been lackluster defensively for most of the year. Miami has never wowed in the advanced metrics, and now has a question about Norchad’s ankle, as he got injured one minute into the Duke game. Drake can score from anywhere, and this line is going to stay around the +2 to +3 mark.
darddog: Kent State – I watched most of the MAC Championship game and was impressed with the Golden Flashes’ backcourt of Sincere Carry and Malique Jacobs. Guards win you tournament games and I think they definitely have an advantage in that department against Indiana. Trayce Jackson-Davis will obviously be a problem, and Indiana has a pretty distinct height advantage, but I don’t think the Hoosiers will have any answer for Jacobs and Carry. The Golden Flashes played Houston, Gonzaga and Charleston on the road and lost by a combined 14 points. They definitely won’t be intimidated.
Which #1 seed has the toughest draw and why?
Feartheturtle: Kansas – It’s clearly Kansas to me. They likely get a very dangerous Arkansas game in Round 2 and potentially the best 4-seed in UCONN in the Sweet 16. Additionally, the West also has the strongest 2 & 3 seed combos in UCLA and Gonzaga. The selection committee did the Jayhawks no favors with their path to the Final 4.
Ebeimfohr: Kansas – While I think Purdue’s second-round matchup is probably the toughest, I think Kansas drew the worst overall region. Even if they can sneak by Arkansas (or I guess Illinois) in the second round, the combination of UCLA, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, UConn and TCU is an absolute murderer’s row of under-seeded powerhouses. Even the 12 and 13 seeds are teams that are incredibly dangerous in a March setting, in Iona and VCU. Tough break for Kansas.
Varncass: Purdue – They get one of two very strong teams peaking at the right moment in Round 2 (Memphis or FAU), both are underseeded relative to their metrics. Then, they likely get either a Duke team who has found its stride, or Tennessee, which the metrics also love. The bottom half of the bracket is much easier, but Marquette is still a strong 2 seed and Kentucky has a massive upside as well.
darddog: Houston – I think Houston kind of got screwed for one main reason: If Auburn wins their first-round matchup, and Houston takes care of business against Northern Kentucky, they will have to play a de-facto road game against the Tigers in Birmingham. The health of Norchad Omier is still a question mark, but facing Indiana/Miami will not be a walk in the park. I also think Xavier is a dangerous team that nobody wants to face this time of the year.
Who’s your favorite “contrarian” team to send to the Final 4 (or championship) in a large-field bracket contest?
Feartheturtle: Gonzaga – I hate to say it, but I think Duke has a very favorable path to the Final 4 and they are definitely a team playing their best basketball of the season.
Let’s not forget, this team is loaded with five-star recruits and they have fought a bunch of injuries. Now, they’re healthy and have more defined roles on the team – they have a really high ceiling for a five-seed. I will probably be on Oral Roberts with the points in game one, but I think Duke is the only 5-seed or higher that actually has tournament win equity.
My actual pick for this is Gonzaga, because they are a 3 in a loaded bracket (finally seem “under the radar” to the national media and public perception). This is one of the few teams who actually BEAT Alabama, who is the surefire chalk to cut down the nets. The Zags, I think, will be a bit sneaky in larger field bracket contests.
Ebeimfohr: Memphis – Clearly, this is my “sleeper,” but I don’t know what else you can ask for in a potential Cinderella squad. I truly believe this team is flat-out better than Purdue, particularly in a tournament setting.
The East region top seeds consist of a Tennessee team without Zakai Ziegler, a Duke team that was just the best of a really bad ACC, and the worst 2 and 3 seeds in the tournament (Kansas St. and Marquette). Analytically, Memphis is actually right there with Marquette, and better than Kansas St. and Duke. And you could argue they’re better than Tennessee – once we remove Ziegler.
Varncass: Indiana – I think they have a very tough first-round opponent in Kent State, so people are going to look past them, considering they haven’t been the strongest team this year. But they have a guy in TJD, who can get you a bucket whenever you need it and a stud freshman point guard in Hood-Schifino, who has blossomed as the year went on.
No one is going to take them, but look at the road – potentially a weak Miami team in the second round, a Houston team that’s good, but undertested, and then it’s only Texas that really strikes any sort of fear in the bottom half.
darddog: Kansas St. – Or basically anyone not named Purdue in the East region. I think with Zach Edey, they will become talked up more and more as the week goes on and will be a highly popular pick. I am very high on Marquette, and it will be a great matchup in the Sweet 16 between Tyler Kolek and Markquis Nowell if it happens. Anyone coming out of the bottom half of the East bracket has a good chance to make it to Houston.
Final 4 Prediction?
Championship game and winner prediction?
Feartheturtle: Alabama/Gonzaga – Alabama
Ebeimfohr: Alabama/Gonzaga – Alabama
Varncass: Alabama/Texas – Alabama
darddog: Alabama/Houston- Houston
As a fan, what game or storyline are you excited to watch unfold the most?
Feartheturtle: It’s not really one storyline or game that has my excitement, but I think this year’s tournament is set up for mass chaos. I am not sure where that chaos is coming from, but I know it is brewing. There are not many elite teams this year and the separation between the mid-majors and high-majors has never been smaller.
I know it’s cliche with the 5/12 upsets, but I am excited to see these 12 seeds play, as I think all of them have a reasonable path to making the Sweet 16, and I think we see at least two of the 12s win their opening-round games.
Beyond that, I am looking forward to some potential specific matchups later in the tournament, such as Gonzaga against UCLA in the Sweet 16 in the West, and Creighton vs. Arizona in the Sweet 16 in the South.
In terms of a specific team storyline that is most important to the tournament, it’s the health of Houston’s Marcus Sasser. We saw that the Cougars did not look like the same team against Memphis in the AAC finals without him, and if Sasser is not 100% (he claims he will be), I really start to doubt their ability to make a Final 4 run.
Ebeimfohr: I am sure we say things like this every year, but this one feels extremely wide open to me, and I think it’s largely due to injuries. I think Alabama and Houston are very clearly the top two teams in the country, but outside of them, so many top teams suffered devastating injuries (and even Houston did with Marcus Sasser), that it makes a higher number of top seeds vulnerable than I can ever remember.
UCLA lost Jaylen Clark and maybe Adem Bona. Kevin McCullar is having back issues for Kansas. Zakai Ziegler out for Tennessee. Orchid Omier questionable. Timmy Allen banged up. Zach Freemantle, a plethora of Kentucky injuries, Eddie Lampkin gone for TCU.
The list is never-ending. The idea the tournament is “wide open” is often a bit overstated. But I think this year, the injuries combined with conferences like the ACC being very poor, really have made things even more compelling.
Varncass: I think Alabama is the team with the highest upside on the board here, and Nate Oats is one of the best matchup exploiters in the tournament. He knows how to stop you from doing what you do best, and also attack what you do worst. I’m extremely interested to see how they deal with the media attention around a deep run, considering what happened earlier in the year. I’m also interested to see if Jahvon Quinerly can rein in his “Leeroy Jenkins” moments enough to keep Alabama advancing throughout the tournament.
I do buy into the fact the parity is higher than in previous years, and we do not have a singular favorite anyone would feel good about taking. I’m rooting for chaos and hope we see some wild results.
darddog: Texas A&M and Texas hopefully playing in the round of 32. Living in Houston, and being an LSU Alum, I am sick of hearing both fan bases whine about not playing each other, so I’m glad the tournament kind of forced their hand.
I also think that Iona has a very favorable route to make it to the Sweet 16 of all the double-digit seeds. Will be interesting to see Rick Pitino make one last run at Iona before he likely jumps ship to St. John’s.