Both the SEC and Big East have three schools left in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, but one of those conferences will be down two a pair Thursday night after No. 8 Arkansas faces No. 4 UConn in West Region action. Here is our side pick with NCAAB odds from the best sportsbooks.
Thursday, March 23, 2023 – 07:15 PM EDT at T-Mobile Arena
No question that the West Region is home to the two marquee NCAA Tournament games Thursday as the first matchup features No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn and the nightcap from Las Vegas has No. 3 Gonzaga against No. 2 UCLA with the two winners facing off Saturday for a trip to the Final Four. Three power conference schools and the Zags, who are in their own college hoops orbit. The West is the best region.
It’s the first meeting between the Razorbacks and Huskies since Arkansas defeated Connecticut 102-67 on Nov. 26, 2017, at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.
Sweet 16 Old Hat For Musselman
The SEC got eight schools into this year’s Dance, tied with the Big Ten for the most, but only Arkansas, South No. 1 Alabama, and East No. 4 Tennessee are still standing. This writer thought East No. 6 Kentucky would get to the Sweet 16, too, but it collapsed last in a loss to Kansas State over the weekend.
It’s the third straight trip to the Sweet 16 for the Hogs under Coach Eric Musselman, and they won in this round the past two years as well: Arkansas was a No. 4 in 2022 and beat No. 1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 before losing to No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight; it was a No. 3 in 2021 and beat No. 15 Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16 before losing to No. 1 Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Musselman’s two most talented players, at least as far as the NBA is concerned, are freshman Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black. Neither played very well in the 72-71 upset of defending national champion and No. 1 seed Kansas on Saturday as Smith was scoreless in 16 minutes and Black had just four points in 37 minutes.
Strong Arkansas’ Defense
That won’t fly against bigger UConn. Devon Davis had 25 points, including 21 in the second half, against the Jayhawks. Jordan Walsh added 10 points and three rebounds off the bench and is plus-34 in the first two games so far.
The Razorbacks have been strong defensively in this tournament as both Illinois and Kansas shot a combined 49% inside the three-point arc. Arkansas outrebounded Kansas 36-29 and outscored the Jayhawks in second-chance points 15-2.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and that’s as great of a win as I’ve ever been a part of because of the history of Kansas,” Musselman said. “A lot of people didn’t think we were going to win our first-round game.”
This is just the second time Arkansas has advanced to a Sweet 16 when being seeded lower than fifth. Arkansas also advanced there in 1996 as the No. 12 seed before losing to top-seed UMass. Musselman has led his teams two three straight Sweet 16s and in four of the last five NCAA Tournaments held. He is 8-2 as head coach at Arkansas in the Dance.
The Hogs are one of a handful of teams who are unbeaten ATS in this tournament.
- Razorbacks are 5-11-1 ATS in their last 17 Thursday games.
- Razorbacks are 2-3 ATS in their past five games as underdogs.
Huskies Will Have Size Advantage
The Big East got five schools in the Dance, and its 60% remaining is the largest of any league as has three total left (along with the SEC, which got eight in): I think UConn wins here, and No. 6 Creighton should advance on Friday vs. No. 15 Princeton in the South Region, but No. 3 Xavier probably loses vs. No. 2 Texas in the Midwest.
UConn and Tennessee of the SEC are the only No. 4 seeds overall remaining in the tournament. That a No. 4 seed wins it all is +450 at the top-rated books.
Bettors at BetMGM have been impressed by UConn’s two wins so far as pre-tournament, the Huskies were +1600 to win it but now are down to +900. Alabama, Florida, and Creighton were common opponents for Arkansas and Connecticut during the regular season. The Huskies went 3-1 in games against those teams and the Razorbacks were 1-3.
Connecticut has dominated in the second half of both wins so far, outscoring No. 13 seed Iona by 26 after intermission and then No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s by 14 after the break in Sunday’s 70-55 victory against the WCC co-regular-season champion.
Outstanding Adama Sanogo
No player has been better in the first two games than All-Big East first-team pick Adama Sanogo, who has totaled 52 points on 24-for-33 shooting along with 21 rebounds. He’s the first player since Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin to have more than 50 points, 20 rebounds, and shoot 70% or better through the first weekend of the tournament
When Sanogo needs a break, Coach Dan Hurley has 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan as a shot-blocking menace in the post. This is the first time UConn has made the second weekend since 2014 – the last time it won a national title. KenPom and Torvik both rank UConn as the No. 4 team in the country with Arkansas at 17 and 18, respectively.
“Just taking body blows, it’s what we’ve been able to do through even quality teams through the course of the year. Nonconference, Alabama, Iowa State. In conference, Marquette and Providence. Eventually our depth, elite rebounding, top 20 defense, top 5 offense, with the depth just eventually I think we’re able to break some teams,” Hurley said.
- Huskies are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
- Huskies are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games.
- Huskies are 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 games following a straight-up win.
Don’t like the 3.5-point spread much but do like UConn to win. More than 71% of the moneyline action via OddsTrader is on the Huskies, and that’s the route we are taking for your NCAAB picks.
NCAAB Pick: UConn ML (-170) at Bet365