NCAAB Pick: Florida Atlantic vs. Tennessee Under 131.5 (-110) at Caesars
Have you noticed how well the under has been performing lately? The past seven days leading up to press time has seen the under go 55-28 across all postseason games, for an incredible success rate of 66.3%.
Old-school handicappers won’t be too surprised. That win rate isn’t going to last long, but the under still has generic betting value when March Madness rolls around, and it’s the right choice for Thursday’s college basketball picks when the No. 9 FAU Owls play the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet Sixteen.
The over/under for this East Region matchup is sitting at 131.5 points at Caesars Sportsbook; that’s one of the smaller totals FAU has seen this year, but it still leaves enough potential profit margin for a standard single-unit wager on the under.
Thursday, March 23, 2023 – 09:00 PM EDT at Madison Square Garden
Why Bet the Under?
Aside from the usual generic reasons – fading the betting public, the higher defensive intensity in these games, etc. – this particular matchup features a Tennessee team that’s built for our purposes. They already have the under at 20-14-1 this year, including 3-1 during the postseason.
Vols head coach Rick Barnes is known for getting his players to buy in at the defensive end. This year’s squad ranks first overall in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency stats, but only No. 60 on offense.
Having some tall guards like Josiah-Jordan James (6-foot-6) and Jahmai Mashack (6-foot-4) helps. Mashack has seen his minutes go up the past month, partly due to injuries in Tennessee’s backcourt, but also partly due to his effectiveness at the defensive end; the under is 6-3-1 for the Vols since Mashack was inserted into the starting five on February 15.
The Volunteers are also one of the slower teams in Division I at 65.5 possessions per game (No. 278), according to Pomeroy’s Adjusted Tempo numbers. They’re not glacially slow by any stretch of the imagination, but Tennessee’s overall profile is just what the doctor ordered for under bettors.
What About FAU?
The Owls are neither here nor there. This is a much better team on paper than you might expect for a No. 9 seed, with Pomeroy ranking them No. 22 in efficiency, but that’s split almost evenly between the No. 30-ranked offense and No. 36 defense in Division I.
FAU also runs a relatively medium pace of 68.0 possessions per game (No. 143) under head coach Dusty May, the reigning Conference USA Coach of the Year. May is one of those budding geniuses who has spent countless hours studying the game, and he’s working with a team filled with veteran players who understand exactly what is being asked of them.
But can he match wits with Barnes? May wasn’t around the last time these teams met in December 2015, when Barnes was in his first year at Knoxville; Tennessee easily won that game 81-62 (Under 147) as 13.5-point favorites.
Should I Bet the Spread?
As tempting as it may be to throw some money at FAU, especially after they went 19-9-1 ATS during the regular season, the Owls aren’t the right choice for your college basketball picks as 5-point underdogs.
Conference USA was one of this year’s stronger mid-majors, checking in at No. 10 according to the Simple Rating System numbers at Sports Reference. And Florida Atlantic was easily their best team, but they weren’t tested much; S-R gave them a plus-0.7 for Strength Of Schedule (SOS), which ranked ninth out of the 11 C-USA members.
Tennessee, meanwhile, was in the middle of the SEC pack at plus-8.0 SOS. And they didn’t shy away from competition during the non-conference portion of the schedule, which included a 64-50 win over Kansas (-2.5) at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
The Owls faced a much easier non-con schedule than Tennessee, ranking No. 251 in SOS according to Pomeroy’s numbers (the Vols were No. 86). These games are especially good indicators heading into the postseason, now that teams from different conferences are mixing it up.
The Vols still don’t have quite enough betting value at -5 to recommend more than a small wager, though. The under is where the magic is happening, and it’s been very magical indeed for Florida Atlantic at 4-1 in their five postseason games after they took the over to a 16-12-1 record in the regular season. Bet accordingly.
NCAAB Pick: Under 131.5 (-110) at Caesars