Heading into the second weekend of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, no region has been as unpredictable as the East.
Both the No. 1 seed (Purdue) and No. 2 seed (Marquette) were bounced in the opening weekend. A pair of blue-blood basketball programs in Duke and Kentucky bowed out early, as well.
What’s left is an unlikely quartet of Kansas State, Michigan State, Tennessee and Florida Atlantic. One of these teams will be heading to Houston for the Final Four, but only after picking up two competitive wins in Madison Square Garden this weekend.
The two Sweet 16 matchups will take place on Thursday, starting with a battle between K-State and Michigan State to kick off the second weekend.
The nightcap in the same arena pits Tennessee and Florida Atlantic against each other. The winners of each game will face off in Saturday’s Elite Eight showdown in New York.
(All odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook)
Kansas State Wildcats vs. Michigan State Spartans
Time: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Point spread: Michigan State -1.5
Money line: Michigan State -125, Kansas State +104
Analysis: On the surface, the Spartans appear to have the coaching advantage with Tom Izzo at the helm going against a first-year head coach. But Jerome Tang might be the next great coach in our game, as he has the Wildcats playing in the second weekend after they were picked to finish last in the Big 12.
Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson have typically been the best two players on the court on any given night this season. Nowell, in particular, is coming off a 27-point, nine-assist performance in last week’s win over Kentucky. As a native of Harlem, New York, this will be Nowell’s chance to put on a show on the big stage.
Michigan State ranks sixth in the country in 3-point shooting, but this team doesn’t attempt enough shots from long range. The Spartans sit 301st in attempts from beyond the arc, and they will need shots to fall to defeat a talented team from Manhattan, Kansas.
Pick: Kansas State money line (+104)
Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
Time: approx. 9 p.m. Thursday
Point spread: Tennessee -4.5
Money line: Tennessee -245, FAU +198
Analysis: Get ready for a rock fight. The Volunteers might have lost Zakai Zeigler before the postseason, but they remain a dominant defensive team. Tennessee is first in adjusted defensive efficiency and is coming off a 65-52 win over Duke. Rick Barnes’ squad hasn’t given up more than 55 points yet this tourney.
Dusty May’s Owls, meanwhile, are ranked 35th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have not surrendered more than 70 points in a game since the regular-season finale. Florida Atlantic was a bit fortunate to defeat Memphis in the opening round and took care of business in a 78-70 win over 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in the round of 32.
The Volunteers are the rightful favorite for this game, but they will have a hard time pulling away from the Owls with their lack of playmaking ability on the offensive end.
Pick: Florida Atlantic +4.5
Odds to make the Final Four
Michigan State +270
Kansas State +320
Florida Atlantic +470
Pick to win the East: Tennessee
Betting on Barnes in March isn’t always easy, but the Vols have a good chance of getting to Houston as it stands right now.
Tennessee is nearly a two-possession favorite in the Sweet 16 and will be favored in Saturday’s showdown, as well. Bet on this defense for one more weekend.