Arkansas vs. Gonzaga NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Picks

Stanley Umude #0 of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Joshua Bessex/Getty Images/AFP

The top sportsbooks have released their college basketball odds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 action.

The particular game that I am interested in today is Arkansas vs. Gonzaga. Both teams have had more difficult matchups than it might appear on paper. Overall number 1-seed Gonzaga looks to beat Arkansas in the Sweet 16. Can the Bulldogs cover the spread?

Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Thursday, March 24, 2022 07:09 PM EDT at Chase Center

While Memphis was only a nine seed, recall the team’s high early-season rankings and its disruptive injury and chemistry issues. The Tigers were very talented.

Arkansas, meanwhile, had to deal with a strong 12-seed that upset UConn. In the first round, the Razorbacks successfully handled an experienced and well-coached Vermont squad that posed a tough matchup for them.

For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread for this game.

The Duke Game: Scoring Wings

A great predictor of the future is often the past. There is a lot to glean from Duke’s early-season upset victory over Gonzaga that is relevant for this matchup.

One thing about this Duke victory is that it typifies the relative amount of success that scoring wings or guys who can occupy both the guard and forward positions have enjoyed against the Bulldog defense.

In that game, Wendell Moore Jr. was the Blue Devils’ second-leading scorer with 20 points. Likewise, as part of Alabama’s victory, guard-forward Jaden Shackelford amassed a team-high 28 points.

Arkansas’ top wing player is Stanley Umude who is thankfully coming off a rare inefficient output from deep. I like the fact that he attempted eight three-pointers in the win against New Mexico State for two reasons.

One, he shot 39.6 percent from behind the arc during SEC play and is not likely to repeat an inefficient shooting performance.

Two, it shows his strong level of self-confidence. He will of course carry that confidence into Thursday’s game. Umude’s most recent game ended a streak of consecutive 20-point outings. But Gonzaga’s vulnerability to win will help Umude restart that streak.

The Duke Game: Free Throws 

Another reason why Duke upset Gonzaga is that it accrued 14 more free throw attempts and converted eight more of them. Arkansas can replicate this success because it is one of the best teams in the nation at drawing fouls.

Backup point guard Chris Lykes, for example, ranks 54th nationally at drawing fouls. His ridiculous speed and elusiveness make him hard to block at the basket. But know for your best bets that starter JD Notae doesn’t rank far behind Lykes in this category.

Gonzaga star Chet Holmgren fouled out of his team’s last game and he is at risk of fouling out of this one. On the other side, Arkansas center Jaylin Williams has massively improved his ability to limit fouls.

Williams is his team’s top rim-protector whose skillset near the basket will likely mean that he focuses on guarding Drew Timme since Holmgren more often likes to operate behind the arc.

Williams’ agility allows him to be famous for the number of charges — as opposed to blocking fouls — which he accumulates.  His “charge counter” gets showcased on the Jumbotron in Arkansas home games.

The Duke Game: Turnovers 

Duke also upset Gonzaga by dominating the turnover battle. Arkansas can replicate this success because it ranks 59th nationally at forcing turnovers. The Razorbacks’ defense excels at forcing turnovers largely because of its chemistry.

When defenders force an opposing ball-handler into an uncomfortable position, someone like Notae, who ranks 54th nationally in steal rate, will read the situation and intercept the desperate pass.

On the other side, the Gonzaga defense doesn’t go for turnovers much. It ranks 296th nationally in turnover rate. Arkansas has very experienced true point guards in Notae and Lykes who are great at handling the ball.

Gonzaga’s Defensive “Efficiency”

On KenPom, Gonzaga ranks among the nation’s best in defensive efficiency. But this is a pretty hollow stat considering who its opponents have been. Many of its good non-conference opponents were offensively challenged like Texas Tech.

It also gave up a lot of points against other power conference teams. Alabama, for example, amassed 91 points in its win over Gonzaga, which is seven more than Duke did.

Gonzaga’s defensive rotations can often be slow, which helps explain why Bama, for example, amassed 13 made threes in its win. Umude is Arkansas’ most efficient three-point shooter while Notae ably creates his own shot and overcomes a slow non-conference three-point efficiency.

Razorbacks’ Transition Defense

From playing in the SEC, the Razorbacks’ defense is well-tested against transition offenses. Gonzaga’s inclination to run especially in transition will not surprise an Arkansas team that successfully dealt with Auburn and Alabama’s transition attacks as well as that of Kentucky and Tennessee.

For the above reasons, invest in Arkansas with your NCAAB picks.

Scoring Prediction: Arkansas: 78 – Gonzaga: 77

NCAAB: Razorbacks +9 (-110) with FanDuel