This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Houston -2½ vs. Villanova
Houston is arguably the hottest team in the tournament. Counting the AAC tournament championship against Memphis, which had an impressive showing in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Gonzaga, Houston has beaten four consecutive NCAA Tournament teams, all by at least 12 points. As a result, Houston has ascended to the No. 2 spot in KenPom's overall adjusted efficiency rankings, impressively ranking top 10 in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Villanova's offense ranks right behind Houston, though its defense is a different story. Villanova's defense ranks 25th, which isn't bad, though it's noticeably weaker on the inside, allowing Big East opponents to make more than 48 percent of two-point field goals, an average rate in conference. The Wildcats' interior defense needs to be better than mediocre against a Houston team that finished with the highest two-point field goal percentage in the AAC during conference play. Houston also has a major advantage on the offensive glass with the third-highest offensive rebound rate in the nation, against a Villanova defense that was slightly below average in rebounding rate. All in all, Houston's frontcourt advantage cannot be overlooked. I'll lay the points and go with Houston, the more balanced team.
Houston vs. Villanova - Under 128
These teams are the perfect combination for an under bet. Both Houston and Villanova finished with the slowest tempo in their conferences this season, which is hardly surprising considering this has been the trend for teams coached by Kelvin Sampson and Jay Wright for the last several seasons. Additionally, Houston also posted the best defensive efficiency in the AAC during conference season, with Villanova ranking second in the Big East in defensive efficiency. Based on these two teams' philosophies and styles, the game script should favor the under. The winning team likely will play lock-down defense, and when on offense, the winning team will control the clock — two factors that should keep the under in play. It's a low number, but let's not forget the defensive effort is usually cranked up to 11 this time of year. I'll take the under.
Arkansas vs. Duke -3½
On paper, Duke has the advantage on both sides of the court. The Blue Devils' defense is ranked higher than the Razorbacks' offense, and the same holds true going the other way. Duke's offense is particularly noteworthy, second in adjusted efficiency, and well-rounded in every category. During conference play, Duke finished top-3 in the ACC in efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding rate, three-point field-goal percentage and two-point field-goal percentage. The Blue Devils can attack any defensive weaknesses, and they do it with ultra-talented players at every position. The same can't be said for Arkansas, which hasn't been very effective from long-range, making less than 31 percent of its three-point attempts this season (316th). Arkansas undoubtedly has an elite defense, but then again, so did Texas Tech before Duke scored 78 points on it. Arkansas likely will put up a fight at first, but at the end of the day, I'm betting that Duke's talent and overall offensive prowess will take it to the Final Four.