March Madness predictions, odds, best bets

It’s been nearly two decades since Kansas and Arkansas met on the hardwood and over 30 years since they last met in an NCAA tournament.

They meet again in Saturday’s second round with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line — and a chance for Kansas to break the curse that has plagued recent defending champions in this tournament.

Here’s how we’re tipping Saturday’s contest, tipped for 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS.

Kansas vs. Arkansas pick

Kansas vs. Arkansas prediction and analysis

Since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006-07, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16 — and only two of the reigning champions have even survived the first weekend.

That’s certainly encouraging news for Arkansas, which is starting to look like the team that has teased the championship up through this tumultuous season.

The Razorbacks opened the year with an 11-1 record before losing star freshman Nick Smith, who missed the team’s first six games and sat out 13 straight from late December to early February.

The Hogs unsurprisingly stepped up in SEC play, and even after his return on Feb. 11, the team lost six of its last nine games before the NCAA tournament.

Then everything finally looked right again.

Smith scored just six points in Thursday’s opening-round win over Illinois, but three of his teammates scored in double figures as Arkansas’ defense suffocated the Illini inside and forced 17 turnovers en route to a 10-point victory.

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Nick Smith Jr.
Nick Smith Jr.
Getty Images

Still, doesn’t it feel like the market is undervaluing Kansas a bit here?

Yes, the Jayhawks were blown out twice by Texas in the past two weeks, but they’ve won 10 straight outside of those two games by an average of 12.7 points — with seven of those wins coming against tournament teams.

Even with these two big losses to the Longhorns, Kansas profiles as the eighth-best team in the country per T-ranking over this 12-game stretch, and boasts the sixth-most efficient defense with solid marks just about everywhere else.

The only clear weakness is on the boards, though Arkansas is a mediocre rebounding team despite having one of the nation’s top rotations.

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If Smith can’t return to form in this game — and his recent track record suggests that’s still some way off — I just don’t see Arkansas having enough of an advantage in this game to undo the Jayhawks, who have just seven losses all year with most come against elite teams in hostile environments.

Follow how this game played out.

Arkansas’ aggressive defense is great at forcing turnovers, but is also incredibly prone to fouls, while the offense is shooting a measly 69.2% from the stripe.

If this turns into a free throw shooting contest, that alone could dash hopes of a Razorbacks upset.

Kansas vs. Arkansas odds (via BetMGM)

  • Kansas -4.5 (-105), money line -185
  • Arkansas +4.5 (-115), money line +150
  • O/U 143.5 (-110)

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