March Madness 2018: Odds and Predictions for Top Round-of-64 Matchups

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2018

Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. brings the ball down the court during the first half in an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 8, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

A good amount of focus on the round of 64 in the 2018 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament is on the upset specials.

But there's more to the first round than potentially surprising victories, as there are plenty of intriguing matchups that appear even on paper.

Most of these games involve teams seeded from sixth to 11th, as most of the lower seeds in those showdowns fall just outside the upset spectrum.

While the upsets may be easy to pick, the top matchups in the round of 64 will be the hardest selections to make as you fill out your bracket, and they could go a long way in determining where you finish in your pool.


Top Matchups in Round of 64

No. 6 Houston (-3.5) vs. No. 11 San Diego State (Thursday, 7:20 p.m. ET)

Due to Michigan's remarkable run over the last month, most fans favor the third-seeded Wolverines to thrive in Wichita, Kansas. 

However, there's more intrigue to Michigan's part of the bracket than you think, as No. 6 Houston and No. 11 San Diego State have the potential to be involved in one of the best games in the round of 64. 

Kelvin Sampson's Cougars have lost only two games since the start of February, one coming to Memphis and the other to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament final.

Despite its good form, Houston comes into the NCAA tournament without a ton of momentum after blowing the final possessions of the AAC title game.

If the Cougars rebound from botching the situations at the end of the loss to Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, they should be in good shape to knock off San Diego State behind Rob Gray, who averages 18.5 points per game.

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 03:  Rob Gray #32 of the Houston Cougars drives to the net against A.J. Davis #3 of the UCF Knights during a NCAA basketball game at the CFE Arena on February 3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Gray forms one of the most underrated guard partnerships in the nation alongside Corey Davis Jr., while Devin Davis is Houston's top threat in the paint.

San Diego State comes into the Big Dance as a dangerous team that could not only take down Houston but could push Michigan, assuming it gets past Montana in the first round, to its limits in the round of 32.

The Mountain West Conference tournament champion surged into the field of 68 with wins over Fresno State, Nevada and New Mexico last week.

The Aztecs are on a nine-game winning streak that includes a pair of victories over Nevada, whom most assumed would win the automatic bid out of the Mountain West.

Senior Malik Pope has been the driving force of the run, as he's scored in double digits in the eight games he's played during that span.

What could separate the Aztecs from the Cougars is their depth, as five players average over double digits in points per game and they have 11 players earning over 10 minutes per contest.

Prediction: San Diego State over Houston


No. 7 Arkansas (Even) vs. No. 10 Butler (Friday, 3:10 p.m. ET)

Arkansas and Butler played in two of the most tumultuous conferences in the regular season, as the SEC and Big East, respectively, produced unexpected results, especially in the middle of the standings.

The No. 7 Razorbacks enter with confidence-building wins over Auburn and Florida in their last six games, but the Hogs also fell to Tennessee and Missouri.

Mike Anderson's group was streaky throughout SEC play (10-8, tied for fourth), as it put together winning runs of four and three, but their momentum seemed to always be stopped by untimely defeats.

What makes the Razorbacks a threat to make a run in the Big Dance is the play of well-rounded duo Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.

Barford averages 18 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, while Macon put up 16.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest.

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 09:  Jaylen Barford #0 of the Arkansas Razorbacks shoots the ball against the Florida Gators during the quarterfinals round of the 2018 SEC Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 9, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by A
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The No. 10 Bulldogs possess their own dynamic duo in Kelan Martin and Kemar Baldwin, who combined for over 35 points per game.

Both teams rank high in some offensive categories, as Butler is tied for 18th in free-throw percentage (77.1) and Arkansas is tied for 14th in three-point shooting percentage (40.1).

Since both teams are strong on offense, it's hard to tell which one comes out on top, but the edge could go slightly in Butler's favor because of Martin and Baldwin's abilities to take over games.

Prediction: Butler over Arkansas


No. 8 Missouri (-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (Friday, 9:50 p.m. ET)

One of the biggest unknowns entering the round of 64 is what impact Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will have on the West Regional. 

The Tigers could be one of the most dangerous teams in the bracket if Porter plays at full strength, which would mean trouble for No. 9 Florida State and No. 1 Xavier in the second round. 

Porter scored 12 points in 23 minutes in his return against Georgia in the SEC quarterfinals, but the Tigers dropped a two-point result to the Bulldogs.

With one game under his belt, it's hard to tell what impact the freshman phenom will have on the NCAA tournament, which is why the line is so tight for the clash against the Seminoles.

However, Porter might not be the most important member of his family on the court Friday, as Jontay Porter provided the Tigers with 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 32 games.

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 08:  Jontay Porter #11 of the Missouri Tigers dribbles the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second round of the 2018 SEC Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 8, 2018 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Andy Lyo
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Porter brothers should face one of their toughest tests of the season on the boards against Florida State, which has five players averaging 4.5 rebounds or more per game.

Terance Mann and Phil Cofer are the leading scorers on the Seminoles, but they have received contributions from plenty of others throughout the season, which makes them so much of a threat to Missouri's tournament hopes.

Regardless of who is on the court for the Seminoles, Friday's nightcap in Nashville, Tennessee, could come down to the most talented player on the hardwood, and if Michael Porter thrives, Cuonzo Martin's Tigers should advance.

Prediction: Missouri over Florida State


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Odds obtained from OddsShark.