How the First Two Rounds of 2019 March Madness Can Help You Bet on Sweet 16

By Noah Davis
Published on March 25, 2019

The first two rounds of the 2019 March Madness tournament are officially in the books, and in just a matter of days, we all can look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen.

I personally can say that my bracket was busted awfully early this year.

Perhaps I got a little too cute going for some outlandish upsets, but hey, I nailed Liberty and Murray State getting wins in my March Madness upset picks, so I can’t be too mad.

Initially, I felt like the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament were a little underwhelming. There weren’t many buzzer-beaters and simply weren’t that many truly great games.

Then Sunday arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some strong performances and several games worth checking out, but prior to Sunday, the 2019 March Madness tournament had been lacking.

That was largely due to a small number of big upsets, but if you wanted true upsets with higher seeds squeaking out wins, you actually got that in spades.

With the Sweet 16 potentially seeing things get even more tense, I thought I’d take a look back at the first four days of the NCAA tourney and highlight the biggest takeaways.

Some of my notes could help you as you bet on March Madness games the rest of the way, but I think it’s all worth checking out.

Duke Isn’t Unbeatable

Before we dive into anything else, this needs to be touched on. The Blue Devils boast the top player in the nation in Zion Williamson, a legendary leader in Coach K, and entered March Madness as the title favorites.

But on Sunday, they could have (and should have) lost. UCF had a game-changer down low in Tacko Fall, who is 7’6” and looked every part of it in this game. He swatted three shots and helped keep a usually abusive Duke offense at bay.

Zion Williamson still dropped in 32 points, but Duke was on the ropes here. The Blue Devils rallied late, but even after grabbing the lead, they needed some luck (twice) to escape with the win.

Take a look at two UCF layups rolling out to preserve the win for the #1 team in the nation.

Yeah, Duke needs to be counting their lucky stars here.

While the Blue Devils were very fortunate and got exposed a bit, this is also how the NCAA tourney goes. We were very close to an epic round two upset, but this narrow win could be the catalyst for a championship run.

Duke lives on and is still going to be the favorite to take down the nets at the end of the 2019 March Madness tournament, but perhaps the oddsmakers will have to fatten up their March Madness odds a bit.

Iowa Almost Completes a Crazy Comeback

Elsewhere on Sunday, Tennessee survived a scare of their own. One of the #2 seeds in this year’s tournament, the Volunteers were breezing past the Iowa Hawkeyes, taking a cushiony 49-28 lead into the break.

I was watching this game live just before I went to see Captain Marvel (awesome movie, by the way), and my friend and I agreed Iowa was toast.

I was enjoying lunch during the second half leading up to the movie, and I kept looking back to see Iowa was inching closer and closer. The Hawkeyes were getting positively smoked, but they lowered their heads and kept fighting.

The last I saw, the Hawkeyes had pulled to within nine. It was movie time, however, so I’m sure you can imagine how floored I was to find out later that game somehow got to overtime.

Tennessee pulled out the win in the end, but this was easily one of the best games of the tourney thus far, and if you just factor in the comeback, it may have taken the cake.

Biggest March Madness Upsets

Iowa and UCF almost broke the internet, but they couldn’t make it happen, and there still weren’t a ton of crazy March Madness upsets.

While true, there were actually quite a few true upsets in the first two rounds as a whole. In all, we saw 12 upsets in round one alone and one more in round two, giving us a very strong 13.

The entire landscape of this tournament could have been altered with UCF or Iowa pulling a rabbit out of their hat, but once the smoke cleared from round two, only a few March Madness upsets really stood out to me.

Here’s a quick look at the biggest March Madness upsets in the first two rounds of the tournament.

(12) Liberty over (5) Mississippi State

I actually nailed this game at our March Madness picks page, so if you’re looking for money plays throughout the remainder of the tourney, feel free to head over there.

Shameless plug aside, Liberty lived up to the billing of a fun underdog play, as Caleb Homesley went nuts (30 points) and the Flames ripped off 12 treys. Their defense wasn’t great in the end, but their ability to stroke the deep ball made them a solid play and gave you a nice upset pick in round one.

(13) UC Irvine over (4) Kansas State

An even bigger upset came on Friday, where the Anteaters edged out Kansas State in a mild defensive battle. Kansas State has been notorious for their gritty defense, but UC Irvine was efficient on the outside, connecting on 39% of their long balls.

I really didn’t peg the Anteaters as a great upset pick for round one, but they had balanced scoring and actually flipped the script by stifling the Wildcats (37% shooting from the floor). Kansas State was the better team going into the tourney but did not get the job done here and handed in another popular bracket buster.

(12) Murray State over (5) Marquette

The other big upset was the Racers taking down the Golden Eagles. This was actually one of my favorite March Madness upsets going into round one, and if you checked out my upset picks post, perhaps this play could have earned you some money.

Marquette was supposed to be the more complete team, but I trusted future NBA star Ja Morant to get the job done for at least one game. He dropped a triple-double on Marquette, effectively doing just that in an easy win.

As impressive as these upsets were, I’ll pay respect to any other March Madness underdog wins that went down. And it’s of course pretty crazy to think about the ones that almost did.

Hey, in spirit, UCF and Iowa carried the torch, while a few other teams came awfully close to busting everyone’s bracket.

I’ll also tip my cap to Oregon. I didn’t list them in my top upsets section just because I personally didn’t view their round one win over Wisconsin as much of a shocker. I wasn’t alone, either, seeing as Vegas only listed them as +115 underdogs going into their first-round showdown.

The Badgers weren’t very imposing on the year, and Oregon was always the more athletic team with tougher bigs down low. The Ducks get credit for winning that game, though, while they also did well to outlast UC Irvine to punch their ticket into the Sweet 16.

There honestly could have been more upsets to get amped up about. Maryland barely edged out Belmont, Auburn narrowly survived a scare against New Mexico State, and Yale gave LSU a run for their money as well.

Round two didn’t deliver many upsets, but we did get some amazing games. Hopefully, with a good amount of strong seeds prevailing, that sets up some epic battles moving forward.

Top NCAA Tourney Performances

It’s always nice to watch upsets during March Madness, and it’s even better when we predict/ bet on them when they pan out.

That’s easier said than done, so when we can’t win with March Madness betting, we need to at least take solace in the tournament itself being entertaining. One way to do that is to lean on the star power it creates and promotes.

Whether you get to enjoy future NBA stars trying to carry their teams as far as they can go or cheer on the top players from underdog teams, individual player performance is always going to be something we monitor.

Here’s a quick rundown of the most compelling March Madness player performances and how they helped their respective teams thus far in the tourney.

Ja Morant Flexes Pro Muscles

Morant was the talk of round one, where he dropped a nasty triple-double en route to an upset win over Marquette.

That had many feeling like the Racers could force their way to the Sweet 16, but they turned out to be the one-man show everyone feared they were. Morant kept it going with 28 points in round two, but his teammates left him hanging in a blowout loss.

Aubrey Dawkins Almost Beats Duke

Perhaps the biggest individual performance so far during March Madness due to the weight of the game, Dawkins was ablaze with five three balls and 32 points.

Dawkins didn’t have the most points by a player in a March Madness contest this year but was on fire in the biggest game of his life. One more huge shot by him, and we just might be talking about one of the greatest March Madness upsets in tourney history.

Zion Carries the Blue Devils

While Dawks (and to a slightly lesser extent, Fall) deserves a nod, Duke still held on to win, and it had everything to do with a Herculean effort by Mount Zion.

The best college basketball player stepped his game up with the Blue Devils at their most vulnerable, rambling off 32 points along with 11 rebounds. Williamson saved his best for last and wound up being a huge reason the #1 team gets to keep proving they’re the team to beat.

Bryce Brown Burns Kansas

I’ll admit I was not a firm believer in Auburn going into the 2019 NCAA tournament. Considering they actually almost lost in round one, I can’t say I’m about to apologize for it, either.

Still, the Tigers have gone 2-0 in the tourney so far and got past Kansas largely thanks to sharpshooter Bryce Brown pouring in seven three-pointers. That racked up 25 points as part of a nasty barrage (13 team long balls) from the outside.

Brandon Clarke Owns Baylor

Initially about to run away with their round two game, the Bulldogs actually had to fend off the Baylor Bears with a wild second half. They did just that, largely thanks to a dominant effort from big man Brandon Clarke.

Rui Hachimura is the guy most people look to, but with him being a non-factor in this game, it was on Clarke to make sure Gonzaga advanced. He responded in a big way, connecting on 15 of 18 shots as he put up 36 points.

Clarke really owned Baylor in every regard. He torched them down low at will, but he also made his presence felt on the other end of the floor, swatting five shots and snatching eight rebounds. If he can deliver anything close to this, the Zags will be a very real threat to get to the national title game.

Carsen Edwards Goes Off

Somehow flying under the radar, Carsen Edwards delivered arguably the best performance of any player through the first two rounds.

How’s 42 points with nine made threes against the defending champs sound? That’s what Edwards did in round two as he took over for Purdue and pushed the Boilermakers into the Sweet 16.

It’s those types of epic individual performances that can lead to players having a real shot at being named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

It might be a bit early to start crowning anyone here (and obviously guys like Morant are out of the running), but that’s one more reason to tune into these games.

What to Expect in Sweet 16

You can go back and marvel at the best individual performances, closest calls, and wildest upsets, but there isn’t going to be a whole lot of time for it.

It’s all noise in the end, anyway. Think about it; once the Sweet 16 starts, is anyone really stuck in the first two rounds? No, and years from now, few will recall these early upsets and solo stat lines.

That isn’t to suggest they’re all meaningless, though. After all, some of the teams and players that have impressed to this point may have a real shot at continuing their hot runs and perhaps even getting to the title game.

That remains to be seen, but it could pay to quickly reflect on what we just saw in the first two rounds and apply it to the early Sweet 16 betting lines.

Here are the Sweet Sixteen odds for every game over at


  • Purdue (+1) -110 vs. Tennessee (-1) -110
  • Oregon (+7.5) -110 vs. Virginia (-7.5) -110
  • Florida State (+7) -115 vs. Gonzaga (-7) -105
  • Texas Tech (+2) -110 vs. Michigan (-2) -110

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the two #1 seed teams falling here. Florida State and Oregon are both solid bets against the spread, but Virginia and Gonzaga are going to be very tough to top.

The Purdue/Tennessee game feels like a total toss-up, and I agree with how Vegas is calling it. I’d maybe consider targeting the 146.5 total (-110 over), but this game just feels tricky.

I also won’t be going against Michigan. Texas Tech is not an easy draw, but the Wolverines have championship experience and appear to be on a mission. They should cover this tiny spread but may be one of the more alluring straight-up bets (-135) in round three.


  • LSU (+5.5) -110 vs. Michigan State (-5.5) -110
  • Virginia Tech (+7.5) -110 vs. Duke (-7.5) -110
  • Houston (+2.5) -110 vs. Kentucky (-2.5) -110
  • Auburn (+5) -110 vs. North Carolina (-5) -110

Friday’s games feel a little less self-explanatory. Kentucky feels like the most obvious play on the board. They fended off a pretty good Wofford team, and they’ll be looking to be a bit better in this one. Taking them to cover here isn’t a tall order, and their moneyline (not out as I write this) should be solid.

Auburn at +5 feels like a trap, while the same can probably be said for LSU at +5.5. I’ll just trust the experience and talent gap when it comes to Michigan State and UNC.

Duke could be the wild card. I still think they win to advance to the Elite 8, but it’s worth wondering if that near-loss to UCF has them on some type of tilt. They did lose to Virginia Tech this year already, and this +7.5 line is pretty fat. The Hokies ATS feels like a decent bet on paper.

Betting on the Sweet 16 is just one aspect to consider when it comes to March Madness betting over the next week. You’ll also want to ponder which teams have a legit chance at running the table and winning this whole thing.

Who Will Win the National Championship?

That brings us to the latest March Madness odds to win the national title. This is pretty key for two reasons: whether or not you now feel Duke can be taken down and which sleeper teams can actually get the job done.

It’s one thing to bet against Duke. They’re one of 16 remaining teams in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, so obviously, it’s not exactly easy for them to go win a title.

Their +225 odds entering the tourney were pretty fun, but even after this recent scare, it’s safe to say the fact that they’re still here makes them look like a pretty good bet.

As I write this, there aren’t any fresh March Madness title odds for some reason. With the next round coming along in just days, however, I expect that to change fairly quickly.

Odds aside, I think most will agree that teams like Purdue, Tennessee, and Auburn all feel very explosive and even a little sneaky. The 1-seed teams are all still alive and well, while the same can be said about all four 2-seed squads.

The point? The best teams in college basketball are still standing, which means this is set up to be quite a finale, and there is going to be an opportunity for some pretty killer upsets.

Some really good teams will fall during the Sweet 16, but the question is where you’ll be able to get some elite betting value. Which contenders can keep it rolling, and which favorites are the most suspect?

I don’t know if the first two rounds handed us any clear answers, but if we want to be prisoners of the moment, it’s possible teams like Tennessee, Kentucky, and maybe even Duke should be on high alert.

Then again, everyone is truly at risk. This is March Madness, and it hasn’t even truly gotten crazy yet. I suspect that will change in the not-too-distant future. Even so, I’m not budging from my pick of the Blue Devils tearing down the nets when this thing is all said and done.

Maybe outside of Oregon, Houston, Virginia Tech, and Florida State, everyone in this thing still feels like a very real threat to get to the final stage. I still don’t think that leads to the most stacked team falling, but feel free to bet the way the numbers (and your gut) lead you.