Free NCAA Basketball Picks: Who Will Miss The Big Dance?

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 10:12 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2016 10:12 PM UTC

Selection Sunday arrives this week as the 2016 field of 68 is unveiled. Let's examine which big-name schools are likely to be sitting out the Big Dance on the NCAA Basketball odds.

Two Stand Alone
It's possible the best team won't even win this year's NCAA Tournament. For one thing, it's a very wide-open field with no superpower team like Kentucky from last season when the Cats were unbeaten entering the NCAA Tournament and heavy favorites to cut down the nets on NCAA basketball odds. Of course Wisconsin upset UK in the Final Four and then Duke knocked off the Badgers in the national title game.

Kentucky was No. 1 all last season, but there have been a handful of teams to reach the top spot this season. Michigan State is the current +600 favorite on NCAA basketball picks to win this year's title in Houston. The Spartans are No. 2 in the polls but were No. 1 for a few weeks. Current No. 1 Kansas is next at +700, followed by North Carolina at +1000. Most experts would tell you that UNC, also a former No. 1 in the polls, has the most talented roster.

Yet one team to beat North Carolina this season is Louisville, which finished 23-8 overall and 12-6 in the ACC. The Cardinals also have wins over ranked teams Duke and Pittsburgh and very close losses to Michigan State and Kentucky. It's a Final Four-caliber team, but Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban in the wake of the sex scandal surrounding the basketball program. It's not clear if Coach Rick Pitino will survive this.

Another team with Final Four talent is SMU, which finished 25-5 overall and 13-5 in the American Athletic Conference, good for second. The Mustangs, led by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, were the last team in the nation to lose this season, starting 18-0. But they also can't play postseason basketball because of NCAA violations.

According to the ESPN statistical sister site FiveThirtyEight, Louisville and SMU are the second- and third-best teams to not make the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded in 1984. You will have to check out how the site came up with its numbers but it's hard to argue. The only team better rated to miss was the 1991-92 UNLV team, which finished 26-2. That was the team the year after UNLV was unbeaten entering the Final Four but lost to Duke. The 1991-92 team agreed to not defend its title because of some NCAA allegations.


Best Of The Rest Sweating It Out
You surely knew about Louisville and SMU already. What other quality teams are likely to miss the NCAA Tournament? Gonzaga's 17-year streak of making it is in major jeopardy if the Zags don't beat Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game late Tuesday night. If Gonzaga were to lose that game, it would drop to 0-6 against the Top 50 of the RPI. As of this writing the Bulldogs are just No. 61 in the RPI. But a win Tuesday clinches the automatic berth.

Two Ohio schools, Valparaiso and Ohio State appear on the outside looking in currently. The Crusaders are 26-6 and won the Horizon League with a 16-2 record. But they were upset in the conference tournament semifinals by Green Bay on Monday. Valpo currently has a RPI of 53 but all major projections have them out of the Big Dance because no Power 5 schools generally will play the Crusaders to help with their strength of schedule.

Ohio State is 19-12 overall and was 11-7 in the Big Ten. The school hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament since 2008. But right now, OSU is outside the field despite quality wins over Kentucky and Iowa. Ohio State will have no shot at an at-large bid if it loses its Big Ten Tournament opener against Penn State. Coach Thad Matta's team probably has to get to the tournament final at worst. Ohio State's RPI is 75.

Michigan and Florida are two other power schools that have work to do. The Wolverines have an RPI of 68 and have lost their best player, Caris LeVert, for the rest of the season due to injury. Florida's RPI is 51 but the Gators have just one win over a ranked team this season. UF opens the SEC Tournament against Arkansas on Thursday. The Gators are +1200 on NCAA basketball odds to win that tournament.

It's very rare that an eventual No. 1  overall pick in the NBA Draft never plays in the NCAA Tournament. Only three players since 1970 went first without playing in the Big Dance (those who did play college basketball). LSU's Ben Simmons appear doomed to join that group. His Tigers are just 18-13 and must win the SEC Tournament to get there. They are +1600 to do so.   

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