Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Virginia are the top four seeds for this year's NCAA tournament picks, but nobody expects all four of them to make it to the Final Four. In fact, we can easily imagine scenarios in which none of them get that far.
The NCAA and its television partners-in-crime continuously play up the underdog theme for the tournament; the crazy upsets, the unexpected, the idea that almost any team can make a run. And it does happen; Wichita State made the Final Four last year, VCU made it three seasons ago, Butler went to back-to-back national championship games and George Mason made that memorable run into April back in 2006.
But it's still been college basketball's blue-bloods winning the national titles; since Florida won those consecutive championships in 2006-07 Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, UConn, Kentucky and Louisville have cut down the nets on the final night of the season.
How might this year's Big Dance play out? And where might we find some betting value?
Possible Early Upsets
Of course, the five-vs.-12 seed games have been very fertile ground for upsets over recent seasons, but we see good upset potential in the six-vs.-11 matches in this year's bracket.
Dayton ran a bit hot-n-cold this season, but ended on a 10-2 run. Now the Flyers get a shot at the big bad in-state bully, Ohio State, which only went 10-9 to close the season.
Providence just won the Big East tournament to earn its first invitation to the Dance in a decade. Meanwhile, North Carolina is in thanks largely to a 12-game winning streak into March. But the Heels went 0-5 ATS down the stretch; did they peak too early?
Nebraska is in the tournament for the first time in 15 years. Yeah, the Huskers choked one away in the Big Ten tournament against Ohio State, but they also own victories this season over the Buckeyes, Michigan State and Wisconsin, all part of a 10-3 finish. They now run into a Baylor team that also finished well, winning 10 of its last 12 games, but can also run hit-n-miss, as a 1-7 stretch through January showed.
UMass will take on the winner of Wednesday's Iowa-Tennessee contest. The Minutemen finished 10-6 in the A-10 this season, a conference that sent six teams to the tournament, which is probably one or two too many. Meanwhile the Hawkeyes and Volunteers probably both benefited from playing in “big” conferences. But either should match up well with UMass. We'll take Tennessee to beat Iowa, and won't be surprised when the Vols knock off the Minutemen.
For their opening tournament games the three 11 seeds are lined like this; Dayton is getting 5.5 points from Ohio State (Thursday, 12:15 ET); Nebraska is getting three points from Baylor (Friday, 12:40 pm ET); and Providence is getting four points from Carolina (Friday, 7:20 pm ET). Also, Tennessee is favored by two points over Iowa (Wednesday, 9:10 pm ET).
Our guess is that if we take the four 11 seeds on the moneylines against the six seeds, we'll win at least two of those bets.
The Final Four
In an effort to show at least some courage we're going to disregard all the No. 1 seeds for our Final Four picks.
Michigan State comes in as the four seed in the East, but is playing about like a two. So while Virginia has a very nice team and deserved the top seed, Sparty is getting all the attention. In fact, Bovada is listing Michigan State as the favorite to win the East at odds of 5/2.
A long-shot pick in the East? UConn at +1800 at The Greek.
Syracuse started 25-0 this season, then lost five of its last seven games. But the Orange, the three seed in the South, are always a threat to make a run in this tournament. Heck, they made the Final Four last year. Right now they're getting 5/1 (Bovada) to do it again.
In the West second-seeded Wisconsin is an early popular pick, but we've always been Lon Kruger fans. So we'll go with fifth-seeded Oklahoma at 16/1 (Bovada).
Finally, in the Midwest, defending national champion Louisville is the four seed, which is kind of a crock, considering the Cardinals are the favorites at Bovada to win the region at odds of 5/2.
For other long-shots we like seventh-seeded New Mexico to win the South at +1650 (The Greek); and seventh-seeded Texas to win the Midwest at +3800 (The Greek).
Cuttin' Down the Nets
It's been 13 seasons since the Big Ten won the national championship, but that drought comes to end this year. Michigan State stumbled a bit down the stretch, winning just five of its last 12 games, but then regrouped and won the Big Ten tournament, and looked damn good doing it. So we'll go with Coach Izzo and the Spartans, getting 7/1 at Bovada, to trim the twine down at Jerry's joint in Arlington April 7.