This college basketball season has provided ample parity, and one would assume that likely translates to a wild NCAA Tournament. The big dance always generates excitement and longshot paydays but this year might be more wide open than we typically see. That is because the AP top-ranked team has suffered nine losses this year, which ties the all-time record entering the post-season.
In addition to offering betting value, the odds can routinely provide assistance to filling out the bracket. Here is an early look at what stands out:
Breaking down the Midwest Region
The Midwest Region seemingly provides the easiest path for a one-seed but I was hoping to fade Houston Cougars (+600). The Cougars’ defense tapered off a bit, once conference play began. Auburn Tigers seemingly has the size to pose problems but I question whether the Tigers can score enough, assuming they get past Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes definitely have the shooting but likely lack the size.
Texas Longhorns just won the Big 12 Conference Tournament, thanks to a second blowout of Kansas Jayhawks. The Longhorns have had a strange season but I like them to win the region at +450. They rank seventh in ESPN BPI’s defensive metrics and their offense is top-20. That’s a dangerous combination.
If you’re looking for a longshot, No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (26-1 to win region) has my attention. Of all major conference schools, the Nittany Lions make the most three-pointers per game and only Alabama Crimson Tide attempts more. Plus, they’re battle-tested enough in the Big Ten. This is a fun team with a high ceiling.
In the first round, it’s worth noting that No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers is just a four-point favorite over Kent State Golden Flashes and No.5 Miami Hurricanes is only laying 2.5 points to Drake Bulldogs.
Breaking down the West region
The West Region might be the most stacked, depending how you look at it. No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins is scary but they did lose their top defender in Jaylen Clark and big man Adem Bona missed the Pac-12 tournament final. Gonzaga Bulldogs is not as talented as recent rosters but this might be their year, assuming the competition is also weaker.
No. 8 seed Arkansas Razorbacks (20-1 to win region) feels likely a worthy longshot but it is hard to ignore how they blew double-digit leads in each SEC tournament game. Eric Musselman is an elite coach, but this unit may just lack the necessary polish. No. 8 seed TCU Horned Frogs (+900 to win region) also my attention. The Horned Frogs can certainly have scoring lulls but they have been strong with Mike Miles in the lineup and performed well in the stout Big 12.
As for the early action, Northwestern Wildcats has the unusual position of a 7-seed and is a pick’em against Boise State, which has a physical defense. I like under 128.5.
Breaking down the East Region
The East Region has a wonky feel with perennial blue blood Duke now somehow underrated. The Blue Devils (+800 to win region) just won the ACC Tournament, extending their win streak to nine, and have a 17-1 record at full strength. But how much does all that resonate in a down year for the conference?
Top-seed Purdue (10-1 title odds) will likely be a trendy fade but I like the Boilermakers. The backcourt is young and can go cold at any point, but 7-foot-2 Zach Edey is a giant force and impacts every possession. Purdue is one of 10 tourney teams that has a combined ranking of KenPom adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency less than 50. That search parameter has produced each national champion over the past two decades, except for 100-1 longshot UConn in 2014.
Michigan State (-2) over USC has my attention and so does Memphis (-2.5) over Florida Atlantic. I am also eyeing Vermont (+10.5) against Marquette. Shaka Smart has lost five straight tourney games.
Breaking down the South Region
The South Region possesses the top overall seed in Alabama but it’s hard to assess that locker room, given the turmoil away from the court. The Crimson Tide (+700 to win title) may have issues against West Virginia and who knows about San Diego State, considering the Mountain West Conference has lost eight straight NCAA Tournament games.
I am most intrigued by the bottom half of that region. Arizona and Baylor are two schools that can certainly prevail, given the Wildcats’ size and the Bears’ athleticism. But don’t sleep on 6-seed Creighton, which fits that KenPom.com criteria I referenced. The Blue Jays are +750 to survive the region.
In terms of the first round, Arizona (-14) should roll Princeton, given the ‘Cats start two bigs at least 6-foot-11 and the Tigers’ tallest starter is 6-foot-8. Missouri faces Utah State with a total of 155, which is the second-highest of the first round, and I still think it’s a touch too low.