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NCAA Tournament betting preview

NCAA Tournament betting preview

NCAA Tournament betting preview: West Region
Steve Merril Sports

Below is a look at all eight games in the first round of the West Regional which will conclude in Phoenix next week. The opening round games below will take place in Anaheim, Tampa, and Washington, D.C. Click here to check out all of Steve Merril’s articles and plays.

UCLA (1) vs. Mississippi Valley State (16)

Ben Howland has taken the Bruins to back-to-back Final Fours and he’ll be looking for the hat trick this year. UCLA has been ultra consistent, especially on the defensive end as they allow just 59 points per game. Keep an eye on the injury status of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who missed their last game with a sprained left ankle. Mississippi Valley State won the SWAC tournament to earn the automatic bid, but don’t expect much from the Delta Devils. They played four lined games this year going 1-3 against the spread including a 71-26 (+ 32) thumping at another Pac-10 team, Washington State.

BYU (8) vs. Texas A&M (9)

BYU plays tenacious defense holding opponents to 38.6 percent from the floor (ninth in the country) and 29.5 percent from 3-point land (fifth in the country). The Cougars played well in out-of-conference games as they beat Louisville, and hung tough against North Carolina (10-point loss) and Michigan St (7-point loss). BYU only hits 65.8 percent of their free throws and that could cost them in a close game. Texas A&M is a mirror image of BYU. The Aggies are great defensively allowing 39.3 percent from the floor (16th in the country), and like BYU, cannot hit free throws (63.7 percent). A&M did get to the Sweet 16 last year, so they have the experience edge in this spot.

Drake (5) vs. Western Kentucky (12)

The Bulldogs were one of the most profitable teams in the country this year going 20-7-1 against the spread. Drake shoots a ton a threes per game (28), but amazingly, their point guard Adam Emmenecker has never attempted one in his four years. Western Kentucky is a well balanced team that can score on offense (76.8 points per game), and plays good defense (65.2 points per game). The Hilltoppers are extremely good in transition as their narrow losses against Tennessee and Gonzaga prove.

UConn (4) vs. San Diego (13)

Head coach Jim Calhoun is no stranger to winning tournament games, and his team has a nice inside-outside combo that could win them a couple of games. 7-foot Hasheem Thabeet (4.4 blocks per game) mans the paint while A.J. Price (5.9 assists per game) runs the point. Be careful with the Huskies though as they were just 2-7 against the spread as a road favorite this season. San Diego upset Gonzaga to win the WCC tournament and steal a bid. The Toreros like to play a slow, half-court game which has resulted in them going 12-4 to the number as an underdog. Their offense isn’t all that good, but Brandon Johnson can take over a game.

Baylor (11) vs. Purdue (6)

Baylor was perhaps the last “bubble” team to make the tournament this season, but they are still a tough matchup for many teams because they are a true streak-shooting club. They play at the nation’s 23rd rated adjusted pace and they are exciting to watch, with multiple players capable of making three-point shots. They are also very strong from the free throw line, hitting 74 percent as a team.

Purdue is similar to Baylor in that they always have three guards on the court at the same time, and sometimes even four. They also exhibit excellent scoring balance with nine players averaging between four and 13 points per game, and they thrive on their defensive pressure. Head coach Matt Painter did a terrific job with a team that almost every expert predicted for the bottom half of the Big 10 and they really improved as the season progressed. Both teams were strong on the road this season, as Baylor was 10-3 ATS and Purdue was 9-4-1 ATS.

Xavier (3) vs. Georgia (14)

Georgia had to win four games in four days just to make this tournament and they benefited from playing the SEC tourney in their home state. They defend fairly well, but can be had inside. Their shot selection is also very questionable. The biggest question will be how much energy Georgia has left after their emotional SEC tournament run.

Xavier made things look extremely easy all year in an underrated Atlantic 10. This team is one of only 14 in the country to rate in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (points per possession). They can beat you both inside and outside and they are capable of playing both fast and slow. Sean Miller is one of the bright young coaches in the game, and he will have his team ready after an early exit in Atlantic 10 tournament.

West Virginia (7) vs. Arizona (10)

Bob Huggins did an excellent job of adapting the returning West Virginia talent to a totally different style this season and the results were excellent as the Mountaineers are one of only 14 teams to rank in the nation's top 30 in offensive and defensive efficiency. This team won last season’s NIT and there is some experience from the Sweet 16 team from two seasons ago.

Arizona was hampered by multiple injuries throughout the course of the season, but they are 16-5 SU/12-5-1 ATS when the freshman backcourt of Jerryd Bayless and Nic Wise are both in the lineup. This team has plenty of firepower but defense is often an issue, and they must buckle down to handle the offensive versatility of many of West Virginia's players.

Duke (2) vs. Belmont (15)

Duke is all about defensive tenacity, especially on the perimeter and their offense revolves around the free throw stripe (70 percent on 24 attempts/game) and three-point line (38 percent on 25 attempts/game). They have five players that average double-digits, but it must be noted that they are not playing their best basketball right now, going just 7-4 SU / 3-7-1 ATS down the stretch after starting out 22-1 SU /15-6-1 ATS this season.

Belmont also prefers a perimeter game, but they are smaller and obviously less talented than Duke. The Bruins rely heavily on the three-pointer (36 percent on 29 attempts/game), and they did play a tough non-conference schedule with wins at Cincinnati and at Alabama. They have won 13 straight games and this is their 3rd straight NCAA tourney appearance.

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NCAA Tournament betting preview: South Region

Memphis (1) vs. Texas-Arlington (16)

Everyone seems to be worried about Memphis’ inability to make free throws (59 percent for the season), but that’s not likely to be a problem against this caliber of opposition. Fourteen of the Tigers’ 33 victories this year came by margins of 20 points or more, including their Conference USA Tournament championship victory over Tulsa. Texas-Arlington went 7-9 in the regular season in the Southland Conference before getting hot in the conference tournament. The Mavericks have solid interior size, outrebounding Oklahoma State by 16 in Stillwater in a competitive five-point loss, their only game against a major conference foe all year.

Mississippi State (8) vs. Oregon (9)

Rick Stansbury’s Bulldogs made a run to the Final Four last year. Unfortunately for Mississippi State fans, it was the NIT Final Four, not the NCAA variety. The Bulldogs have an excellent first round track record under Stansbury in the Big Dance, surviving and advancing past the first round in five of their last six appearances. Oregon’s .500 record in the PAC-10 this year is a clear indication of the strength of that conference, not an indictment of the Ducks as a weak entrant. The key matchup here is Mississippi State’s tremendous perimeter defense against Oregon’s sharpshooting quartet of Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor, who combined to average just shy of eight made three pointers per game.

Michigan State (5) vs. Temple (12)

Tom Izzo has a well deserved reputation as an outstanding tournament coach, but his Spartans have suffered from a lack of confidence and execution away from home all season. Michigan State’s weakness at closing out foes has been on full display in blown second half leads against Ohio State and Wisconsin within the last week, a team that consistently hasn’t been able to get it done away from home during crunch time. Temple has no such confidence issues after reeling off seven straight wins, including three in the Atlantic-10 tournament to earn their bid. Expect the pace here to be at a crawl between a pair of teams that play outstanding transition defense.

Pittsburgh (4) vs. Oral Roberts (13)

Oral Roberts won the regular season Summit Conference title, then backed that up with a championship run in the conference tournament. This will be their third straight trip to the Big Dance, with three senior starters returning from last year’s squad that lost to Washington State by 16 in the opening round. The Golden Eagles weren’t any more competitive the previous season, losing by the same 16 point margin to Memphis. Can Pitt recapture the same energy and intensity they had this past weekend, when they won four games in four days to cut down the nets as Big East Tournament champions?

Marquette (6) vs. Kentucky (11)

Kentucky didn’t beat a single tournament bound opponent on the road this year, losing at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Indiana. While Billy Gillespie’s squad has improved by leaps and bounds from where they were in November, this team suffers from weak guard play, committing nearly 16 turnovers per game. Tom Crean’s three guard trio of Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews all have pro potential, and the Golden Eagles should be primed to avenge last year’s poorly played first round loss to Michigan State.

Stanford (3) vs. Cornell (14)

With only one player in The Big Red’s rotation that stands taller than 6-foot-7, Cornell is going to have a very difficult time matching up with Stanford’s Twin Towers, Brook and Robin Lopez. In their only two games against major conference squads this year, Cornell lost by 14 to Duke and by 16 to Syracuse. Trent Johnson’s Cardinal have not been good double digit favorites, just 1-7 ATS in their last eight tries laying more than 10 points.

Miami (7) vs. St Mary’s (10)

Miami’s Jack McClinton is their only legitimate scorer, and he, too, is prone to poor shooting efforts as demonstrated by his 6-of-23 performance in the Hurricanes two Big East tournament games. In fact, McClinton hasn’t shot 50 percent in a single road game since January, a big part of the reason why Frank Haith’s squad went just 8-9 straight up in their last 17 games. St Mary’s beat Oregon and Drake back in November, but they have only one quality win since that time - an overtime victory at home against Gonzaga.

Texas (2) vs. Austin Peay (15)

The Governors were the class of the Ohio Valley Conference during the regular season and backed that up with a strong showing to win the OVC tournament last weekend. Incredibly, Austin Peay covered the pointspread only once in their first 16 lined games this year, vastly overvalued by the betting marketplace to start the season. In two games against major conference foes, the Governors lost at Vanderbilt by 14 and at Memphis by 22. Texas is the vastly superior defensive and rebounding team, and point guard DJ Augustine should be able to run circles around his 5-foot-9, 155-pound counterpart, Derek Wright.

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NCAA Tournament betting preview: East Region

North Carolina (1) vs. Play-in winner (16)

We all know the story by now that a No. 16 seed has never beat a top seed in this event. Did you know, however, that No. 1 seeds win an average 3.36 games per event in this tourney since 1985? It’s hard to fade the top scoring margin, and best rebounding team in the land, especially with one team (Coppin State) that was 0-4 against fellow tourney teams this season by an average loss of 36.5 pgg, while the other (Mount St. Mary’s) was 1-3 against the same. Still, with the Tar Heels just 1-4-1 against the spread (ATS) as a favorite of more than 20 points in the tourney, it’s probably best to observe the top seed for a while.

Indiana (8) vs. Arkansas (9)

Past results from this particular conference pairing has been favorable for the Big 10, as they are 11-5 SU and ATS against the SEC in the Big Dance since 1999. Indiana, though, has not adapted under interim coach Dan Dakich, as they are just 3-3 SU and 1-5 ATS since he took over from Kelvin Sampson a month ago. Red-faced Arkansas dropped a tailor-made championship against Georgia, but five returning starters should help them advance out of the first round. And for what it’s worth, should the Razorbacks manage to defeat Indiana, No. 9 seeds are a pathetic 3-47 straight-up in Round 2 since 1985 when taking on a higher seeded opponent. Gulp.

Notre Dame (5) vs. George Mason (12)

This is slot of the dreaded No. 12 over the No. 5 seed theory (last year was only the second time since 1988 that a 12 failed to beat a 5). Notre Dame went 24-7 this year, however, the Irish were only 7-7 away from South Bend this season. The Irish were bounced in the first round of this tourney in rather embarrassing fashion by Winthrop last season. They’ll need to bring their ‘A” game against the Pirates, a Cinderella team in this event two years ago. The Mason Jar is 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS in the Big Dance this decade.

Pittsburgh (4) vs. Oral Roberts (13)

The Big East champs look for a breather when they take on the best the Summit League has to offer in this opening round pairing. The return of point guard Levance Fields from the injury list helped propel the Panthers to four wins in four days in the Big East Tourney, the last three as underdogs. The Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts are a defensively staunch club, allowing less than 61 ppg, including 67 or less points in each of the three losses against fellow tournament teams (0-3) this season. Pitt will need to avoid a major letdown as No. 4 seeds are 1-10 ATS off a win in opening round game since 1999.

Oklahoma (6) vs. St. Joseph’s (11)

Oklahoma did well to gain a No. 6 seed after finishing up 10-8 SU and 6-12 ATS in conference play this season. The Sooners are just 3-9 ATS in NCAA openers, including 1-6 SU and ATS when facing a .612 or greater opponent. They were also only 5-9 ATS against fellow tournament teams this season. St. Joe’s utilized a 3-1 SU and ATS record in the A-10 tourney to gain a big into the Big Dance. Phil Martelli’s troops were 9-2 ATS outside the conference this season and are 9-2 SU in NCAA openers. Before flying off with the Hawks, though, you need to know No. 6 seeds are 14-1- SU and 13-1-1 ATS against .636 or less opposition.

Louisville (3) vs. Boise State (14)

Lucky No. 3 seed for the Cardinals as 18 of the last 21 NCAA champs have been No. 1, 2 or 3 seeded teams. Louisville held its own against other tourney teams this season, going 9-5 SU and ATS. You also have to admire Rick Pitino’s 32-10 record in this tourney. Behind the nation’s seventh best field goal defense, the Cards look to be a live sleeper. Boise State was a won regular and conference tourney titles, making them a consideration play. The Broncos were 14-3 SU and 11-3-1 ATS away from home this season and suffered only three losses by more than 12 points. Interestingly, they are the fourth best shooting team in the land (50.2 percent).

Butler (7) vs. South Alabama (10)

The Bulldogs performed extremely well outside the Horizon Conference this season as their 11-1 SU and 9-2 ATS record attests. They have also rewarded their backers in the first game of this tournament, going 4-10 ATS. The scales mean a lot in this paring as No. 7 seeds are 22-10-1 ATS if they own a win percentage of .680 or greater. However, can’t look past the Jaguars 5-0 ATS mark this season against other tournament teams. Unfortunately, they are an NCAA tourney win virgin at 0-2 SU and ATS.

Tennessee (2) vs. American (15)

The Vols lead the pack for a lap after handing Memphis its only defeat of the season a month ago. They are the second best team in this tourney in steals (9.5) and offensive rebounds (14.8) per game. They are also the fourth best tourney team in assists per game (18.1), so they do have credentials. Meanwhile the Patriots are another ‘double champion’ and enter the tournament with 11 wins in their last 12 games. American allowed less than 66 points per game along the way. Lest we forget, Tennessee was 21-1 SU and 12-4-2 ATS this season in games in which they scored 80-plus points and 8-3 SU and 2-9 ATS in games in which they didn’t.

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NCAA Tournament betting preview: Midwest Region

(1) Kansas vs. (16) Portland State

The Jayhawks left little doubt in the minds of the selection committee, delivering a decisive win over Texas in the Big 12 Championship to earn a No. 1 seed. Bill Self’s squad showed no mercy in losing only three games all season. Portland State was the class of the Big Sky Conference but obviously takes a major step up in competition here. The Vikings were winless in two matchups against tournament-bound teams, losing at UCLA and Washington State. They did manage to cover the number in both of those contests.

(2) Georgetown vs. (15) UMBC

Is there a less intimidating name in all of sports than the Maryland Baltimore City Retrievers? They didn’t face the toughest of non-conference schedules, but did manage to defeat the likes of La Salle, Richmond, George Washington, and American University. There’s a reason why the Hoyas aren’t laying 20+ here. Georgetown was upended in the Big East final against Pitt, but should have little trouble advancing to play on Sunday. The Hoyas have been prone to burning bankrolls with a 13-16 ATS mark this season.

(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) Cal-State Fullerton

The Badgers are playing as well defensively as any team in the country right now, and that spells trouble for Cal-State Fullerton on Thursday. Wisconsin suffered only two losses in Big Ten play, both at the hands of Purdue. Cal-State Fullerton compiled a stellar 18-8-1 against the spread (ATS)  record en route to a Big West conference championship but their shoddy defensive play will likely be their downfall against the fundamentally sound Badgers. No matter how you look at it, the cards are stacked against the Titans.

(4) Vanderbilt vs. (13) Siena

Vanderbilt earned a four-seed despite an up and down season that saw it run the table at home, but win just four times in 10 tries on the road. Don’t count on seeing the same team that shocked everyone early in last year’s tournament. You have to think the Commodores have too much offensive firepower (80.6 ppg) for Siena to handle, but don’t count the Saints out just yet. They seem to be peaking at the right time, winning each of its last six games to take home the MAAC title.

(5) Clemson vs. (12) Villanova

It’s hard to say if Villanova would be here were it not for an opening-round win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats resume isn’t exactly loaded with marquee victories. When Clemson gets hot, look out. The Tigers possess tremendous scoring balance and proved they could hang with No. 1-ranked North Carolina, pushing them to the limit on three different occasions. The ACC received a ton of respect from the selection committee, and that’s a major reason why the Tigers are seeded as high as they are.

(6) USC vs. (11) Kansas State

Expectations are high for USC after it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. This should be a good draw for the Trojans, as freshman-laden Kansas State is severely lacking in big game experience. That’s not to say the Wildcats aren’t dangerous. Their biggest win came against Kansas back in late January. Bettors will likely be squarely behind the favorite in this one, as Kansas State brings a seven-game ATS losing streak to the table.

(7) Gonzaga vs. (10) Davidson

Davidson should be a popular upset pick in the opening round, and for good reason. The Wildcats have yet to lose in 2008, with their last defeat coming against N.C. State back on Dec. 21. They posted a perfect 3-0 ATS record in games against North Carolina, UCLA, and Duke earlier this season. Gonzaga has showed tremendous improvement at the defensive end of the floor but its offense went cold during the WCC Tournament. Unless the Bulldogs can regain their scoring touch, they could be sent packing on Friday.

(8) UNLV vs. (9) Kent State

The Runnin’ Rebels may not be quite as well-rounded as they have been in year’s past, but that didn’t stop them from rolling to a Mountain West Conference title. Defense is one area where they have improved, holding opponents to just a shade over 61 ppg. Wink Adams (15.9 ppg) will be called on to shoulder much of the offensive load. Kent State dabbled in the Top 25 late in the season and have all the tools to make a bit of a run should they survive the first round. The Golden Flashes excelled in a competitive MAC, compiling a steady 17-12 ATS ledger.

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Bracket Analysis
Brian Edwards

The pairings have been announced for the NCAA Tournament, so let’s take a look at some initial thoughts pertaining to subs, snubs, seedings, regions, matchups and more.

**Biggest Snubs**

1-Arizona State: Arizona State beat Arizona twice. The Sun Devils destroyed third-seeded Xavier in a blowout. They went 6-7 against teams in the Tournament. Herb Sendek’s squad did lose to USC by a 59-55 count in the Pac-10 Tournament, but a questionable call disallowed a tying score by ASU in the last minute that ended up being a four-point swing.

2-Virginia Tech: The committee has always made a point of stressing the importance of how teams finish. In the Hokies’ last seven games, they cashed tickets at a 7-0 ATS clip, winning five games outright. I only point out the seven ATS triumphs because that’s an obvious indication that Seth Greenberg’s squad has been playing its best basketball, exceeding the expectations of oddsmakers in all seven games. The only two games Va. Tech lost during that stretch? The Hokies fell by one in a heartbreaker at Clemson, which just finished second at the ACC Tourney. They also dropped a two-point game to North Carolina when Tyler Hansbrough barely beat the buzzer with a game-winning shot, and the Tar Heels have been named the Tourney’s No. 1 overall seed.

**Best First-Round Games**

I felt Davidson deserved to play in the 8-9 game, but the Wildcats did get the benefit of playing close to home in Raleigh. In addition, they face an opponent in Gonzaga that has to fly west to east. I made my line for this game Davidson minus 1 ½. Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent the game out as a pick ‘em. As of early this morning, most spots had agreed with me and adjusted the number to 1 ½ in favor of Stephen Curry and Co.

2-Arkansas-Indiana: The Hoosiers haven’t been the same since this season’s Goat of the Year agreed to accept a $750,000 check in exchange for his resignation. They have lost three of six games under Dan Dakich, posting an abysmal 1-5 spread record. I thought Indiana should be a 2 ½-point ‘chalk,’ but LVSC opened IU at one. Most books have chimed in with the Hoosiers at 1 ½, while The Palms is using two. I felt the total should be 136, but LVSC sent out 140. As for the Hogs, they have the size and athleticism to defend both D.J. White and Eric Gordon. Steven Hill, who has 313 career blocked shots, will have a height advantage against White. John Pelphrey can also throw the big bodies of Darian Townes and Charles Thomas at White. Patrick Beverly doesn’t have Gordon’s muscle, but he has excellent quickness and length (think a shorter version of Tayshaun Prince), and Sonny Weems can also go against Gordon.

3-USC-Kansas St.: Before the season started, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo were regarded as the best freshmen in America. Beasley is the better player, but Mayo has the better team. My number was USC minus four, but LVSC opened at three and most books chimed in with 2 ½.

4-Mississippi State-Oregon: Like Gonzaga, the Ducks didn’t get a favor from the committee by getting sent east to Little Rock. LVSC opened the Bulldogs as 2 ½-point favorites. handicapper James Manos, who leads VI in money (+4125), has tabbed the Bulldogs as his sleeper team to make the Final Four. They are led by one of the most underrated players in the field – Jamont Gordon.

Clemson is my sleeper pick to make the Final Four. The Tigers are a dangerous team, but so is Villanova on nights when Scottie Reynolds shoots the lights out.

**Déjà vu**

--Kentucky and Marquette have a history in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Golden Eagles have dealt UK two of its most painful defeats over the last two decades. Dwyane Wade’s triple-double led Tom Crean’s team past top-seeded Kentucky in the Elite Eight round of the 2003 Tournament. Back in the 1994 Tournament, Marquette shocked UK in a second-round matchup in St. Petersburg.

--Unless North Carolina becomes the first top seed to lose a first-round game since the Tournament expanded the field in 1985, then we’ll have a rematch of the 1981 national-title game if Indiana can get past Arkansas. The Hoosiers and Tar Heels would meet to decide who goes to the Sweet 16.

--If Vandy and Kansas meet in the Sweet 16, it will be a rematch of a Sweet 16 showdown in the 1988 Tournament at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. On that night, Danny Manning led the Jayhawks past Will Perdue, Barry Goheen and Co. en route to winning the national championship. Where would Vandy and KU meet this time around? Once again in Motown, but at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--If any team had to exert itself the most this past weekend and was deserving of playing on a Friday (or at least Thursday evening), it was Georgia. Nevertheless, the Dawgs have to play the 12:20 game Thursday against Xavier at Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

--Georgia cashed 30/1 tickets for backers that tabbed UGA to win the SEC Tournament. After the Dawgs disposed of Arkansas, Georgia AD confirmed the obvious to the Atlanta Journal Constitution: Dennis Felton will return for a sixth season in Athens.

--Most dangerous double-digit seeds:

4-Kansas St.

--Worst RPI in the field: Mississippi Valley State (243)

--Highest RPI not in the field: Illinois St. (32)

--Don’t listen to ESPN's Digger Phelps about Winthrop, which clearly isn’t as talented as it was when it sent Notre Dame packing in the first round last year.

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March Madness Regional Preview

Tyler Hansbrough and the North Carolina Tar Heels are the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament this year, and they are also big favorites to capture the East region.

Vegas oddsmakers have pegged North Carolina as the 4/5 favorite to dispatch all the other teams in their quarter of the bracket and reach the Final Four in San Antonio next month. The Tar Heels got past the Clemson Tigers 86-81 on Sunday in the ACC's championship game, with Hansbrough picking up 18 points and 11 rebounds that day.

Tennessee got stuck with the No. 2 seed in the East region, which means they'll have to get past North Carolina to reach the Final Four. The Volunteers have been pegged at 3/1 odds to win the region, which is the same line given to No. 3 Louisville. Fourth-seeded Washington and fifth-seeded Notre Dame are both listed back at 15/1 odds.

No. 7 Butler is at 60/1 odds to win the East, with No. 8 Indiana at 75/1, and No. 6 Oklahoma behind both of those teams at 100/1. No. 11 Saint Joseph's is also listed at 100/1 odds to reach the Final Four, with the other teams in the East at 150/1 or higher.

The Duke Blue Devils were beaten 78-74 by Clemson in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, and they'll enter the Big Dance as the No. 2 seed in the West region. Vegas oddsmakers have pegged Duke at 5/2 odds to advance to the Final Four this year, while top-seeded UCLA is listed at 4/5 odds to punch their ticket to San Antonio.

Xavier is the No. 3 seed in the West, but they're back at 18/1 odds to win that region. That puts them behind No. 4 UConn, who are at 4/1 odds. No. 7 West Virginia is listed at 20/1 odds, with No. 6 Purdue at 35/1, and No. 5 Drake farther back at 60/1. The rest of the region is at 75/1 odds or higher, including No. 8 BYU who are longshots at 150/1.

The Memphis Tigers handily won the Conference USA tournament on Saturday, blasting Tulsa 77-51 in the championship game. That earned Memphis the No. 1 seed in the South region, and they're listed as 6/5 favorites to reach the Final Four. No. 2 Texas, who fell to Kansas in the Big 12 title game, is second on that Vegas chart at 5/2.

Stanford couldn't hold off UCLA in the Pac-10 championship game, but they're still the No. 3 seed in the South with 3/1 odds to win the region. No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Michigan State are both listed at 12/1 odds, with No. 6 Marquette at 15/1 odds, and No. 7 Miami-Florida farther back at 60/1 odds. The South longshots begin with No. 8 Mississippi State at 100/1, with every other team in the region at 150/1 odds or higher.

Kansas' win in the Big 12 championship contest gave them the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region for this year's tournament. The Jayhawks have been listed by the Vegas oddsmakers as the 10/11 favorites to win that region. No. 2 Georgetown is second on that list at 2/1, with No. 3 Wisconsin at 10/1, and No. 5 Clemson sitting just back at 12/1.

No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 6 USC are pegged at 18/1 odds to win the Midwest region, with No. 10 Davidson (50/1) and No. 11 Kansas State (60/1) headlining the longshots. Also, No. 7 Gonzaga is getting long 75/1 odds for this year's edition of March Madness.

Overall, UCLA is pegged as the 9/2 Vegas favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, with Kansas and North Carolina both at 5/1, and Memphis at 6/1 odds. From there it's Texas at 10/1, with Tennessee and Georgetown at 12/1, and both Duke and Louisville at 15/1.

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Looking for Sleepers
By Judd Hall

I know you’ve been mulling over your brackets like Russell Crowe cracking codes in “A Beautiful Mind.” And while making your picks, you’ve decided to get a little adventurous and pick a few lower seeds to upset a few big name programs.

Now they all can’t be Valparaiso over Ole’ Miss or Princeton upending UCLA, but there will be a couple shockers that can make you some nice cash at the sportsbooks and even garner you those all important points in your office pool. You’ll also see one or two low seeds that look like easy upset winners, but will lead to nothing but heartbreak.

A popular pick that’s getting love from the sports channels and forums alike is No. 10 Davidson (26-6 straight up, 19-11 against the spread) taking down the well known Cinderella, No. 7 Gonzaga (25-7 SU, 17-15 ATS) as a two-point favorite in the Midwest Region, with a total of 140.

The problem with that is if you’re really willing to back a team solely on the skill of just one player.

You’re familiar with this Wildcats’ squad…they’re anchored by former NBA sharpshooter Del Curry’s son, Stephen. The younger Curry leads his team in scoring, averaging 25.1 points per game. How much does he mean to Davidson? They score around 78.7 PPG as a whole, meaning that the Wildcats’ success hinges on his ability to make shots.

Now look at the Bulldogs, who dropped the West Coast Conference title game to San Diego to close out the regular season. The Zags had won eight straight matches until that defeat and we know their reputation in the “Big Dance.”

Mark Few’s club excels at spreading the wealth amongst his players. Gonzaga has four members averaging double-digits in the points column: Matt Bouldin (12.7), Jeremy Pargo (11.9), Austin Daye (10.6) and Josh Heytvelt (10.2).

It’s hard to back a club that lives and dies by the performance of one player. Adding a little more weight behind the Bulldogs is the fact you can make money on them when they’re ‘dogs. Gonzaga is 6-12 SU when an underdog the last three seasons, but 11-7 ATS in the same spot. expert handicapper Jason Johnson feels that Davidson is a strong play though. “You have to take a good hard look at Davidson when you're looking for a sleeper. Here is a team that gave UCLA, North Carolina, and Duke a hard time.”

Johnson continues, “Curry is everything as advertised and his numbers prove it. If he can handle the pressure (and that's a big "if") Davidson could make some noise.”

Meanwhile, expert handicapper Marc Lawrence believes “that if the Wildcats can make it past the Zags, they’ve got a real shot at making the Sweet 16 since they returned five starters from last season.”

A quality sleeper pick in the first round of the tourney that the you can get a solid look at right now is No. 11 Baylor (21-10 SU, 13-10 ATS) as a 2 ½-point underdog against No. 6 Purdue (24-8 SU, 17-11-1 ATS).

The betting public is hitting the Boilermakers pretty heavy right now. currently shows 83 percent of the cash going towards Purdue at the time of publishing. My question to the public is…well…why?

I mean, the Big Ten Conference isn’t exactly known as a bastion of high scoring. The Boilers are putting up 68.7 PPG this season, while giving up 61.2 PPG. Meanwhile, they’re playing a Baylor squad that loves to play a “run-and-gun” offense to the tune of 81.4 PPG. Of course, the

Bears play defense like their opponents have been dipped in Ebola, giving up around 74.4 PPG this year.

This game will definitely hinge on how well both sides fare at the charity stripe because the Bears and Purdue really love to hear the refs blow their whistles. The Boilermakers average around 20 personal fouls per game, while Baylor gets caught for 21 infractions a tilt.

Should the free throw line truly become a factor, which gives the edge to Baylor as its shooting 74.2 percent from the stripe. The Boilers are making 70.6 percent of their free throw shots this season.

Need one more thing to make you believe in the Bears?

Baylor is 1-1 SU and 2-0 ATS in its two contests with Purdue back in 2004, with the ‘over’ cashing tickets on both occasions. The odds are good the Bears will hit the hat trick on the spread once more.

There is one more team from the West Coast Conference that you may not be thinking too much about since its playing in Little Rock, Arkansas is No. 10 St. Mary’s (25-6 SU, 15-12-1 ATS) going up against No. 7 Miami (22-10 SU, 15-7 ATS) as a slight one-point ‘dog. Especially, as the game will be a 9:30 am Pacific start for the Gaels.

You may be thinking that’s crazy talk considering the Hurricanes played in such an august conference like the ACC. However, it was a down year for the conference in general. Meanwhile, the WCC is sending three teams into the field of 65. St. Mary’s leads the ‘Canes in several of the major statistical categories head-to-head like scoring offense (76.0-74.Cool, scoring defense (63.2-67.Cool and personal fouls per game (17.3-18.7).

Recent history also goes against Miami in this spot. The Hurricanes are 4-10 SU and ATS when the line is no larger than 1 ½-points for or against them in the last two seasons.

Lawrence also gives you some food for thought while fading Miami. “Teams that met with poor results the previous season (12 or fewer wins) are 6-27 SU and 12-21 ATS in Game 1 of an NCAA tournament when facing an opponent with a better record since 1994.” The ‘Canes went 12-20 SU for the 2006-2007 season.

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Re: NCAA Tournament betting preview

T.O.'s Most Overrated Tournament Teams
by T.O. Whenham

Get March Madness Betting Odds, Winning March Madness Picks and Printable March Madness Brackets all at Doc's Sports Service. Also check out our March Madness 2008 home page.

When I am not writing for this Doc's Sports I spend all of my time reading the other stuff on this site. What else would I do? Robert weighed in with his most overrated teams in the tournament the other day. I agreed with some of his list but not others, so I thought that I would weigh in with a list of my own. Mostly, I just like being nasty to the teams that I hate. Here, then, are the five teams that are getting way too much credit in my eyes

5. Connecticut - It's an oversimplification, but the reason I don't like this team is that they couldn't beat Providence. The Friars just aren't very good. They can't play anything resembling defense, and their offense is underwhelming. Providence shouldn't be beating any legitimate teams, yet they somehow managed to beat Connecticut. Twice. I can accept that a team can get caught off guard and lose to a lesser team. I just don't get a good feeling when the better team can't adjust and win the second time. The other problem I have is with Hasheem Thabeet. The guy is huge, and when he's good he is really good, but he's wildly inconsistent. He didn't show up particularly well in the team's conference tournament loss, and I don't trust to him to come through in the NCAA Tournament. We'll hear a lot about how great he is, but I'm not convinced yet. If he's off then the team could struggle.

4. Texas - I admit that I am a big Memphis guy, and I am sick to death of hearing about how Texas is virtually a lock to beat the Tigers. Texas is a nice team, and D.J. Augustin is very good, but it's not like he is the next Steve Nash. Not yet, anyway. It's not that Texas can't play well when it matters - they beat UCLA and Tennessee on the road. Those wins were a while ago, though. More recently, this is the team that lost to Michigan State and Wisconsin back-to-back, lost two conference games to non-tournament teams, and didn't put up much of a fight against Kansas with the Big 12 title on the line. Could Texas beat Memphis? Absolutely. I just think that it's still worth playing the game before we crown Texas kings.

3. Tennessee - I agree completely with Robert on this one. They don't play defense as well as they should, and they could certainly shoot free throws better. I am also not convinced that they can go all the way without a better inside presence. I really don't like how they responded to beating Memphis, or how they have played since, and I don't like how their entire strategy when they get in trouble seems to be to wait for Chris Lofton to save them. That has worked well so far, but it is a dangerous thing to keep relying on that to happen. Bruce Pearl is a very likable guy and a heck of a coach, but his presence and his orange jacket aren't reason enough to buy into the argument that Tennessee was cheated by their seeding.

2. Vanderbilt - I guess I can't argue too much about the Commodores being a No. 4 seed, but I don't think for a second that they are a good No. 4, or that they are going to meet or exceed expectations. Shan Foster is a great scorer, but the Commodores won't be playing in their home gym, and that's a real problem. They are a very good home team, but they are significantly worse away from home. They were just 2-6 away from home in conference play. Home-biased teams don't generally do well in the tournament, and I expect almost nothing from the Commodores this year.

1. Duke - Duke would be on the top of this list pretty much every year, but they really deserve it this year. There are three No. 2 seeds on this list, but Duke is the worst of the three by far. Just look at the record - they lost four of their last nine games, and they covered three times in their last 11. Worse yet, their two recent losses to Clemson and North Carolina showed that Duke may be a good team, but they just aren't good enough. The problem with this team is that they can't change it up. If their four-guard shooting frenzy is working then they are dangerous, but if a team is able to challenge them they can't adjust and try something different because they don't have anything different to try. Teams in this tournament are good enough to figure that out.

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Re: NCAA Tournament betting preview

Toughest Tournament Draws
by T.O. Whenham

Get March Madness Betting Odds, Winning March Madness Picks and Printable March Madness Brackets all at Doc's Sports Service. Also check out our March Madness 2008 home page.

All tournament draws are not created equal. Some teams have a line up of relatively easy teams to face, while others have to go from one hard team to the other. Here, in my view, are the five teams with the hardest road to travel. To keep it meaningful, I will only look at teams in the top eight seeds and only at teams that can be viewed as legitimate contenders.

5. Vanderbilt - The Commodores are a team that has been at their best at home, so playing in a neutral site will challenge them. To make matters worse, they will be facing a tough run of teams in those neutral sites. They start off with a No. 13 seed, Siena, which isn't particularly consistent, but which does have a convincing win over Stanford on their record. After that they will either face a Clemson team that has been very dangerous all year and which comes in off a win over Duke and an impressive effort against North Carolina, or a Villanova team that is ridiculously young but talented and oozing potential. A win there and they run right into the Big 12 champions from Kansas. Vanderbilt lost their last game against Arkansas, so they need to step up to make it through this daunting string of opponents.

4. Gonzaga - Gonzaga's participation in the tournament is basically assumed given what they have accomplished under Mark Few, but they have struggled to go as deep as they should. As a No. 7 seed in a very tough spot they could again get bounced earlier than their fans would like. They start out by facing Davidson, the team with the longest winning streak in the country. They were undefeated in conference play, and Stephen Curry is one of the most impressive players in this entire tournament. If they win that they run right into a Georgetown team that had a bad loss against Pitt in the conference tournament, but is still as dangerous as any No. 2 seed after surviving the tough Big East. If the Bulldogs survived that it wouldn't get any easier, with either USC, Kansas State or Wisconsin next up.

3. Michigan State - The Spartans have not been as strong as they could be this year, and they have been frustratingly inconsistent. Inconsistency will kill them in this bracket. They start with Temple, a team fresh off a tournament win in the tough A-10. Their biggest win was over Xavier, but they were tested and seasoned by losing to a number of top teams like Duke, Villanova and Tennessee. The Spartans would next face Big East champs Pitt. The Panthers have struggled at times, but they are finally healthy after a ridiculous run of injuries this year, and they are a popular pick to do some damage. If that's not enough to kill the Spartans, then they have likely games against Memphis and Texas to look forward to. If Michigan State were to make the Final Four it would be an epic accomplishment.

2. Connecticut - The Huskies have a bit of a fragile feel about them these days. They are talented, but they don't seem to have a killer attitude. They will need to find one fast. They start with a game against San Diego, the team that stole a tournament spot by winning the WCC Tournament with wins over St. Mary's and Gonzaga on consecutive days. The Toreros didn't start the season well, but they have found their stride in the new year. Next up would likely be Drake, the current mid-major darling of fans everywhere. The Bulldogs were truly dominant in their conference tournament, and they have nothing to lose. A win there and the Huskies would run right into UCLA, a very popular choice to win it all.

1. USC - O.J. Mayo and the Trojans are hot and flashy, and they are getting lots of love from the experts, but the selection committee did them no favors. They start out with easily the best game of the first round - an epic showdown with superfrosh Michael Beasley and K-State. If they come out ahead in that very tough game then they have to find a way to beat Wisconsin, the mind-numbingly methodical Big Ten regular season and tournament champs. The Trojans will have to avoid letting the Badgers slow the game down and control the pace. Next up is Georgetown, Gonzaga or Davidson. Whichever team emerges from that group of three will be well tested and in form.

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Re: NCAA Tournament betting preview

Easiest Tournament Draws
by T.O. Whenham

Get March Madness Betting Odds, Winning March Madness Picks and Printable March Madness Brackets all at Doc's Sports Service. Also check out our March Madness 2008 home page.

There's no such thing as an easy draw in the NCAA Tournament. Even the worst team in the tournament is better than average, and the demands and scrutiny of the format make it an incredibly challenging thing to win. That being said, some teams definitely have an easier road ahead of them than others. Here are the five contenders with the easiest road to the Elite Eight:

5. Stanford - The Cardinal are headed for a very tough showdown with Texas in the Sweet 16. That's the bad news. The good news is that they have two fairly easy games to play before they have to grapple with the Longhorns. They start with a game against Cornell, the Ivy League champs who are just happy to be there after having been locked out of tournament participation by Penn and Princeton for so long. Win that and Stanford next faces either Marquette, the Big East contenders who lost three of their last six and weren't quite among the best of their conference, or Kentucky, a team that has made an inspiring late run to salvage their season, but one which just doesn't have the firepower to compete at the top level without Patrick Patterson.

4. North Carolina - It's not surprising that three of the five teams on this list are No. 1 seeds. Those teams get rewarded for their strong season by being given the easiest possible road to the Elite Eight. North Carolina gets to start out with a game that shouldn't be much tougher than an intra-squad game when they face the winner of the play-in game. That will warm them up to either play Indiana, a talented team that hasn't reacted well lately to their coaching mess, or Arkansas, a talented but inconsistent team that beat Tennessee one day and lost to Georgia the next. Next up would likely be either Washington State or Notre Dame. Both of those teams are quite good, but not up to the level of the Tar Heels.

3. Kansas - A lot of people don't think that Kansas deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Those people really won't be happy that they got a pretty smooth ride. Portland State won the Big Sky, but it's a big step from there to the Big 12. The Vikings played some decent teams in UCLA, Washington and Washington State, but they weren't particularly competitive against any of them. Next up is either UNLV or Kent State. I like both of those teams quite a bit, but not nearly enough to think that they stand a legitimate chance against the Jayhawks. Their third game will be against the winner of the weakest 4/5/12/13 pod in the tournament. Clemson is solid, but weren't quite good enough against UNC. They would be the toughest of the four teams, but still very beatable for Kansas. Vanderbilt is a very weak four seed, Villanova, a team without a senior, is too young to do any damage this year, and Siena is solid but not a giant killer.

2. Xavier - If you read much of what I write then you probably know that I am a big Xavier fan. I don't love the way that they have been playing down the stretch, but I really like the draw they were given. Georgia's run through the SEC Tournament was a great story, but it seems unlikely that they can recapture whatever got them that win and pull off another miracle. They would next play either a Purdue team that has lost two of their last three and which is probably too young to go far, or a Baylor team that will be riding the excitement of being the last team in and is bouncing back from a truly terrible story, but a team that isn't as talented as Xavier. No. 3s often end up playing a No. 2, and Xavier drew the easiest two on the board this year in Duke. The Blue Devils have lost two of their last three and looked flat doing it. Xavier matches the Duke playing style very well and will stand a good chance of the mild upset.

1. UCLA - Most of the reason the Bruins are the favorite in the eyes of many experts and bettors is because of their depth, talent, experience and coaching, but another part of the reason this team is so loved is because of their draw. The Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State better enjoy their tournament experience while it lasts, because it won't last long. Like most No. 8 versus No. 9 games, the two potential opponents of the Bruins in the second round are solid but flawed. BYU makes the tournament often, but they don't have the best record. Texas A&M struggled against the best teams they played and likely aren't good enough to test UCLA. Their Sweet 16 opponent will likely be either Drake or Connecticut. Drake is a great story and a legitimate team, but they would have to step their game up significantly to get past UCLA. UConn is a nice team, too, but they aren't consistent or deep enough to run with the Bruins.

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Re: NCAA Tournament betting preview

Seven Overrated Teams Headed Into the Tourney
by Robert Ferringo

Get March Madness Betting Odds, Winning March Madness Picks and Printable March Madness Brackets all at Doc's Sports Service. Also check out our March Madness 2008 home page.

So I'm watching countless hours of "Bracketology" - or, as it should more aptly be referred to: Babblology - on ESPN the night that the seeds for the NCAA Tournament were announced. Now, these guys are paid as experts. This is their chosen profession and the issue that they spend supposedly countless hours watching and analyzing. Yet, when it came time for each of the analysts: Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Dick Vitale to fill out their "virtual brackets" the four of them, collectively, threw up the most chalk, safe, garbage Final Four picks that you could imagine. I believe that two of them - including one of the few analysts I respect, Jay Bilas - actually had all four No. 1 seeds advancing to San Antonio for the Final Four.

All of this begs the question: have they every SEEN the NCAA Tournament? Buzzer beaters, bracket busters, impossible shots, improbable runs, redemption for underachievers, heartbreak for the overconfident, and millions of dollars won and loss on the bounce of a small, leather, air-filled orb; that is the NCAA Tournament. What should happen very rarely ever does, and the true "expert" is the one that can sift through the clutter and noise and expect the impossible.

With that in mind, I compiled a list of seven teams that I know a majority of office workers will be penciling in as the national champions. Now, I came up with this list BEFORE the seedings were announced on Sunday and did so independent of the individual matchups. However, it's always good to go with your first instinct, a rule that I have too often ignored this season. Sometimes the details don't matter. The big picture is that I think these are seven very popular, very chalk teams that have an incredibly minute chance of winning the NCAA Tournament:

1. Duke - The Blue Devils are THE public team in college basketball, so it's almost never a great value play to wager on them. This year's version of the Dukies is like some kind of twisted experiment, with four guards spreading the floor, bombing away from three-point land, and driving to the hole. Somewhere, Cherokee Parks is weeping. But that's why Duke won't win the 2008 National Championship. They are a one-trick pony and they have such a glaring weakness in the middle that a team like Stanford, Louisville, or someone with serious size should be able to manhandle them. One-dimensional teams very, very rarely cut down the nets.

2. North Carolina - I know. You're stunned. I got it. But I'm not into the Tar Heels. Are they better than they were last year, when they didn't even make the Final Four? I say no. Are they better than the 2006 team that won the title - but barely did so with a questionable win over Villanova in the early rounds? Not even close. I don't like UNC because I don't think they shoot the ball well enough from deep. I know they are 68th in the nation, but those are just numbers. Other than Wayne Ellington they don't have anyone that I trust to get hot from the outside and carry them through a five- or eight-minute stretch. Ty Lawson is one of the most overrated players in the country, the ACC officials baby the Heels (and tourney officials won't), and they aren't smart enough to go to Hansbrough in the clutch.

3. Kansas - Down by three. Twenty-six seconds on the clock. No timeouts. Who is Kansas going to? Brandon Rush? Please. I know I don't trust him. You also have to consider the fact that Bill Self is a notorious choke artist and that KU has a nasty history of underachieving at The Dance. The Jayhawks are 1-8 ATS in their last nine games outside of Phog Allen and they have no marquee road wins in the nonconference (USC wasn't nearly as good on Dec. 2 as they are now). Mix in a Red Flag Loss (at Oklahoma State) and I just don't think this team has the makeup of a champion. However, of all of the teams on this list this is the one I could be wrong about.

4. Georgetown - Again, this team is not better than the one that lost in the Final Four last year. They're going to be a tough out, but the Hoyas' dirty little secret is that they didn't beat anyone this year. Well, let me rephrase: they didn't beat anyone on the road this year. All of their marquee wins were in conference games, at home, against teams they should have beaten. Yes, they won at Morgantown. But they didn't really win that game. I'm just saying, this team might have peaked in NYC. I don't expect them to hit 50 percent from 3-point land in too many regionals. And if someone can smother Jonathan Wallace I don't see anyone else on this team stepping up.

5. Tennessee - First, the Vols, like Kansas, may be Final Four-good. But you can't win a championship if you don't play any defense. Tennessee lets way, way too many opponents shoot over 50 percent from the field. They also don't make free throws, hitting just 65.6 percent, which is good for 281st in the land. If you don't play defense and if you don't make free throws you don't win championships. I also think the Vols may have peaked too soon. They are 2-4 ATS since beating Memphis and having a cup of coffee as the No. 1 team in the land.

6. Stanford - They are the anti-Duke. The NCAA Tournament is about guard play and I just don't trust the Cardinal's. None of their guards shoot over 38 percent from long range, and in a one-and-done situation one off shooting night can crush this team. Believe me, the Lopez Bros. will be a tough out. But for all the sound and fury this team has still lost three of its last five games, has two Red Flag Losses against small, quick teams (Oregon and Siena) and they got beat by 1,000 in the first round of last year's tourney. You can't wager the mortgage on a team with no significant experience to draw on.

7. Louisville - The Cardinals are in a similar situation to The Cardinal. Both teams dominate the interior but teams are at the whim of their outside shooting. I'm not saying that Louisville can't make a run. But what I am saying is that when you are 207th in the country in 3-point shooting and 286th in free throw shooting the odds of an off night and a short stay at the Dance are pretty high.

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