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NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: Midwest Region
There are three stages to the college basketball season. There is the non-conference stage, the conference period and the postseason. We are now in the postseason as take a look at the NCAA Tournament from a betting perspective. This isn't just about helping your March Madness bracket and seeing who will move on, but who will cover and possibly go home. Here is a look at the Midwest Region where Louisville is the top seed and the favorite to win the entire thing.
March 21-Lexington, Ky.
1)Louisville vs. Liberty/North Carolina A&T. The Liberty Flames(15-20 SU, 5-3 ATS) comes from the Big South, a non-lined conference and they will face another no-lined team in North Carolina A&T Aggies (19-16 SU, 7-0 ATS) from the MEAC. These teams have no real shot to beat Louisville in the second round. They'll be facing each other on Tuesday from Dayton, Oh in the "First Four". North Carolina A&T is led by Adrian Powell, who averages 12.5 points and 1.8 steals per game. They average just 62.2 points per game but allow only 61.1 points and their opponents to shoot just 38.2 percent from the field. Norfolk lost at Cincinnati, 93-39 and at Wright State by 12.
Liberty might be the worst team in the field but they did get hot at the right time in the Big South Tournament, beating Charleston Southern, 87-76, getting 7.5 on March 10. John Caleb Sanders lead the way with 14.2 points and 3.5 assists per game. The Flames allow 69.9 points per game (260th) but their three-point shooting defense (30.0 percent) is outstanding. The Flames opened the season with eight straight losses and did give Georgetown a tough game early, losing 68-59 on Nov. 14, which was the only time they played a NCAA Tournament team.
The Louisville Cardinals (29-5 ATS, 20-14 ATS) are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won 10 straight games. This is a balanced team with great defense that allows just 58 points per game and teams to shoot just 38.8 percent. If they have a weakness, it's rebounding. Russ Smith leads the way with 18.1 points per game, while point guard Peyton Siva averages 5.9 assists and 2.2 steals. Center Gorgui Deng (6-11, 245) leads the back of their defense with 2.5 blocks per game.
If Louisville wins, they will take on the winner of the No. 8 Colorado State Rams vs. No. 9 Missouri Tigers on March 23. Colorado State (25-8 SU, 13-15-1 ATS) comes out of the Mountain West. The Rams average 72.3 points per game but they may want to slow it down against the speedy Tigers. They allow 66.7 points per game while Missouri allows 71.8 points. The Rams lead the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and are a solid defense team. They are led by Colton Iverson (6-10, 261), who averages 14.7 points per game and 9.78 rebounds and senior forward Pierce Hornung (6-5, 210), who pulls in an impressive 9.2 rebounds per game. The Rams have no real impressive non-conference wins, but they did beat San Diego State
Missouri (23-10 SU, 14-15 ATS) struggled late in the year, losing to Ole Miss by two in the SEC Tournament and also at Tennessee by two. Their biggest issue is their road record as they are just 2-8 SU on the road but are 4-2 in neutral sites. The Tigers beat VCU by three getting three at a neutral site but lost to Louisville by 23 at the same tournament in Nassau. They also lost at UCLA by three in overtime getting 3.5. They are the seventh-ranked offensive rebounding team in the nation. They have good guard play and a very good senior transfer in Alex Oriakhi (6-9, 255) from UConn, who averages 11.1 points per game and 8.6 rebounds. Laurence Bowers (14.8 points per game) and G Phil Pressey (11.9 points) lead the way.
March 21 from San Jose
In the other bracket from San Jose, number five Oklahoma State (24-8 SU) will take on number 12 Oregon (26-8 SU). Oklahoma State (15-14-2 ATS) is led by one of the best freshman in the nation in guard Marcus Smart. The Cowboys defeated NC State, Kansas and Oklahoma this year. Coach Travis Ford has just one win in the NCAA Tournament in four games. Smart and Markel Brown (15.6 points) are a very good backcourt. Smart is a very good defender and the team allows just 62.8 points and teams to shoot 39 percent from the field. Because Smart is a freshman and runs the point, they at times have issues closing games.
Oregon (13-8-1 ATS) has a misleading record since they played much of the second half without guard Dominic Artis, who averaged 9.5 points per game. They had quality wins over UNLV, Arizona and UCLA. Oregon doesn't shoot the ball from deep as they average just 32.3 percent from three-point range. Senior center Tony Woods (6-11, 243) leads a big team with 9.5 points and 1.1 blocks, while Arsalan Kazemi (6-7, 226) adds 9.5 rebounds per game.
The winner of that tough game faces the winner of number 4 St. Louis (27-6 SU) and number 13 New Mexico State (24-10 SU). St. Louis (21-10 ATS) won the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament. The Billikens are led by Dwane Evans (6-5), a junior, who averages 13.8 points per game. St. Louis is no joke. This team beat New Mexico, Butler twice and VCU twice. St. Louis allows just 58.1 points per game and team to shoot 41.3 percent from the field. Mike McCall (10.0 points per game) and Cody Ellis (10.1 points) are outstanding outstanding shooters.
They take on New Mexico State (17-14 ATS), who won the WAC with wins over Texas Arlington, 64-55, giving 4.5. The Aggies have one of the most intriguing players in the nation in Sim Bhullar (7-5, 335), who had16 points and 15 rebounds in the WAC final. They have tremendous size as Bhullard is surrounded by 6-8 Bandja Sy and 6-9 Renaldo Dixon. They are a mediocre outside shooting team who shot the fewest amount of threes in the WAC. Guard Daniel Mullings leads the way with 14.0 points per game. Their best wins are over Southern Miss and Denver.
March 22 from Philadelphia
In Philadelphia, number two Duke (27-5 SU, 17-15 ATS) takes on number 15 Albany (24-10 SU, 4-2 ATS). Duke is getting no respect, maybe because they lost to Lehigh last year in the second round. Or that Duke lost to Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals. Duke is led by Mason Plumlee (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds) but they aren't a great rebounding team or very good against great guards who can penetrate. They do shot 48 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. They are now 18-1 SU when 6-11 Ryan Kelly is in the lineup.
Albany won the America East with a 53-49 win over Vermont. Mike Black (15.2 points) leads the way for a solid guard-oriented team. The Great Danes are 160th in the RPI based on a weak conference and a non-conference schedule that featured a win over Washington on th eroad by one. They also lost at Ohio State by 22. Duke isn't huge but they could have their way in the paint as Albany doesn't rebound well despite having some size. They shoot 36.4 percent from three-point range and will have to shoot around 40 percent to have a chance in this one.
The other matchup features number 7 Creighton (27-7 SU, 18-13-1 ATS) against number 10 Cincinnati (22-11 SU, 11-18 ATS). Creighton comes into the Big Dance with five straight wins (SU and ATS). They edged Wichita State on March 10 to win the Missouri Valley Conference title. The coach is Greg McDermott, whose best player is his son Doug. The sharpshooting junior averages 23.4 points per game but it's not a one-man shot. Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique (6-9, 260) gives the team size and does the dirty work inside. They beat Wisconsin and Arizona State at the Las Vegas Invitational and also have wins over California and Akron.
Cincinnati comes into this tournament after losing seven of 10. This is a defensive-minded team that allows just 58.8 points and teams to shoot 38.5 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc. Sean Kilpatrick leads the way with 16.9 points per game. The problem is on offense as the Bearcats shoot just 31.7 percent from beyond the arc. They do have wins over Marquette, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Iowa State but lately they can't seem to find range for long extended periods.
March 22 from Auburn Hills, Mich.
The final bracket in the Midwest takes place from Auburn Hills, Mi., where the number three Michigan State Spartans (25-8 SU, 12-16-2 ATS) take on the Crusaders of Valparaiso (25-8 SU, 17-12-1 ATS). Michigan State has a chance to go far in this tournament. They did fall to Ohio State in the Big 10 tournament by three, getting 1.5. The Spartans defeated Kansas in Atlanta, Ohio State and Michigan. They lack great depth off the bench, especially in the post. If they lose Derrick Nix (6-9, 270, 9.5 points) to foul trouble, they are in danger. Point guard Keith Appling (13.6 points, 3.5 assists) leads the way. They defend (59.3 points, 39.4 percent) as well as just about anybody.
Valparaiso always seems to play well in March. They've won six straight coming into this tournament. They average 71.7 points per game and shoot 49 percent from the field, which is sixth nationally. They won the Horizon League with a win over Wright State but needed a miracle shot to beat Wisconsin-Green Bay by one in the semifinals. F Ryan Broekhoff leads the way with 15.9 points per game. Senior Kevin Van Wijk (6-8, 240) ads 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds. This is a team that won't be intimidated by the Spartans physical play. They just don't have a lot of quickness.
Memphis (30-4 SU, 15-16 ATS) is the sixth seed and will take on the winner of the #11 St. Mary's/Middle Tennessee State game. Memphis won the Conference USA Tournament with a win over Southern Miss, 91-79 in double overtime. The Tigers average 76 points per game and allow 65.1 points per game. Memphis has lost just once since December 15 (Xavier on Feb. 26). They have wins over Tennessee and Harvard, but that's why they had to win their tournament. Guard Joe Jackson (13.6 points) shoots a blistering 52.7 percent from the field.
St. Mary's (27-6 SU, 15-14-1 ATS) was the second West Coast Conference team to get in, after Gonzaga. They lost to the Bulldogs three times this year. But they do have a quality win over Creighton that pushed them over the top. Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 points, 6.4 assists) is one of the most underrated guards in the nation. This is not a very deep team that just lost Jordan Page (6.4 points) to a knee injury.
Middle Tennessee State (28-5 SU, 14-14-1 ATS) is a strong defensive team that allows just 57.8 points per game and teams to shoot just 39.4 percent from the field. They have a quality win over Ole Miss and also beat Vanderbilt. But this is also the same team that lost to Belmont by 15. This a dangerous team to play because they are very deep and balanced. Guard Marcos Knight (6-2, 216) leads the way with 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. This is a team that lost to Florida International in the Sun Belt tournament, 61-57 as a 13-point betting odds favorite.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: West Region
Ready for March Madness? It gets underway on Tuesday with the First Four. There are three stages to the college basketball season. There is a non-conference stage, the conference period and the postseason. We are now in the postseason as take a look at the NCAA Tournament from a betting perspective. Get out your March Madness bracket and let's take a look at the West region with an emphasis not only on who's going to advance, but who might cover the betting odds. Here is a look at the West Region where Gonzaga is the top seed for the first time in their history.
March 21-Salt Lake City
1)Gonzaga (31-2 SU, 17-12-2 ATS) takes on Southern (23-9 SU, 5-1 ATS) from Salt Lake City. Gonzaga has had a tremendous season led by an outstanding frontcourt led by Kelly Olynyk and solid guards led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. The issue is their lack of quickness in the backcourt, which was shown in a early loss to Illinois and outstanding guard Brandon Paul. Olynyk (17.5 points) is a 7-foot junior who runs like a guard. He's arguably the most improved player in the nation. The Zags should roll in the opener but it gets much tougher against either Pittsburgh or Wichita State.
The Southern Jaguars come from the SWAC where they average 67.7 points per game and allow just 57.1 points and teams to shoot 28.4 percent from the field. But they haven't faced a team as big as the Zags. They lost at Iowa State by 23 and at Wyoming by seven. They do have a decent win over Texas A&M on the road. Guard Derick Beltran leads with 15.9 points per game.
Number eight Pittsburgh (24-8 SU, 12-13 ATS) takes on number nine Wichita State (26-8 SU, 15-14-2 ATS) from Salt Lake City. The Panthers lost to Syracuse by three in the Big East tournament giving 2.5. They had come off winning four straight. Tray Woodall leads 11.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. This is a big team that could contest with Gonzaga if they get by the Shockers. 7-foot Steven Adams adds 6.2 rebounds and two blocks per game. Pitt wins with defense as they allowed just 55.4 points and teams to shoot 39.3 percent from the field. They win with size and defense but they lack a real go-to scorer to go far.
Wichita State lost the Missouri Valley tournament final to Creighton, 68-65 getting 1.5. The Shockers beat VCU and Air Force on the road, so they aren't afraid of playing away from home. They won 18 of their first 20 games and play 10 different players. They are led by forward Carl Hall (12.8 points), but their best player might be F Cleanthony Early (13.6 points), who comes off the bench. They allow 60.7 points per game and teams to shoot 40 percent from the field. Just like Pittsburgh, the Shockers have some good players but nobody who is really a go-to guy.
March 22 at Kansas City, Mo.
No. five Wisconsin (23-11 SU, 13-18-1 ATS) takes on number 12 Ole Miss (26-8 SU, 17-12 ATS). The Badgers are coming off a loss to Ohio State in the Big 10 final so they can't be disappointed that they are playing on Friday. Wisconsin is another hard-nose Big 10 team that has some bruisers inside led by Jared Berggren (6-10, 235), who averages 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. They allow just 55.9 points per game and teams to shoot 39.4 percent from the field and 29.2 from three-point range. They shoot just 33.4 percent from beyond the arc and 42.5 percent from the field. Their lack of consistent shooting and long droughts will eventually catch up.
Ole Miss won the SEC Championship over Florida to get in as they weren't automatic without a win. The Rebels win (66-63) with starting point guard Jarvis Summer (9 points per game, 3.7 assists) playing just 18 minutes due to a concussion. Guard Marshall Henderson (20 points per game) is one of the best long-range shooters in the nation. He never met a three-point shot he didn't like as he rather shoot a three than attempt a layup. Ole Miss seems to step up in big moments and not get up for teams that aren't in the spotlight. With their backs to the wall, they stepped up. Can they do it again?
Number four Kansas State (27-7 SU, 15-14-1 ATS) was the second-best team in the Big 12 most of the season. They lost to Kansas in the Big 12 final, falling 70-54, getting 5.5. They played very well down the stretch, winning eight of nine before they met Kansas. In non-conference play, they did defeat Florida 67-61 getting 11 at a neutral site. They allow just 60.4 points per game and team to shoot 31.5 percent from three point range and 41.8 percent from the field. Guard Rodney McGruder leads the Wildcats with 15.7 points and 5.4 rebounds. They lack a scoring presence inside and a consistent deep threat.
The Wildcats will meet the winner of number 13 Boise State (21-10 SU, 16-11 ATS) against La Salle (21-9 SU, 12-12-2 ATS). The Explorers from La Salle is in the NCAA Tournament (well First Four) for the first time since 1992. Ramon Galloway (17.4 points), a South Carolina transfer who leads a solid team that plays a five-guard rotation. This is a team that shoots it well from the perimeter but was last in the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage defense (45.4 percent).
La Salle takes on Boise State, who won five of their last seven games to earn a berth. The Broncos shot 46 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. Their defense allowed teams to shoot 43.1 percent from the field. Boise State is 0-5 in the NCAA's so a win here would be the first. They play four guards all times and Derrick Marks (6-3) is the team's leading shotblocker with 13. They can get away with that in round one but they struggle against big teams.
March 22 from Dayton
Number two Ohio State (26-7 SU, 19-11-1 ATS) is the team of the moment or flavor or the day. The Buckeyes take on number 15 Iona (20-13 SU, 15-15-1 ATS) from the MAAC. The Buckeyes are led by DeShaun Thomas (19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds), who was a one-man offensive machine until the latter part of the season. That's when point guard Aaron Craft (9.9 points, 4.7 assists) got involved and helped lead the Buckeyes to the Big 10 Championship over Wisconsin (50-43). Craft is one of the best defenders in the nation, and he lead a team that allows just 57.9 points and teams to shoot 39.5 percent from the field. Ohio State beat Indiana on the road, which is as good a win as an team could have.
The Iona Gaels puts up nearly 81 points per game and shoots 37.3 percent from the field. But they allow 75.8 points (332nd) and teams to shoot 45 percent from the field. They won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with a 60-57 win over Manhattan, giving 4. They've won five straight so they do come into the tournament with some momentum. The Gaels are led by David Laury (6-8, 240), a sophomore transfer who averages 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds. He adds some toughness. He was just eligible in mid-December and the Gaels could have used him in earlier games though they did beat Georgia on the road in overtime and Wake Forest by 26 on a neutral site. This could be a very dangerous 15th seed.
Number seven Notre Dame (25-9 SU, 16-15 ATS) take on number 10 Iowa State (22-11 SU, 15-13 ATS) in a very tight matchup on paper. The Fighting Irish is a very patient team that doesn't have a lot of quickness on the perimeter. They did beat Louisville at home in five overtimes along with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the road. This is a very unselfish team that ranks near the top of the nation in assists. They are led by Jerian Grant, who averages 13.4 points and 5.6 assists. They need Jack Cooley (6-9, 246) to step up as he's struggled in the latter part of the season Cooley averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Iowa State is one of those teams that is dangerous as former great player Fred "the Mayor" Hoiberg leads the Cyclones to their first trip since 2005. Iowa State does have wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma. The phrase live by the jumper, die by it certainly applies to Iowa State. They shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc and lead the country in three-point field goals. Guard Will Clyburn leads with 15.2 points, while Tyrus McGee comes off the bench to average 13.5 points.
March 21 from Salt Lake City
Number three New Mexico (29-5 SU, 19-12-2 ATS) takes on number 14 Harvard (19-9 SU, 13-12-1 ATS). The Lobos are no longer a sleeper. This is a team that could go far in this tournament. They beat UNLV and Colorado State twice, along with Cincinnati on the road. Steve Alford's team is big, led by sophomore Alex Kirk (7-0, 250), who averages 11.9 points per game and 7.9 rebounds. While they don't have great athleticism and that might hurt down the road, they do have good guard play. Junior guard Kendall Williams (6-4, 185) leads with 13.5 points and also in assists with five per game. New Mexico, who won the Mountain West with a win over UNLV, 63-56 from Las Vegas getting 2.5, allows 60.4 points per game and opponents to shoot just 38.8 percent from the field.
Harvard is coached by former Duke great Tommy Amaker. The Crimson have wins at California and at Boston College so they aren't intimidated by New Mexico. They have an excellent three-point shooting team led by Laurent Rivard (10.4 points per game), who has 74 three's, allowing Harvard to shoot 40.1 percent from the arc (seventh in the nation). They don't have a lot of size as Kenyatta Smith (6-8, 250) will be giving up four inches to Kirk. Harvard has issues rebounding as no starter averages over five rebounds per game. That's not a good sign so they better shoot the ball well to compete.
Number six Arizona (25-7 SU, 14-16 ATS) takes on number 11 Belmont (26-6 SU, 14-15 ATS). Arizona is a very talented team with wins over San Diego State, Florida and Miami-Florida. Yet they can also lose to a dismal team like USC. They aren't great defensively as they allow just 41.5 percent from the field but also allow their opponents to shoot 36 percent from three-point range. Guard Mark Lyons (14.8 points) is a transfer from Xavier who can score from outside or take it to the basket. They are strong inside led by freshman Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0, 255) and Solomon Hill (13.5 points per game)
The Belmont Bruins are not a team you want to take lightly. The Bruins won the Ohio Valley Conference, defeating Murray State in overtime by two on March 9, laying 7.5. They allowed 64 points per game and teams to shoot 41 percent, while shooting a sizzling 49.4 percent from the field (4th in the nation). They lost by 15 to Georgetown last March and nearly upset Duke in 2008, losing 71-70. They have wins over Stanford on the road and Middle Tennessee State at home. Unfortunately for Belmont, they take on a tall team in Arizona since they have no starters about 6-foot-7.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region
The NCAA Tournament gets underway on Tuesday with the First Four. Before you finish your brackets, do some research first. Get out your March Madness bracket and let's take a look at the South region with an emphasis not only on who's going to advance, but who might cover the betting odds. Here is a look at the South Region where Kansas is the top seed for the first time in their history.
March 22-Kansas City
#1 Kansas (29-5 SU, 19-14 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky (20-15 SU, 17-17 ATS). Kansas won the Big 12 tournament with a 70-54 win over Kansas State as a 5.5-point betting odds favorite. The Jayhawks are led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey (7-0, 240). Kansas has three strong guards led by freshman guard Ben McLemore (16.7 points per game). The smooth 6-5 phenom shoots over 50 percent from the floor. Kansas comes into this tournament on a 10-1 run after losing three straight. Kansas struggles against quick point guards but if they get by Western Kentucky, might see one against North Carolina if they beat Villanova.
Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt and had to win four straight games to get here. They beat Florida International in the final, 65-63 giving 2.5. This is a team that is better than their record. They jumped out to an 8-2 start and then had a sudden rash of injuries. They have no wins against NCAA Tournament teams and fell to VCU by 32 and Louisville by 23 in neutral site games. Guard T.J. Price is a streaky shooter, who averages 15.3 points per game, while guard Jamal Crook adds 12 points per game. They have a quality low-post threat in George Fant (6-6, 240) and Aleksejs Rostov (6-10, 220) has some length to disrupt Withey.
#9 Villanova (20-13 SU, 19-10-1 ATS) vs. #8 North Carolina (24-10 SU, 20-12 ATS). The Wildcats are coming off a 74-55 loss to Louisville in the Big East tournament getting 9.5. They at least beat St. John's in the first round by 13, which was probably a must-win. The Wildcats had several quality wins over Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette and Syracuse, but also had losses to Columbia and at Seton Hall. Jay Wright's squad gets to the foul line more than any other team but also turns to the ball over too often. Their best player is Jay Vaughn Pinkston (6-7, 260), who averages 12.9 points and can score facing the basket. This is a scrappy team that plays tight man-to-man but doesn't always succeed against the press. Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono (6-3, 195) averages 3.5 assists but 2.8 turnovers per game. Villanova defense well, allowing teams to shoot 40.2 percent, but they also allow them to shoot 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
North Carolina has a tough task against a scrappy Villanova team. The Tar Heels were somewhat fortunate that Maryland beat Duke, as UNC defeated Maryland in the ACC semifinals, 79-76 giving 4.5. North Carolina then lost to Miami-Florida in the finals, by 10 getting 1. North Carolina has a quality win over UNLV but was also swept by the Hurricanes. North Carolina became successful when they went to a small, quicker lineup. That leaves 6-9 James Michael-McAdoo to start at center. He could have some trouble against Villanova's Mouphtao Yarou (6-10, 255). But the Heels should be able to turn the Wildcats over as guard Dexter Strickland (6-3) is an outstanding defense. North Carolina is tough to stop when 6-5 P.J. Hairston (13.6 points) and 6-7 Reggie Bullock (14.2 points per game) stand outside the three-point line and start making threes. UNC shoots 37.4 percent from beyond the arc and they allow teams to shoot 42.2 percent.
March 21 at Auburn Hills, Mich.
#5 VCU (26-8 SU, 10-17 ATS) vs. #12 Akron (26-6 SU, 14-12-1 ATS). VCU is one of the toughest teams to play in this field. They aren't very big and that might catch up with them, but they are very quick and deep. They have wins over Butler, Memphis and Xavier on the road. The one team they couldn't get past was St. Louis, who beat them in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, 62-56, getting 1.5. The Rams shoot 46 percent from the field and hold teams to just 38.9 percent (31.8 from three-point range). They have numerous athletic guards led by Troy Daniels (12.2 points), Treveon Graham (15.7 points) and speedy backup Briante Weber (5.2 points) who leads the pressure defense. Juvonte Reddick (14.5 points) is the only player with size at 6-9, 235.
Akron had wins over Middle Tennessee State and beat Ohio University three times including the MAC final , 65-46. Their biggest problem right now is not having point guard Alex Abreu (10.3 points, 6.0 assists),w ho was suspended on March 7 due to pending marijuana trafficking chargers. Freshman point guard Carmelo Betancourt did a nice job managing the game against Ohio but is nowhere near as advanced as Abreu and now has to face an incredibly-tough defense. They do have an advantage up front with 7-foot Zeke Marshall (13.1 points), who shoots 66 percent from the floor. Demetrius "Tree" Treadwell (11.3 points) is a double-double machine who pulls down 7.9 rebounds per game. They should be able to rebound against the Rams, but can't they beat the press?
#4 Michigan (26-7 SU, 14-16- 1 ATS) vs. #13 South Dakota State (25-9 SU, 16-13 ATS). Michigan is one of the most talented teams in this bracket but also one of the most maddening. Point guard Tre Burke leads an offense that averages 75.2 points per game and shoots 48.4 percent from the field. Defensively, the Wolverines aren't always sharp. They allowed Wisconsin to score 51 points in the second half in their 68-59 loss in the Big 10 Tournament quarterfinals. Burke is one of just two Division I players to average at least 19 points and six assists per game (Pierre Jackson from Baylor). Michigan is very young with four freshman playing in their eight-man rotation and their rebounding isn't top-notch.
South Dakota State offers one of the best players in the nation on Nate Wolters, a 6-4 guard, who averages 22.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Their best win was at New Mexico, which is one of the toughest place to play in the nation. The Jackrabbits average 74 points per game and allow 65.6 points. They also shoot 47 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range. They aren't great defensively, as they allow 44.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range. South Dakota State doesn't have a lot of depth as all starters usually go 30 minutes per game. Jordan Dykstra (6-8, 225) is a very important piece for South Dakota State. He averages 12.3 points per game and needs to take pressure off of Wolters.
March 22 from Austin Tx.
#6 UCLA (25-9 SU, 15-18 ATS) vs. #11 Minnesota(20-12 SU, 15-14-1 ATS). Both teams have underachieved at times this year. UCLA's big issue is that their best all-around player and second-leading scorer Jordan Adams is out due to a broken foot. That will put more pressure on Shabazz Muhammad (18.3 points). UCLA is still very talented and has a quality point guard in Larry Drew III (7.3 points, 7.5 assists), a North Carolina transfer. UCLA averages 74.7 points per game and allows 68.9 points and opponents to shoot just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc. This is not a physical team and they are not a very good rebounding team as they rank just 247th in rebounding margin.
Minnesota is a bigger, physical team, who has beaten Michigan State, Memphis, Wisconsin and Indiana. Yet they struggle on the road, and ended the season losing three straight at Nebraska and Purdue. They finished with a 2-point loss to Illinois as a 3-point betting odds favorite in the Big 10 tournament. Guard Andre Hollins leads with 13.9 points per game. Trevor Mbakwe (6-8, 245) adds nearly nine rebounds per game and gives them a physical presence. Minnesota shoots 44.2 percent from the field and just 32.6 percent from beyond the arc. They defend well, allowing just 61.7 points and teams to shoot 39.6 percent from the field (33.9 percent from beyond the arc).
#3 Florida (26-7 SU, 16-14 ATS) vs. #14 Northwestern State (23-8 SU, 1-2 ATS). The Gators looked like they might gain a number one seed a few weeks ago. They dropped to a number three based on the strength of the SEC. They also lost to Ole Miss as an 11-point favorite by three in the SEC final and lost at Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri in the last few weeks. Florida allows just 53.7 points per game and teams to shoot 37.7 percent from the field. They averages 71.6 points per game and shoot 48.1 percent from the field. They have an excellent backcourt trip of Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Scotty Wilbekin. The Gators tend to rely too often on long three-pointers. F Erik Murphy is 6-10 and shoots 46.6 percent from three-point range. They have size in the post led by Patric Young (6-9, 249), who they tend to forget at times.
Northwestern State is here because they won the Southland Conference, beating Stephen F. Austin, 68-66, getting 5 in the final. The Demons are the nation's highest scoring team, who averages 81 points per game. They are very deep with No. 2 scorer James Hulbin (12.5 points) coming off the bench. F DeQuan Hicks (14.1 points) pulls down 5.8 rebounds and only plays 20 minutes per game. The Demons lack quality wins, but did defeat Louisiana Tech. When they played some teams from power conferences, they lost at Oklahoma by just four and at Arkansas by 18. The problem is their defense that allows 71.2 points per game and teams to shoot 42.4 percent. When they aren't shooting well, they don't have much of a chance.
March 22 from Philadelphia
#7 San Diego State (22-10 SU, 13-13-1 ATS) vs. #10 Oklahoma (20-11 SU, 17-10 ATS). San Diego State is entering their fourth straight NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs beat New Mexico, UCLA and Colorado State to stuff their resume'. Steve Fisher's club is very good defensively as they allow teams to shoot just 38.8 percent from the field, but they shoot just 43.8 percent themselves and 32.4 percent from three-point range. They have a work-man-like team that that has to grind games out. They lost to New Mexico in the Mountain West semifinals, 60-50, getting 2. Guard James Franklin (6-5, 205) leads with 17 points per game and also leads in rebounding, assists and steals. Like most of their guards, he can get to the line but is not a great outside shooter.
Oklahoma has lost two straight including a 73-66 defeat to Iowa State in the semifinals, getting 2. The Sooners average 71.1 points per game and shoot 32.6 percent from three-point range. They defend pretty well and allow teams to shoot just 41.8 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc. Oklahoma has quality wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas and Iowa State, But this is the same team that lost at TCU and to Stephen F. Austin at home. Lon Kruger, who has now taken five teams to the NCAA Tournament, has a very deep bench. Oklahoma is similar to San Diego State that they don't have enough reliable outside shooters. Forward Romero Osby (6-8, 232) leads with 15. 2 points per game and is excellent on the low block.
#2 Georgetown (25-6 SU, 16-11 ATS) vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast (24-10 SU, 4-0 ATS). The Hoyas are a number two seed and were close to getting a number one. They lost to Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, 58-55 in overtime. That was after beating Syracuse twice in the regular season. Georgetown is led by Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter (6-8, 210), an outstanding all-around player. Porter (16.4 points) needs some help from the other part of his team for the Hoyas to go far. Markel Starks (12.4 points) and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (9 points) are two players capable of helping Porter out. The Hoyas win with defense as they allow just 55.7 points per game and they allow teams to shoot just 30.4 percent from three-point range.
Florida Gulf Coast is making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles have only been in Division I for just six years. Coach Andy Enfield's team beat Miami-Florida so they are capable of the upset. They won the Atlantic Sun beating Mercer, 88-75, getting 5.5. The Eagles are led by Sherrod Brown (6-4, 200), who averages 15.3 points per game and can really shoots (46 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range). They don't have a lot of size and they have just two seniors in the rotation. Chase Fieler (6-8, 205) and Eric McKnight (6-9, 210) provide their only size. Fieler does average 12.2 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
March Madness Preview: East Region
The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday with the First Four and the second round starts on Thursday. The South Region offers some outstanding betting opportunities. Get out your March Madness bracket, your pencils out and let's take a look at the East region, led by number one seed Indiana.
March 22 from Dayton
#1 Indiana (27-6 SU, 17-14 ATS) vs. LIU Brooklyn/James Madison. The top-seeded Hoosiers will take on the winner of the LIU Brooklyn-James Madison game that will be played on Wednesday.
The Hoosiers should win the first game and then could have some trouble against North Carolina State if they beat Temple. Some teams have one lottery pick. The Hoosiers have two in 7-foot Cody Zeller and wing Victor Oladipo. Zeller averages 16.3 points while Oladipo, one of the best defenders in the nation, adds 14.1 points. Will Sheehy (9.9 points) is one of the best sixth men in the nation. If Indiana has a weakness, it's their depth up front. They allow teams to shoot just 39 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from beyond the arc.
LIU Brooklyn (20-13 SU, 4-0 ATS) won the Northeast Conference Tournament by beating Mount St. Mary's, 91-70, giving 3.5. The Blackbirds are a high-scoring, up-tempo team led by Jamal Olasewere (18.9 points, 8. 5 rebounds. The Blackbirds have quality wins over Bryant, Lafayette and Wagner. They average 79.5 points per game, shoot 48.3 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. But they allow 76.4 points per game and teams to shoot 47 percent.
James Madison (20-14 SU, 21-10 ATS) finished the season strong, winning five straight games in the Colonial Athletic Association. They beat Northeastern in the championship game, 70-57, getting 2. They haven't beaten anybody outside the conference that is quality. The other issue for the Dukes is that center Rayshawn Goins (6-6, 260) may miss the game due to a suspension. He leads the team in rebounds with 7.4 per game and points with 12.4 points. But their best player is Wyoming transfer A.J. Davis (12.1 points) who averaged around 20 points in their five-game winning streak. James Madison averages 65.2 points per game and shoots 42 percent from the field, while holding teams to 64.4 points and 42.7 percent from the field.
#8 North Carolina State (24-10 SU, 17-15 ATS) vs. #9 Temple (23-9 SU, 14-16 ATS). NC State is coming off wining two of three in the ACC Tournament. They fell to Miami on Saturday in the semifinals. 81-71, getting 2. The Wolfpack are led by C.J. Leslie (14.9 points). They beat UConn, Stanford, Duke and North Carolina. All five of their starters average in double figures. They have a strong post game led by 6-8 center Richard Howell, who averages 12.7 points and 10.6 rebounds. NC State averages 77.5 points per game and allows 70.1 points. They also allow opponents to shoot 41.8 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from beyond the arc. They need a big game from Scott Wood, their best three-point shooter because they really have nobody else who is that strong from the perimeter.
Temple has wins over Syracuse, St. Louis and VCU. But they also lost to Duquesne and Canisius. The Owls are led by guard Khalif Wyatt, who averages 19.9 points per game. Anthony Lee (6-6, 215) and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (6-9, 230) are tough inside players but they will be tested by Howell and the Wolfpack. Temple allows teams to shot 43.5 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. This is not a great defensive team but with a player like Wyatt, they can probably string together a couple of wins along with strong coaching from Fran Dunphy (2-14 SU in NCAA's).
March 21 from San Jose
#5 UNLV (25-9 SU, 13-20 ATS) vs. #12 California (20-11 SU, 12-16-1 ATS), The Runnin' Rebels are back for their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They have as much as talent as most teams in this tournament. Freshman Anthony Bennett (15.9 points) is not only one of the best freshman in the nation, but also one of the best players. He's a dynamic 6-foot-8 forward who can score inside and out. Anthony Marshall (10.5 points, 5.8 assists) runs the show. UNLV did lose to New Mexico in the final at home, 63-56 giving 2.5. They also have a bad loss at home to Fresno State, but they have quality wins against Iowa State and California. They allow just 63 points per game and teams to shoot 38.8 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc. The Runnin' Rebels don't have a lot of inside toughness and they don't always make the right decisions.
California is coming off a 79-69 overtime loss in the Pac-12 tournament to Utah giving 8. Not a great ending but their seven-game winning streak near the end of the season got them through. Wins over UCLA and Arizona on the road was impressive. The Golden Bears, coached by Mike Montgomery, are strong defensively. They allow just 64.4 points per game and teams to shoot 39.6 percent. Their backcourt is their strength, led by Allen Crabbe (18.6 points) and Justin Cobbs (15.1 points). Crabbe was the Pac 12's Player of the Year. Their guards have to create because they don't score much down low.
#4 Syracuse (26-9 SU, 17-14 ATS) vs. #13 Montana (25-6 SU, 17-11-1 ATS). The Orange slumped towards the end of the season, then won three straight in the Big East Tournament including an overtime win over Georgetown by three, before falling to Louisville in the final (78-61). The Orange added James Southerland (13.6 points) back from injury and he's one of their best shooters, even at 6-foot-8, 215. The Orange shoot just 33.4 percent from three-point range and Southerland (41 percent) gives them a strong option. They also have a lot of length up front and on the wing, which helps their 2-3 matchup zone defense. They struggle when they don't rebound the ball and that eventually could be their downfall.
Montana won the Big Sky with a victory over Weber State, 67-64 giving 1. But that was their best win of the season. The Grizzlies lost to Colorado State by seven to start the season and never faced an NCAA Tournament team again. F Kareem Jamar (6-6) leads the way with 14.3 points per game and is very well-rounded offensive player. Montana averages 71.1 points per game, shoots 47.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. They hold opponents to 42.7 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. They do rely on the three-point shot and that sometimes hurts their ability to go to the boards.
March 21 from Lexington, Ky.
#6 Butler (26-8 SU, 18-13-1 ATS) at #11 Bucknell (28-5 SU, 2-4 ATS). The Bulldogs are now the hunted and not the hunter. They take on a very tough Bucknell team, who is used to being the Cinderella. Butler's move to the Atlantic 10 had mixed results. They did win 26 games and beat Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina. But in conference, they lost to St. Louis and VCU, Charlotte and Xavier. Butler ended winning four of five but couldn't beat St. Louis in the semifinal (67-56 loss). Butler allows 63.8 points per game and teams to shoot 41.8 percent. They shoot 35 percent from beyond the arc and 45.3 percent overall. Rotnei Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas, is a big-time shooter who averages 16.7 points per game. Center Andrew Smith (6-11, 243) gives the Bulldogs the ability to match up against big post players and that's certainly the case against Bucknell. Butler has issues because they lack a true point guard. Their losses to St. Louis and VCU had a lot to do with point guard play or lack thereof.
Bucknell is team that few teams want to face. They beat Purdue, New Mexico State and La Salle which is impressive for a Patriot League team and a lot better than high-major squads that are not in the big dance. Center Mike Muscala (6-11) was the Patriot League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 19 points and 11.2 rebounds. He also leads the nation with 22 double-doubles. Guards Cameron Ayres (12.5 points) and Bryson Johnson (11.1 points) are quality players but Ayers is slumping as of late. He's 0-for-6 from three-point range in his past three games. Bucknell doesn't have a deep bench so that could come back to cost them if they don't beat Butler.
The winner of the Butler-Bucknell game will face the winner of #3 Marquette (23-8 SU, 13-14 ATS) and #14 Davidson (26-7 SU, 16-15-1 ATS). Marquette has quietly had a very strong year, beating the likes of Georgetown, Syracuse, and Wisconsin. They did lose in their opening game in the Big East Tournament on Thursday, but at least that gave them an a week's rest. This is not a very talented Marquette team, but coach Buzz Williams usually gets the best from his players. They average 69 points per game and shoot 47 percent from the field, but only 30.1 percent from beyond the arc. They are solid defensively, allowing just 40.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three-point range. Guard Vander Blue leads the Golden Eagles with 14.4 points per game. Davante Gardner (6-8, 290) is huge and scores 11.5 points off the bench.
Davidson is another team nobody wants to face. The Wildcats are on a 17-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. They don't have any wins against NCAA Tournament teams, but did beat Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Richmond. They lost to New Mexico by five on the road and to Gonzaga by 14 on a neutral sits. They have three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, so this is a very experienced squad. Center Jake Cohen (6-10, 235) leads the way with 14.8 points per game and is a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year. Chris Czerapowicz (9.2 points) shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc and if he gets it going, the Wildcats will be tough to beat. They are averaging 73.7 points per game and shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc. They hold teams to 41.2 percent from the field and 62.2 points per game.
March 22 from Austin, Tx.
#7 Illinois (22-12 SU) vs. #10 Colorado (21-11 SU). Illinois lost three of their last four games but made the tournament based on wins over Gonzaga, Butler, Ohio State and Indiana. Consistency has been a problem for first-year coach John Groce. They started 12-0 and then started 2-7 in the Big 10. Fortunately, they have an outstanding point guard in Brandon Paul, who averages over 16 points per game and made the game-winner to beat Minnesota in the big 10 Tournament. Reality struck in the next game when Indiana crushed them, 80-64 on Friday. Illinois allows 65.3 points and teams to shoot 34.3 percent from the field. They have games where they look like a top 10 team and then they shoot 29 percent at Iowa. They don't get a lot of scoring from the frontcourt and that means they rely on their guards to score.
Colorado beat Oregon twice, Colorado State and Arizona. The Buffaloes rely on 6-7 junior Andre Roberson, who leads the nation in rebounding with 11.3 per game. He also led them in steals and blocks. Colorado allows teams to shoot 40.4 percent from the field and holds their opponents to an average of 63.8 points per game. Guard Spencer Dinwiddie leads the team with 15.4 points per game and is also their top defender. The x-factor is Josh Scott (6-10, 215), a lanky freshman who takes away easy looks from the basket.
#2 Miami-Florida (27-6 SU, 20-9-1 ATS) vs. #15 Pacific (22-12 SU, 16-13-1 ATS). The Hurricanes could have a case for the top seed and then you go back to their bad losses (Florida Gulf Coast, Indiana State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech) and you realize that they didn't deserve it. Miami has arrived under second-year coach Jim Larranaga, who has a Final Four berth with George Mason. The Hurricanes won the ACC regular season and tournament title for the first time. They have a lot of experienced up front and a sophomore point guard in Shane Larkin (13.7 points) who is one of the best in the nation. Kenny Kadji (6-11, 242, 13.6 points) and Reggie Johnson (7.7 points, 6-10, 292) are brick walls in the post. Trey McKinney Jones (6-5, 220) is another senior who can be a difference-maker with his great leaping ability. Miami allows 60.7 points per game and teams to shoot 32.6 percent from the three-point line and 39.9 percent overall. This isn't a very deep team and they lack a big-time scorer from the win.
Miami-Florida takes on Pacific, who won the Big West by defeating Cal Irvine, 64-55 giving 2. They have quality wins this year over Xavier and Long Beach State. The also lost to Gonzaga by 18 and to California by 20. Pacific averages 67.5 points per game, shoots 45.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. The allow teams to shoot 34.4 percent from beyond the arc and 42.1 percent from the field. This is a deep team with good balance. Their tallest players (Khalil Kelley and Tony Gill) only go 6-foot-8. Guard Lorenzo McCloud leads the way with 11. 4 points per game. He shoots over 40 percent from the three-point line.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
Big Dance Breakdown
By Bruce Marshall
By Selection Sunday standards, this season's rendition was a bit tame. No real surprises in the mix; few complaints from the masses. For the most part (with a possible exception or two that we'll note in a moment), the Committee seems to have gotten the 68-team field right for once.
Still, the perception that the process is anything other than a subjective act continues to be forwarded by the Selection Committee, when nothing could be further from the truth. Among the TV talking heads on Sunday, only ESPN's Jay Bilas was inclined to question the Committee's process because of what appeared to be some inconsistencies both in seeding and in eventual criteria for separating teams at the cut line.
For us, we conceded long ago that the Big Ten was going to be given a wide berth by the Committee, though upon closer inspection we wonder why. Moreover, it was as if the Committee simply borrowed the talking points from sorts such as Andy Katz and Joe Lunardi about the SEC being in such a down cycle this season. Regarding the latter, however, we detected some inconsistencies with the Committee and, for that matter, the majority of media talking heads who have similarly downgraded the SEC this season.
We have long believed that the selection process, while tedious, is also mostly overblown by the media and the Committee itself, which guards the secrets of its 10-man enclave in Indianapolis as if it is dealing with national security. There are a handful of former national defense secretaries like Bob Gates and Leon Panetta who are looking for things to do these days; perhaps they should be included into next year's Big Dance Selection Committee mix to maintain that cloud of secrecy.
For us, we have to wonder about the sharpness of the Committee when it violated one of its supposed tenets and slotted regular-season rematches (supposedly a no-no) at the top of a sub-regional round. The reaction of the CBS crew (Doug Gottlieb in particular) confirmed that oversight when UNLV and Cal were unveiled as a Thursday matchup in San Jose. The Runnin' Rebels and Golden Bears played a regular-season game back on December 9 at Berkeley, and their rematch was one of the questions addressed to Committee Chairman Mike Bobinski, who fumbled around for a proper answer.
Apparently, according to Bobinski, the Committee had boxed itself in and had no alternative but to put UNLV and Cal against one another. Which we find curious, as with a simple paper, pencil, and notes, we have been able to seed a projected NCAA field for the last two months while avoiding rematches at the top of sub-regional action. All it takes is a pencil with an eraser to move some of the teams around to prevent what is supposedly a Big Dance no-no.
The wide space granted to the Big Ten might also be a bit misplaced. Especially when referring to Minnesota, whose 5-11 record over its last 16 games was never mentioned once by one of the talking heads that instead seemed to be comparing the Gophers to Bill Russell's old USF title teams when discussing what a fundamental mismatch it would be for UCLA when facing the "mighty" Golden Gophers in the first round.
Upon further inspection of information from the first half of the season, we acknowledge some of the Big Ten's impressive performances, but it's not an airtight case for Big Ten superiority. Wisconsin, after all, lost almost every challenging non-league game (vs. Florida, Creighton, Virginia, and Marquette...three of those losses by double-digit margins) it played. Ohio State's non-conference victims list is dotted with Rhode Island, Savannah State, Northern Kentucky, and Winthrop; the Buckeyes lost when stepping up to face Duke and Kansas. No shame there, but similar criteria when used to evaluate teams from other leagues was apparently overlooked.
Indiana had two significant non-conference games; it beat Georgeotwn in OT in Brooklyn before the Hoyas hit stride, and lost vs. Butler. The win over North Carolina came long before the Tar Heels hit stride later in the season. Michigan State beat Kansas and several lesser entities but lost vs. UConn and Miami-Florida. While Gonzaga was disparaged by several talking heads for its loss to Illinois and a so-so non-league slate (which was not true, as the Zags went 5-0 vs. the Big 12), Michigan got lots of credit for its win over Kansas State and a pair of other successes vs. Pitt and N.C. State teams that were no better than the eighth-line teams in Dance seeding. Iowa beat Iowa State, but was whipped by Wichita State and Virginia Tech. Illinois won at Maui and dealt Gonzaga one of its two regular-season defeats, but was also routed in St. Louis by SEC rep Missouri.
Speaking of the SEC, we have to wonder why the Committee and the talking heads seemed to absolve Florida of its association with the league and rewarded the Gators a three-seed in the Dance while downgrading the rest of the loop. Florida lost every game it played that was decided by single digits and dropped five SEC games played away from Gainesville, including the conference tourney finale in Nashville vs. Ole Miss. If the SEC was so terrible, why did the Gators keep losing league games, as did supposedly highly-regarded Missouri, which lost seven of nine road games in the league as well as a pre-conference date at UCLA? But, for some reason, the Committee made exceptions for Florida and, to a lesser extent Missouri, as did the talking heads by refusing to clump those two with the rest of the loop.
There were also inconsistencies (as ESPN's Bilas noted) about the inclusion of Middle Tennessee as one of the last at-large teams (or, apparently, the last at-large, as Committee Chair Bobinski seemed to indicate) at the expense of a Tennessee, which was hot down the stretch. Bobinski again stumbled for answers other than noting that MTSU had beaten the same Ole Miss team that had toppled the Vols twice. The Blue Raiders, however, lost other challenging non-league assignments vs. Florida, Akron, and Belmont.
We're on record as having no problem with mid-majors like the Sun Belt catching an occasional break from the Selection Committee. And Tennessee could have probably moved to the safe side of the cut line had it beaten Alabama in the quarters of the SEC tourney last week in Nashville. Still, we might have picked the Vols over MTSU.
Elsewhere, there were questions related to seeding, especially the apparent downgrading of the Pac-12, where Oregon and Cal both received lower-than-expected 12 seeds (although Bobinski noted that each was originally an 11 seed, and was moved down a line in the procedural "bump" the Committee reserves in order to balance the field). Still, we believe this is really much ado about nothing, as 12 seeds usually have a better deal than eight or nine-seeds that are almost assuredly going to have to face regional number one seeds in the round of 32, as opposed to a more-beatable 4 or 5 seed. Although a downgraded seeding can dent the psyche of a team, in fact it often acts as a blessing in disguise. The fact that a 12 seed has advanced to the Sweet 16 in all but three years since the modern seeding of the tourney began in 1985 (a much better percentage than eight of nine seeds) is a confirmation that sometimes it can be better to be a bit downgraded at the outset.
We also wonder about all of the discussion regarding the top regional seeds, which seems like a manufactured storyline to us. Practically speaking, there is effectively no difference between a one and a two seed, except that a handful of 2's have been knocked off by 15 seeds in the last three decades. Whether Gonzaga is a one or two seed is going to have little impact on the proceedings save for being a nice feather in the Zags' hat.
The bottom line? The Selection Committee is comprised of humans, and they make the decisions, not the machines. We just wish that more members would confirm the selection process as a subjective exercise. And we'd also suggest a sequester of the Committee members from exposure to the TV talking heads who so seem to influence their thought process.
ANY GEORGE MASONS OR BUTLERS IN THE HOUSE?
The unexpected runs of mid-majors such as George Mason and Butler (and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011) to the Final Four in recent years have prompted us to offer a "mid-major alert" each of the past few seasons, highlighting teams to watch that could emerge and deliver a similar run in the Dance. Following are a handful of those sides that we would watch closely...
Davidson (SUR 26-7; seeded 14th in East)...Among all of the mid-major entries, we suspect the Wildcats might be the most complete and dangerous team. All starters returned from last year's side that made it to the Dance and gave Louisville a fight in the sub-regionals. Well-balanced, with six players who led the team in scoring in at least one game this season. A unique weapon in Ryan Kelly-like, Euro-style 6-10 F Jake Cohen (14.8 ppg), and a matchup nightmare in 6-7 swingman De'Mon Brooks (13.8 ppg), who can post-up smaller defenders. Team FT shooting (80.1%) is the best in the nation; G Nik Cochran (94.1%) tops all. Underrated, vet HC Bob McKillop has taken several teams to the Dance that did not include Stephen Curry. Pushed New Mexico to the limit in a challenging non-conference slate that also included Gonzaga and Duke. Junior-senior dominated roster that returned eight of nine top contributors from last season...the sort of team makeup that suggests it can at least be a dangerous underdog.
Belmont (SUR 26-6; seeded 11th in West)...No longer a well-kept secret, vet HC Rick Byrd's Bruins make a return visit return to the Dance after moving from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley. Electric backcourt featuring senior G's Ian Clark (18.3 ppg & 54.3% FGs) and Kerron Johnson (13.5 ppg). But balanced beyond the backcourt, with four starters scoring in double figures. Whipped South Dakota State at Nashville in December; other notable wins over Stanford and Ohio. Not big (no starter taller than 6'7) and probably a bit too perimeter-oriented to make a Mason, Butler, or VCU-type run, but Byrd is due for a win in the Dance after losing in five previous tries. Arizona is forewarned for the Thursday game in Salt Lake City.
South Dakota State (SUR 25-9; seeded 13th in South)...Back for another try after competitive loss vs. Baylor in the sub-regionals last year. Four starters returned from that tourney team, led by hot-shooting G Nate Wolters (22.7 ppg), who exploded for 53 points in a Feb. 7 win at IPFW. Wolters is more than a shooter, also a drive-and-kick penetrator who can count upon a squadron of dagger-throwing teammates including F Jordan Dykstra and G Chad White, both 43% beyond the arc. Efficient on the attack end by limiting TO's, this is still a perimeter-oriented squad that has some defensive liabilities. But could be a very tricky matchup nonetheless, especially vs. a team that is lax in defending the arc. Famously won at The Pit vs. New Mexico in December after an arduous 1200-mile bus ride from Nashville (after the Jackrabbits lost to Belmont) necessitated by weather conditions that grounded air travel. Rumor has it the team made at least one Waffle House stop en route to Albuquerque.
Bucknell (SUR 28-5; seeded 11th in East)...The alma mater of CBS head honcho Les Moonves, the Bison could be the latest in a string of Patriot League reps that have made some noise in recent Dances, including a year ago when Lehigh famously dumped Duke in the sub-regional. The Bison returned four starters from last year's NIT team, including 6-11 sr. C Mike Muscala, one of the best-kept secrets in the country after scoring 19.1 ppg and hauling in 11 rpg this season. Which means that foes are going to have to vigorously defend the post vs. Bucknell. The "outside" part of the inside-outside balance is courtesy of capable Gs 6-5 jr. Cameron Ayers (12.7 ppg) and sr. Bryson Johnson (11.5 ppg), both proficient shooting 3s. Notable wins this season include Purdue, La Salle, and New Mexico State.
Northwestern State (SUR 23-8, seeded 14th in South)...KO'd favored Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Tourney finale, although that was the Demons' second win in three tries vs. the Lumberjacks. Led the nation in scoring offense for much of the season thanks a relentless lineup that goes 10-deep; top scorer F DeQuan Hicks (14.2 ppg) usually comes off the bench. Defense a bit suspect, as we noted in its BracketBuster loss at Niagara, but NW can prove an awkward matchup due to its go-go style for HC Mike McConathy. Beat La Tech in early December and was a close loser at Oklahoma and LSU.
Montana (SUR 25-6, seeded 13th in East)...The Grizzlies were functioning minus top scorer F Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg; foot injury) for the last month of the season, this after high-scoring G Will Cherry (14.5 ppg) missed the first month of the campaign with his own broken foot. Cherry also missed some late-season action with another foot injury, but was back in the lineup for the Big Sky Tourney and win in the finale vs. dangerous Weber State. With Cherry and Ward absent for long stretches this season, F Kareem Jamar (14.2 ppg) stepped into the breach and was named Big Sky MVP. Lost four games early with Cherry out of starting lineup due to injury, but sent a warning shot in the BracketBuster at Davidson, pushing the Wildcats into OT despite being minus Ward and with Cherry re-injuring his foot in the 2nd half. Repeat Big Dance qualifier after losing to Wisconsin in sub-regional action last season.
Let's hope we're still talking about one or more of these teams next week for the Sweet 16; the tourney is always a bit more memorable when at last one Cinderella side emerges!
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
South Region Outlook
By Joe Nelson
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the South region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, and Michigan lead a bracket filled with powerhouse programs with a lot of great tradition. Take a look at the South region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Florida – While Kansas and Georgetown were seeded higher in this region, Florida is the odds-on favorite in this region at 7/5 to advance to the Final Four. Only Louisville and Indiana are liked better by the oddsmakers to win the national championship despite the Gators being a #3 seed. Florida opened the season looking like the best team in the nation opening up 7-0 with blowout wins over Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State, Marquette, and Florida State but things have not gone as well lately. The Gators did also lead Georgetown in the aircraft carrier game to open the season before it was cancelled for an interesting side story should those teams meet in this bracket. Florida has certainly shown some vulnerability in recent weeks, losing four of the past nine games including two losses to teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament field. Another concern is the inability to win close games for the Gators despite a well-balanced veteran team. Most Florida wins came by huge margins with 10 points being the smallest margin of victory all season. Six of the seven Florida losses came by six points or less and in the NCAA Tournament there will likely be some close games where the Gators will need to make plays down the stretch to get or hold a lead. Florida has dominant statistics and has the best efficiency ratings in the nation due to the many lopsided wins, but this is a team that will need to prove itself in crunch time now that the games really matter.
Final Four Sleeper: VCU – Virginia Commonwealth made an amazing Final Four run two years ago and this is a team that has the potential to make a run again. While this team is not as talented as the squad from two years ago, the aggressive turnover-forcing defensive philosophy can cause a lot of problems in a tournament setting. The bracket also lines up favorably as the Rams draw an Akron team that will be playing without its starting point guard in the first round and then will face a Michigan squad that is young and really struggles defensively at times. VCU is more efficient on offense than you might expect, but that is an impact of the easy baskets in transition and off turnovers as this is a pretty average shooting team and a marginal rebounding squad. The Rams will play close with anyone, as just about every loss came in a very close game including narrow misses against Wichita State, Duke, and Missouri early in the year. VCU went 0-2 against St. Louis this season in a very strong Atlantic 10 conference, but there are wins over five different NCAA Tournament teams on the resume. The NCAA Tournament track record is pretty impressive the last two years as last year this team followed up the Final Four run with a strong showing last year, beating Wichita State and then losing by just two against Indiana. VCU beat Kansas two years ago to get to the Final Four and they may get that chance again in the Sweet 16 of the South region.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Oklahoma – Many can see VCU, San Diego State, or even Minnesota making a run in this region, but an Oklahoma squad that had a very respectable season is getting little attention. While the Mountain West rated as one of the best conferences in the nation this year, the track record of that league in the NCAA Tournament is incredibly poor and San Diego State may be the weakest of the five entrants. The Aztecs went 4-5 in the final nine games of the season yet still managed a #7 seed, but the price includes traveling to the east coast with as long of travel as any team in the tournament for the opening game. San Diego State went 5-8 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament and this team is getting too much respect for a dominant 55-34 win over New Mexico back in January that came in a very difficult spot for the Lobos. That leaves this team vulnerable to an Oklahoma a team with wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Iowa State in Big XII play. Losing the last game of the regular season and the first conference tournament game should leave the Sooners motivated and with two overtime losses and four other losses by three or fewer points on the year, it very easily could have been an even stronger year for Oklahoma. Facing Georgetown in the Round of 32 will be a big challenge if Oklahoma gets by San Diego State, but Georgetown is one of those teams that can go into great slumps offensively and keep in mind the Hoyas have not won a second game in the NCAA Tournament since the Final Four run in 2007.
Best Opening Game: North Carolina vs. Villanova – UCLA and Minnesota could also be a highly competitive game, but this should be the most entertaining. North Carolina has been forced to play small down the stretch, but it has been a formula that has worked as the Tar Heels played excellent late season ball and gave Miami a great run in an offensive showdown in the ACC Championship game. North Carolina won 11 of the last 15 games of the season and all four losses came against teams that are #2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, so this is a team with some great momentum and talent that is finally starting to reach its potential. Villanova will clash in style with the Tar Heels as this Wildcats team has had success in slower half-court games. While the Wildcats are not the most consistent offensive team in the bracket, they are one of the most efficient defensive teams in this region and this team picked up several big wins down the stretch to play into the field after a rough start to the season. Villanova played one of the nation’s toughest schedules and has wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, and Georgetown this season and this could be a great match-up between traditional powers. The winner will certainly be a tough draw for top seeded Kansas in a four-team pod that features a lot of history.
Trendy Upset that won’t be: South Dakota State over Michigan – Michigan is young and the Wolverines have struggled down the stretch with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games of the season after being the #1 team in the nation at one point. South Dakota State is an offensive juggernaut that scores nearly 74 points per game and has one of the top shooting percentages in the field. Michigan is one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten, but South Dakota State is perhaps the worst defensive team in the entire 68-team bracket. The Jackrabbits won the Summit League title, but the conference fared very poorly in the Bracket Buster and this team only has two wins over teams that made the NCAA Tournament. One of the wins was a true gem, winning at New Mexico with a very cold shooting performance for the Lobos in a game that meant far more to the underdog. Michigan won’t be caught off guard by this match-up and star guard Nate Wolters will be forced into difficult shots throughout this game. Against Minnesota earlier this season, South Dakota State lost by 22, so matching up with a superior Big Ten team could be problematic. This has the feel of a match-up where the underdog might have a hot start and make some waves early, but eventually the stronger team will prevail and stopping Michigan’s offense that ranks second in the nation in efficiency will be a big problem for the Jackrabbits.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
Midwest Region Outlook
By Joe Nelson
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the Midwest region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Louisville leads the charge in this region and by all accounts has the most favorable path in the field but rarely does this tournament play to form completely. Take a look at the Midwest region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Louisville - The Cardinals have not been immune to an early upset, bowing out early two years ago as a #4 seed but this was a final four team last season and one of the more complete teams in the nation. Louisville is not an elite shooting team but the Cardinals possess perhaps the best defense in the nation and as was displayed during the Big East championship game, the press can create turnovers and big scoring runs. By being the #1 overall seed Louisville will draw a very weak first round foe and the Cardinals will be stacked with favorable venues with a path in Lexington and then Indianapolis. The second round game could be a challenge however as both Colorado State and Missouri rate above Louisville in offensive efficiency as they are the top two rebounding teams in the tournament field. Louisville would be a larger favorite than any other #1 seed in the second game however as there are some quality teams in the #8-9 slots this year. Louisville also likely draws the least fearsome #4 and #5 seeds in their region so rightfully so the Cardinals enter as the championship favorites at 9/2.
Final Four Sleeper: Saint Louis - Nationally the Billikens may not be a household name but this is a team that has been on a roll. The death of former head coach Rick Majerus as the season started was a challenge but this team has played on a mission, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles in a very strong Atlantic 10 Conference. St. Louis has been one of the top ATS teams in the nation this season at 21-10 on the season and the Billikens have held foes to just 58 points per game this season. St. Louis beat New Mexico and lost to Kansas in the most prominent non-conference games so they have some experience against top teams. There are no easy games at this point and St. Louis is just a slight favorite against New Mexico State in an intriguing first round game and the second round contest will be closely lined with either Oklahoma State or Oregon but this is a team that could challenge Louisville should they get the opportunity and that game would also be a reasonable trip for St. Louis in Indianapolis.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Middle Tennessee State - The Blue Raiders brought about the most controversy among the teams included in the field but that was the scenario for a Virginia Commonwealth team that made it to the Final Four two years ago. This is a team that lost just five games all season and all three non-conference losses came against teams that are in the NCAA Tournament field. Middle Tennessee State beat Mississippi and Vanderbilt this season and this is a veteran squad with all seniors and juniors in the rotation, ready for this opportunity after just missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season. Middle Tennessee State made a run to the NIT Final Eight last season and that experience should help the cause in the postseason this year. Opening up with a St. Mary’s won’t be an easy game but the Gaels do face long travel and have a complete dearth of quality wins on their resume. Memphis awaits the winner of that game but Conference USA warrants great scrutiny and the Tigers appear to be a bit over-seeded. Getting to the Sweet 16 will likely require beating Michigan State so this is certainly a long shot but the Spartans have had several early flameouts in the Tom Izzo years despite being well known for Final Four runs. Michigan State has lost its first or second tournament game five times since 2002 and the Blue Raiders are well equipped to handle a half court Big Ten style game.
Best Opening Game: Oklahoma State vs. Oregon - Oregon has a right to feel slighted in the bracket as a #12 seed despite winning the conference tournament. Oregon finished ahead of Colorado in the regular season and the Buffaloes were dealt a #10 seed while fellow under-seeded California also at #12 was at least given a game in its backyard. Oregon went 3-0 this season against UCLA and Arizona yet both of those teams were seeded well above the Ducks. Oklahoma State is a team that had Final Four sleeper attached to it before the brackets came out as they have one of the best players in the nation with freshman Marcus Smart. The Cowboys have a very tough draw overall but this is a team that won a preseason tournament in Puerto Rico with wins over Akron, Tennessee, and NC State in succession. Oklahoma State also lost by just a single-point against Gonzaga and this team was a single-point in double-overtime away from beating Kansas for a second time on the year. These teams both have excellent defensive efficiency ratings and this game will figure to be a grind of a game between two teams that are capable of making noise in the bracket despite the tough first game. Despite the 5/12 seeding the Cowboys are just 3-point favorite in this match-up and this could well be an exciting down-to-the-wire game Thursday afternoon.
Trendy Upset that won’t be: Cincinnati over Creighton - This is an offense vs. defense showdown and while backing the Big East as an underdog vs. the Missouri Valley sounds appealing this is a Cincinnati team in disarray at this point in the season. The Bearcats have lost seven of the last 11 games and each of the last three losses came by at least 16 points. Cincinnati has lost each of the last six games in which their opponent scored at least 60 points and this Blue Jays squad is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, averaging over 75 points per game. Creighton has the top shooting percentage in the nation both overall and from 3-point range and while Cincinnati is one of the worst free throw teams in the nation, Creighton is one of the best. Cincinnati will play great defense and force Creighton into some uncomfortable looks but this is a veteran team with many different scoring options even through Doug McDermott gets most of the attention. Meanwhile Cincinnati is the team with limited options on offense with the vast majority of the scoring coming from three players. Creighton beat both Wisconsin and California away from home this season, two teams with outstanding defensive efficiency like Cincinnati, so it is not clear that the Blue Jays can be slowed down in this match-up. Cincinnati is much closer to Philadelphia than Omaha but that court will be dominated by Duke and Georgetown fans, which will relish rooting against the Bearcats.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
West Region Outlook
By Joe Nelson
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the West region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Gonzaga earned a historic though controversial #1 seed but this could be a wide open region. Take a look at the West region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Gonzaga - While there are different opinions all around on who will come out of this region, Gonzaga is still listed as the favorite at 9/4. Ohio State and New Mexico are close behind and there are many that feel Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Kansas State are all viable contenders in what could be a wide open region. Gonzaga does not have the resume to be up at the top, but they did lose just two games and the Bulldogs pass the eye test. Facing a tough defensive team like Pittsburgh or Wisconsin would seem to be a big hurdle for this squad and the lack of legitimate competition in the last two months is certainly a concern. Gonzaga will get to play on the West Coast which could certainly help against Eastern contenders, but that advantage would be negated if they make it to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight games and have to face New Mexico or Arizona. While Gonzaga has slightly shorter odds than Ohio State to win this region as well as to win the national championship, the Buckeyes will likely be favored if they actually meet head-to-head. Gonzaga would only be a two or three-point favorite over potential foes Pittsburgh or Wisconsin, so while the Bulldogs can make a run, they are certainly rightfully pegged as a team that could also fall early and one has to be hesitant to pencil in Gonzaga to the Final Four, though it is not clear who the best alternative may be.
Final Four Sleeper: Kansas State - Should the bracket play to form, Wisconsin will likely be favored over Kansas State, but the Wildcats may be the forgotten team in this region. Kansas State has lost just seven games all season and every loss came against a NCAA Tournament team with three of those losses coming against Kansas. The location advantage should not be overlooked as the first two games for the Wildcats will be in Kansas City in an arena this team has already played games in this season. Wisconsin is certainly a dangerous team in that potential round of 32 matchup, but the Wildcats have veteran guards that won't be forced into careless mistakes and Coach Weber is certainly familiar with the Badgers. Should they have to face Gonzaga, it would be a great challenge, but the Bulldogs are likely to get a great second round test and they look like the most vulnerable of the top seeds. Given that Kansas State is sitting at 25/1 to win this region, this is a team with a lot of value and in a wide-open region and all of the teams in the path of the Wildcats have clear vulnerabilities. Kansas State beat Florida earlier this season and while they have struggled with rival Kansas, this is a team that can make a deep run in this region even though most are overlooking this team.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Pittsburgh - The Panthers have efficiency rankings that peg them as a top 10 team, yet the Panthers were saddled with a #8 seed. That may be a blessing in disguise as they draw the most vulnerable #1 seed in their pod and while Wichita State is not an easy first round opponent, the Shockers certainly don't have any wins of substance that rival what the Panthers battled through in the Big East. This is a team that has defeated Georgetown and Syracuse this season and also played very tight games with Michigan, Marquette, and Louisville. Pittsburgh has some youth, but this is a team that improved tremendously as the season went on and may be able to peak at the right time. Pittsburgh might not be consistent enough on offense to make a Final Four run, but they will be a serious threat to knock off Gonzaga should they survive the opening game with Wichita State as slowing down Gonzaga's offense to Pittsburgh's pace could cause real problems for the Bulldogs. Jamie Dixon has been labeled with being a great regular season performer only to see his team often fail in the NCAA Tournament as a high seed, this year's team has the opportunity to turn the tables on that history and produce a great run as a lesser seed.
Best Opening Game: Arizona vs. Belmont - The Pac-12 did not get a whole lot of respect from the NCAA Tournament committee with teams like Oregon and California falling to the 12-line, but Arizona may be a team that is over-seeded. Arizona finished 25-7 on the season and wins over Florida and Miami certainly stand out. Arizona struggled in the Pac-12 however going 0-5 against UCLA, Oregon, and California. This team is reliant on four underclassmen that play significant minutes and they will face a veteran Belmont squad that starts five upperclassmen. This Belmont team was in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, but they were dealt tough draws with elite defensive teams, falling in competitive games with Wisconsin and Georgetown. This year Belmont draws an Arizona team that is vulnerable to 3-point shooting and the Bruins have several players that will look to knock down long range shots regularly. Belmont won at Stanford earlier this season so they have proven they can hang with a quality Pac-12 squad and in the Bracket Buster the Bruins dominated an Ohio team that was in the Sweet 16 last season. This team is ready for this opportunity and if the shots are falling this could be a down-to-the-wire game.
Trendy Upset that won't be: Ole Miss over Wisconsin - Wisconsin is getting a little more national respect than usual this season as the Badgers are generally a team that many pundits peg for a first round fall. While Bo Ryan has had a few squads that have underachieved a bit in the Big Dance, he has only once lost in the first round in 11 straight trips to the tournament. Belmont and Montana were both popular upset picks the last two years and both went down by double-digits against the Badgers. Ole Miss is a team that would not have made the NCAA Tournament until a great SEC Tournament run and the overall body of work is rather shaky for the Rebels. Prior to beating Missouri and Florida in the SEC tournament, Mississippi had defeated exactly one NCAA Tournament team this season and this is a squad that also lost to several bad teams, including falling to Mississippi State and South Carolina this year in SEC play. Mississippi has some talent but this team often lacks discipline, playing up-tempo and often forcing questionable shots. That style of play won't often hold up well against an elite Big Ten defense and with top distributor Jarvis Summers unlikely to play with a recent concussion this could be a disastrous match-up for Rebels team. Ole Miss has the look of a team that may simply be happy to be in the field and still riding high after the conference tournament championship.
Re: NCAA Tournament Betting Preview
East Region Outlook
By Joe Nelson
With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the East region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Indiana leads this bracket and is one of the favorites to win the whole tournament, but there are other contenders lurking and several popular first round upset calls waiting in this region. Take a look at the East region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Indiana - The Hoosiers are the favorites to win the East region and only sit behind Louisville as the favorite to win the national championship. Indiana only lost six games all season, but three of those losses have come in the last six games. This team has the experience and talent to go all the way, but there have been signs of trouble down the stretch. Tom Crean has also had some notable blunders that could cost his team at some point. The bracket sets up relatively well for Indiana, although the second round game with either N.C. State or Temple will be a challenge. Miami and Marquette appear to be among the less feared #2 and #3 seeds in the tournament, but two teams that beat Indiana, Butler and Illinois, are also in this region. Indiana will play the first two games in Dayton, a still favorable venue for the Hoosiers despite falling off the #1 overall seeding that many expected the Hoosiers to claim. Being in Washington D.C. for the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 won't provide a great advantage to any of the teams in this region. This is certainly Indiana's bracket to lose and it this might be one of the weaker regions in the tournament.
Final Four Sleeper: Marquette - While the Golden Eagles are a #3 seed, the co-champions in the Big East are not getting great respect and are even a popular go-against team in Round 1. Should Marquette get by Davidson, they could get a revenge opportunity against Butler after losing on a last-second shot earlier this season against the Bulldogs. Marquette has had several big name players in recent years that have moved on to the NBA, but this might be the most complete team in the Buzz Williams era, though perhaps lacking a star. Marquette only had one bad loss this season, as every other team to beat the Golden Eagles is in the tournament field and the two-point loss to UW-Green Bay came in a tough situation with travel through a heavy snowstorm. Florida and Louisville are the only teams that soundly beat Marquette this season and most losses were in tight games and Marquette proved itself with 14 wins through a very tough Big East schedule. Miami could potentially be a very tough Sweet 16 opponent for the Golden Eagles, but the Hurricanes are unproven on this stage and it may simply have been a down year for the ACC as many metrics suggest.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: California - The Golden Bears played a tough non-conference schedule and had a bit of a disappointing start to the season, but this team rallied to win seven of the last eight games of the conference season. Cal picked up wins over the other four NCAA Tournament teams in the Pac-12 in that stretch and this team should be hungry after losing in upset fashion in the Pac-12 tournament. Cal lost in the First Four last season, so this team should be focused for a better showing this year and they draw a rematch of a one-point loss at home against UNLV earlier this season. That was certainly a much bigger game on the UNLV schedule as Cal has just come off a trip to Madison and an ugly loss to Wisconsin and then had a more prominent game with Creighton up next. That was the first big test of the season for UNLV and the Rebels barely won despite strong shooting and a big rebounding edge. This game will be in San Jose which is a big location advantage for the Bears and could be a big help in a potential Round of 32 matchup with Syracuse. Cal has the talent to make a run led by NBA prospect Allen Crabbe, who has been dominant at times this season and could carry the team.
Best Opening Game: Butler vs. Bucknell - Butler has earned respect in the NCAA Tournament after two recent Final Four runs, but this year's team stumbled down the stretch and could not compete with St. Louis, the top team in the Atlantic 10 that beat Butler three times. Several wins over marginal teams came down to the wire for the Bulldogs and while this team has a history of big wins in the NCAA Tournament, many of those games also came by slim margins. Bucknell is not a deep team, but the Bison have the ability to deliver a minor upset in this matchup. Bucknell has notable wins over Purdue, George Mason, Niagara, New Mexico State, Kent State, and LaSalle this season as they played a tough non-conference schedule. Bucknell also nearly beat Missouri with a two-point road loss in January. Last year's Patriot League champion Lehigh beat Duke in the first round, so this conference deserves respect. In the NIT last season, Bucknell beat Arizona in Tucson and while this will be a favorable venue for Butler, this could be a great first round match-up that could go either way.
Trendy Upset that won't be: Davidson over Marquette - Davidson was a great story a few years ago with an Elite 8 run, but that team had now NBA star Steph Curry leading the way. The Wildcats don't have a player of that caliber this year and the 17-1 record in the Southern Conference can not be viewed as being overly meaningful as it was not a strong year for the conference, featuring only three of twelve teams closing with a winning record. Davidson has won 17 straight games, but only an overtime home win over Montana brings any semblance of credibility. Early season wins over Vanderbilt and West Virginia looked impressive at the time, but neither of those teams had a strong season. Credit Davidson for playing a strong non-conference schedule, but they lost soundly in games with Gonzaga and Duke and also lost to UW-Milwaukee and Drexel. Davidson's best two players mainly score inside the post and the opportunities will not be the same going against Marquette compared with many of the Southern Conference opponents. Marquette is not a flashy team, but this has been a disciplined group that plays team basketball in a bit of a departure from past Golden Eagles squads. Marquette battled through an extremely tough schedule and won a share of the Big East title along with Louisville and Georgetown in a conference that put eight teams into the NCAA Tournament. Both of these teams have strong offensive numbers, but Marquette has been the superior team through a far more rigorous schedule. Marquette has been in the Sweet 16 the last two years and this is a team that has the ability to make another solid postseason run.
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