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By Brian Edwards
Sportsbook.ag has made Louisville the +450 ‘chalk’ (risk $100 to win $450) to cut the nets down in Atlanta. The Cardinals were made the No.1 overall seed after winning the Big East Tournament by rallying from a double-digit deficit to pull away from Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Sportsbook has issued Indiana with the second-shortest odds (7/1), followed by Duke, Miami and Kansas at 8/1. Gonzaga, the top seed in the West region, has 10/1 odds along with Florida, which is a No. 3 seed in the South.
Ohio St. and Michigan St. share 15/1 odds. The Buckeyes, who beat Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Tournament, are the No. 2 seed in a West region that looks like the easiest – by far!
Even though Rick Pitino’s squad was tabbed as the top overall seed, its path to the Ga. Dome appears to be the toughest. For starters, U of L has two teams (Duke and Michigan St.) who had legitimate shots at being No. 1 seeds if they had won their respective conference tournaments.
Also, the Midwest region has dangerous squads like Saint Louis, Memphis, Creighton, Missouri and Oregon. The fourth-seeded Billikens have won 15 of their last 16 games both straight up and against the spread, including 11 scalps of RPI Top 100 foes during that 16-game stretch.
I didn’t have any beefs with the selection committee in terms of whom got in and was left out of the field, but I thought Oregon and Ole Miss were deserving of better seeds (both are 12’s). Granted, the committee chair explained that the Ducks were supposed to be an 11th seed but they had to drop to 12 due to travel/city circumstances.
Andy Kennedy has the Rebels in the NCAAs for the first time since the Rod Barnes Era in Oxford (2002). They have a tough draw against fifth-seeded Wisconsin, but Ole Miss should be happy about playing on Friday following a three-games-in-three-days stretch. Also, the Rebels face an opponent that also had to play three games this past weekend.
Florida let a double-digit halftime lead get away in Sunday’s loss vs. Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament finals in Nashville. Billy Donovan’s team has squandered big leads in the final eight minutes of Elite Eight games the last two years.
In 2011, Butler rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat the Gators in overtime. UF led Louisville by 10 with nine minutes remaining in last year’s West region finals, but the Cardinals rallied to win and make the Final Four.
Nevertheless, Florida clearly has as much talent as any team in America. The Gators have won by double-digit margins in each of their 26 wins, including victories over Marquette by 33, over Wisconsin by 18, over Missouri by 31 and over Middle Tennessee by 21. They have 14 wins over RPI Top 100 squads.
UF is a veteran-laded team with as much NCAA Tourney experience as anyone. Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yegute have played major roles in six wins and a pair of gut-wrenching defeats.
The aforementioned facts are why the third-seeded Gators are the +140 ‘chalk’ to win the South region (risk $100 to win $140). Kansas, the top seed, has +250 odds to make the Final Four, while second-seeded Georgetown has 4/1 odds.
If UCLA advances past Minnesota in a 6/11 South region matchup, the Bruins will have to face Florida if it advances past Northwestern St. The Gators have eliminated UCLA from the Big Dance in three of the last seven tournaments (blowouts in ’06 and ’07 and a nail-biter in 2011 thanks to Erving Walker taking over at cruch time).
If North Carolina can take out Villanova in the South’s 8/9 showdown, Roy Williams will face his former team in top-seeded Kansas. Actually, check that, the Jayhawks have lost tourney games to mid-majors like Bradley, Bucknell and VCU during Bill Self’s tenure, so we shouldn’t rule out Western Ky. to become the first No. 16 seed to move on, should we?
Whatever the case, a UNC-KU matchup would be extremely intriguing on multiple levels. Other exciting potential meetings beyond the first round (second round, whatever!) include Florida-Georgetown (Sweet 16), VCU-Kansas (Sweet 16), Louisville-Duke (Elite Eight) and Indiana vs. Syracuse or Louisville (Sweet 16).
Florida and Georgetown met in November in Jacksonville, but the game was called off due to condensation on the court set up on boat. The Gators led the Hoyas 27-23 at halftime when the decision was made to suspend the contest. Also, Georgetown gave UF its only major test when it repeated as national champs in the Sweet 16 round of the 2007 Tourney.
VCU dominated Kansas in the Elite Eight two seasons ago and you know the Jayhawks would love a shot at redemption against the Rams.
A Louisville-Duke matchup in the Elite Eight would be a reminder of the Greatest Game Ever when Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater stabbed Rick Pitino’s Kentucky squad in the heart at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia in the 1992 East region finals.
If Indiana gets to the East region semifinals, possible foes include UNLV or Syracuse. In 1987, the last time the Hoosiers cut the nets down, they had to beat the Runnin’ Rebels in an epic semifinals shootout at the Superdome in New Orleans. Two days later, IU beat the ‘Cuse for the title on Keith Smart’s baseline jumper.
B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets
Totals to keep in mind: Cincy has seen the ‘under’ go 22-4 overall, while Iowa St. has watched the ‘over’ go 20-4 overall. The ‘over’ has hit at a 10-1 clip in Oklahoma’s last 11 games.
Dangerous Sleepers based on their head coaches and/or style of play: Butler (Brad Stevens, No. 6 in the East), Wisconsin (Bo Ryan, No. 5 in West), Pittsburgh (Jamie Dixon, No. 8 in West), Davidson (Bob McKillop, No. 14 in East), VCU (Shaka Smart, No. 5 in South) and North Carolina (Roy Williams, No. 8 in South).
Potential Sleepers based on a dominant player who can get hot and carry a team: Boise St. (Derrick Marks), Ole Miss (Marshall Henderson), Creighton (Doug McDermott) and South Dakota St. (Nate Wolters).
Most Unpredictable Squad: Minnesota – Final Four talent with a head coach that has won a national championship, but Tubby Smith is on the hot seat because the Gophers are a No. 11 seed that is equally as capable of getting blasted in their first game.
UCLA’s Jordan Adams broke his foot in the Pac-12 Tourney and is done for the season. Adams was averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. His absence is why the sixth-seeded Bruins are three-point underdogs vs. Minnesota.
Slumping Squads coming into the Tourney: Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and Cincinnati.
Coaching Mismatch that might be the difference: Missouri has much better talent than Colorado St., but the Rams have the heavy advantage in the coaching department with Larry Eustachy vs. Frank Hai
1-Ole Miss vs. Wisconsin
2-Creighton vs. Cincinnati
3-Butler vs. Bucknell
4-Oregon vs. Oklahoma St.
5-Wichita St. vs. Pittsburgh
6-Michigan vs. South Dakota St.
7-UNLV vs. California
8-Davidson vs. Marquette
9-Villanova vs. North Carolina
10-Colorado vs. Illinois
Best Head-Coaching Matchups:
1-Marquette’s Buzz Williams vs. Davidson’s Bob McKillop
2-Pitt’s Jamie Dixon vs. Wichita St.’s Gregg Marshall
3-UNC’s Roy Williams vs. Villanova’s Jay Wright
4-Arizona’s Sean Miller vs. Belmont’s Rick Byrd
5-Michigan St.’s Tom Izzo vs. Valpo’s Bryce Drew
Best Long-Range Shooters:
1-Jordan Hulls (Indiana)
2-Rotnei Clarke (Butler)
3-Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss)
4-Ian Clark (Belmont)
5-Scott Wood (North Carolina St.)
6-Doug McDermott (Creighton)
7-Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
8-Tyrus McGee (Iowa St.)
9-Michael Frazier II (Florida)
10-Christian Watford (Indiana)
Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is the first coach ever to get five teams (Kansas St., Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) to the NCAA Tournament. With the exception of the Sooners, Kruger led the other four schools to at least the Sweet 16. He led Florida to the 1994 Final Four before eventually losing to Duke in Charlotte.
Toughest Draw: Akron just got its starting point guard Alex Abreu suspended following a felony arrest less than two weeks ago. Nevertheless, the Zips won the MAC Tourney by beating Ohio, which had all of its key pieces back from a team that went to the Sweet 16 last year before losing in overtime to North Carolina. Anyway, without its point guard, Akron has to face the toughest full-court press team in the country in VCU.