So you’ve got your bracket printed out and you’re about to embark on the task of predicting the NCAA tournament. For some of you it’s about the money and others it’s the bragging rights. For me it’s both. As the old saying goes, being right is nice, but being paid for being right is divine…someone said that, right?
Half of your office will go with the chalks and put all the No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, while the other half will go with a mixture of love and hatred for teams and the need to pick upsets just for the sake of picking them. My girlfriend selects teams based on whether she likes the sound of their name.
Last year she had BYU going far because she thought they were called Bring’em young and it sounded funny to her.
My system is to go with the gut. Not my gut, mind you, but Vegas’ gut.
A soon as the bracket spots are filled on Selection Sunday, Las Vegas oddsmakers are busy trying to figure out which teams have a chance and which teams are all hype. Of course, the betting line isn’t always correct, but it’s an extremely useful tool to gauge what people who make a living on predicting outcomes think about the tournament field.
Most people only catch a game here and there, such as Duke and Carolina, and therefore will use seeding to determine the winner of a game. Discriminating bracket fillers know better and so does Vegas.
While I won’t assume to know what will happen in the tournament, I do know what Vegas thinks. Here is a list of games that could give you a leg up in your tournament selection.
Nothing significant here as far as upsets are concerned. There hasn’t been a No. 1 seed defeated by a No. 16 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Worth noting is the Syracuse-NC Asheville line, which has the Orange as only a 16-point favorite.
Two schools of thought exist among the two top-seeded teams. First is that John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats will cut down the nets in New Orleans, giving their coach his first national championship.
The other is that Syracuse is ripe for the picking and could be upset by any number of teams in its bracket. Half of this speculation seems to be fueled by ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb, who sees Syracuse as a step below Kentucky. The rest, who knows, but it would be a mistake to think that this Syracuse team doesn’t have a chip on its shoulder.
That being said, NC Asheville is definitely getting respect from the oddsmakers.
The two-15 games are also pretty run-of-the-mill, with the exception of the Duke-Lehigh game.
Missouri, Ohio State and Kansas are 21, 17 and 15 point favorites respectively over their 15-seed opponents.
Duke, however, is only a 12-point favorite over Lehigh. This line is extremely low and is possibly a judgment on Duke’s defensive acumen, or lack thereof.
Duke should be able to take care of Lehigh, but this line sticks out as funny and could be a sign of things to come for the beleaguered Blue Devils.
There are only lines on three of the three-14 games, with Marquette awaiting a play-in game to establish an opponent.
The most reasonable line is Baylor-South Dakota State in which Baylor is an 8.5-point favorite.
Then it gets crazy.
Out of the East bracket, ACC tournament champion and resident Duke and Carolina killer is only a 5.5-point favorite against St. Bonaventure. Either the Bonnies are a lot better than anyone thought or someone in Vegas thinks that FSU has already won its championship and is taking the tournament off.
Then there’s fan-favorite Belmont, which has never won a tournament game in four chances, but came up just short four years ago in a 71-70 heartbreaking loss to Duke in the first round. Georgetown opened up as only a five-point favorite, but is now only a three-point favorite, telling us that Georgetown is in for a dog fight.
This is a definite sign from Vegas that it has no respect for Georgetown. This is no disrespect to Belmont which has lost a few tough games, including a one-point loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational, but has also lost to USC-Upstate and Lipscomb and has no signature wins to its credit.
The four-13 games aren’t as crazy as the three-14s, but there’s a little intrigue.
Indiana is only a six-point favorite against New Mexico State and Louisville is an eight-point favorite Davidson. Each game seems a little low, but it’s more of a testament to the style of play for each team than an indictment of the favorites.
In the Midwest, Michigan is only a six-point favorite over Ohio, which is a little surprising, but the one I see as most interesting is the Wisconsin-Montana line which makes the Badgers only an 8.5-point favorite.
This is a game in which Wisconsin should have figured to be at least a 14-point favorite, which tells us that Montana may be set for the upset.
With the exception of Temple, which plays the winner of South Florida and California, the five-12 games look to be a fantastic crop of games, with all three having a chance for an upset according to the lines.
In the south, Wichita State is only a 5.5-point favorite over one of last year’s tournament darlings, VCU. Wichita State isn’t exactly a household name, but has been ranked in the polls for most of the year and just isn’t giving off a vibe that it deserved the kudos from the pollsters.
Westward, New Mexico is only a four-point favorite over Long Beach St. New Mexico has come on pretty strong as of late, but their higher seed hasn’t convinced anyone in Vegas that they deserve respect.
The most interesting of all the lines is the Vanderbilt-Harvard line, which makes Vandy a 5.5-point favorite. This is the same team that just took out Kentucky to win the SEC tournament. This may be just an indicator that Vegas feels Vanderbilt is looking past its Ivy League opponent. It is also an indicator that they would do well to concentrate on the task at hand.
Of all the seeded matchups, the six-11 games are the second-closest matches to each other with no team being more than a 3.5-point favorite.
UNLV is a 3.5-point favorite over Colorado, which is basically a coin toss of Vegas saying it’s anyone’s game.
Murray State is only a 2.5-point favorite of Colorado State in another game featuring a team that has been ranked all year playing another team which shouldn’t be close getting tons of love from the oddsmakers.
In the East, Cincinnati is a 1.5-point favorite over Texas, which is another toss-up.
In the Midwest, San Diego State, which has been in the rankings for most of the year is a pick (which means even) with NC State. NC State is a late comer and wasn’t exactly a lock for the tournament, which goes to show that rankings don’t mean squat when it comes to gambling.
Any one of these games would be great places to look for upsets in your pool.
The seven-10 games are interesting without the lines, just for the fact that they’re so close in seeding, but they are also the closest in Vegas lines, with two of the lower-seeded teams actually being the favorites.
The biggest favorite in these matchups is Notre Dame, which is a three-point favorite over Xavier. People are generally looking for an upset or upsets in these games, so according to Vegas, this is the least likely game to have the lower-seeded team win.
Out West, Florida is a 2.5-point favorite over Virginia , but could be had if the Gators can’t get the threes to fall.
In the East and Midwest, both 10 seeds are one-point favorites over their higher-seeded counterparts, with Purdue being the choice over St. Mary’s and West Virginia being favored over Gonzaga.
For true value, Vegas is sending a clear message that St. Mary’s and the Zags can be had.
Unlike the seven-10 games, each of the eight-nine games has the higher seeded team as the favorite.
The biggest favorite comes from the East where Kansas State is a 5.5-point favorite over Southern Miss in a fight to see which team will get a chance to see Syracuse in the next round.
Creighton is a two-point favorite over Alabama and Memphis is a 2.5-point favorite over St. Louis. These games are expected to be close, but the most interesting game comes from the South with Iowa State being a one-point favorite over Connecticut.
Connecticut should have been giving the points in this game, but Vegas sees it differently and doesn’t think the return of Jim Calhoun means all that much.
With the exception of Kansas State, a coin flip will be the best way to determine the winners in these dog fights.