NCAA Tournament 2013: Updated Odds for Final 8 Teams
With only eight teams remaining, it's time for one more look at each team's odds of winning the 2013 NCAA national championship.
Wichita State might be the only team left in the field that most people believe doesn't have a realistic shot at winning it all. Given the way this tournament has played out, that just might make the Shockers the most likely team to cut down the nets.
The Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast game just ended moments ago, so these aren't official Vegas odds. Rather, these are rough estimates of what you can expect to see on Saturday morning.
Wichita State Shockers
Odds to Win It All: 20-1
Season's Linchpin: Cleanthony Early
Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead have been arguably more productive through the first three games of the tournament, but Cleanthony Early has been their rock all season.
He picked up the slack when Hall was sidelined for seven games, averaging nearly 20 points per game during that midseason stretch. So long as he stays out of early foul trouble and is able to log roughly 30 minutes, the Shockers can typically count on him for 14 points and half a dozen rebounds.
Necessary Catalyst: Ron Baker
Ron Baker was the savior against Gonzaga and a key contributor in the subsequent game against La Salle. The freshman missed nearly half of the season with a stress fracture in his foot, but he has come back strong by hitting 11 of his 27 three-point attempts in the past six games.
If he can find his stroke while occasionally finding open teammates, the Shockers are a much more dangerous team.
Potential Millstone: Three-Point Shooting
They've shot it well the past two games, and Ohio State certainly hasn't shown much of an ability to defend the deep shot thus far in the tournament. However, there's no telling when they'll revert to their season average of 33 percent, and there's only so much Carl Hall can do in the paint to help the Shockers keep up with a team averaging 82 points per game in the tournament.
The path is just too difficult. Maybe they get past Ohio State on Saturday, but beating the Midwest team that would have five full days to prepare for them seems unlikely. I have them losing to the Buckeyes behind a monster game from Sam Thompson.
Marquette Golden Eagles
Odds to Win It All: 12-1
Season's Linchpin: Vander Blue
Four and a half months ago, Vander Blue was a nobody. Entering his junior year, he was a shooting guard with a career three-point shooting percentage of 21.4.
But something snapped back in mid-November in Maui. He's still far from a prolific shooter, but he's evolved into a gifted scorer. Over the last six games—all of which were played in road or neutral environments—Blue has scored 18.2 points per game, including some clutch points at or near the final moment of each of Marquette's four wins by single digits.
Necessary Catalyst: Davante Gardner
Gardner might have even less stamina than you would expect a 290-pound man to have, but he's been even bigger than that thus far in the tournament. Marquette is at its best when he's on the floor making hustle plays and just generally serving as a spark plug for the team.
File this little tidbit away under "History repeats itself"—Gardner set a career high in scoring against Syracuse earlier this season with 26 points and eight rebounds in a surprising 33 minutes of action.
Potential Millstone: Turnovers and Three-Point Shooting
Including the tournament, the Golden Eagles have averaged 13.4 turnovers per game and have shot just 30.5 percent from long range.
With numbers like that, it's nothing short of a miracle that they beat Syracuse earlier this season. You would have to think that—if they produce those stats without being awarded 28 more free throws than Syracuse—the Orange would win the rematch by at least a dozen.
I've picked against Marquette in every single round thus far. At this point, I have to keep doing it just to find out if it's some kind of reverse voodoo. In all seriousness, though, Syracuse is just looking too strong right now.
That second-half letdown against Louisville in the Big East Championship woke up the defense in a big way. I say Syracuse wins in an excitingly low-scoring game—something like 56-53.
Odds to Win It All: 7.5-1
Season's Linchpin: Michael Carter-Williams
When a guy is predominantly referred to by his initials, you know he's doing something right. MCW has been the heart and soul of Syracuse from day one, leading the team with 17 points, five steals and four assists in the season opener against San Diego State.
He's struggled in the assist department over the past two games, but he's more than made up for it with his scoring and defensive prowess.
Necessary Catalyst: Steals
In their last five losses, the Orange are averaging just 5.4 steals per game. In the other 33 games this season, they're at 9.6 steals per contest.
I wouldn't put them in the same steal-or-die-trying boat as VCU—as the Orange are much more talented on offense—but their chances of winning improve drastically when they're repeatedly pilfering the ball and scoring in transition. You could say that about any team, but the Orange thrive on it more than most.
Potential Millstone: Brandon Triche
There's an old saying that the captain goes down with the ship. Occasionally, it's the captain's fault that the ship is going down in the first place.
Brandon Triche has been unable to find his shot this season, but it's been particularly awful when playing from behind. He's made just two of 32 (6.25 percent!) three-point attempts in Syracuse's last seven losses and is sitting at just 29.4 percent for the season.
Triche has also committed 4.4 turnovers per game in those losses. He doesn't need to catch fire as much as he needs to recognize when he's having an off night.
Syracuse should be able to get by Marquette on Saturday, but that will likely be the end of the run. Whether Michigan or Florida comes out of the South Region, that's a better team than Syracuse.
Odds to Win It All: 7-1
Season's Linchpin: Trey Burke
In the Sweet 16 odds update, I wrote that if there's anyone left in the field who could replicate Kemba Walker's 2011 numbers of 23.5 points and 5.7 assists per tournament game, it's Trey Burke.
He didn't disappoint on Friday night, scoring 23 points and adding 10 assists. Considering the range on some of those late three-pointers that he drained, there's not a more dangerous player out there right now.
Necessary Catalyst: Mitch McGary
It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong, and holy expletives was I wrong on Michigan's big man.
I expected McGary to struggle mightily against Kansas' frontcourt, and he merely went out and had the best individual performance of the entire tournament. If he can put up another double-double against Florida on Sunday, I will gladly eat the words in which I labeled Michigan as the most overrated team in the Sweet 16. [Editor's note: Words will be spelled out in alphabet soup letters. I'm not eating my laptop.]
Potential Millstone: Interior Defense
As great as McGary has been on the offensive end, the bigs for Kansas certainly didn't have much trouble getting to the hoop. Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Perry Ellis combined to score 32 points on 16-of-24 shooting and also grabbed seven offensive rebounds. Similar things could be said about Cody Zeller and Derrick Nix in their games against the Wolverines.
If Florida plays like it did against Florida Gulf Coast, Michigan would advance to the Final Four with ease. However, I think Florida brings it on Sunday and sends the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor behind stingy defense and a strong post game.
Duke Blue Devils
Odds to Win It All: 6-1
Season's Linchpin: Mason Plumlee
It isn't always pretty and there isn't often defense, but Mason Plumlee has had 24 games this season with at least 14 points and seven rebounds. Seth Curry is the more exciting of the leading scorers and more likely to take over a game and score 30 points, but he's also susceptible to occasional cold shooting.
You know what you're getting from Plumlee night in and night out—right down to the three bone-headed fouls.
Necessary Catalyst: Ryan Kelly
Since the triumphant return against Miami in which he scored 36 points, Ryan Kelly has been quite ineffective on the offensive end. After an 0-of-4 night against Michigan State, it's now been five consecutive games without a made three-pointer for the "White Raven."
It's tough to imagine Duke knocking off Louisville without a monster game from its X-factor.
Potential Millstone: Rebounding and Opponents' Perimeter Defense
Duke was out-rebounded in each of its five losses, including a minus-31 differential in the two losses against Maryland. If the first shot doesn't fall, there aren't very many second chances.
Also, the Blue Devils struggle against aggressive perimeter defenses. In three games this season against VCU, Virginia and Louisville, they shot just 16-of-60 (27 percent) from long range.
Seth Curry has been dealing with a leg injury that has limited him in practice all season. We haven't really seen it cause a problem in games just yet, but I suspect it will become an issue when playing Louisville on roughly 36 hours' rest.
With more of a break between games, maybe Duke gives Louisville a run for its money, but the Cardinals should knock out the Blue Devils.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Odds to Win It All: 5-1
Season's Linchpin: Deshaun Thomas
Thomas has been the definition of consistency. Only once all season did he fail to score at least 14 points in a game, and he grabbed between seven and 10 rebounds in 20 different games. You should never hear an analyst say "As long as Deshaun Thomas shows up," because he's done exactly that all season.
Necessary Catalyst: Any Secondary Scorer
Sam Thompson scored 20 points against Iona. Aaron Craft scored 18 against Iowa State. LaQuinton Ross has scored 17 in each of the past two games. Perhaps Saturday night will finally be Lenzelle Smith Jr.'s time to shine.
They've yet to have anyone consistently take the reins, but some to-be-determined Buckeye other than Deshaun Thomas will need to step up in a big way in every remaining game—especially if they plan on continuing to play games with scores in the 70s.
Potential Millstone: Defense
This one came out of nowhere.
Prior to the tournament, the Buckeyes had held eight consecutive opponents to 60 or fewer points and wound up doing so in 23 of their 33 games over the course of the season. However, they've allowed each of their three opponents in the tournament to score at least 70 points against them.
They've been able to keep pace at 82 points per game, but that's not their style—they scored less than 75 points in every game played between January 1 and March 17.
Chances are the Buckeyes will be the only team that at least 80 percent of people agree will actually make it to the Final Four. Whether they face Duke or Louisville in the Final Four, they'd have about a 50/50 shot in that game. 5-1 sounds about right.
Odds to Win It All: 4-1
Season's Linchpin: Scottie Wilbekin
Wilbekin is probably the least recognizable name of the Gators' starting five, but he's the most crucial to their success. The point guard leads the team in minutes played, assists and steals. He's not a big-time scorer at just 9.2 points per game, but he's the proverbial leader on each end of the court.
Necessary Catalyst: Patric Young
If you add up a player's points, rebounds and blocks into one number, Patric Young has registered at least a 15 in 24 different games this season. In those games, the Gators are 23-1. That leaves them with a 6-6 record when he fails to "score" that high.
It's been a little while since he had himself a block party, but he's been a commanding presence in the paint for most of the season and will need to continue fulfilling that role.
Potential Millstone: Free-Throw Shooting
For once, I'm not writing about Florida's struggles in road/neutral games!
In each of their seven losses, the Gators either shot below 70 percent from the stripe or attempted significantly fewer free throws than their opponent. On several occasions, both of those criteria were met. In total, they've made 61 of 102 (60 percent) free throws in losses while their opponents have made 98 of 139 (71 percent).
I believe you're looking at the representative in the championship game from the right side of the bracket. That is, unless you have some sort of non-traditional bracket setup.
Odds to Win It All: 2-1
Season's Linchpin: Russ Smith
There are a lot of nicknames in sports that don't really make any sense. Watch any Louisville game, though, and you'll instantly understand why people call him Russ-Diculous. There's no other way to describe his game.
Thus far in the tournament, he's averaged 27 points, four steals and 8.6 "oh my" moments per game. How Smith wasn't named one of the 15 finalists for the Wooden Award is possibly the biggest sports award mistake of all time.
Necessary Catalyst: Gorgui Dieng
Having Dieng under the hoop is the equivalent of having an unbeatable goalie in soccer or hockey. Knowing that an elite shot-blocker is back there as a second line of defense allows Smith and Peyton Siva to play more aggressively along the perimeter. Dieng is no slouch on offense, either, averaging 10 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
As long as he stays out of foul trouble, the Cardinals have the most complete five-man team on each end of the floor.
Potential Millstone: Turnovers
When you play at the breakneck pace that Louisville likes to play, there are bound to be a number of turnovers. As a team, the Cardinals turn the ball over nearly 13 times per game.
They hit that number exactly against Oregon in the Midwest Regional semifinal. If the Ducks had actually been able to convert more than one of those turnovers into a fast-break bucket, we could be desperately searching for a new favorite to win it all right now.
I've been picking Louisville as my champ for several months, and that's not about to change now. At full strength, this is the best team in the country and should be able to cut down the nets in Atlanta.