Can you feel that Madness? Following North Carolina State and Albany's thrilling and shoc—OK, not really. While the First Four games remain technically a part of the NCAA tournament, they're still working their way into the national lexicon. To "casual" fans the First Four remains a tangential focus.
Following Tuesday night's games, though, perhaps those bracketeers will start taking notice. Albany is dead chum in the water ready to be gobbled up by Gators, but the Wolfpack's impressive win over Xavier should turn some heads.
All Your Bracket Essentials
ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren scored 25 points, Ralston Turner added 17 and N.C. State shot nearly 55 percent in a dominant 74-59 victory. Xavier leading scorer Semaj Christon had more turnovers (seven) than made shots (six), and the Musketeers shot just 41.8 percent overall amid a surprisingly strong defensive effort.
With five wins in their last six games, including one over Syracuse, the Wolfpack could be a round-of-64 threat to fifth-seeded Saint Louis. They seem to be finding themselves at the perfect time, and with Warren extending his streak of games with 20 or more points to 18 on Tuesday, the individual star power is there.
Recent history is also on the side of the First Four teams. In every year since the advent of the 68-team format, at least one of the advancees has gone on to defeat their lower-seeded opponent in the next round. In 2011, VCU went from First Four to Final Four. Last year, La Salle made it all the way to the Sweet 16.
Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament, and that's why the First Four matters. But has its results changed anything yet? Here is a look at updated picks and odds for the 2014 NCAA tournament.
|3/19||6:40 p.m.||No. 16 Texas Southern||No. 16 Cal Poly||TruTV|
|3/19||9:10 p.m.||No. 11 Iowa||No. 11 Tennessee||TruTV|
|3/20||12:15 p.m.||No. 6 Ohio State||No. 11 Dayton||CBS|
|3/20||30 min after Ohio State vs. Dayton||No. 3 Syracuse||No. 14 Western Michigan||CBS|
|3/20||1:40 p.m.||No. 8 Colorado||No. 9 Pittsburgh||TBS|
|3/20||30 min. after Colorado vs. Pittsburgh||No. 1 Florida||No. 16 Albany||TBS|
|3/21||1:40 p.m.||No. 7 New Mexico||No. 10 Stanford||TBS|
|3/21||30 min after New Mexico vs. Stanford||No. 2 Kansas||No. 15 Eastern Kentucky||TBS|
|3/21||7:27 p.m.||No. 5 VCU||No. 12 Stephen F. Austin||truTV|
|3/21||30 min after VCU vs. Stephen F. Austin||No. 4 UCLA||No. 13 Tulsa||truTV|
|3/20||2:10 p.m.||No. 5 Cincinnati||No. 12 Harvard||TNT|
|3/20||30 min after Cincinnati vs. Harvard||No. 4 Michigan State||No. 13 Delaware||TNT|
|3/20||6:55 p.m.||No. 7 Connecticut||No. 10 Saint Joseph's||TBS|
|3/20||30 min after Connecticut vs. Saint Joseph's||No. 2 Villanova||No. 15 Milwaukee||TBS|
|3/21||6:55 p.m.||No. 8 Memphis||No. 9 George Washington||TBS|
|3/21||30 min after Memphis vs. George Washington||No. 1 Virginia||No. 16 Coastal Carolina||TBS|
|3/21||7:20 p.m.||No. 6 North Carolina||No. 11 Providence||TNT|
|3/21||30 min after North Carolina vs. Providence||No. 3 Iowa State||No. 14 NC Central||TNT|
|3/20||12:40 p.m.||No. 2 Wisconsin||No. 15 American||truTV|
|3/20||30 min after Wisconsin vs. BYU||No. 7 Oregon||No. 10 BYU||truTV|
|3/20||7:27 p.m.||No. 5 Oklahoma||No. 12 North Dakota State||truTV|
|3/20||30 min after Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State||No. 4 San Diego State||No. 13 New Mexico State||truTV|
|3/21||12:40 p.m.||No. 6 Baylor||No. 11 Nebraska||truTV|
|3/21||30 min after Baylor vs. Nebraska||No. 3 Creighton||No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette||truTV|
|3/21||2:10 p.m.||No. 1 Arizona||No. 16 Weber State||TNT|
|3/21||30 min after Arizona vs. Weber State||No. 8 Gonzaga||No. 9 Oklahoma State||TNT|
|3/20||7:10 p.m.||No. 2 Michigan||No. 15 Wofford||CBS|
|3/20||30 min after Michigan vs. Wofford||No. 7 Texas||No. 10 Arizona State||CBS|
|3/20||7:20 p.m.||No. 5 Saint Louis||No. 12 NC State||TNT|
|3/20||30 min after Saint Louis vs. NC State/Xavier||No. 4 Louisville||No. 13 Manhattan||TNT|
|3/21||12:15 p.m.||No. 3 Duke||No. 14 Mercer||CBS|
|3/21||30 min after Duke vs. Mercer||No. 6 Massachusetts||No. 11 Iowa/No. 11 Tennessee||CBS|
|3/21||7:10 p.m.||No. 1 Wichita State||No. 16 Cal Poly/No. 16 Texas Southern||CBS|
|3/21||30 min after Wichita State vs. Cal Poly/Texas Southern||No. 8 Kentucky||No. 9 Kansas State||CBS|
Updated NCAA Tournament Odds
|4||San Diego St.||65-1|
|12||North Carolina St.||900-1|
|12||North Dakota St.||1,000-1|
|12||Stephen F. Austin||N/A|
|13||New Mexico St.||N/A|
|N/A||Field (Any Other Team)||100-1|
When it comes to betting champions odds for this year's tournament, my best piece of advice is just don't. Nate Silver's predictive model gives Louisville a 15 percent chance of winning it all—and the Cardinals are his favorites. Accuscore (subscription required) comes out with similar numbers. Ken Pomeroy has Arizona as his favorite but only with a 15.9 percent shot.
There is no smart bet, because there realistically is no favorite. Their three methods are among the best predictive measures we have from a statistical standpoint—at least among those readily available (for a fee)—and all three essentially say the same thing: Anything can happen. The good teams are pretty good but not great. On any given day, yada, yada yada.
This might be the one year where you're better off not paying for statistical analyses whatsoever. And when it comes to betting on an NCAA champion, this is typically a loser's bet regardless.
Florida is the favorite at 5-1 odds and has a relatively safe road to the Final Four, but Joel Embiid could return to full health for the second weekend. If he does, Kansas suddenly looks a lot more dangerous—like...best team in the tournament dangerous.
If, no matter what, you must place a bet on an eventual champion, going with relatively long odds might be the way to go. The Jayhawks aren't worth the trouble at 10-1 odds, but Villanova has been vastly undervalued by prognosticators. Jay Wright's club has been lucky in close games this season, which is a concern, but it fills a lot of national champion criteria.
Peter Tiernan of Bracket Science pointed out the Wildcats were the only team nationally to fill out all three "championship tests." They measured out well from a metrics and commonality standpoint and could quietly be the favorite in an East Region folks seem to be handing over to Michigan State.
The Spartans are getting healthy at the perfect time and are my Final Four pick, but 35-1 might be too juicy to pass up.
Again, only if you insist. If you like a team, you're far better off in the long run just betting on it as part of teasers or individually as it goes along in the tournament. The risk will be lower over the course of the tournament, and one bad beat isn't going to make you feel stupid mixed in with a couple of wins.
The only other longish shot that's enticing is Syracuse at 18-1. Remember: Only three times since 1985 has a team seeded worse than No. 3 won the NCAA championship.
Final Four Picks
No. 1 Florida (South Region)
The Gators have two potential challengers hanging at the bottom of their bracket in Syracuse and Kansas. The Orange won their first 25 games and were the No. 1 team in the country midseason—they have potential. The Jayhawks have the odds-on favorite for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in Andrew Wiggins and the former odds-on favorite for the No. 1 pick potentially coming back in Embiid.
Can you say talent? But when it comes to the right combination of talent, cohesion and health, Florida is the best team in the country. After early-season strife left the Gators down to what amounted to a six-man rotation, Billy Donovan made a few key alterations, received a godsend in Chris Walker and reeled in 26 straight wins. Florida is a borderline lock.
No. 4 Michigan State (East Region)
The East and Midwest are by far the most difficult regions to parse through but for completely opposite regions. The Midwest has been labeled rightfully as the "Region of Doom." It might be the best collection of talent in one region during my lifetime. The East, on the other hand, is filled with a bunch of teams I really don't like that much.
I fear Villanova outperformed its talent during the regular season. Virginia's style lends itself to keeping opposing teams in games. Iowa State really just didn't deserve a No. 3 seed. Michigan State is basically the least of the evils. The Spartans have the best tournament coach in America in Tom Izzo, are finally healthy again and have elite, experienced talent all over the floor.
Just don't act all amazed if either Virginia or Villanova comes out of this region; both are being undervalued.
No. 1 Arizona (West Region)
If Brandon Ashley were healthy, the Wildcats would be my national-title choice without much hesitation. As it stands, they're, instead, the one team I'm picking to advance to the final Four in every one of my brackets.
There is some talk about Oklahoma State posing a threat in the round of 32, but the Cowboys have to get past Gonzaga first. And, speaking of undervalued, that matchup is far closer to a tossup than anyone is giving credit. Otherwise, the Wildcats have a perfectly paved path (alliteration!) to the Final Four.
Creighton and Wisconsin have such poor consistency on the defensive end that either or even both could lose their round-of-32 matchups. San Diego State and Oklahoma are also nonthreatening. Don't even really think twice here.
No. 3 Duke (Midwest Region)
At least two (Duke and Louisville) and likely three (Wichita State) Midwest teams would be my selection if you threw them in the East. That's how talented this side of the bracket is. Michigan, which won the Big Ten regular season by three games, is the No. 2 seed and has somehow become an afterthought. Midwest analysis essentially comes down to playing likelihoods.
Louisville, on average, is the best team in the region and is probably a slight favorite to come out. But Wichita State is no easy out, and the Shockers are going to prove their mettle by defeating Kentucky in the round of 32.
Duke, meanwhile, is essentially a better version of Michigan. The Blue Devils and Wolverines both struggle defensively but boast elite, efficient offense. Jabari Parker and Co. get the Final Four nod, simply because I'm most comfortable with them advancing to the regional final. If that seems flimsy, well, welcome to the Midwest.
All advanced metrics are via KenPom.
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