March Madness 2014: Dangerous Dark-Horse Picks with Most Attractive Odds

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick (23) drives past Memphis guard Geron Johnson (55) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 18 points as Cincinnati won 69-53. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Risky title odds in the NCAA tournament are a constant. Pair that with the unpredictable nature of the bracket itself, and one finds a horrific environment for bettors both big and small.

Unless they love a challenge.    

The fact of the matter is, No. 1 and 2 seeds usually take home the top prize. But with the playing field continuing to level as the divide between schools of all sizes and locales continues to shrink, now is not the time to throw cash down on a top seed and kick back.

There's more money to be had if a sneaky, dark-horse bet slips through the cracks, and three teams stick out as the best possible candidates for those brave enough to throw some serious dough around.


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Odds to Win 2014 NCAA Men's Tournament
Florida 5-1
Michigan State 11-2
Arizona 8-1
Louisville 8-1
Kansas 10-1
Wichita State 15-1
Syracuse 18-1
Duke 18-1
Virginia 18-1
Wisconsin 20-1
Michigan 30-1
Creighton 35-1
Villanova 35-1
Iowa State 40-1
UCLA 45-1
North Carolina 50-1
Kentucky 50-1
Oklahoma State 60-1
San Diego State 65-1
Ohio State 65-1
Oklahoma 75-1
Baylor 75-1
UConn 80-1
VCU 90-1
Cincinnati 90-1
Pittsburgh 95-1
Oregon 100-1
Tennessee 115-1
New Mexico 115-1
UMass 125-1
Iowa 125-1
Memphis 125-1
Gonzaga 125-1
Texas 125-1
Saint Louis 125-1
Providence 225-1
Stanford 225-1
Kansas State 300-1
St Joseph's 350-1
Nebraska 450-1
Dayton 500-1
BYU 500-1
Colorado 500-1
Xavier 500-1
Arizona State 500-1
George Washington 500-1
N.C. State 900-1
Harvard 1000-1
North Dakota State 1000-1
Field (Any Other Team) 100-1
Vegas Insider

Odds via


Cincinnati 90-1

Forget seeds. It should speak volumes that CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello ranked the Cincinnati Bearcats as the No. 16 overall team in the tournament thanks to their defense and star player:

"It's going to be a struggle for the Bearcats to score, but when you play defense like they do and have Sean Kilpatrick, there is always hope."

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts in the first half as he coaches against the Georgetown Hoyas during the quaterfinals of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2013
Elsa/Getty Images

The Bearcats are a legit threat. They rank No. 6 overall with an average of just 58.3 points allowed per game. They also rank in the top 25 in both blocks and steals per game.

This defense has allowed Mick Cronin's team to compile quite the resume, which includes wins over the likes of Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. But it's the offense led by Sean Kilpatrick that gets all the publicity.

Kilpatrick (20.7 points per game) is arguably the best scorer in the tournament and allows the offense to complement the defense well. Given the Bearcats are a veteran group, this trio of factors makes them a tough out for any team.


Pittsburgh 95-1

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 14:  Talib Zanna #42 of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts after a basket against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the quarterfinals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 14, 2014 in Greensboro,
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Look, the path for any dark-horse team with low-risk, high-reward odds is going to be brutal. It's why Cincinnati has to carve its way through Harvard and likely Michigan State before an encounter with No. 1 Virginia.

The same goes for Pittsburgh, which has to move past Colorado before a date with No. 1 Florida.

But like the Bearcats, the Panthers tout a top-tier defense and enough offensive firepower to justify setting some coin down on their odds. They allow just 62.4 points per game, good for the No. 22 rank in the land.

Talib Zanna leads the Panthers under the rim and has been playing out of his mind as of late. As the leader of the team, Zanna has taken it upon himself to propel the Panthers upward despite a No. 9 seed. According to the Associated Press, via WPXI, he said:

We needed a couple wins to have a better seed for the NCAA tournament. We are the ninth seed right now and we cannot worry about it.

I think the seed doesn't matter because a couple years back, a lot of (Pitt) teams had a No. 1 seed and in the first round they went down. It's who has the heart to come out and dominate and play like they want it so bad, so that's the people who (are) going to win the tournament.

The Panthers won't turn any heads and things certainly look bleak given their path to a title, but an under-the-radar approach for a scrappy bunch of veterans who excel on both ends of the court is a recipe for taking  a chance on them as a sleeper.


Oregon 100-1

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 12:  Johnathan Loyd #10 of the Oregon Ducks brings the ball up the court against the Oregon State Beavers during a first-round game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 12, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sometimes brute force isn't a bad way to go, either.

Much like their football counterpart, the Oregon basketball squad scores in bunches and leaves little wiggle room for the opposition to play a slower attack for fear of losing in a blowout.

At No. 11 in the nation with an average of 81.8 points scored per game, the Ducks and their seven players that average a minimum of 6.3 points can run any team out of a gymnasium—especially on a neutral court. 

Remember, this is the same Ducks team that boasts a win over Arizona and was at one point in the Top 10 before a stumbling act through the middle part of the season.

The bracket itself is also pretty kind to Oregon, as matchups with BYU, Wisconsin and likely Baylor or Creighton swing things in the Ducks' direction, as none of the teams mentioned loves to get out and run.

For fans of explosive offense that may shock the entire field, Oregon is the way to go.


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