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.
All Your Bracket Essentials
|Odds to Win 2014 NCAA Men's Tournament|
|San Diego State||65-1|
|North Dakota State||1000-1|
|Field (Any Other Team)||100-1|
Odds via VegasInsider.com
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."
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.
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.
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.