Odds are, either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed will win the NCAA tournament, but the low odds on the top eight seeds often makes those seeds an undesirable play.
As Sporting News points out, only 21 percent of the time over the last 29 years has a No. 3 seed or higher been crowned champions of college basketball's defining tournament.
Did you know? 76% of the champions in the last 29 years have been either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. http://t.co/QDacf6szeD— Sporting News (@sportingnews) March 16, 2014
On top of that, 11 of the past 15 winners have been No. 1 seeds. Still, that doesn't mean a No. 1 seed is a good value play.
For instance, as you'll see in the odds below, Florida checks in as the tournament favorite at 5-1. The Gators are the rightful favorite. They are the No. 1 team in the nation. Still, at 5-1, the fact that just four times since 1990 has the No. 1 team gone on to win the tournament sucks all the value out of the bet.
For a person confident in their selection of the eventual champion, value plays don't need to be considered. After all, the only value play is on the team that wins.
For those who are more undecided, or want to take a flier on a low-risk, high-reward play, I have three wonderful candidates. First, have a look at the bracket and odds.
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|San Diego State||65/1|
|North Dakota State||1000/1|
|Field (Any Other Team)||100/1|
Source: VegasInsider on 3/19
Oklahoma State: 60-1
Oklahoma State is an intriguing play largely for one reason: Marcus Smart.
The sophomore guard has had an up-and-down season that included a suspension for shoving a fan, but he put that all behind him in a strong closing stretch to the season.
Smart returned from his suspension on Feb. 22. In the seven games since his return, he's averaged 18.7 points, 6.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 steals a game.
His return sparked a strong run of basketball from the Cowboys. They've gone 5-2 and lost in overtime to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament.
With Smart playing at such a high level, this team is capable of beating anyone, and it appears that Smart is in the right frame of mind.
ABCNews passed along an Associated Press story with the following quote from Smart:
This team has suffered a lot of ups and downs—a lot of downs for us. We're just trying to focus on positive notes and everything we've got going for ourselves. Right now, we're playing pretty good basketball.
It's no secret that great guard play is the basis for success in the NCAA tournament. With Smart at the helm, the Cowboys are going to get great guard play.
Oklahoma State faces the possibility of playing No. 1 seed Arizona in the round of 32. If it can survive that test, the Cowboys will have a chance to keep their momentum rolling in a suspect West.
The Baylor Bears are peaking at the right time. They enter the tournament having won 10 of their last 12.
That run saw them reach the Big 12 tournament finals before falling to Iowa State (No. 3 seed in the East). The closing stretch included quality wins with a 13-point victory Iowa State and a four-point win over Oklahoma (No. 5 seed in the West).
Kenny Chery was at the heart of the turnaround. After being limited by injury, he got healthy and returned to the starting lineup. He's been fantastic since.
NBC Sports' Rob Dauster helps illustrate Chery's fine closing stretch:
How many point guards have had a better month than Kenny Chery?— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 16, 2014
Chery is a complete player and he makes a positive impact in all phases of the game. He also has weapons around him.
Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip are competent scorers and Isaiah Austin provides a strong inside presence on defense.
Baylor is in the West with Oklahoma State. but it is in the lower half where Wisconsin (2) and Creighton (3) are the top seeds. Baylor has a chance to quickly open eyes while romping through this region.
Cincinnati deserved a higher seed. The AAC champions are the fifth seed in the East.
Which of these teams will advance the furthest?
This is a tough team that plays wonderful defense. The Bearcats are sixth in the nation in points allowed per game.
Head coach Mick Cronin thinks the root of the low seeding was that the AAC didn't get enough respect.
"I thought the American Athletic Conference as a whole, I think it would be very obvious to say didn't get a lot of respect from top to bottom," Bill Koch on Cincinnati.com quoted Cronin as saying.
The Bearcats can play with anyone. On Feb. 22, they fell to Louisville by just one point.
Offensively, the Bearcats rely on senior guard Sean Kilpatrick. He averaged 20.7 points per game this year. Dauster knows he's legit:
If you really don't think Sean Kilpatrick deserves to be a first team all-american, I have a tough time taking your opinion seriously.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 14, 2014
He will have to have a fantastic tournament for the Bearcats to make a magical run, but the defense is a great foundation for success.