March Madness 2016: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 19, 2016

March Madness 2016: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

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    The Sweet 16 is set, and even though Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed on Selection Sunday, North Carolina has the best odds of reaching the Final Four by our calculations. That wasn't the case for most of the weekend, but with Wisconsin knocking off the East Region No. 2 seed Sunday night, the Tar Heels would be getting a much easier Elite Eight opponent than the Jayhawks.

    Keep in mind that these shouldn't necessarily be considered power rankings of the remaining teams, because the difficulty of each squad's projected path to the Final Four is a significant factor. Therefore, we made sure that the odds for each region add up to 100 percent.

    The following slides are listed in ascending order of likelihood of making the Final Four, regardless of region.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of KenPom.comSports-Reference.com or NCAA.com.

Syracuse Orange (No. 10, Midwest Region)

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    Eye test

    There's always one team that "didn't deserve" to make the tournament that ends up making an impressive run, and Syracuse is that team this year. The Orange beat Dayton 70-51 in the opener before a 75-50 win over Cinderella story Middle Tennessee in the round of 32.

    "Thank you for the motivation," Michael Gbinije said to the doubters in his postgame interview with CBS' Dana Jacobson.

    Gbinije had 23 against MTSU, while Tyler Roberson is averaging 11.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game thus far in the tournament.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Syracuse had the easiest path to the Sweet 16, beating a Dayton team that struggled over the final few weeks of the season and then drawing a No. 15 seed that simply couldn't miss from three-point range in its first game. Now, things get serious. It may be a No. 10 vs. No. 11 matchup, but Syracuse will be a major underdog against Gonzaga for the chance to face either Virginia or Iowa State in the Elite Eight. 

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Like Duke and Iowa State, Syracuse has an extremely short rotation, so avoiding fatigue and foul trouble are the first steps to success. Two players fouled out against Dayton. That's not a great start, but getting a good game out of Malachi Richardson was crucial, because he has been Syracuse's most mercurial player this season.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 8-1

Maryland Terrapins (No. 5, South Region)

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    Eye test

    After shooting well from all over the court in a 79-74 win over South Dakota State, the Terrapins could not buy a shot in the round-of-32 win over Hawaii. They missed their first 15 three-point attempts and finished the game just 1-of-18 from beyond the arc.

    However, Maryland was downright lethal from the free-throw line in both games: 24-of-27 against the Jackrabbits and 28-of-31 against the Warriors. And if there's any team in the country that is well-versed in winning games in which it doesn't play its best, the Terrapins are that team.

    It would be an upset if they reach the Final Four, but certainly not based on the amount of talent on this roster. And Melo Trimble (19 points against SDSU, 24 against Hawaii) is back to playing like the leader we've been waiting to see for months.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Maryland was one of the preseason favorites to win it all, but it has an absolute nightmare of a draw to reach the Final Four. The No. 1 overall seed (Kansas) will be waiting in the Sweet 16, and the Terrapins would still need to win a game against either Villanova or Miami to get to the national semifinals. 

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Keep winning with defense. Through the first 25 games of the season, Maryland was 21-0 when holding the opposition to 68 points or fewer. But the Terrapins have forgotten how to defend. Prior to giving up 74 to South Dakota State and 60 to Hawaii, they had allowed four of their last six opponents to score at least 80.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 8-1

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (No. 6, East Region)

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    Eye test

    Against a pair of undersized opponents, Zach Auguste has been a one-man wrecking crew. Notre Dame's big man had 10 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in the opener against Michigan and another 16 points and 15 rebounds in the second-round win over Stephen F. Austin.

    V.J. Beachem has also been huge, shooting 7-of-7 from the field in the first round and adding 15 points against Stephen F. Austin.

    In both games, Notre Dame showed incredible resilience. The Fighting Irish were down 12 at the half against the Wolverines and battled the Lumberjacks in the best back-and-forth battle of the tournament to date, but they had the poise to emerge victorious in both of them.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Notre Dame survived a couple of double-digit seeds, but now things get serious. The Fighting Irish draw Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 before getting North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Get the offense to show up. We most recently remember Notre Dame as the team that lost, 78-47, to North Carolina in the ACC tournament, but don't forget this team beat the Tar Heels, 80-76, earlier in the season. When the Fighting Irish are scoring, they can beat anyone.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 6-1

Wisconsin Badgers (No. 7, East Region)

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    Eye test

    Quite the opposite of the rock fight with Pittsburgh in the first round, Wisconsin jumped out to an early nine-point lead over Xavier before then trailing for most of the game. But Bronson Koenig never gave up hope, draining a game-tying three-pointer with 11 seconds left before swishing the game-winning, fade-away corner three as time expired.

    Ethan Happ was a stud in the post in both games, averaging 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. In games with final scores of 47-43 and 66-63, those numbers went a long way.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    The Badgers will likely need to go through a pair of ACC teams to reach the Final Fourwhere they may well run into another (Virginia or Syracuse). In the East Region, though, it's Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 and probably North Carolina in the Elite Eight. If Indiana happens to upset North Carolina, it would make for a nice rubber match between the Hoosiers and Badgers. They played a one-point game and a three-point overtime game during the regular season.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Defend the three. In six of their last seven games, the Badgers have limited their opponent to five made three-pointers or fewer. Of course, they also lost by 12 to Nebraska in a game where the Cornhuskers shot 2-of-8 from the perimeter, but their chance of winning games decreases substantially when the opponent is stroking it from deep.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 5-1

Duke Blue Devils (No. 4, West Region)

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    Eye test

    Survive and advance, right?

    Duke barely escaped with a win over UNC Wilmington before nearly giving away a 27-point first-half lead against Yale in the round of 32. But almost doesn't count, especially when it comes to winning in the NCAA tournament. The short-handed Blue Devils will now get an extended break before what should be one heck of a challenge in the Sweet 16.

    Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram each scored at least 20 in both games, and Luke Kennard scored 11 early in the first half against the Bulldogs. As long as that trio keeps showing up in the points column, Duke has a shot against anyone.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Barely surviving against Yale's front line is not a great precursor for what lies ahead, as going up against Oregon's dominant frontcourt would be nearly impossible. The reward for winning that potential game is likely a battle with Oklahoma that few teams have been able to win.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Avoid foul trouble. There's nothing they can do about the fatigue side of their 6.5-man rotation, but keeping guys from having to watch from the bench will be crucial. Plumlee and Matt Jones dealt with foul trouble in both games, keeping them interesting until the bitter end.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 5-1

Miami Hurricanes (No. 3, South Region)

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    Eye test

    Good Angel Rodriguez has come to play in his final NCAA tournament in a huge way, scoring 24 in the first round against Buffalo before exploding for 28 in the 65-57 win over Wichita State on Saturday afternoon.

    "They got to rename the Dunkin' Donuts Center to Angel Rodriguez Park," said Miami head coach Jim Larranaga after the win over the Shockers in Providence.

    The Hurricanes had trouble keeping Wichita State off the offensive glass, but they shot 58.3 percent from three-point range. They opened up a 27-6 lead early in the game and just barely did enough in the second half to avoid giving it away, but that start had to have been terrifying for future Miami opponent(s) to watch.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Miami knocked off a tough Wichita State squad, but the Hurricanes still have likely showdowns with Villanova and Kansas.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Get more out of McClellan. He has 38 points in the tournament, but 16 of those have come from the free-throw line.

    He was a three-point assassin early in the season and seemed to be rediscovering that side of his game by shooting 42.6 percent beyond the arc in the final 12 games before the tournament, but he's just 2-of-6 thus far. Miami survived Buffalo without him shooting well, but that's not an advisable long-term strategy.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 7-2

Texas A&M Aggies (No. 3, West Region)

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    Eye test

    Texas A&M comfortably took care of business against Green Bay before executing the most ridiculous comeback in college basketball history. Down by 12 with 31 seconds remaining, the Aggies somehow forced overtime, winning in the second additional frame.

    Danuel House was held scoreless for the first 34 minutes before finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    They survived one extremely uphill battle against Northern Iowa, but there's still quite a climb remaining. The Aggies will face Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 before likely drawing Oregon in the Elite Eight.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    When playing at their best, the Aggies crash the offensive glass and force a lot of turnovers. According to Sports-Reference, Texas A&M is 19-1 when recording at least seven steals. The Aggies have also tallied at least 10 offensive rebounds in 22 games. This is a team that knows how to manufacture extra possessions.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 7-2

Iowa State Cyclones (No. 4 Midwest Region)

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    Eye test

    Iona and Arkansas-Little Rock entered the 2016 NCAA tournament as two of the biggest sleepers among minor-conference teams, and Iowa State couldn't care less. The Cyclones scored 94 points in beating Iona at its own game before committing just four turnovers against a Trojans team that had 13 steals in upsetting Purdue in the first round.

    Georges Niang isn't messing around this year, scoring 28 in each of the first two games. Monte Morris and Abdel Nader played well in both games, too. But how about the job Matt Thomas has quietly done all season long? He's the starter who has been neglected by the national media, but Iowa State's best three-point shooter is 7-of-15 with 30 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the tournament.

    If Thomas is the weakest link in this starting five, we should be taking this team more seriously as a title contender.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    It's one thing to look good against the top minor-conference teams, but the Cyclones have one of the best major-conference teams on deck in the form of Virginia. That will be an intriguing style mismatch between a team that wants to run and another that would love to play in the 60s. And with a red-hot Gonzaga likely waiting in the Elite Eight, the second of Iowa State's two remaining games before the Final Four won't be any easier.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Do a little bit of something on the defensive end. The Cyclones can usually do enough on offense to make up for lackluster D, but they did have two losses this season in which all six of their primary guys scored in double figures. If they keep letting opponents score into the 80s, it might be a short run.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 7-2

Indiana Hoosiers (No. 5, East Region)

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    Eye test

    After putting on an offensive clinic in a 99-74 first-round win over Chattanooga, Indiana survived a back-and-forth, defensive struggle against Kentucky to reach the Sweet 16.

    In a game that very well may have set an NCAA tournament record for offensive fouls, the Hoosiers beat the Wildcats 73-67. Aside from Jamal Murray struggling to find his shot (1-of-9 from three), the big story was Thomas Bryant. Whether Kentucky put Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere or Alex Poythress on him, there was no answer for Bryant down the stretch. He scored 12 of Indiana's final 15 points.

    Moreover, he kept Kentucky's frontcourt from accomplishing anything on offense. Lee, Poythress, Labissiere and Derek Willis combined for 14 points while Bryant had 19.

    Bryant was the reason we all bought stock in Indiana as a top-20 team before the season began, and this is a Final Four team when he's avoiding foul trouble and playing like this.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    No matter the season, having to go through Kentucky and North Carolina just to reach the Elite Eight is pretty ridiculous. But the Hoosiers are halfway through that gauntlet with the Tar Heels looming in Philadelphia.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Hope the offense keeps showing up. We already knew that "Good Indiana" was "national championship" good, but how long can the Hoosiers keep their mediocre or bad offense at bay? You have to go back to Dec. 22-Jan. 2 to find the last time they hit that 79-point threshold in at least three straight games.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 3-1

Oklahoma Sooners (No. 2, West Region)

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    Eye test

    Buddy Hield is a god. What more do you need to know? He didn't score a single point in the first 10 minutes against VCU as the Sooners opened up a 21-7 lead over the Rams, but when the going got tough, Oklahoma went to Hield. He finished the game with 36 points.

    Hield also had 27 in the first round against CSU Bakersfield, draining multiple three-pointers in the final 10 minutes of both games. With Denzel Valentine getting eliminated in the first round, there's no question Hield is the best player left in the tournament.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    To reach the Final Four, the Sooners need to go through Texas A&M and probably Oregon—aka the two best teams in the country that few people ever took seriously as a contender for the national championship. These guys can score in bunches, but that pair of games against a deep and talented teams could be too much.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Keep hitting threes. That's a no-brainer idea for some teams, but it really is the primary plan for Oklahoma, which averaged 10.6 made triples per game during the regular season and Big 12 tournament. With a three-point rate of 40.7 for Oklahoma, even Mike Krzyzewski hasn't coached a team this reliant on the long ball in the KenPom era.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 3-1

Villanova Wildcats (No. 2, South Region)

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    Eye test

    Villanova made one heck of a statement with a 54-29 halftime lead against Iowa in the round of 32. Even CBS' Seth Davis went sharpie on the game with 20 minutes remaining.

    But we all know the drill with Villanova. When this team is making threes, it looks ridiculously good. Thus far in the tournament, the Wildcats are 23-of-47 (48.9 percent) from beyond the arc. How far can they go before having an off night? If they shoot 40.0 percent or better against Miami, it will be the first time all season they shot at least that well in three consecutive games.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Iowa spoiled a potential Big Five Rivalry game, but the Hawkeyes weren't able to keep Villanova from reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. Two big hurdles remain. Miami and Kansas will be no picnic.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Like a football team that aims to establish the run early to set up the passing game later, Villanova needs to establish a post presence in order to open up the perimeter.

    The Wildcats shoot 56.4 percent from inside the arc and have five guys shooting 59.0 percent or better from two-point range. Get the opponent to respect Ochefu, Darryl Reynolds and Mikal Bridges in the paint and Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono will get much better looks from three-point range.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 11-4

Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 11, Midwest Region)

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    Eye test

    Has any team looked more dominant through the first weekend of the tournament than Gonzaga?

    The Bulldogs smothered both Seton Hall and Utah, winning by a combined score of 150-111. Domantas Sabonis had a double-double in both games and both Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan were excellent in the second-round win over the Utes.

    More impressive than their offense was their defense. Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead scored 10 points on 24 shots, while Utah's Jakob Poeltl was held to a dreadful five points and four rebounds. People continue to mention this team wouldn't have made the tournament without the WCC automatic bid, but there was never any doubt about how good Gonzaga was. It just took the Zags until March to start picking up quality wins.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Gonzaga will be perhaps the most overwhelming favorite to reach the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs might even be a 10-point favorite in Vegas for that game against Syracuse. But that definitely won't be the case in the regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Ride the horses. The Zags have now won 21 consecutive games in which Wiltjer and Sabonis each score in double figures, although they usually combine for at least 35. As is the case with Providence, it would be huge if another playerJosh Perkins or McClellan, perhaps?could join the scoring party. However, as long as they're providing value on the defensive end, that might be enough.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 5-2

Oregon Ducks (No. 1, West Region)

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    Eye test

    After breezing by Holy Cross in the first round, Oregon got one heck of a fight from Saint Joseph's in the round of 32, falling behind late in the second half before bouncing back for the win.

    "Just a great job," said head coach Dana Altman after the game on the TBS broadcast. "Guys toughened up. We didn't play well, but we found a way to win. That's what it takes."

    Indeed it does, and that was the case for pretty much every Sweet 16 team in the West Region. If you feel great about anyone left in that quadrant, you're delusional.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    The Ducks barely survived Saint Joseph's two-man attack of Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry and will now get another one in the Sweet 16 against Duke (Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram). Their seven-man rotation should be enough for those contests, but Oklahoma or Texas A&M might be able to chop down this No. 1 seed.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Oregon is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the country and rarely commits turnovers, but two things that could derail this team are three-point defense and defensive rebounding.

    In Oregon's three losses since mid-January, its opponents shot a combined 26-of-43 (60.5 percent) from three-point range while corralling 40.3 percent of their misses. In other words, it takes one heck of an effort to beat the Ducks.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 9-5

Virginia Cavaliers (No. 1, Midwest Region)

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    Eye test

    Virginia got out to a slow start in both games, leading Hampton 11-10 just before the midway point of the first half on Thursday and trailing Butler 25-23 at halftime on Saturday. But once the Cavaliers got going, there was little either opponent could do to stop them.

    Anthony Gill had 38 points and 14 rebounds between the two games and Malcolm Brogdon put up 22 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Bulldogs. We've seen an awful lot of seniors in tears in their final collegiate press conferences in recent days, but this duo isn't interested in having that moment just yet.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Virginia's path to the Final Four got substantially easier when Middle Tennessee knocked off Michigan State. Not only were the Spartans the favorite to come out of the Midwest Region, they were also Virginia's kryptonite in each of the past two tournaments. But let's not pretend there aren't challenges ahead. The Cavaliers will get Iowa State in the Sweet 16 before likely drawing Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Just do what they do. The Cavaliers are the highest-rated team on KenPom.com, so they're plenty good enough to win at least two more games as long as they keep contesting shots, avoiding turnovers and creating opportunities for Brogdon and London Perrantes.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 8-5

Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1, South Region)

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    Eye test

    There are a few spurts in every game when this team looks unbeatable, but those stretches were prolonged and early against Connecticut on Saturday evening.

    The Jayhawks had runs of 16-0 and 19-0 in the first half and led 44-24 at the break before taking their foot off the throttle in a 73-61 win. Connecticut only committed five turnovers and shot 45.5 percent from three, but it never felt like the Huskies had much of a chance.

    This came two days after Kansas put on an offensive clinic in the 105-79 win over Austin Peay. According to NCAA director of media coordination and statistics David Worlock, it was the most that one team scored in a tournament game since North Carolina in 2008. There are just too many guys on this squad who can hurt an upset-minded foe.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    Is there such a thing as a roadblock when you haven't lost since January? Maryland won't go down without a fight, nor will Miami or Villanova. Still, this is the best team playing in arguably the weakest region. If the Jayhawks didn't have the best odds to reach the Final Four, we'd be doing something wrong.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Avoid injury? There will be challenges along the way, but no team is hotter than Kansas, winner of 16 straight11 of which came against NCAA tournament squads. This might be the most matchup-proof team in the country.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 3-2

North Carolina Tar Heels (No. 1, East Region)

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    Eye test

    Brice Johnson is off to a good start as a potential tournament MOP with 39 points, 17 rebounds and 10 blocks through two games.

    The Tar Heels are arguably the second-best team left in the field, but they sure have taken their time in showing it. They let both Florida Gulf Coast and Providence hang around into the second half before finally turning on the afterburners and looking like a title contender.

    If they wait 20-25 minutes to get going against Indiana in the Sweet 16, though, they might be down by 30 when they do show up.

     

    Roadblocks ahead

    The Tar Heels draw the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16, but their projected Elite Eight matchup got a good deal easier with Wisconsin upsetting Xavier on Sunday night. They would now face either the Badgers or the Fighting Irish.

     

    Key to making it to Houston

    Let the offense run through BJ, JB and JJ. For as much as has been made about Marcus Paige needing to show up for the Heels to win it all, they could absolutely cut down the nets with Johnson, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson leading the way.

    Or maybe it's more a matter of riding the hot hand and giving those three the first and longest chance at heating up, because there are at least six guys who can carry this team when they're feeling it.

     

    Odds to make Final Four: 5-4