This college basketball season has provided enough parity, and it’s safe to assume it could turn into a wild NCAA tournament. The big dance always brings excitement and long paydays, but this year may be more extensive than we’re used to. The Associated Press’ top-ranked team has lost nine this year, which ties the all-time record in the postseason.
In addition to offering betting value, odds can always help fill out a bracket. Here’s an early look at what’s different:
Breaking up the Midwest
The Midwest region provides the easiest path for the 1 seed, but I was hoping to lose Houston (+600). Once conference play began, the Cougars’ defense got a little tighter. Auburn looks to be a problem, but I wonder if the Tigers can put up enough points when they get past Iowa. The Hawkeyes definitely have the shooting, but may lack size.
Texas just won the Big 12 Tournament thanks to Kansas’ second touchdown. The Longhorns have had a strange season, but I like them to win the region at +450. They rank seventh in ESPN’s BPI defensive rankings and their offense is top-20. This is a dangerous combination.
If you’re looking for a long shot, No. 10 Penn State (26-1 to beat the region) is in my sights. Among all major conference schools, the Nittany Lions allow the most 3-pointers per game and only Alabama attempts more. Plus, they’re pretty battle-tested in the Big Ten. This is a fun team with a high ceiling.
It should be noted that in the first round, No. 4 Indiana is a four-point favorite over Kent State, and No. 5 Miami is only 2.5 points ahead of Drake.
Dismemberment of the Western Region
Depending on how you look at it, the Western region may be the most stacked. No. 2 UCLA is scary, but they lost their best quarterback in Jaylen Clark and big man Adem Bona missed the Pac-12 Tournament final. Gonzaga isn’t as talented as recent rosters, but if the competition is weak, this could be their year.
No. 8 Arkansas (20-1 for region wins) looks like a decent long shot, but it’s hard to ignore how they’ve blown double-digit leads in every SEC tournament. Eric Musselman is an elite coach, but may lack the necessary polish in this department. #8 seed TCU (+900 region wins) is my focus as well. The Horned Frogs can certainly score, but they’ve been solid in the lineup with Mike Miles and have done well in the big Big 12.
When it comes to early action, Northwestern is the picket fence against Boise State, which has a unique position as the No. 7 seed and a physical defense. I like it below 128.5.
Dismemberment of the eastern region
In the eastern region, there is a sense of the perennial blue-blooded duke. The Blue Devils (+800 to win the region) won the ACC Tournament, extended their winning streak to nine and had a 17-1 record at full strength. But how much resonance does all this have for the conference over the course of a year?
Top-seeded Purdue (10-1 title chance) may be a fad, but I like the Boilermakers. The backcourt is young and could be cold at any time, but 2-foot-2 Zach Edey is a giant force and makes an impact on every possession. Purdue is one of 10 tournament teams with a combined KenPom adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rating below 50. That search parameter has produced every national champion in the last two decades except 100-1 long shot UConn in 2014.
Michigan State (-2) over USC is my focus and Memphis (-2.5) over Florida Atlantic.. I’m watching too Vermont (+10.5) vs. Marquette. Shaka Smart has lost five straight tournaments.
Division of the southern region
The South Region has the highest overall seed in Alabama, but given the frenzy away from the court, it’s hard to rate this locker room. The Crimson Tide (+700 to win the title) could have problems against West Virginia, and who knows about San Diego State, given that the Mountain West Conference has lost eight straight NCAA Tournament games.
I’m interested in the lower half of that area. Arizona and Baylor are two schools that could dominate given the size of the Wildcats and the athleticism of the Bears. But don’t sleep on No. 6 seed Creighton, who meets the KenPom.com criteria I linked to. The Blue Jays are +750 to survive the region.
As for the first round, Arizona (-14) should flip Princeton because the ‘Cats start two bigs at least 6-foot-11 and the Tigers’ tallest starter is 6-foot-8. Missouri is tied with Utah State at 155, the second-highest first-round pick, and I still think that’s too low.