Picking the NCAA Tournament

When making point spread wagers or filling out brackets for college basketball's NCAA tournament, handicappers should first weigh some important factors. Variables that can make a difference are coaching, senior leadership, tournament experience, home court advantage, team match-ups, injuries and suspensions. But really, the NCAA tourney can also be a bit of a numbers game.

First round - Last year the underdogs and favorites finished even at 16-16 against the spread, with seven outright upsets and four lower seeds winning. But in 2003 underdogs went a remarkable 19-10-3 spreadwise, with nine upsets and eight lower seeds coming out on top. Factoring in the history and nature of March Madness, the educated guess here is that the dogs will be barking again this time around.

Since 1985 when the NCAA adopted the 64-team format, no No. 16 seeds have ever won a game. But four No. 15s, 13 No. 14s, 15 No. 13s, 26 No. 12s and 24 No. 11s have advanced to the second round. No. 10 seeds are 17-15 in the first round the last eight years, and No. 12 seeds have won at least one game in 15 out of the last 16 and 20 out of 22 tournaments. No. 9s are 43-37, but they lack consistency, as only one won last year, three won in 2003 and none managed a victory in 2002. No. 13s have produced one winner in five of the last seven tourneys.

In a relatively mild tournament beginning last March, two No. 12s, one No. 10 and one No. 9 pulled off surprises. But in 2003 two No. 10s, an 11, a 12 and a 13 moved on, while in the wild 2002 tourney, one No. 10, two No. 11s, three No. 12s and one No. 13 advanced.

Best spread picks - Tennessee-Chattanooga +19 vs. Wake Forest; Utah State +7 vs. Arizona; Pacific +4 vs. Pittsburgh; Central Florida +19 vs. Connecticut; Old Dominion +9 vs. Michigan State; Delaware State +27 vs. Duke; Ohio +10 vs. Florida and Bucknell +15 vs. Kansas.

Lower seeded upsets - Nevada over Texas; UCLA over Texas Tech; Creighton over West Virginia; Iowa State over Minnesota; Mississippi State over Stanford; Old Dominion over Michigan State and Iowa over Cincinnati.

Second round - From 2001-2003 favorites went 29-18-1 against the spread with only 12 outright upsets. However, last year the underdogs turned the tables by going 12-4 spreadwise with nine upsets.

A No. 10 seed or lower has made it to the Sweet 16 in nine straight seasons, and nine No. 10s have gone that far in the past eight years. Last March, Nevada reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed. In 2003 Butler made it as a No. 12, and Auburn got there as a No. 10. In 2002, a No. 10 and No. 11 earned a trip to the third round, and Missouri as a No. 12 achieved the Elite 8.

A No. 1 seed has lost in the second round six of the past eight seasons, including both Kentucky and Stanford last year. Either a No. 1 or No. 2 or both has lost before the third round in 17 of 20 tournaments. No. 15s have never won a second round game, and No. 9s are 4-42 including UAB last March. A No. 12 has reached the Sweet 16 in three out of four tourneys.

Sweet 16 - Illinois, Alabama, LSU. Oklahoma State, Pacific, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas, Connecticut, Duke, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Kentucky.

Final 4 - In each of the last six years, two Final Four schools came from the same conference. The Southeastern Conference has failed to produce a Final Four participant the last four seasons. The last three years at least one team and five overall have come from the Big 12. Although the Big East has won the past two national championships, the picks are North Carolina, Duke, Oklahoma State and Gonzaga.

National Championship - North Carolina over Oklahoma State.

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