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Duke will win it all

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Joe Ellison

When looking at the field for this year’s college basketball national championship tournament, there is one clear notable exclusion. Somehow the selection committee mistakenly left out Utah State. The accurate-shooting Aggies own a 25-3 record and finished 17-1 in the decent Big West conference. How can a team ranked No. 22 in the country not inherit a bid? The 47 other teams receiving at least one poll vote all were invited to the Big Dance.

The only other glaring mistake was the treatment given to the University of Pittsburgh. The Panthers could have easily been given a No. 2 seed, but instead were given a No. 3. That opened the door for Pitt being sent to Milwaukee for its first two games, where it could meet lower-seeded Wisconsin in the second round in the Badgers’ backyard.

n When making point spread wagers or filling out brackets, handicappers should weigh the usual factors such as coaching, senior leadership, tournament experience, home court advantage, team match-ups, injuries and suspensions. But really, the NCAA tournament can also be a bit of a numbers game.

First round – Last year underdogs went a remarkable 19-10-3 against the spread, with nine outright upsets. Eight lower-seeded teams won first-round games. In 2002 underdogs and favorites finished perfectly even at 16-16 with eight outright upsets. Seven lower-seeded teams won in the opening round. In 2001 dogs went 17-15 spread-wise with 12 upsets.

Since 1985 when the NCAA adopted the 64-team format, no No. 16 seeds have ever won a game. Four No. 15s, 13 No. 14s, 15 No. 13s, 24 No. 12s and 24 No. 11s have advanced to the second round during that time. No. 10 seeds are 16-12 in the first round the last seven years, and No. 12 seeds have won at least one game in 14 out of the last 15 and 19 out of 21 tournaments. No. 9s are 42-34, but they can be hit and miss, as three won last year and none managed a victory in 2002. No. 13s have produced one winner five of the last six tourneys.

Last March two No. 10s, an 11, a 12 and a 13 pulled off surprises. In 2002 one No. 10, two No. 11s, three No. 12s and one No. 13 moved on.

Spread picks – Manhattan, Virginia-Commonwealth, Florida A&M, East Tennessee State, Western Michigan, Pacific, Illinois-Chicago and Northern Iowa.

Lower seeded upsets – Manhattan, East Tennessee State, Western Michigan, Pacific, Arizona, NC-Charlotte and Utah.

Second round – A No. 10 seed or lower has made it to the Sweet 16 in eight straight seasons, and eight No. 10s have gone that far in the past seven years. Last March Butler reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed, and Auburn made it 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.

Although it didn’t happen last year, a No. 1 seed has lost in the second round five of the last seven seasons. A No. 1 or No. 2 has lost before the third round 16 of 19 years. No. 15s have never won a second round game, and No. 9s are 3-42.

During the last three tournaments in the second round favorites are 29-18-1 against the spread with 12 outright upsets. Last year favorites went 10-6 with four upsets, and six lower seeded teams won.

Sweet 16 – St. Joseph’s, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Stanford, Connecticut, Maryland, Western Michigan, Duke, Mississippi State, North Carolina and East Tennessee State.

Final Four – In the last couple of years it appeared that if a team wanted to reach the Final Four, it was better off losing its conference tournament than winning it. Last season Syracuse and Kansas lost in their conference semi-finals, while Texas and Marquette lost in the quarters, but each made the Final Four. Conference tourney winners Kentucky and Oklahoma lost in the Elite 8, Duke and Pittsburgh lost in the Sweet 16, and Louisville, Illinois and Oregon didn’t even make it that far. In 2002 Final Four participants Maryland and Indiana lost in their conference semis, and Oklahoma beat Kansas in the Big 12 championship.

On the other hand, regular season conference champions fared much better last year. Syracuse and Marquette finished on top of their conferences, and Texas finished second behind Kansas.

Notes – In each of the last five years two Final Four schools came from the same conference, and the SEC has failed to produce a Final Four participant the last three years.

Prediction – Last season I didn’t have Syracuse or Marquette in any of my Final Fours, so I’m looking to improve on that result. I’m picking from a pool that includes my Sweet 16 picks, Pittsburgh and Texas.

My choices – Oklahoma State, Duke, Stanford and Gonzaga.

National Champion – Duke was the best regular season team from the strongest conference, the ACC.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.