This week’s betting column
As I mentioned last week, the NCAA college basketball tournament is all about upsets. But anticipating a horde of upsets when making your predictions and filling out your brackets is only part of the battle. The hardest part is knowing where the upsets are coming from.
If you were expecting a bunch of upsets in the first round, then you were sorely disappointed. Only Gonzaga, Seton Hall and Pepperdine pulled off outright surprises, and all those were pretty mild. Favorites and underdogs fought to a stalemate spread-wise, with both going 15-15-1 the first two days.
The second round, however, was a totally different story. The underdogs went a whopping 14-2 against the spread, and 11 of those teams advanced to the Sweet 16. A majority of office pools suffered major damage as well, as two No. 1 seeds, three No. 2s and three No. 3s bit the dust.
Next up are the regional semifinals, which begin today. Regional, then championship odds, are listed in parentheses next to each team (these odds came out Tuesday).
— Midwest – The tournament’s strongest bracket has also been the one that has stayed true to form, with three of the top four seeds advancing, and a peaking UCLA squad joining the party.
Michigan State (5/8, 2/1) vs. Syracuse (7/1, 18/1): A poor-shooting Syracuse club has been fortunate with its schedule, manhandling undersized Samford and edging an equally poor-shooting Kentucky squad by two points. Michigan State is clearly the better team, possesses the closest thing any team has to a home-court advantage, and the Spartans have the experience of last year’s trip to the Final Four to fall back on. I’m taking Michigan State -7.
Iowa State (4/1, 10/1) vs. UCLA (4/1, 12/1): I would hate having to pick from these two excellent teams, and luckily I don’t have to choose. I expect a close, exciting, high-scoring war. Take the Over 145.
— West – One had to expect some upsets in the tournament’s weakest bracket, but nobody in their right mind would have predicted these four teams to advance to the Sweet 16.
LSU (2/1, 12/1) vs. Wisconsin (3/1, 20/1): Well coached Wisconsin overachieved by upsetting an Arizona squad missing 7-foot-1 shot-blocker Loren Woods. LSU is far too athletic for the Badgers, has a stronger front line, and should keep its undefeated non-conference record intact. LSU -1 should be a winner.
Gonzaga (5/2, 25/1) vs. Purdue (5/2, 20/1): Purdue would love to turn this contest into a battle of inside games, where the Boilermakers have a slight advantage. But if you believe, like most people do, that guard play is the key to success in the NCAA tournament, you must pick Gonzaga’s more balanced attack. I like Gonzaga -1 and Over 136.
— East – Other than Seton Hall’s stunning upset of No. 2 seed Temple, this bracket has stayed relatively true to form.
Oklahoma State (2/1, 8/1) vs. Seton Hall (12/1, 60/1): With Oregon’s trail of late-game turnovers, and 6-for-18 free-throw shooting sealing Temple’s doom, the Seton Hall Pirates should feel lucky to be above water after their two overtime victories. Seton Hall star Shaheen Holloway is hurt, giving Oklahoma State a huge advantage in senior leadership. Is that enough to cover eight points? I hope so. I’ll try Oklahoma State -8.
Duke (5/7, 3/1) vs. Florida (7/2, 20/1): Florida benefited from horrible officiating to survive in overtime against Butler, then rebounded nicely to defeat Illinois. Duke received a scare from Kansas before avoiding becoming the third No. 1 seed to fall. Duke has the advantage in coaching and player experience. I’m hoping for Duke -5.
— South – Injuries to Kenyon Martin and Khalid El-Amin took care of Cincinnati and Connecticut, while North Carolina shocked Stanford. That leaves the unlikely quartet of No. 4, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 seeds to fight it out.
Tulsa (8/5, 15/1) vs. Miami-Florida (6/1), 30/1): This is another game that I would hate to have to choose a winner on, because both are very good teams and both have been good moneymakers. Even though both teams play great defense, I’m taking Over 129.
Tennessee (2/1, 15/1) vs. North Carolina (5/2, 15/1): Sure, North Carolina looked good against a slow-moving Stanford club, but Tennessee is much more athletic than the Cardinal and owns a front line that rebounds well. Carolina’s lack of depth should catch up with them here. Take Tennessee -2.
Final Four – Picking a Final Four now is just about as hard to do as was picking before the tourney. My picks are Michigan State, Duke, LSU and Tennessee.
Championship – My pre-tournament pick was Michigan State over Duke.
Note: My column will resume running on Fridays again starting next week.
Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal betting columnist.