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Only thing to expect in NCAA tournament: analysis aplenty


It’s cool to be popular in high school. It’s not always a positive sign to be the public’s hot pick in the NCAA Tournament, so maybe Michigan State coach Tom Izzo should be concerned.

In sports betting, it’s often wise to avoid the teams winning the popularity contest. That said, it’s easy to be impressed by the Spartans … and Florida and Louisville.

Bracket pools are off and running, the lines are up and it’s basketball games gone wild this week in Las Vegas. In terms of entertainment value, not even the NFL can top this. From Tuesday through Sunday, there will be 52 games and all sorts of surprises.

“With the Super Bowl, we’ve got two teams, and that’s all we’ve got to talk about,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said. “But in this first week, we’re talking about all 68 teams. That’s what I really like about the tournament. It’s great.”

It’s essentially nonstop action this week, and this March might present the most unpredictable tournament yet. When the brackets were unveiled Sunday afternoon, Twitter almost imploded with the type of objections we hear each year.

How could Louisville and Michigan State be No. 4 seeds? Brigham Young and Iowa are in the field and Southern Methodist is out? Wichita State got screwed with a ridiculously tough road to the Final Four. It goes on and on, and all are legitimate criticisms of the selection committee’s work.

“Louisville as a 4 seed? If I was picking, I would take Florida first, and then my second pick would be Louisville,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of William Hill sports books. “Look at two of the 4 seeds? Who would you want over them? On a neutral court, you would bet your life savings on Michigan State or Louisville against Wisconsin.”

The Badgers, blown out by the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament, drew a No. 2 and get to play their first two games in Milwaukee.

“A lot of teams can win this thing,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s as wide open as it’s ever been, and it’s going to be good. I can’t wait. I’ll say there’s at least 15 teams that can win it, and at least 25 or 30 teams can get to the Final Four. I really believe that. There’s no dominant team out there. It’s wide open, and anyone who tells you different is lying.”

Virginia is a No. 1 seed, and no one is talking about the Cavaliers. But let’s talk potential upsets - or underdogs with good shots to cover in the Thursday and Friday games.

“Dayton is my sleeper,” said handicapper Ken Thomson of SportsXradio.com and Pregame.com. “My other upset, and I hate to say it, is North Dakota State taking out Oklahoma in the first round.”

Thomson hated to say it because he’s a fan of the Sooners’ Lon Kruger, who used to coach UNLV, which missed the tournament for the first time since 2009. Oklahoma, a No. 5 seed, is a 4½-point favorite over the Bison. Ohio State is a 6-point favorite over Dayton, and Thomson likes the 11th-seeded Flyers.

“I’ll take Tim Miles over Scott Drew any day of the week,” said Thomson, siding with Nebraska, another No. 11, getting 3½ points against Baylor in a perceived coaching mismatch.

Harvard, a No. 12 seed, is popular upset pick as a 3-point ‘dog to Cincinnati. When push comes to shove, go with Marcus Smart, so Oklahoma State is a hot No. 9 seed as a 2½-point favorite over Gonzaga.

At around 6 p.m., Avello was the first bookmaker in Las Vegas to post numbers. He made Oregon a 4-point favorite over Brigham Young. The line opened as low as 2 elsewhere. It ballooned to 6, the biggest move on the board.

Thomson was disgusted to see BYU as a No. 10 seed, and SMU as a No. 1 in the National Invitation Tournament.

“There was no reason for SMU to not be in the tournament. That’s a big mistake,” Avello said. “I was thinking Louisville had an outside shot at a 1. I was shocked. But as an oddsmaker and a book guy, I’m not going to get caught up in the NCAA’s decisions.”

Ready for this? ESPN had a panel of analysts — Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and Jay Williams — pick the Final Four. All five picked Michigan State as the national champion.

“I know a lot of people are high on Michigan State,” Avello said. “I just don’t think it’s that easy for them. I don’t know if I’m going that route.”

Avello is skeptical that the Spartans, who mauled Michigan in the Big Ten title game behind stars Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris, can keep rolling long enough to win six more without a letdown. At the LVH, Michigan State is the second choice on the odds board at 9-2, behind Florida at 4-1.

“I have Michigan State to win the whole thing,” Thomson said.

And here is my Final Four: Florida, Creighton, Louisville and Michigan State. Doug McDermott has been a hot topic all season, but the third-seeded Bluejays are being overlooked in a West Region that appears a little weak.

Everyone is talking about Izzo. It looks so easy to go with the Spartans, maybe too easy. We already know the winner of the popularity contest.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.