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No $1 billion, but long shots might pay off

It’s that time of year again. You could say it’s my favorite time of year. It’s 75 degrees and sunny, but I’m missing all the great weather because I’m in my house or at a sports book with my eyes glued to a TV.

Each March, I spend countless hours working on my brackets. For the most part, it ends up paying off, but let’s be honest and admit the pools are mostly for bragging rights.

Warren Buffett is putting up $1 billion for a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket, but he’s no fool. It’s not going to happen.

So I’m here to help in another way. Let’s look at futures odds and throw out the No. 1 seeds. Here are some other teams to advance in your brackets. Not all are underdogs, but these eight teams have a shot to make a Final Four run (with championship odds from the LVH sports book):

IOWA STATE (30-1)

The Cyclones, Big 12 Conference tournament champs, are a No. 3 seed in the East Region. A team usually needs an experienced scoring guard to go deep in the tournament, and Iowa State has that in senior DeAndre Kane. After advancing past North Carolina Central, the Cyclones should face Providence and get by the Friars to the Sweet 16. The next hurdles to clear could be second-seeded Villanova and top-seeded Virginia. Iowa State can give those teams a serious run for their money. But Michigan State is another beast in the East.

MICHIGAN STATE (4-1)

The Spartans drew a No. 4 seed, yet Las Vegas oddsmakers made them the second choice to win the national championship. It’s interesting how the NCAA selection committee and the books see things differently. Michigan State routed Michigan in the Big Ten tournament title game, and it’s cliche, but coach Tom Izzo’s teams always seem to peak in March. While I have the Spartans winning it all in one of my brackets, their road to the Final Four is tough.

LOUISVILLE (9-2)

A No. 4 seed for the defending champs? The Cardinals should have lost to Wichita State in last year’s Final Four, but coach Rick Pitino has a team that knows how to win big games. Russ Smith is a big-time point guard. “Russdiculous” is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. Look for Louisville to coast past Saint Louis in its second game to set up another showdown with the Shockers.

UCLA (30-1)

How good are the No. 4 seeds in this tournament? From a betting perspective, I have loved and hated the Bruins this season. They have had some seriously ugly losses, but it’s all about timing. UCLA is hot after beating Arizona to win the Pac-12 tournament title. Steve Alford does not have a good track record as an NCAA Tournament coach. Still, Florida is the top seed in the South, and the Gators are severely overrated in a down year for the Southeastern Conference.

NEW MEXICO (100-1)

The Lobos lost six games, four by six points or fewer. This is a dangerous No. 7 seed with veteran players. With big men Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, New Mexico can be a tough matchup for most opponents. It was a down year for the Mountain West, but the top two teams are legit, and the Lobos knocked off San Diego State to win the conference tournament. New Mexico might have to beat Kansas, but the Jayhawks are beatable if center Joel Embiid is still out with a back injury.

OKLAHOMA STATE (60-1)

If sophomore point guard Marcus Smart gets rolling, the Cowboys could be hard to stop. Oklahoma State, as a No. 9 seed, is favored over Gonzaga in its first game. In the next round, Arizona likely awaits. Smart seems to have learned from his suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan and is hitting his stride just in time.

PROVIDENCE (300-1)

This is my Cinderella, so to speak. The Friars drew a No. 11 seed and a soft opponent, North Carolina. The East Region is loaded, so this is a true long-shot pick. But Bryce Cotton, a senior guard averaging 21.4 points, gives Providence a shot to pull off some upsets.

SAN DIEGO STATE (100-1)

Why not another No. 4 seed? The West is not the most difficult region, and the Aztecs keep surprising people. Steve Fisher is a veteran coach who has won in the tournament, and he rode senior point guard Xavier Thames to victories over Kansas and Creighton.

Kelly Stewart of kellyinvegas.com can be reached at Askkelly@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kellyinvegas.

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