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March movement: Best value bets to win NCAA Tournament

Updated March 5, 2024 - 6:42 pm

Connecticut is the clear 5-1 favorite to repeat as NCAA men’s basketball champion, and Houston, Purdue and Arizona also have single-digit odds to win the national title.

With Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament fast approaching, there are still several squads with double- and triple-digit odds that could be worth a wager to win it all — starting with Tennessee, the 15-1 fifth favorite at Caesars Sportsbook.

The Volunteers have reached the Elite Eight only once and have never reached the Final Four. But led by 6-foot-6-inch guard Dalton Knecht, who matched his career high with 39 points in Wednesday’s 92-84 win over Auburn, VegasInsider.com handicapper Bruce Marshall expects Tennessee to make a title run.

“I think the best team in the country is Tennessee,” Marshall said. “They might be the most prominent program that’s never played in the Final Four. They’re way overdue.

“The difference this year is Dalton Knecht. I think he’s arguably the best player in the country. He does everything. They’ve never had a guy like that who is that complete a player. He changes the whole dynamic for them.”

The Vols rank third in defensive efficiency at KenPom and 17th in offensive efficiency.

“The book on Tennessee is they’re going to defend, but are they going to score?” Caesars assistant director of trading Adam Pullen said. “Knecht has transformed that team. With him scoring at will, they’re going to be a threat.”

Marshall also likes North Carolina, led by point guard RJ Davis, at 18-1.

Majorwager.com handicapper Brian Edwards took Connecticut earlier at 12-1 but likes five other teams at current odds: Creighton (30-1), Illinois (40-1), Florida (100-1), Florida Atlantic (125-1) and Clemson (125-1).

Creighton, 30-1

“Creighton has size, experience, quality coaching, outstanding guard play and an elite rim protector in Ryan Kalkbrenner, the 7-1 senior center,” said Edwards (@vegasbedwards).

The Bluejays, who rank 11th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency at KenPom, crushed Connecticut 85-66 at home Feb. 20.

Illinois, 40-1

Edwards said Illinois has four elite players in Terrence Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Coleman Hawkins and Quincy Guerrier. Pullen also likes the Fighting Illini’s starting five and picked them as a value bet to win it all.

“Illinois is another team that might be able to do something,” he said. “They’re a team in that odds range that might make a splash, but they could lose in the first round.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll see a repeat of last year and have teams a lot of people didn’t expect in the Final Four. But, to me, it seems less wide open than in previous years.”

The total seed number in last year’s Final Four was 23, the second-highest amount since the NCAA Tournament started seeding teams in 1979.

Florida, 100-1

Florida has won nine of its last 11 games. But Edwards noted that the high-scoring Gators — led by four quality bigs and three elite guards — could easily be on an 11-game winning streak.

“Since losing at Tennessee on Jan. 16, the Gators’ lone defeats are in a 67-66 loss at Texas A&M and a 98-93 overtime setback at Alabama,” he said.

Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons also can see Florida making a deep run.

“If things fell their way, they could find themselves in the Final Four,” he said. “I watched them play against Alabama, and I was really impressed with them. They look really capable.”

Clemson, 125-1

Salmons and Edwards also singled out Clemson as a long shot capable of making a run.

“They play to a much higher power rating than you would think Clemson is,” Salmons said.

Salmons said a lot of teams are capable of winning it all, including Kentucky (22-1), Alabama (25-1) and Auburn (20-1).

“Like Kentucky. They’re more than capable,” he said. “But they’re also more than capable of losing in the first round. There’s so much luck to it. And we’ll have to see how they set up the brackets.”

Florida Atlantic, 125-1

FAU made last year’s Final Four as a No. 9 seed alongside No. 5 seeds San Diego State and Miami and No. 4 Connecticut.

Edwards said the Owls are worth a bet after bringing back eight of their top nine players from the team that lost to the Aztecs on a buzzer-beater in the Final Four.

“As evidenced by its double-OT win over Arizona in Las Vegas,” he said. “FAU can beat any team in the country on any given night.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on X.

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