Last year, the NCAA selection committee and Las Vegas oddsmakers made it fairly easy to pick at least two first-round upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
A No. 10-seed (Wichita State) opened as a 6½-point favorite over a No. 7-seed (Dayton) and a No. 12-seed (Middle Tennessee State) closed as a 1½-point favorite over a No. 5-seed (Minnesota). Both favorites won.
It’ll be tougher to pick upsets on your bracket this year based solely on the spread after the committee on Sunday announced a competitive 68-team field.
No. 10 Butler favored over No. 7 Arkansas
No. 10 Butler, a 1-point favorite over No. 7 Arkansas, was the only lower seed favored over a higher seed when Las Vegas sports books posted the opening lines for the tourney, which begins on Tuesday and starts in earnest on Thursday.
“For the most part, this is the best work they’ve done, by evidence of these point spreads,” Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons said. “In years past, they’ve always had a lot in the mid- to upper 20s or 30. But there are a lot of competitively priced games this year.
“A third of the games are priced between 2 and pick. That’s very competitive.”
Loyola-Chicago a live underdog
No. 7 UNR is pick’em against No. 10 Texas and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago is only a 2½-point underdog to No. 6 Miami.
“Loyola-Chicago, that’s a tough 11, that’s for sure,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “Between 6 and 11, they’re all fairly competitive teams.”
Virginia top overall seed
The No. 1 seeds, in order, are Virginia, Villanova, Kansas and Xavier. The largest spread is the Cavaliers by 22 over Maryland-Baltimore County.
“All four regions looked pretty tight to us,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “There wasn’t one region where we thought one team had a favorable position over another team. I think it’s going to be a great tournament. It’s wide open.”
Virginia faces a possible Sweet 16 showdown with No. 4 Arizona in the South Regional. Kansas will be tested by No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Michigan State in the Midwest while Xavier could meet No. 4 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 in a West region that also features No. 2 North Carolina and No. 3 Michigan.
“Of the four 1 seeds, Xavier is the most vulnerable,” Salmons said. “I don’t like Xavier.”
Will there be a 5/12 upset?
There has never been a 1-16 upset, but there has been at least one 5/12 upset in 29 of the last 33 years.
“We offer a prop on that every year,” Rood said. “Will all 5 seeds win over 12 seeds? No is usually minus 350 and yes plus 250.”
Based on the spread, No. 12 New Mexico State — which happens to be Rood’s alma mater — has the best chance at an upset as a 5-point underdog to No. 5 Clemson.
“I like the draw against Clemson,” Rood said. “They were projected against Ohio State. I would take Clemson over Ohio State.”
No. 5 Kentucky is a 6-point favorite over No. 12 Davidson.
“Kentucky has been so heckle and jeckle this year,” Salmons said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Davidson beat them in that game.”
Salmons said one of his best bets is No. 9 Kansas State (+1) over No. 8 Creighton.
“Kansas State likes to play slow and Creighton plays at a breakneck pace,” he said. “I think slowing Creighton down works out well for them.”
No. 7 Rhode Island is a 2-point favorite over No. 10 Oklahoma, which earned an at-large bid despite losing 11 of its last 15 games. But handicapper Paul Stone (@PaulStoneSports) is siding with the Sooners.
“I believe the Rams are actually the more overvalued team. I actually made Oklahoma a 1-point favorite,” he said. “Look for the better team from the stronger conference to get the outright victory.”
Buckle up and enjoy the three-week thrill ride.
“It’s complete chaos,” Rood said. “But it’s the best time of the year.”