Survive and advance.
It doesn't matter how you make it out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, only that you made it out. And 16 teams managed to weather the annual storm of anarchy and confusion that marks the first and second round in order to place them in the Sweet 16.
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There are but 16 potential national champions remaining and with every victory the number of hopefuls gets smaller while their odds expand exponentially. But what is brilliant about the situation that remains is that you can still place futures bets on which team you think will cut down the nets in that modern day Shangri-La known as Detroit. I mean, imagine being able to pause the Kentucky Derby after three furlongs and then place another bet as to which horse you think the winner would be. With NCAA Tournament futures odds that's pretty much exactly what you can do.
Here is a look at the current odds and a breakdown of which teams offer the best value to become the next national champions:
North Carolina (2-to-1) - The reason that this is a "best bet" right now is the fact that North Carolina retained the services of Ty Lawson without having to pay a large price on their long-term odds. The Heels opened the tournament as the favorite and have held firm at 2-to-1. They are still the best team in the field, even if they have significant questions. But any time that you add the ACC Player of the Year back into your rotation you can expect a boost in performance. I think that North Carolina will hold off a plucky Gonzaga squad but then they will have their hands full with either a smooth Syracuse team or an outstanding Oklahoma squad simply for the right to hit Motown.
Connecticut (5-to-1) - The Huskies were by far the most impressive No. 1 seed last weekend and I think that they might have the best road to the finals right now. They still have three very talented squads alive in their regions but Connecticut also matches up very favorably with all three of them. The Huskies should beat Purdue and will beat Memphis, which is if the Tigers manage to sneak past Missouri. After that Connecticut would be in line to take on Louisville, a team it manhandled in Freedom Hall this season. You have to like what this squad is bringing to the table and I think these are strong odds for a powerful team.
Oklahoma (15-to-1) - It was just stunning to me how everyone had written off the Sooners prior to the start of the tournament. This is a club that was in the Top 5 for an overwhelming majority of the season and was in line to secure a No. 1 seed were it not for a late-season injury to Blake Griffin. The Sooners have a very difficult draw with a game against Syracuse preceding a likely matchup with North Carolina. I'd give them 10-to-1 just to win those two games, and I think that's being generous. But if Oklahoma does emerge from this weekend's games I have no doubt that they will be cutting down the nets the following Monday.
Syracuse (15-to-1) - The Orange were a dark horse heading into The Big Dance and their performance up to this point has been as impressive as anyone left in the field. I am firmly on record for saying that Syracuse would be in the Final Four - next year. But the way they are playing right now they might not be willing to wait. Syracuse can play a variety of styles and can match up with anyone. Also, right now they have the best backcourt in the country and that's a tremendous advantage this time of year.
Villanova (15-to-1) - The Wildcats are decided underdogs in Boston this weekend and would have to snipe off the top two seeds in their region just to make it to Motown. But Villanova has nice balance in the backcourt and the frontcourt and actually matches up very well with both No. 2 Duke and, potentially, No. 1 Pittsburgh. Also, they have the best player that no one is talking about right now in Scottie Reynolds and I could see this kid going bonkers this weekend to help get 'Nova over the hump. I think that the Wildcats' odds should be 20-to-1, but they are still a solid value.
Missouri (25-to-1) - The Tigers are still decided long shots to win it all. But their style of play and the matchup problems that they can cause make the Tigers a real X-Factor in the Sweet 16. Missouri has great matchups - all three teams left in their region are slower, frontcourt-dominated squads - and it's possible that they could press their way into the Final Four. This is also one of the few teams that would have absolutely no problem playing an up-tempo game with either of the two favorites, Louisville and North Carolina. In fact, the Tigers would probably prefer the break-neck pace.
Duke (8-to-1) - The Dukies are soft on the interior and don't have the depth or the talent to win it all. I don't think that Duke can win four straight games against the "best of the best" when they are relying on Brian Zoubek and some undersized, yeomen forwards (Lance Thomas, David McClure) to protect the basket and to clear the boards. Louisville, Connecticut, or Oklahoma would absolutely have a field day with this frontcourt.
Memphis (8-to-1) - If I've said it once I've said it 1,000 times: this Memphis team isn't any good. Not good at all. They were out of their heads in that game against Maryland last week and I wouldn't count on a repeat performance. Do you realize that their win over Maryland - the team that finished EIGHTH in the ACC this year - was their second-best nonconference win of the season?!?!?!? In fact, after the Gonzaga win and after the UAB wins, Maryland was the highest rated team that Memphis has beaten. That is a joke, and this team sucks. Really. They really aren't very good. They are just bigger than a lot of the weaker sisters they play. Well, now everyone left is big enough to board with them, and I can only pray that they meet Connecticut in the regional final. That will be a 20-point game if that's the case.
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Kansas (15-to-1) - In order to win consecutive NCAA Tournament championships you have to be a great team. I'm talking all-time great. As in "dynasty". Kansas has made an incredible run this season. But they aren't a great team and they certainly aren't good enough to win back-to-back championships. Their odds to do so should be twice what they are for Syracuse (a team that beat the Jayhawks once already), Michigan State (a team that crushed the Jayhawks once already) and Oklahoma (a team that would destroy the Jayhawks if they met again).
More info on Robert's college basketball picks? Check out his Insider Page here here.