Free March Madness Picks: Sweet 16 Money Line Underdogs
by Trevor Whenham - 3/22/2010
My bracket didn't go particularly well last weekend - like everyone else I had Kansas winning it all, so now I have to rely on a Butler upset of Syracuse to have any chance at all of success. While I didn't have any success there, what has been going well so far in this tournament has been picking out profitable upsets on the money line.
In the article looking at the first round games I picked out six profitable underdogs in eight tries. In the second round my rate of success fell - I only hit two upsets in four tries - but the beauty of betting underdogs on the money line is that that was still nicely profitable. The success of those first two articles means that we are essentially freerolled betting underdogs in the Sweet 16. It's always more fun playing with house money. There are three underdogs that stand out in my eyes in the eight games to be played Thursday and Friday night as worthy of a shot (all odds are from 5Dimes):
Butler (+258) vs. Syracuse (Thursday, 7 pm ET) - I liked this game as an upset a bit more before the tournament started. That was back when Syracuse had lost two games in a row and was showing some real cracks. They have played two very good tournament games since, and are reminding us why they were a No. 1 seed in the first place. Syracuse thoroughly destroyed Gonzaga in the second round, and, like Gonzaga, Butler is a well-respected mid-major, so it would be easy to assume that the Orange will roll again. There's a difference here, though. Butler is a better team than Gonzaga right now - much better. They haven't lost since Dec. 22, they play very good defense, they can shoot the lights out, and they don't get caught in transition. Syracuse can be beaten, and Butler has a week to figure out how to do it. Syracuse is more likely to win the game, but Butler has a better chance than this price indicates, so there is value in being a Bulldogs believer.
Xavier (+180) vs. Kansas State (Thursday, 9:30 pm ET) - I really believe that there is going to be at least one upset in the West, so it only makes sense to back the underdogs in both games. These two teams met in Manhattan, Kansas, on Dec. 8, and it was ugly for the Musketeers. Xavier got only 30 points from their starters - with 16 of them from Jordan Crawford - and Kansas State won by 15. Xavier is playing much better since then, though, and they can rely on a much better showing from their starting lineup this time around. Kansas State has shown through the season that they can struggle with consistency and focus, and if they aren't at their best this time around then Crawford and company can make them pay. Ultimately, I look at it this way - I would have picked Pitt over Kansas State, and I really like how Xavier looked against Pitt, so Xavier is worth a look.
Saint Mary's (+168) vs. Baylor (Friday, 7:20 pm ET) - Gonzaga gets all of the attention out of the WCC, but Saint Mary's made it very clear last weekend that they are the ones that are actually worthy of the love. Richmond is a good team out of a tough conference, but Saint Mary's made beating them look pretty easy. You can debate in the second round whether Villanova looked so bad because Saint Mary's was that effective, or if the Gaels were just able to capitalize on whatever was going on with the Wildcats. Either way, they looked competent and confident in the big win. Baylor has been reasonably untested so far, so we really can't be sure of how good they actually are. What we have seen despite their success, though, is some inconsistency. Ekpe Udoh was great in the first game, but mostly invisible in the second. LaceDarius Dunn was the star of the second game, but not nearly as good in the first. The team has stayed hot, but the players haven't necessarily done so. That leaves more for the Gaels to exploit. Nether of these teams have any recent experience winning tournament games so that's not a factor. With that aside, Saint Mary's is certainly worthy of a shot.
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