March Madness Betting Trends: Handicapping the No. 1 Seeds
by Trevor Whenham - 3/13/2012
For the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament there is nothing more prestigious that they could have earned heading into the tournament. While the top seeding ultimately guarantees them nothing, it does make their path to a championship easier than any other seed. A No. 1 has never lost a first-round matchup in 108 tries since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 94 of those 108 teams have advanced to the Sweet 16, and 16 of the 27 tournament winners in that time have been top seeds.
Nine of the past 13 National Championships have been No. 1 seeds, including four of the last five. While there is a good chance that the last team standing will be a top seed, there is also a good chance that there will be at least one No. 1 in the Final Four — last year marked just the third time in 27 years that no No. 1 was among the last four alive. There have only been three years with three No. 1 teams in the Final Four, though, and just once that all four No. 1 teams made it.
It all boils down to this — we should respect the No. 1 seeds, but we shouldn’t view them as untouchable. At least one of the four will lose well before they want to, and it’s likely that more than one will. Let’s take a look at the four squads to get a sense of who they are and where they stand (odds to win the tournament are from Bovada):
Kentucky Wildcats (5/2)
Season performance: Their 32-2 record on the season and perfect 16-0 SEC record were very impressive. Their 12-20-1 ATS record was far less impressive. They went ‘under’ the total 19 times in 31 games.
Tournament history: Kentucky has dominated the NCAA Tournament like no other school. This will be their record-breaking 53rd appearance in the tournament, and they are tied with North Carolina for wins with 105. Only UCLA has more tournament wins than Kentucky’s seven. They are in a drought now, though — they haven’t won a title since 1998, and last year’s Final Four loss was their first appearance in the last weekend since then.
Head coach: John Calipari is in his third year at Kentucky, and is looking for his second Final Four appearance. With eight 30 win seasons and three Coach of the Year Awards he is unquestionably the best coach to have never won a championship.
Worst loss: After a perfect SEC regular season they didn’t really show up for the SEC Tournament Championship Game and lost to Vanderbilt. Calipari tried to spin it that he wanted his team to lose before the tournament so they knew what it felt like. That was as believable as it is every time a coach uses it in similar circumstances.
Best player: Anthony Davis is only a freshman, but he’s a virtual lock to go first overall in the NBA Draft this year. He’s very good on both ends of the court. To beat Kentucky teams will have to get Davis in foul trouble.
Biggest weakness: The last time Kentucky had a wildly-talented group of freshmen was two years ago. They were a tournament disappointment. This is a more cohesive team, but it is a very young one. Inexperience in the tournament is always scary.
Expectation: Kentucky is clearly the best team in the country right now. They are going all the way according to my March Madness bracket.
Syracuse Orange (10/1)
Season performance: Syracuse was 31-2 on the season, with their second loss coming in the Big East Tournament. They were essentially a break-even team at 17-15 ATS, and went under 17 times in 31 games with posted totals.
Tournament history: The Orange have appeared in the tournament 25 times in Jim Boeheim’s 35 years at the helm. In that time they have played in the Championship Game three times, with their sole win coming over Kansas in 2003.
Head coach: Jim Boeheim is a legend. He has never has a losing season, and has won 20 games 32 times. He has made it at least to the Sweet 16 12 times, including two of the last three years.
Worst loss: Neither of their losses were particularly bad, though it would have been nice to see them beat Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals so they could have come into here with more momentum.
Best player: The team’s success is due to their remarkable balance. Their leader, though, is senior Kris Joseph. The Canadian is the most dangerous scoring threat, one of the best rebounders, and a very stout defender.
Biggest weakness: For a solid rebounding team overall they are terrible on the offensive glass. They give up too quickly to be prepared for the transition, and they get outrebounded by teams that shouldn’t be able to do so.
Expectation: I expect them to play in an Elite Eight game with Ohio State that would be one of the highlights of the tournament. This team has a high upside, but I expect them to fall just short of the title.
Michigan State Spartans (17/2)
Season performance: The Spartans didn’t start strong this year, but they finished with a bang. They went 27-7, and are the only No. 1 that won their conference tournament. Their 21-10 ATS record was the third most profitable in the country this year, and it was the best in a major conference. They went under in 16 of 30 posted games.
Tournament history: The Spartans have a 15-tournament streak going. They have made the Final Four eight times, including in both 2009 and 2010. They have turned those appearances into championships in 1979 and 2000.
Head coach: Tom Izzo has only had one head coaching job — at Michigan State for the last 17 years. In that time he has been to the Elite Eight seven times, and the Sweet 16 nine times. He has been named National Coach of the Year three times.
Worst loss: Their November game on an aircraft carrier in San Diego was one of the visual highlights of the season, but it certainly wasn’t a memorable game. North Carolina not only beat them, but made it look easy.
Best player: Forward Draymond Green is an all-round beast. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and is the emotional leader as well. Very impressive player.
Biggest weakness: Freshman Branden Dawson was lost to a torn ACL on the last day of the season. That’s a big hit to their depth, and it makes their bench the biggest liability of any of the No. 1 teams.
Expectation: They are a team I respect, but their regional is packed with tough opponents — Memphis, New Mexico, Louisville, Missouri. They have Final Four potential, but I don’t think they’ll make it that far.
North Carolina Tar Heels (6/1)
Season performance: The team finished at 29-5 to win the ACC regular season crown, but they lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament. They were a barely profitable 18-15 ATS on the season, and went ‘over’ the total 17 times compared to 16 unders.
Tournament history: The Tar Heels are pretty good at playing in the tournament. They are tied with Kentucky for the most ever tournament wins, and have appeared in a record 18 Final Fours. They have made it to the final nine times, and have five wins to show for it, with the latest coming in 2009.
Head coach: Clearly you had to be a coaching legend to be a No. 1 seed this year. Roy Williams is in the conversation with the other three guys here and Coach K for the best coach in the country. He has won two championships at North Carolina, and was runner-up twice at Kansas. He has made it at least to the Elite Eight five times in the last seven years.
Worst loss: In mid-January they were humiliated at Florida State in a 33 point loss. It was a truly terrible loss, and it’s made worse by the fact that they lost to the Seminoles again in the ACC Tournament.
Best player: John Henson may have got the nod, but he was hurt in the ACC Tournament and his wrist is a concern now. Tyler Zeller is the most nimble big man in the country. For his play in the last month, though, the choice has to be Harrison Barnes. He is finally growing into his immense potential, and has a chance to emerge as a major star in this tournament.
Biggest weakness: Depth is a major concern. They have three future first rounders, but the talent drops off after that. That’s an issue if they can get into foul trouble. They also have issues if a team can get really hot from three-point range.
Expectation: I don’t like this team’s chances. Creighton, Michigan, and San Diego State are all the kind of teams that could beat them. They are the No. 1 that I feel least confident about.
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