NCAA Tournament Handicapping: Using Futures Odds for March Madness Bracket
by Dave Schwab - 3/19/2014
Time is running out to fill n your bracket for this year's NCAA Tournament. To help make your picks you can listen to the experts on ESPN go on and on about which teams will advance to this year's Final Four, you can read through the stat sheets of all 64 teams while handicapping each individual matchup, or you can take my approach to filling out your March Madness bracket by letting the oddsmakers show the way to striking it rich.
These guys have already done most of the heavy lifting for you by not only releasing odds for each team as far as winning the entire tournament but for their chances to win their geographic region as well. I would like to think that they have taken the time to crunch all the numbers for each team in the field and then run them through some kind of elaborate computer software to analyze all the potential matchups. This would then be integrated into each team's strengths and weaknesses to paint a clear path to which team ultimately wins this year's national title.
It really does not matter how sportsbooks set the odds, but my bet would be that they have a better system than the majority of the people you will be competing against in any NCAA Tournament pool you enter. If you do decide to use the futures odds in filling out your bracket, please keep in mind that it does rely heavily on favorites coming through with wins. That being said, as we begin to go through each of the four regions you will still find a few interesting upsets out there when you compare a team's seed to their current odds on the list.
The South Region should come down to an Elite Eight matchup between No. 1 seed Florida and No. 2 seed Kansas, with the Gators earning a trip to the Final Four. Bovada has opened the Gators as 8/5 favorites to win the South, with the Jayhawks listed next at 4/1. No. 3 Syracuse is also the third-favorite at 11/2.
Going back to the early rounds, you probably want to go with No. 9 Pittsburgh (14/1) over No. 8 Colorado (66/1), but this is not much of reach considering the Panthers are favored by 5.5 points in that game. New Mexico is a strong No. 7 seed at 12/1 to win the South and is going against No. 10 Stanford (40/1), so avoid picking an upset there. Assuming that both VCU and UCLA get past their opening game, the slight edge would go to the No. 5 Rams at 9/1 over the No. 4 Bruins at 10/1.
The surprising Virginia Cavaliers dominated the ACC this season to earn the No. 1 seed in the East, but they have been opened as 3/1 second-favorites to win the East in back of No. 4 Michigan State at 9/4. In the other half of that bracket, most experts have already written off No. 2 Villanova as overrated, but at 15/4 odds, you might want to take the Wildcats all the way to the Elite 8 before they fall to the Spartans. The fourth-favorite in the East is No. 3 Iowa State at 6/1, which gives you another solid pick all the way to the Elite 8 if you are still not sold on Villanova.
No. 8 Memphis (25/1) is a clear choice over No. 9 George Washington (50/1). If you are looking for the 12 vs.5 upset in this region, lower-seeded Harvard is listed at 50/1, while Cincinnati is listed at 18/1, so you might want to think twice.
All eyes will be on the No. 1 Wichita State Shockers in this region as they try and add to their 34-game winning streak, but the odds say it ends at 36. They are listed as 4/1 third-favorites to win the Midwest, which points to a loss to 8/5 favorite No. 4 Louisville in the Sweet 16. No. 3 Duke should make it as far as the Elite 8 in the bottom half of this bracket as a 7/2 second-favorite to win the region. The No. 2 seed in this region is Michigan, but the Wolverines are 11/2 fourth-favorites to win the Midwest, which points to an exit in the Sweet 16 against the Blue Devils.
No. 8 seed Kentucky has solid odds at 12/1 and could throw a wrench in the works if it suddenly gets hot. At the very least, you should feel comfortable taking the Wildcats over No. 9 seed Kansas State (33/1) as five-point favorites in that much-anticipated opener for both teams. If you are looking for a bona fide upset, according to the seedings, take the No. 11 Iowa/Tennessee (25/1) winner over No. 6 Massachusetts (40/1) in light of the fact that whichever team wins the play-in game still has a clear edge in the odds.
Arizona is the No. 1 seed and the odds-on favorite to win the West at 9/5. Next on the list is No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 3 Creighton, which are both listed at 17/4, so the tiebreaker in the probable Sweet 16 showdown would go to the Badgers, who are listed at 20/1 odds to win a national title verses the Bluejays' odds of 22/1. The ride ends for whichever team advances with a loss to the Wildcats in the Elite 8.
One upset call in this region for this Friday's games would be No. 9 Oklahoma State (12/1) over No. 8 Gonzaga (18/1), although the Cowboys are actually two-point favorites in this clash. BYU earned the No. 10 seed in the West, but that is not reflected in the Cougars' odds of 66/1. They will face No. 7 Oregon in their opening game, with the Ducks listed at 14/1.
Using the current odds to win each region, you would end up with a Final Four matchup between Florida and Michigan State on the left side of the bracket and a battle between Arizona and Louisville on the other side.
Turning to the odds to win the national title, the Gators are current favorites at 5/1 followed closely by the Spartans at 6/1, so it stands to reason that whichever team wins this semifinal matchup will go on to win the 2014 National Championship. Filling out the other half of the equation, Louisville is a 13/2 third-favorite to repeat as champions, followed by Arizona at 9/1.
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