You can have the NFL playoffs, NBA Finals or World Series. In my opinion, the greatest couple of weeks in American sports, from a fan and betting perspective, have arrived: March Madness. The NCAA Tournament takes the most action of any event annually in the U.S., even more than the Super Bowl. And I highly recommend to get to Vegas if you can for a March Madness day. Crazy.
The one negative of the NCAA Tournament: no doubt by now you have been inundated on Facebook or your social media network of choice by all the bracket picks of your amateur bracketologist friends. And if some woman wins my main bracket competition again this year simply by picking her favorite colors or the meaner mascot, then I'm going to lose my mind.
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Bovada as usual has some great specials for the Big Dance. A No. 16 seed is 0-124 all-time against No. 1s. But this season has seen more parity than any in years. That a No. 16 finally wins a game is +1000 with "no" at -2000. Bit surprised there is even a no option. Your top seeds this year are No. 1 overall seed Kansas in the South, Oregon in the West, North Carolina in the East and Virginia in the Midwest. I disagree with the Ducks and Cavaliers -- Villanova and Michigan State are more deserving -- but they aren't blatantly wrong. What was ridiculous was mediocre teams like Syracuse and especially Tulsa making the Big Dance over more deserving mid-majors like Monmouth and Saint Mary's.
The "over/under" for the number of No. 1 seeds making the Final Four in Houston is 1.5, with the under a -150 favorite. Three top seeds -- eventual national champion Duke, unbeaten Kentucky and Wisconsin -- made it last year. I think all three of those teams are better than the best clubs in this year's Big Dance.
So which high seeds have the toughest road to the Final Four? I believe the West Region is clearly the weakest. Oklahoma is the No. 2 behind Oregon with Texas A&M at No. 3 and Duke a No. 4. The Ducks are a Final Four-caliber team at home but have bad losses to the likes of UNLV, Boise State and Stanford. OU has superstar Buddy Hield, but if you can stop him you stop the Sooners, who are actually the +230 region favorites (Oregon at +350). I also think the Big 12 was a bit overrated. The SEC is terrible, so forget about A&M. The Aggies also have some really bad losses. Duke has two stellar players in Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram but is only about six deep due to injuries. I could see a team like No. 6 Texas stealing that region.
Most experts say the East Region is the toughest one. Maybe. North Carolina is the +140 favorite in the East, and the Heels probably have the most talent in the country, but they tend to lose focus at times (losses vs. unranked Northern Iowa, Texas and Notre Dame, although all three are in the Big Dance). The Heels will face either No. 8 USC or No. 9 Providence in the Round of 32. The Friars have two great players in Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn and sophomore Ben Bentil, the conference's leading scorer. But it's the Sweet 16 where everyone is looking ahead to: UNC vs. probably No. 5 Indiana or No. 4 Kentucky. It's a shame those two have to play in the Round of 32. I'm not sold on IU as it struggles away from home. UK has the nation's best backcourt in freshman Jamal Murray and sophomore Tyler Ulis. And obviously that roster is full of five-star recruits. I do believe the winner of that UNC-UK game cruises to the Final Four as I'm not overly impressed with the bottom half of the draw led by No. 2 Xavier.
I might argue the South Region is tougher. Kansas is +150 there. KU won't have trouble with Austin Peay in Round 1, but No. 9 UConn, the AAC Tournament champion, could be waiting in the Round of 32. The Huskies are getting hot at the right time, just like the 2014 national championship team did as a No. 7 seed. Either No. 4 Cal or No. 5 Maryland likely would await in the Sweet 16. Both the Bears and Terps have multiple future NBA lottery picks on their rosters. The bottom half of the draw has No. 2 Villanova, as deep as anyone, No. 3 Miami (wins over Utah, Butler, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia and Louisville, among others) and No. 6 Arizona, which can beat anyone. Maybe No. 7 Iowa will start playing like a Top-5 ranked team that it was for some of this season.
In the Midwest, Virginia appears to have a clear path to the regional final. Both No. 4 Purdue and No. 5 Iowa State in the top half of the bracket are very inconsistent. No. 2 Michigan State has it much harder in the bottom half, with teams like Utah (led by NBA lottery pick center Jakob Poeltl) and red-hot Seton Hall, the Big East Tournament champion. And that's if the Pirates even get past Gonzaga in the first round.
My Final Four: Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Michigan State. Three No. 2s and a No. 1.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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