All things being equal, I would rather bet on an underdog. Maybe I just psychologically like the little guy. Or maybe I like the idea of winning a bet even when my team loses the game. Or perhaps it's because I love the moneyline, and making better than even money on a bet excites me. Whatever the reason, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to bet on the less-likely winner. In the eight games on tap for the Sweet 16 on Thursday and Friday there are four underdogs I can make a decent case for - and one that I truly love ( odds are from Bovada ):
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Wisconsin ( +2 ) vs. Florida, Friday, 9:55 p.m. ET: This is the one that really stands out in my eyes. Wisconsin is a very talented team led by a senior who is making his fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. That kid of experience in this spot is a huge asset. They stumbled somewhat down the stretch, but then they made the finals of the Big Ten Tournament and then got this far by beating the top overall seed in the tournament. And they did that with a simple formula - they were the better team on the day. This is a tough team and an easy one to respect. Florida… not so much. They got here by beating an irrelevant East Tennessee State team in their opener and then beating a Virginia team that is so bad offensively that they actually make me angry. They have proven nothing in this tournament, and they had lost three of their last four coming into the tournament. They just aren't a great team - or at least they haven't done enough lately to prove that they are. The seedings suggest a gap between the team, but Wisconsin as a No. 8 seed was a total farce - the committee must have gotten them and Minnesota confused when filling out the bracket. I just don't see how Wisconsin isn't favored here. That makes for an attractive underdog bet - one I'd happily make any time.
Xavier (+7.5) vs. Arizona, Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET: Make no mistake - Arizona is the better team here and by quite a bit. They have more top-end talent and have been far more consistent this year. Xavier, though, is coming off a 25-point decimation of a No. 3 seed. Sure, Florida State had plenty of weaknesses, but Xavier was smart enough and talented enough to find and exploit every one of them. It was very impressive. Trevon Bluiett is dialed in right now, the coaching is strong, and the team is in strong form. I'm not saying I expect Xavier to win - that's definitely the less-likely outcome. This is the biggest spread in the first round, though, and despite their No. 11 seed Xavier does not deserve that. To win by eight or more points means you are in control of the game. I'm willing to bet that Xavier won't let that happen.
Butler (+7) vs. North Carolina, Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET: I have been hard on Florida for their path to this point, so it's only fair that I point out that the Bulldogs haven't exactly run a gauntlet in beating Winthrop and Middle Tennessee State. And they also lost their last two before the tourney, including their Big East Tournament opener against fellow Sweet 16 qualifier Xavier. Here's the thing, though - North Carolina tried really hard to lose to an Arkansas team that has very little going for it. They are a talented team. But their mental game leaves something to be desired at times. The Tar Heels are very experienced after their run to the finals last year, but they have a tendency to get lazy at times. Butler has won some big games this year - like against Arizona, Cincinnati, and Indiana before they self-destructed and got their coach fired. They are well-coached and can step up for a big moment. Like in the case of Xavier, I don't think they are likely to win, but they could keep it closer than this.
Purdue (+5) vs. Kansas, Thursday, 9:35 p.m. ET: Watching Kansas so far in this tournament, I have had two recurring thoughts - Josh Jackson is a breathtaking freak, and they really have a tendency to get frantic at times. It mostly works for them - and has certainly worked well in the two non-contests they have faced so far - but against a methodical and disciplined team it could get to be an issue. They rely too much on being fast and athletic on offense, and that's often at the expense of order and planning. Purdue isn't the deepest team in the world, and that's a concern, but Caleb Swanigan is a legitimate superstud, and they have the coaching and the discipline to stay calm when Kansas doesn't. That just might be enough - to win or at least to keep it close. Purdue won the Big Ten regular season title this year, and that conference has spent this tournament showing that they are much better than their reputation. Kansas should certainly be favored, but it's not hard to argue that there is some room on Purdue at this price.
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