NCAA Tournament Bracket Strategy and Advice: Dangerous Low Seeds
With Selection Sunday in the rear-view mirror and the field of 68 set for the 2017 NCAA Tournament , the public is now in a race against time to handicap all four play-in games and 32 first-round games that will be contested over the next five days. Most bettors have a routine when handicapping games, but not even that stops them from debating (complaining) about the teams that got terrible draws. Whether it was seeding or the region they got sent to, there is always some sort of backlash from the public towards the selection committee regarding the bracket.
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Unfortunately, the complaining does nothing but waste valuable time. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can look past the bracket as a whole and see the games for what they are -- a one-game, win-or-go-home matchup between two teams we rarely ever play each other.
Whether a team has a successful NCAA Tournament run is usually predicated by how they match up with their opponent. No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have tremendous success in the first round because the talent discrepancy between them and the No. 15 and No. 16 seed is too much for the underdog to overcome. Popular upset picks like No. 13 over No. 4 and No. 12 over No. 5 have very little to do with raw talent. Typically, these underdogs match up well against their opponent style wise, which is why we see a few of these upsets per year.
When it comes down to the games featuring the Nos. 7, 8, 9, and 10 seeds, you could argue that the seeding does not matter. All of those seeds could be interchanged within one or two spots, making an obvious underdog the betting favorite.
And seemingly every year, we think it's too good to be true if a lower seed is actually favored on the betting line . These are the potential "upsets" you might want to focus on when filling out your bracket.
This year there are two or three lower-seeded teams that are favored in the first round depending on your book.
No. 10 Texas Longhorns (+1) vs No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack
Texas (19-14, 8-10 Big 12) finished in eighth place in the Big 12 yet somehow earned their 34th overall invitation to the Big Dance and 18th in the last 20 seasons. The Longhorns come into this game in mediocre form, going 5-6 in their last 11 games. While that may not make the Longhorns an attractive team in this spot, they were missing their key player, Mohamed Bamba, for the last five games. Bamba doesn't lead his team in points per game, but he contributes 12.9 per game to go along with 10.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, which is tops in the Big 12. The bulk of the scoring is done by junior forward Dylan Osetkowsi with 13.6 points per game. As a team, the Longhorns average 71.7 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting. The Longhorns give up just 68 points per game to their opponents, which puts them 60th in the nation, 111 spots higher than their opponent. The Longhorns' downfall could be their free-throw shooting. They rank 315th in the country in free-throw percentage (66.8). And in a close ball game, free throws are typically the determining factor on whether or not a team covers the spread or not.
Nevada (27-7, 15-3) finished as the Mountain West Conference regular-season champions but were dismantled in the MWC tourney semi-finals by San Diego State. The Wolf Pack feature four players who score in double figures, including twins Caleb and Cody Martin, who combine for 32.7 points and 11.6 rebounds. Junior wing Jordan Caroline chips in with 17.9 points per game, and senior guard Kendall Stephens adds 13.2. Stephens established a MWC record 73 3-pointers in conference play. While the offense may be high-powered, the defensive side of the court leaves a lot to be desired. The Wolf Pack give up more than 73 points per game on 45 percent shooting. If this trend continues, the Wolf Pack will be a prime candidate to suffer one of the handful upsets that will take place in the first round.
Furthermore, the line tells you all you need to know in this matchup. The Wolf Pack may have the most talent on the floor, but the line is begging you to take them. Texas is battled tested, and a healthy Mo Bamba will be the difference in this one.
No. 10 Butler Bulldogs (-1.5) vs. No. 7 Arkansas Razorbacks
The Butler Bulldogs (20-13, 9-9 Big East) are making their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after finishing seventh in the Big East after making a run to the Big East tournament semi-finals where they were bounced by Villanova. Butler isn't the same team bettors have grown to love over the last four tournaments, but this squad is similar in how they go about their business. Butler is led by Kelan Martin, who led the team and the rest of the conference in scoring at 23.6 points per game. This is will be Martin's fourth and final NCAA Tournament appearance, and he should be motivated to make it a memorable one. Martin's supporting cast consists of Kamar Baldwin (15.5), Paul Jorgensen (10.5) and Tyler Wideman (9.8). As a team, Butler averages a shade fewer than 80 points per game while giving up 72.
Arkansas (23-11, 10-8 SEC) is appearing in its second consecutive NCAA Tournament and the third in their last four seasons. Arkansas finished fourth in the SEC and succumbed to eventual runner-up Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Arkansas is led by the one-two punch of Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. Barford averaged 18 points per game this season, while Macon pitches in with 17 in a complimentary role. As a team, the Razorbacks average 81.1 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting. However, the downfall is their defense. The Razorbacks surrender more than 76 points per game. Against an experienced team like Butler, any defensive lapses could prove costly.
In my opinion, I would rather trust my money with the team who has been a consistent force in the tournament over the last handful of years. Butler knows what it takes to win in March, and I expect Martin to end his NCAA career by reaching another Sweet 16.
No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs (+6.5) vs. No. 6 Houston Cougars
The San Diego State Aztecs (22-10, 11-7 MWC) are one of the hottest teams running right now. They enter the tournament on the heels of winning the Mountain West Conference tournament, which brought their win-streak to nine games. The Aztecs not only have a high-scoring offense (77.1 points per game), but they have a stout defense that surrenders just under 68 points per game. In their last five games, the Aztecs have not given up more than 75 points, which could be a decisive factor going up against a Houston team that isn't the most offensively-gifted team.
The Aztecs rely on Malik Pope to pace them offensively. Pope averages 12.9 points per game to go along with 6.6 rebounds. Freshmen forwards Jalen McDaniels (10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Matt Mitchell (10.7, 4.0) give the Aztecs some complimentary scoring, while senior Trey Kell is a Swiss Army knife and does a little bit of everything with 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Junior guard Devin Watson (12.3 points, 3.8 assists) is the fifth Aztec starter averaging double digits.
Houston (26-7, 14-4 AAC) is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. The Cougars enter on the heels of a heartbreaking AAC Tournament loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. Houston is led offensively by senior guard Rob Gray, who averages 18.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. His supporting cast includes senior forward Devin Davis, who contributes 10.8 points and a team-best 6.2 boards. The third member of the Cougars to average double figures in scoring is Corey Davis Jr. at 13.5 points per game. Defensively, the Cougars give up a shade over 65 points per game on 40 percent shooting.
I think it's a losing proposition to get in front of a winning streak by betting against it, so I will be on San Diego State in this matchup. They match up well at every position on the floor. And in a lower-scoring game, give me the team that has momentum on its side.
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