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 2019 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.
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.
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 one or two lower-seeded teams that are favored in the first round depending on your book.
No. 12 Oregon Ducks (+1.5) vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers
Oregon (23-12, 10-8 Pac-12) finished the regular season as the fifth-best team in the Pac-12 before going on an epic Pac-12 Tournament run where they reeled off four straight victories over Washington State, Utah, Arizona State, and Washington in the Pac-12 title game. That four-game winning streak added to their previous four-game winning streak, and now the Ducks enter the tournament in fine form. The Ducks season hit a giant snag when freshman sensation Bol Bol went down in December with a foot injury. Bol averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebounds 2.7 blocks in just nine games. Even with Bol sidelined, the Ducks still boast four players that are listed at 6-foot-9 or taller, including freshman forward and the team's leading scorer, Louis King. King averages 13.1 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. As a team, the Ducks average 70.5 points per game on 45 percent shooting. The Ducks give up just 62.9 points per game to their opponents, which puts them 15th in the nation, just a few spots back of the Badgers.
Wisconsin (23-10, 14-6) finished the regular season winning four of their last five games but stumbled in the tournament, barely surviving Nebraska and then getting beat easily by eventual Big Ten Champion Michigan State. Wisconsin is led by the ever-efficient Ethan Happ, who leads the team in points per game with 17.5, rebounds per game with 10.2 and assists per game with 4.64. Happ has been ever present for Wisconsin, and he will be looking to carry this Badgers team deep into the tournament. As a team, the Badgers average 69.1 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting. The Badgers give up just 61.4 points per game to their opponents, which puts them No. 8 in the nation defensively, just a few spots ahead of the Ducks.
Considering the fact that this game is going to be played at a snail's pace, I favor the inside presence and the height of the Ducks. Happ is going to have to come up with something special in order to carry the offensive burden all game long, and I just don't see that happening.
No. 8 Mississippi Running Rebels (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners
The Ole Miss Rebels (20-12, 10-8 SEC) are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015, when they beat BYU in the First Four game before eventually losing to Xavier in the second round. I'm still a little unsure of how Ole Miss made the field considering they sputtered down the stretch, losing four of their last five regular-season contests before losing to Alabama a second time this year in the first round of the conference tournament. The problem with Ole Miss is that the offense has sputtered down the stretch, and as a result the wins simply didn't come. Ole Miss is led by Breein Tyree, who is averaging 18 points per contest. He has help in the form of Terence Davis (15.5 PPG) and Devontae Shuler (10.2 PPG), who both score in double figures. As a team, Ole Miss averages a shade over 74 points per game while giving up 70.
Oklahoma (19-13, 7-11 SEC) is appearing in it's second consecutive NCAA Tournament and sixth in their last seven seasons. The Sooners were essentially a tire-fire down the stretch, winning just four of their last 11 regular-season games. They then proceeded to get bounced in the first round of the conference tournament by West Virginia, so your guess is as good as mine as to which Oklahoma team will show up. Oklahoma is led by guard Christian James, who averages a shade over 14 points per game. He has help in the form of Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek, who both average double-digit scoring. As a team, the Sooners average 71.2 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting. Defensively, they rebound the ball well as they haul in 37.5 boards per game, which is 50th in the nation. They also give up a shade over 68 points per game. Therefore, if they can get some timely stops, we could be seeing the first 'upset' of the first round.
No. 13 UC-Irvine Anteaters (+4.5) vs. No. 6 Kansas State Wildcats
The UC-Irvine Anteaters (30-5, 18-1 Big West) are being talked about as the 'sexy' upset pick of round one. Sure, the Anteaters are rolling right now, winners of 16 straight games, including the Big West regular-season title and the Big West Tournament title. The Anteaters are one of the best defensive teams in the nation as they rank 17th in points allowed per game with just 63 points given up. They also rank third in the nation in limiting opponent assists to just 9.4 per game and fifth in the nation in opponent field goal percentage at 38.3. Those stats could be taken one of two ways. The first being they are the real deal and teams like Kansas State should be worried, or the second is that they play in a not-so-great Big West conference and those stats are inflated. Only time will tell. Offensively, the Anteaters have just two guys who score in double figures. Max Hazzard averages 12.5 points per game, while Evan Leonard chips in with 11.5.
Kansas State (25-8, 15-5 Big 12) is making their third straight NCAA appearance, and they will be looking to prove the doubters wrong and win at least one tournament game for the third time running. You may remember Kansas State from last year's run to the Elite Eight where they knocked off the likes of Creighton, UMBC, and Kentucky before losing to Loyola-Chicago, of all teams. The Wildcats come into this edition of the Big Dance in good form, winning five of their last six regular-season games and one conference tournament game before running into the buzz saw that is Iowa State. Kansas State has been plagued with injuries to key players throughout the year, and none are more important than to forward Dean Wade. Wade sits second on the team in points per game with 13 but leads the team in rebounding with around seven boards. If he can't go - which in all likelihood he won't be given the clearance - the scoring onus will fall on the shoulders of Barry Brown. Brown averages 15 points per game, but tournaments are very rarely won by one-man teams. As a team, K-State scores around 66 points per game but gives up just under 60, which is No. 3 in the nation. It'll be a battle of defensive wits in this contest, and we just don't see how the Wildcats can overcome the loss of one of their best players.
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