Low seeds worth shot

Mar 15, 2005 9:09 AM

In all of sports, there is nothing as intriguing as the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament: four regions, 32 games, top-to-bottom seeds, inter-conference battles — they all contribute to one heck of a jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, the first round for bettors also offers a myriad of betting choices. Not only are there 32 match-ups to analyze, bettors must quickly re-evaluate their teams as they prepare to meet a new opponent two days after winning.

Over the years, a variety of trends have been established for identifying winners (and losers) in the opening round. One of them is that bettors shouldn’t be overly influenced by the seeding.

For instance, it’s obvious that a No. 1 seed will be favored and will most likely beat a No. 16 seed (in fact, a No. 1 has never lost to a No. 16 seed).

But does that mean you can automatically lay the points with a No. 1 or No. 2 seed? Not necessarily.

Most of the low-end seeds — the 14th, 15th, and 16th seeds — are harvested from the low major conferences, which typically are not among the "board" teams listed in sports books.

These include the America East, Atlantic Sun, Patriot and Southern conferences, to name a few. While teams from these conferences rarely score a tournament victory, some of them do well against the point spread.

For instance, teams from the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Atlantic) are 11-3 ATS in the NCAA tourney since 1994, and reps of the Southern Conference have covered their opening round games the past four seasons.

Conversely, teams from the America East conference have not been productive to its backers (3-9 ATS), and the Southland conference hasn’t been much better (4-8 ATS).

Here is a closer look at some of the early entries from the low major conferences and how they could fare against the top seeds.

FDU (+27) vs. Illinois: The Knights last appeared in the tournament in 1997, when they covered the points against Connecticut. But they’re up against a tough Illinois team that is 7-0 in inter-conference play, and 6-1 ATS.

Montana (+20) vs. Wash: This is the third trip to the tourney for the Grizzlies since 1994. They covered the number against Oregon in 2002, but were blown out by eventual national champ Kentucky in 1997. Big Sky schools are a respectable 7-5-1 ATS, and Montana should be able to stay within the number against a vulnerable Washington team.

Del St. (+26½) vs. Duke: Even though the MEAC has fared well (11-3 ATS) in the tourney, Delaware St. parlayed a nice run in the conference tournament to beat out Coppin State. Although the Blue Devils are 0-1 ATS vs. the MEAC, they should control the game and win easily.

SE La (+20) vs. Okla St.: The Lions barely missed a trip to the tournament last year, but Southland rep San Antonio was thrashed by Arizona in the first round. The conference has won one game in 12 tries and is 4-8 ATS. SE Louisiana will have a hard time staying close to a prolific Cowboys squad.

Chattanooga (+19) vs. WF: Chattanooga is playing a Wake Forest squad that many believe to be worthy of a No. 1 seed. But teams from the Southern Conference are 8-5 ATS in this spot, and Chattanooga advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1997, the last time it made it to the dance. Give the Mocs a shot to stay close here.

C. Florida (+19) vs. Conn: UCF has been to the Big Dance twice in the last 10 years and has covered the spread both times against Big East schools. The most recent trip was last year when it covered a 14 point spread against Pittsburgh. The Golden Knights should have enough defense to slow down U-Conn and stay close.

E. Ky (+18) vs. Kentucky: This looks like a spot where Kentucky can name the score. Even though the Colonels were able to stay within the 25 points it gave to Louisville this season, they were completely outmatched by Florida, 98-49. It could be more of the same in this spot.