Underdogs figure to rule again in NCAAs

March 12, 2002 8:59 AM
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The NCAA tournament is all that’s great about sports and gaming. No event undergoes greater study, evoking a new cult word “bracketology.”

Whether one feels safer to bet Duke at 3-2 or going for the mother load with Winthrop at 3000-1, the short time left to dope out all the possibilities leading to the Final Four and eventually the national ­­final is pure excitement.

Since gambling exists upon making lines and totals, that’s where our emphasis will focus. If Kent State can puts six wins together and winds up this year’s miracle titlist at 100-1, bracketologists are going to have quite a celebration.

The Golden Flashes, seeded 10th in the West Region, own the nation’s best record against the spread at 21-8. Kent State won the MAC tournament and drew No. 7 Oklahoma State in the first round at Greenville, S.C.

The Cowboys are favored by 1.5 points, but it would be no surprise if Kent pulls off one of what figures to be numerous upsets in the 2002 tourney that concludes Monday, April 1 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants lists Duke as the 3-2 favorite, followed by Kansas (5-2) and Maryland (3-1). The gap opens a bit to the fourth No. 1 seed, Cincinnati, at 8-1. Oklahoma, which beat Kansas in the Big 12 conference tourney final is 7-1.

Contradiction, you bet. Part of the game. Many carefully examining the brackets are still trying to figure out how Gonzaga with a 29-3 record could wind up a No. 6 seed in the West and face a possible second-round showdown with Arizona in Albuquerque.

Then, there’s leaving Butler out with 25 wins and Memphis, which took Cincinnati took to overtime in the Conference-USA regular season title game.

All this bickering is good for the lounges, but not for making some money. So, what teams look good? Besides Kent State, there’s Hawaii for openers. The Rainbows are 19-6-1 ATS and getting two points in their first round game against Xavier. The Bows are definitely worth a look.

Another team is Valparaiso, known for pulling off upsets in postseason play. Valpo isn’t followed at all by Vegas books during the regular season, but getting 7.5 points against an overrated Kentucky looks like a steal.

A team with a more realistic chance of going the distance is Texas. The Longhorns (30-1) were just 14-13 ATS, but plays their first two rounds in Dallas. Texas is a six-point favorite against Boston College.

Pepperdine is another school many believe can advance at least two rounds. The Wave open as a four-point underdog to Wake Forest in the Midwest.

USC, one of six Pac-10 teams to make the Dance, was 20-9-1 ATS and has a good draw in the South Region to the Sweet 16. The Trojans open as an 11-point favorite against NC-Wilmington, then would face the Indiana-Utah winner.

It would be hard to imagine Duke or Kansas not making the Final Four, but Maryland and Cincinnati could be had. And, ­­really, nobody is invincible. The underdogs usually prevail at a 60 percent clip. No reason to think the pattern will change.