Top teams should land in Final Four

Mar 18, 2003 4:40 AM

College basketball takes center stage over the next three weeks as March Madness reaches a fever pitch.

From more than 300 Division 1 schools, 65 teams enter the men’s basketball tournament this week.

After Tuesday’s "write-in" game, 64 teams will square off in opening round action on Thursday and Friday. For the college basketball fan, especially in Las Vegas, this is the most exciting time of the season.

Heading into the tournament, Arizona and Kentucky are the co-favorites at 2-1 to win it all (Palace Station odds).

Does that sound like déjà vu? Remember 1997, when the Arizona Wildcats shocked the world by beating three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) to win the championship. Can it happen again?

But in a season in which "parity" has become a battle cry, there is certainly support for other teams that might be capable of winning six straight games and a national crown.

Some of the possible contenders include Kansas at 6-1; Oklahoma at 9-2; Texas at 7-1; and Pittsburgh, Louisville and Florida all at 10-1.

Last year’s champ, Maryland, is a somewhat generous 7-1, and perennial powerhouse Duke is probably an overlay at 6-1.

While you would probably need a crystal ball to determine who will be in the Final Four, another strategy entails examining the teams’ road record during the regular season.

Recall that the ability to win on the road is key in the NCAA tournament as most of the 64 teams will be playing away from home. Also keep in mind past champs have had exemplary road marks, including Final Four games that saw Connecticut beat Duke, and Kentucky best Utah.

This year, the two teams with the best road records are Arizona and Kentucky, who were both an astounding 11-1 on the road. Astounding, considering the conferences these two teams play in.

Other teams that had solid road records include Louisville (9-4), Kansas (8-3), Stanford (9-4), Florida (9-4), Marquette (8-3), and Xavier (10-3). Don’t be surprised if these teams advance deep into the tournament.

As in past seasons, don’t be surprised if there are a few upsets in the opening round. Although the number one and two seeds will most likely advance, history has proven there have been some shockers with the three and four seeds.

History also indicates about one-third of the teams seeded 5, 6 and 7 won’t make the cut.

While everyone would like to unearth a longshot Cinderella team such as Marquette (17-1), Florida (10-1), Memphis (80-1), Illinois (15-1) or Oregon (60-1), the hard facts reveal that the tourney winner most likely comes from the top five seeds.

According to the numbers, No. 1 seeds are 72-0 versus 16th seeds, with a margin of victory of 25.6 points.

If you look at all the No. 1 seed’s games versus seeds 9 to 16, their record is 127-3.

Taken collectively, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds versus all seeds down to No. 11 are a phenomenal 162-5.

But it’s worth picking a few lower seeds at boxcar odds. You never know when you’ll find another Georgetown or Villanova. And remember, this is supposed to be the year of parity!