Bet on ‘road warriors’

Mar 16, 2004 8:31 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, Duke is the favorite at 5-2 to win it all (Las Vegas Sports Consultants odds). Followed closely behind are Connecticut and Stanford at 4-1 and St. Joseph at 6-1.

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 Texas at 8-1; Mississippi State at 7-1; Pittsburgh and Kentucky at 10-1; and Oklahoma State at 8-1.

Last year’s champ, Syracuse, is a somewhat generous 20-1, and perennial West Coast powerhouse Arizona is probably overpriced at 8-1.

Outsiders that might have a chance to win it all include Illinois and Gonzaga at 10-1 and North Carolina at 12-1, and the hot team entering the tournament is Maryland at a whopping 100-1.

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 teams with the best road records are Stanford, St. Joseph’s, Gonzaga, and Mississippi State, although many would argue that the first three teams weren’t battle-tested in tough conferences like the ACC, SEC and Big East.

Other teams that had solid road records include Duke, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Texas, Providence and Connecticut. Don’t be surprised if these teams advance deep into the tournament.

As in past seasons, don’t be shocked 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 South Carolina (50-1), Dayton (100-1), or Maryland (100-1), 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!