The NCAA basketball tournament is about four weeks away, with the nation’s top college teams trying to position themselves for a top seed, and dozens of bubble teams vying for a berth in the field of 65.
Meanwhile, astute handicappers are trying to project where teams will land in the bracket, and which teams are Final Four candidates.
A good reason to begin handicapping now is the list of future odds offered by Nevada sports books. There are some lucrative prices out there, which will surely disappear once the field of 65 is announced on Sunday, March 14 (see list at right).
However, bettors should be wary of some of those long-shot odds. While getting 100-1 on a mid-level team such as Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Oklahoma or Butler may sound attractive, mid-level seeds rarely win the NCAA tournament.
Since the tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985, a No. 1 seed has won the championship game 15 times. In the 10 other tournaments, the No. 2 seed won four times, the No. 3 seed three times, and the No. 4, No. 6 and No. 8 seeds each won once.
Thus, either the No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds won 88 percent of the championships.
Obviously, anything can happen, but don’t invest too much on those teams seeded below No. 6.
For now, here’s a projection of the 65 teams that will most likely make the tournament and a possible seeding. Keep in mind with key games remaining, there will be at least a little wiggle room when it comes to actually order of finish.
1. Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, Syracuse:Unless there’s a dramatic turn of events, Kansas, Villanova and Kentucky are virtually assured of a No. 1 seed. Syracuse has been No. 1 or No. 2 in the collegeRPI.com standings since the middle of January, but they lost at home to Louisville last Sunday and that might knock them down, and possibly open the door to Duke.
2. Duke, West Virginia, Georgetown, Kansas State:The Blue Devils have been impressive in recent games and could move up. The Hoyas looked impressive when they dismantled Villanova two weeks ago, then lost on Sunday to unranked Rutgers, which had only two wins in 30 tries against ranked opponents. Georgetown might be vulnerable as a result. 3. Wake Forest, Purdue, Ohio State, New Mexico: Call the No. 3 seeds the land of the Big Ten, which is by far the most top-heavy of the six power conferences. Purdue is playing well and Ohio State seems to be peaking. The Lobos are emerging as a solid power in the West, even though this is uncharted territory for them.
4. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas: The Volunteers have rebounded nicely from a swoon in late January, though they ran into trouble with Vandy and Kentucky; they might be slipping. Wisconsin has been solid, and Texas has showed signs of recovering from their mid-January slide, despite their blowout loss to Kansas.
5. Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Temple, Butler:Vandy has looked impressive in recent weeks, though Butler isn’t necessarily demolishing Horizon League foes.
6. Pittsburgh, Baylor, Texas A&M, Gonzaga:Texas A&M went a long way toward securing its berth in the NCAA field with a pair of come-from-behind conference wins, at Missouri and at home against Baylor. Gonzaga has been on a vendetta since they lost to San Francisco two weeks ago, a team with a losing record.
7. UNLV, BYU, Charlotte, Rhode Island:Wednesday was a bad day for the two No. 7 seeds from the Atlantic 10. League-leading Charlotte lost badly on the road at Dayton, and Rhode Island lost a squeaker at home to Richmond, a team that hammered Temple a week ago.
8. Missouri, Florida, Florida State, Northern Iowa:Florida had won seven of eight – with the only loss by one point at Tennessee –before losing to Xavier,on Saturday.
9. Dayton, UAB, Richmond, Oklahoma State:As noted above, Dayton and Richmond had key wins last week.
10. Cornell, Maryland, Xavier, Clemson:Since falling short in their upset bid at Kansas, Cornell was undefeated in Ivy League play until last week. Maryland was also on a roll until they were pushed around by Duke on the road.
11. Saint Mary’s, Ole Miss, California, Marquette:Saint Mary’s has an impressive record, but the Gaels only have one win this year against a team in this Field of 65 list. The Gaels have already lost to Gonzaga twice. Cal strengthened its stranglehold on the Pac-10 race.
12. Illinois, Old Dominion, UTEP, Utah State:The Fighting Illini have a couple of nasty losses on their resume (Utah and Bradley), but they have a trio of wins not many bubble teams can match – Michigan State, Vanderbilt and at Clemson. Utah State has emerged as a viable team from the WAC.
13. Kent State (Mid-American), Siena (Metro Atlantic), Northeastern (Colonial), Murray State (Ohio Valley)
14. Charleston (Southern), Arkansas State (Sun Belt), Weber State (Big Sky), Oakland (Summit)
15. Coastal Carolina (Big South), Morgan State (Mid-Eastern), Sam Houston (Southland), Pacific (Big West)
16. Robert Morris (Northeast), Stony Brook (America East), Lehigh (Patriot), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Southwestern), Belmont (Atlantic Sun)
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