James Bouknight led UConn back to the NCAA Tournament (Photo: USA Today Sports)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
So, finally, we have a bracket.
Let the games begin.
After a regular season unlike any other in college basketball, the NCAA Tournament has arrived. Some teams have already been in Indianapolis for days. Others, like a Villanova, lost Thursday in the Big East Tournament but remained in their New York City hotel to limit exposer to COVID-19. The Wildcats, and every other team, will arrive in Indy Monday.
Surprisingly over 80 percent of regular season games were contested but all of those appetizers lead up to the March Feast. Can the games over the next three weeks unfold without incident? We’d be mildly surprised but the NCAA is pulling out all the COVID stops.
Here are a few quick observations, plus the ever-important opening betting lines for the games. Because if you haven’t heard Brackets are passé. It’s all about betting the actual games now. Sports betting is legal in 25 states and Washington, D.C. If you are reading this and live in Rhode Island you have to be on SportsBook Rhode Island through the tournament. It makes every game interesting, if you own the ability to contain yourself.
The committee split its bubble by setting Michigan State, UCLA, Wichita State and Drake as the last four teams in this year’s field. Then they matched former champs Michigan State and UCLA against one another in opening games that tip Thursday. The Spartans could’ve easily
Due to the pandemic all the games will take place in the Greater Indianapolis area, as far away as Bloomington and West Lafayette. Indiana did not make the field, Purdue will not play on its home floor and no other Indiana college made the field.
WHAT IS AN UPSET:
This is the time of year that college hoop neophytes discover the sport. Welcome, but don’t get excited about these seed numbers. There is next to no difference between teams seeded 7-10. In fact, the 9’s beat the 8’s more than 50 percent of the time. The 10’s beat the 7’s 39 percent of the time. The only mistake the committee made on these lines is apparently in the Oregon-VCU game where the Ducks are 6-point favorites. The other 7-10 matchups are one and two-point spreads.
So where are the real upsets? If any seed 11 or up wins its can blow up a bracket but also be a real coup to grab in a single game or parlay bet. Potential games to watch there are Michigan State-BYU and Georgetown-Colorado (East); Ohio University-Virginia and UC-Santa Barbara-Creighton (West); Winthrop-Villanova (South); Syracuse-San Diego State (Midwest).
At first glimpse I was leaning East but it’s got to be the Midwest. Number one Illinois has a true star in guard Ayo Dosunmu but you can bet that overlooked neighbor Loyola-Chicago would love a shot at the Illini in round two. Oklahoma State is a four seed but easily could’ve been awarded a two. They’re 9.5 favorites to beat Liberty but will have to see Tennessee in round two.
San Diego State has won 14 in a row and haven’t lost since mid-January. They are the six seed. West Virginia awaits in the second round. The two seed is a Houston (24-3) team that’s been rolling much of the season.
BEWARE THE BIG CONFERENCES:
So the Big Ten and Big 12 were clearly the best and deepest leagues in the country. They were appropriately rewarded with 9 and 7 bids, respectively. But history tells us that the last few teams from these leagues are often pulled into the tournament because of the strength at the top. So don’t get excited about teams like Rutgers and Oklahoma.
THE ACTION UPDATE:
If you haven’t been following the Action Update since it debuted in January you’ve been missing out. We’ve had a few losers, of course, but many more winners. Hello Iona!
We will post a new Action Update with several NCAA picks Tuesday and again Friday.
(Opening Odds SportsBook RI/William Hill)
No. 16 Texas Southern (-2.5) vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s
No. 16 Appalachian State (-3) vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
No. 11 Michigan State (-1) vs. No. 11 UCLA
No. 11 Wichita State (-2.5) vs. No. 11 Drake
No. 1 Baylor (-26) vs. No. 16 Hartford
No. 8 North Carolina (-2) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
No. 5 Villanova (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Winthrop
No. 4 Purdue (-7.5) vs. No. 13 North Texas
No. 6 Texas Tech (-5) vs. No. 11 Utah State
No. 3 Arkansas (-9.5) vs. No. 14 Colgate
No. 7 Florida (-1) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
No. 2 Ohio State (-16.5) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
No. 1 Illinois (-22.5) vs. No. 16 Drexel
No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-2.5) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
No. 5 Tennessee (-7.5) vs. No. 12 Oregon State
No. 4 Oklahoma State (-9.5) vs. No. 13 Liberty
No. 6 San Diego St. (-2.5) vs. No. 11 Syracuse
No. 3 West Virginia (-12.5) vs. No. 14 Morehead State
No. 10 Rutgers (-1) vs. No. 7 Clemson
No. 2 Houston (-19.5) vs. No. 15 Cleveland State
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s/No. 16 Texas Southern
No. 8 LSU (-1.5) vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure
No. 5 Colorado (-5) vs. No. 12 Georgetown
No. 4 Florida State (-11.5) vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro
No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Michigan State/No. 11 UCLA
No. 3 Texas (-9) vs. No. 14 Abilene Christian
No. 7 UConn (-2) vs. No. 10 Maryland
No. 2 Alabama (-17.5) vs. No. 15 Iona
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/No. 16 Appalachian State
No. 8 Oklahoma (-2) vs. No. 9 Missouri
No. 5 Creighton (-7) vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
No. 4 Virginia (-9) vs. No. 13 Ohio
No. 6 Southern Cal vs. No. 11 Wichita State/No. 11 Drake
No. 3 Kansas (-11) vs. No. 14 Eastern Wash
No. 7 Oregon (-6) vs. No. 10 VCU
No. 2 Iowa (-14.5) vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon