The First Four of the 2013 NCAA Tournament tip off this evening and as many of you finish filling out your brackets (Join our contest here if you haven’t already!) I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at who some of the favorites, and longshots, are to win it all.
While we don’t promote gambling on this website, more times than not, Las Vegas can usually a fair indicator of a particular teams chances heading into opening weekend. I have gone ahead and compiled a list of all of the teams who are considered to be within a 100/1 shot at cutting down the nets in Atlanta the first weekend of April and have provided a quick blurb as to why they would, or would not, be a smart bet for you to choose to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
LOUISVILLE 5/1 - The Big East Tournament Champion is the odds on favorite to win the NCAA Tournament. Having guards who are proficient scorers in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva to go along with a bruising big man in Gorgui Dieng make the Cardinals such a popular pick to win it all.
INDIANA 8/1 – Indiana has star power in Cody Zeller, who many pegged as a preseason POY candidate, and Victor Oladipo, who has played himself into the POY conversation this season. Tom Crean has done an amazing rebuilding job with the Hoosiers program and Indiana has the potential to do a lot of damage in this tournament.
MIAMI FL 8/1 - Miami won the ACC regular season and postseason tournament but, in the eyes of the selection committee, did not earn a #1 seed. The Hurricanes have the oldest roster in college basketball and should be a handful for most teams with Kenny Kadji in the middle and Shane Larkin and Durand Scott on the outside.
DUKE 10/1 – We all know what the Duke Blue Devils bring to the table at this point. They have five players average double figures, led by Mason Plumlee, and have only lost one game this season (to the Terps) when at full strength. Duke was labeled as a sure fire #1 seed for a while but could be dangerous on the #2 line.
FLORIDA 10/1 – The SEC regular season champion was chomped by Marshall Henderson and the Ole Miss Rebels during the SEC Tournament last weekend solidifying their fate as a #3 seed in the Big Dance. Florida was dominant at times in the regular season but they have showed that they struggle in close games as shown by their 0-6 record in games decided by less than 10 points.
KANSAS 10/1 – The Jayhawks have one of the more talented rosters in the country led by Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey Kansas has all the firepower necessary to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The only thing that would potentially worry me about going with the Jayhawks to win it all would be their propensity to turn the ball over, did it at a rate of 14 times per game, as they could very well face a pressure defense in VCU in the Sweet 16.
GONZAGA 12/1 - The Bulldogs achieved the #1 ranking in the regular season for the first time in its programs history this season. Add onto that a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the Zags and you have more firsts for Mark Few’s program. A first trip to the Final Four would be a nice achievement to bunch in with the other firsts from this year but that would be the absolute furthest I see the Zags advancing.
OHIO ST 18/1 - Ohio State as the #2 seed out West intrigues me as they don’t have what appears to be an extremely difficult path to Atlanta. Deshaun Thomas leads this team averaging 19.5 PPG and Aaron Craft has established himself as one of the premier PG’s in college basketball so Thad Matta and the Buckeyes have all the leadership they need to make a run.
MICHIGAN ST 18/1 - Michigan State is just one of those teams that performs well year in and year out in the NCAA Tournament. Over the past decade Tom Izzo has led the Spartans to the Big Dance every season, reaching, at least, the Sweet 16 six of those ten trips. Guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris be the ones to watch for Sparty as Izzo and Co., attempt another late March run.
GEORGETOWN 18/1 - The Hoyas have been tough to figure out this season. On occassion they have struggled mightily to score the basketball and losing Greg Whittington to an eligibility issue after only 13 games could have derailed the Hoyas season altogether. However, led by Big East POY Otto Porter the Hoyas closed the season winning 13 of their final 15 games. If the Hoyas from the end of the season show up they could give Kansas a run for their money in the South.
MICHIGAN 20/1 - With the Wolverines it starts and ends with guard play as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are one of the top backcourt pairs in all of college basketball. The pair, on average, account for 35 of the 75 total points per game scored by Michigan this season so they will need to be on in the tournament. Michigan opens up play in Detroit which should help in a potential second round match up vs VCU.
WISCONSIN 25/1 - Despite how boring I may find their style of play Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers have proven more than capable of beating anyone in this tournament. During the 2012-2013 season the Badgers took down Indiana and Michigan twice before falling in the Big Ten Tournament Championship to Ohio State by 7. Wisconsin simply does not beat themselves by making the same carless mistakes other teams do in terms of valuing the basketball.
NEW MEXICO 28/1 - The Mountain West Conference champion heads into the Big Dance having won nine of their last ten games, including wins over fellow tournament teams San Diego State and UNLV in the MWC Tournament last week. The Lobos went 13-4 this season against fellow NCAA Tournament teams on their schedule and use a stingy defense to their advantage. Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk provide the Lobos with a nice inside/outside attack.
SAINT LOUIS 30/1 - The Billikens are one of my favorite teams in this field as they represent the Atlantic 10 as its tournament champion. The A10 was a strong league as evidenced by five members receiving a bid to the Big Dance. This Saint Louis team beat Butler three times, VCU twice and New Mexico once on their way to a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional and feature a balanced attack with 8 players receiving 15 MPG or more per contest. Be wary of potential match ups against major conference powers Oklahoma State and Louisville down the road however.
SYRACUSE 35/1 - The Orange, and their patented 2-3 zone defense, make their return to the NCAA Tournament after a crushing defeat in the Big East Tournament Championship where Louisville outscored them 41-10 to close the game. James Southerland shot lights out from beyond the arc in the Big East Tournament helping propel Syracuse to the title game, should that hot shooting continue on and Triche and C.J. Fair show up for the Orange they could be a problem for Indiana and Miami in the East Regional.
MARQUETTE 38/1 - Anytime a team can go 14-4 through the Big East regular season they are going to me a strong team. However, Marquette, led by one of the best names in sports in Vander Blue, has had its share of blowout losses to fellow NCAA Tournament teams (33 point loss to Florida and a 19 point loss to Louisville) that causes me to raise an eyebrow when looking at them as a contender. A potential second round rematch against Butler, the Bulldogs beat Marquette on a neutral floor in November, is an intriguing opening weekend match up.
ARIZONA 50/1 - The Wildcats are a very talented team as starters Mark Lyons, Soloman Hill, Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom account for 66% of Arizona’s offense. Efficiency has been the biggest issue for the Wildcats this season though as Lyons, Hill and Johnson all shoot under 45% from the field. Against a team that can shoot the lights out like Belmont (49% as a team from the field, 39% as a team from three) the Wildcats will need to be all systems to to avoid an opening round upset.
NORTH CAROLINA 50/1 - Things changed dramatically for UNC this season once Roy Williams decided to go with a smaller lineup and insert PJ Hairston into the starting lineup as a stretch PF. By going small and filling the perimeter with shooters like Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Marcus Paige the Tar Heels have become one dangerous offense. Villanova, another team known to play small ball, should make for an interesting match up for the Tar Heels right out of the gate.
VCU 55/1 - Shaka Smart and his “havoc” defense make trip to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season as the VCU Rams received a #5 seed in the very rough South Regional after finishing as the runner-up in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams have won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament each of their previous two runs under Shaka Smart and have a chance to do some real damage again this season should they be able to win a potential second round match up vs Michigan just outside of Detroit.
NC STATE 60/1 - N.C. State was exactly what I thought they would be this season, an ultra talented team that would fall short of expectations. Pegged as the preseason favorite in the ACC by coaches and media alike the Wolfpack were a trendy pick early in the season as a team that could go on a run come tourney time. Led by C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Rodney Purvis N.C. State has more than enough talent to beat anyone in this field, the question is whether their actual performance will match up with their ability.
KANSAS ST 60/1 - Bruce Weber bounced back just fine after being let go by Illinois at the end of the 2011-2012 season as he landed the job at Kansas State and has continued to build upon what Bob Huggins and Frank Martin had made before him. The Wildcats finished as the runner-up to Kansas in the regular season and Big XII Tournament but improved upon their win total from last season in the process. Rodney McGruder is this teams leader in points and rebounds per game and Angel Rodriguez gives K-State veteran guard play which is paramount come this time of the year. I wouldn’t count out a trip to the Sweet 16 for this group.
PITTSBURGH 66/1 - Pittsburgh has been up and down for the most part this season. They went 12-1, with the lone loss coming against Michigan, in what was a weak non-conference schedule for the Panthers which surely hurt their seeding after going 12-6 through Big East play. Point guard Tray Woodall is the catalyst for Pitt, when he plays well the Panthers are competitive and have proven they can beat just about anyone. Should he and Lamar Patterson both get hot the Panthers could sneak up on Gonzaga were they to make it out of the 8/9 match up vs. Wichita State.
MISSOURI 90/1 - Missouri started the season ranked in the top 15, and got as high as #7 in the polls, before the wheels fell off a bit come conference play. The Tigers went 11-6 through an SEC that wasn’t that strong from top to bottom and went from being considered a preseason favorite to win the league to having to fight for a fifth place finish. With Phil Pressey, and Laurence Bowers leading the way Missouri passes the eye test but have proven to be far to inconsistent to put much faith in them making a deep run in the tournament.
MEMPHIS 100/1 - Memphis has proven they are a dominant team…against Conference-USA competition. The Tigers went through conference play unscaved on their way to a #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament but with C-USA being a one bid league this season that achievement doesn’t carry as much weight as it may have in previous years. The Tigers lone win against a Tournament team came against Harvard as they beat the Crimson 60-50 in January, outside of that win Memphis went 0-for against Minnesota, Louisville and VCU. Josh Pastner’s team has the talent to make some noise but their track record is enough to make you cautious.
CREIGHTON 100/1 - Doug McDermott might be one of the most fundamentally sound players in this years Tournament as he leads the Blue Jays to the Big Dance after compiling averages of 23.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG while shooting 56% from the field and 49% from beyond the arc. In a setting such as the NCAA Tournament it could only take one player getting hot to push a team over the edge on a given night and McDermott is more than capable of putting Creighton on his back and beating a couple of high major programs. What should worry teams is that Creighton can win even when McDermott isn’t at his best as they showed against Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game when McDermott went 5/11 from the field for 14 points but the Blue Jays were able to pull out the win.
BUTLER 100/1 - The Butler has already done it once, but can they do it again is the question? After a one-year hiatus from the Big Dance Brad Stevens is back with a new batch of Bulldogs to take aim at being Cinderella again. Led by senior G Rotnei Clarke the Bulldogs earned a #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament after a regular season that saw them beat the likes of North Carolina, Indiana and Gonzaga on their way to a 26-8 record and a third place finish in the Atlantic 10.
OREGON 100/1 - The Ducks got hot in the Pac-12 Tournament, ultimately defeating UCLA for the conference title, after losing three of their final five games to close out the regular season. E.J. Singler (Kyle Singler’s brother) provides the Ducks with senior leadership as he averages a team high 11.6 PPG and is the only player to average over 30 minutes of action per contest. For Oregon it is all a matter of which team shows up to play, the one that started the season 18-2 or the one that finished the regular season 5-6.