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The NCAA tournament tips off Thursday, and after we put together the VSiN College Basketball Tournament Betting Guide, I wanted to highlight some thoughts I had about the upcoming action. Among them, the odds by region were released by Superbook on Monday night, and I want to elaborate on a few potential surprises that I said could be coming. Let’s get to it.
Superbook odds to win each region
This is the first time I have projected each team’s percentage chances to win regionals. I did this for each of my ratings sets in the tournament guide. If you’ve come to trust one rating over another, I encourage you to use that analysis to compare with the odds offered by Superbook. For this exercise, I have taken the average of the four ratings sets to come up with one overall percentage chance for each team to win its region — in other words, to advance to the Final Four. From there, I converted the Superbook odds to a theoretical percentage chance to win when taking into account the juice on a typical bet of that nature. I compared those theoretical Superbook odds with mine to see which teams had the greatest value.
I considered only the teams that Superbook had at + 8000 or better.
A few observations:
— Iowa is the No. 2 seed in Gonzaga’s bracket, so it’s not surprising the Hawkeyes have the best value of any team. But keep in mind that Iowa lost to the Bulldogs by 11 points in the regular season.
— Gonzaga and Michigan are easily the most overpriced teams in the field. According to Superbook, Gonzaga would win its region over two-thirds of the time if the tournament were played multiple times. Michigan is priced as if it had not lost Isaiah Livers to injury.
— Connecticut and North Carolina are ranked second and fifth, respectively. These teams were projected regional champs based on my momentum ratings in the guide.
— Villanova seems a little underpriced, and though Collin Gillespie’s injury is taken into account in my ratings, the oddsmakers at Superbook seem to have written off the Wildcats far more than I have. Villanova’s recent tournament history under Jay Wright suggests the Wildcats still could provide a long-shot opportunity.
— Exactly 75% of the differentials between my own percentage chances and the odds offered by Superbook are within 2% of each other. Unfortunately, this means I assess the odds as pretty sharp. The only major variations are with the heavy public teams, which should come as no surprise.
Potential surprises this weekend?
If this is like any other recent NCAA tournament, enough surprises will happen to keep us thoroughly engaged. The biggest shockers typically come early in the tournament as teams get settled in. Then things tend to go more as planned. But the conditions surrounding COVID-19 this season — such as fewer games played and all tourney games at one locale — could lead to a few more unexpected happenings. Hopefully these will occur on the court and not away from it. After diving headfirst into the pool of college hoops data from this season and previous tournaments, I have come up with a list of factors that could determine the surprises we see this weekend. If you agree, hit the books where it hurts!
— Vulnerable teams off my Potential Upset Victims chart in the VSiN tourney guide: In 2019, two of the three teams that shared the top spot on my Potential Upset Victims chart, Mississippi State and Marquette, lost outright. This year five teams share the lead with 16 marks: Texas, Oklahoma State, Colorado, USC and BYU. It’s a good bet that at least two will lose their openers.
— Potential Cinderella teams: Just as the Potential Upset Victims chart shows vulnerability for the high seeds in the tournament, my Potential Cinderellas chart shows teams with the most traits that make up a surprise team. These teams have to be seeded seventh or worse and make it to next weekend’s action. In a lot of cases, the Cinderella teams are completely unexpected. Take Virginia Tech, for instance. The Hokies stumbled down the stretch but boast some resume-building wins plus some size and good 3-point shooting. Other teams atop the Potential Cinderellas chart include St. Bonaventure, Connecticut, Loyola (Chicago) and Oregon. I wouldn’t be excited to play any of those teams right now.
— Certain one-bid leagues have been very competitive in the NCAAs: Specific leagues tend to be a bit underrated in generating only one tourney bid per season. Once there, however, these teams prove very competitive. Among them are the Colonial Athletic, Southern, Ohio Valley, Summit, Southland and Atlantic Sun. For the CAA, Drexel takes on Illinois as a big underdog. Southern Conference rep UNC Greensboro faces Florida State in a game that should be quite competitive. Out of the Ohio Valley, Morehead State gets a shot at West Virginia. The Summit League’s Oral Roberts takes on a Big Ten power in Ohio State. For the Southland, Abilene Christian faces in-state big brother Texas in a game with extra motivation. And finally, Liberty of the Atlantic Sun challenges potential national player of the year Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State in a game that has all the makings of a bracket buster.
— Experience can mean a ton: Of the top 40 teams in the country in experience, according to Ken Pomeroy, seven are bottom-half seeds in the NCAA tournament. They are Abilene Christian (vs. Texas), UC Santa Barbara (vs. Creighton), Wisconsin (vs. North Carolina), Norfolk State (vs. Appalachian State), North Texas (vs. Purdue), Missouri (vs. Oklahoma), Texas Southern (vs. Mount St. Mary’s) and Georgia Tech, which is canceled out by Loyola also having a top-40 experienced roster. The Abilene Christian and Wisconsin games are of keen interest to me. As noted, Abilene Christian should be highly motivated. But I also recall that early in the season, the Wildcats made my list of potentially undervalued teams at the time. Wisconsin went from 12-3 at one point to a 17-12 finish with a heavily senior lineup. Of the nine late-season losses, though, eight came to highly seeded Big Ten powers Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue, and all but one game was competitive.
— Conference champions have an edge: My report on round-by-round trends in the VSiN tourney guide indicates that teams that didn’t play in their conference championship games are on a slide of 24-44-2 ATS (35.3%) in first-round NCAA games against teams that won their conference tournaments. Eleven games fit the bill in 2021, and history shows we can expect about seven to be far more competitive than oddsmakers believe. Those games, with conference champions listed first, are:
— Hartford vs. Baylor
— Georgetown vs. Colorado
— Grand Canyon vs. Iowa
— Eastern Washington vs. Kansas
— Mount St. Mary’s-Texas Southern winner vs. Michigan
— North Texas vs. Purdue
— San Diego State vs. Syracuse
— Oregon State vs. Tennessee
— Winthrop vs. Villanova
— Ohio U. vs. Virginia
— Morehead State vs. West Virginia
Of these, only the San Diego State-Syracuse game would not be considered a surprise if the conference champ won. The rest have part of the recipe needed for an upset.
Strange things happen on the first weekend of the tournament every year. It’s a good bet that one of these five factors will contribute to an unexpected high seed or two (or three or four) going down early.