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UCLA needs March magic from freshman sensation Ball

Matt Youmans

March 3, 2017 11:44 AM
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Freshman point guard Lonzo Ball has led the Bruins to a 27-3 record. @USA Today Sports Images

By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor

It’s showtime for Lonzo Ball, although he’s not yet running with the Los Angeles Lakers. His last act in college will be to spin some March magic for UCLA.

Forget rankings at this point in the season. Only seeds, brackets and matchups matter. With the right draw, any one of about 16 teams could win the NCAA championship.

Obviously, the Bruins (27-3) are in that group. Ball has turned around UCLA’s fortunes — and rescued coach Steve Alford — with a sensational freshman season. The 6-foot-6 point guard is averaging 15 points and 7.6 assists for the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense at 91.8 points per game.

“Ball has made the Bruins a complete team,” VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said. “But they are going to need to show more defense.”

All of the championship contenders have flaws. There is no dominant team.

Magliulo (@VSiNVinny on Twitter) puts North Carolina at No. 1 in his power rankings. The Tar Heels are a flawed team, too, off a 53-43 loss at Virginia.

South Point sports book director Chris Andrews and oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro posted a proposition bet this week that pits four teams (UCLA, Duke, Kansas and Villanova) against the rest of the field to win the national title.

The prop opened at minus-110 on each side. Vaccaro said two sharp bets on the field, for $3,000 and $2,000, showed up immediately. The field is now a minus-150 favorite.

The top teams in the field are North Carolina, Gonzaga, Louisville, Kentucky and Oregon. Other teams in the field with a legitimate shot are Arizona, Purdue, Baylor, West Virginia, Florida, Florida State and Southern Methodist. That’s 16 teams, including 12 in the field, with a title shot. And there could be a few more.

Of the four teams listed on the South Point prop, it’s possible only three could reach the Final Four after the NCAA Tournament draw is unveiled March 12. “It’s quite conceivable Villanova and Duke could wind up in the same region,” Magliulo said.

The Wildcats, led by guards Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, are in position to be the first team to repeat since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

“What impresses me most about Villanova is no championship hangover,” Magliulo said.

Duke finishes the regular season at North Carolina on Saturday. Despite their early-season problems, the Blue Devils are rallying behind Luke Kennard and freshman star Jayson Tatum.

“I thought Duke was the No. 1 team coming into the season, but they had injury issues and they have been inconsistent,” Magliulo said.

While UCLA is banking on a freshman point guard, Kansas leans on senior Frank Mason III.

“The Jayhawks have arguably the best player and point guard and floor leader in the nation in Mason,” Magliulo said. “Kansas has been in and won a lot of close games, and that’s going to set them up well for the tournament.”

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