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NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: A to Z

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A to Z is a sharp, complete betting guide for the 2018 NCAA Tournament, pointing you in the right direction of every trend, angle and wiseguy play.

Against the spread, underdogs went 61-64-5 in the 30-second shot clock era.  The pups are just 32-98 straight up.  Last year, the numbers went 15-14-1 against the spread for the dogs and 4-26 straight up.

Butler is the second-best bet in the tourney, boasting a 21-12 straight up record and a magnificent 25-8 record against the spread since 1999.  The Bulldogs have not lost their opening round game since 2003, though they have gone 5-4 in the tournament—never getting out of the second round—since their national back-to-back national championship runs in 2010 and 11. 

Coach Cal is at risk of bowing out of the NCAA tournament without a win for the first time since 2002-03 (Memphis).  Fresh off an Elite Eight appearance a year ago, this Kevin Knox-led Kentucky (24-10 straight up, 17-17 against the spread) team may be hot, having won—and cashed in at the betting window—in all three SEC tournament games, but they are facing one of the more experienced teams in Davidson (21-11 straight up, 18-12-1 against the spread), who knocked Notre Dame out of the NCAA tournament by shocking Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 championship.  Peyton Aldridge (21.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG) and Kellan Grady (18 PPG).  Averaging a nation’s 12th best in assists (17 per game) and led by one of the more undervalued coaches in Bob McKillop, Davidson is one of the wiser underdog plays of the first round.

Dogs are off the leash with early betting trends in the “sharp” community, suggesting that the points are at real value this year, with heavy line movement in favor of these pups.
No. 16 Penn (opened +15, current +14) vs. No. 1 Kansas
No. 12 Murray St (opened +10.5, current +9.5) vs. No. 5 WVU
No. 14 Montana (opened +12, current -11) vs. No. 3 Michigan
No. 15 Iona (opened +20, current +18.5) vs. No. 2 Duke
No. 14 Wright St (opened +13.5, current +12.5 vs. No. 3 Tennessee.
No. 12 Davidson (opened +7, current +5.5) vs. No. 5 Kentucky

Everybody knows Gonzaga (30-4 straight up, 14-16-1 against the spread) is the best team with the biggest risk year in and year out.  2018 could be the final chip in the glass needed for Coach Mark Few to finally cut the nets in the dance, having gotten the Final Four monkey off his back last season.  The coach with 533 wins at the west coast mid-major has never missed the tournament in 19 years, leading the 'Zags to seven Sweet 16's and two Elite Eights.  You can expect three Elite Eight appearences for Few after this year.

FBI can’t stop him, so why would you think this field could put the brakes on the complete, NBA package that is DeAndre Ayton?  Arizona’s (7-1, 250 lb) big man, who is averaging 22 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in his last five games, changes the entire landscape of a game at the rim and he creates incredible spacing problems with a stroke from three-point range.  Arizona (27-7 straight up, 14-18-2 against the spread), who has won its last five games, averages 80 points per game, despite its last four games going under the total.

Gregg Marshall’s Wichita St Shockers (25-7 straight up, 12-18 against the spread) have been over covering machines, having tipped the total 10 of their last 11 games.  Uncharacteristic of Marshall and his sound half court defense teams of old, this squad is allowing 71.3 points per game, which is tied for 151 in the country.  Opponents have scored 70 or more points in eight of Wichita St’s last nine games.

Have a tar heel state blue blood representing you in the Final Four.  Between Duke (26-7 straight up, 20-11 against the spread) and North Carolina (25-10 straight up, 19-4-1 against the spread)—both No. 2 seeds—the state of North Carolina has been represented in the last round nine times since 2000, including the last three years in a row (UNC in ’16, ’17).

Indiana has just one representative in the field for the first time since 2007 in Purdue (28-6 straight up, 15-17-1 against the spread).  Do not be surprised if Matt Painter’s Boilermakers—a team that lives and dies by their 42% shooting from three-point range—fizzles out early in the tournament.  The Big 10 power covered just one time in their final 13 games.  They have lost four of their last nine, with non-covering wins over Penn St, Illinois and Rutgers.

Jevon Carter (17 PPG and 6.6 APG) is the best player you’re not talking about in this tournament.  The point guard has the ability to lead West Virginia (24-10 straight up, 15-15 against the spread) over No. 1 seed Villanova and into the Final Four.  Bob Huggins’ press look with a drop back suffocating half court defense has been good for a top 20 ranking on the glass, including an fourth-best 14.2 offensive boards per game.  This is a valuable team to back in taking the East region.

Keeping it real is what Georgia St coach Ron Hunter does.  His quotes about his team being the poor team to the “Ritz Carlton” that is No. 2 Cincinnati (30-4 straight up, 16-14-1 against the spread) was humble, funny and full of truth.  Don’t fall in love with this team, as it is not R.J. Hunter (Ron’s son) and that magical squad tea that shocked the world in 2015, upsetting then No. 3 Baylor.  The Bearcats will cover the 14 points against the Sun Belt squad that stands 300th in the country in free throw shooting.

Love for Michigan St (29-4 straight up, 15-16-2 against the spread) is a necessity come March.  The best winning percentage of the Big 10 in Coach Tom Izzo is representing as the No. 3 seed and the road to success is not the most arduous task for a team that is averaging a nation-best 19.3 assists per game and an eighth-best 40.8 rebounds per game.  They are led by guards Miles Bridges (16.9 PPG) and Cassius Winston (6.8 APG), who have led Sparty to 13 wins in their last 14 games.  They are a solid Final Four contender.

Montana (26-7 straight up, 19-11-1 against the spread) and Marshall (24-10 straight up, 20-11 against the spread) are two hot upset specials in this year’s tournament.  The No. 14 Seeded Grizzlies will face Michigan (28-7 straight up, 21-11-1 against the spread, who is surging having won the Big 10 tournament but is facing a brutal extra week layover, as the conference tournament was held a week earlier.  The 11 points Montana is getting and the 12 points Marshall is catching from a defensively struggling Wichita St team is absolutely the right play(s).

Nevada (27-7 straight up, 16-14-3 against the spread) may be the upset special you want to avoid picking, as the Wolfpack covered one of their last six games.  They are averaging a nation’s second-best 1.63 assist/turnover ratio and 16th in scoring at 81 points a game, but have been getting clobbered on the boards, standing 136th in the country.  They were outrebounded in three of their last four games, including a 38-28 disadvantage in the 90-73 beatdown they took by San Diego St in the Mountain West championship game.

Odds to win the tournament: Villanova 5/1, Virginia 5/1, Duke 6/1, Michigan 8/1, Michigan St 8/1, Arizona 12/1, Kansas 14/1, Purdue 15/1, North Carolina 18/1, Cincinnati 22/1, Xavier 22/1, Gonzaga 28/1, Kentucky 28/1, WVU 40/1, Texas Tech 45/1, Wichita St 45/1, Florida 55/1, Tennessee 60/1, Auburn 65/1, Missouri 65/1, Ohio St 80/1, Houston 100/1, Rhode Island 100/1, Texas A&M 100/1, Oklahoma 150/1, San Diego St 150/1, TCU 150/1, Alabama 200/1, Arkansas 200/1, Clemson 200/1, Davidson 200/1, Miami 200/1, Seton Hall 200/1, Texas 200/1, Loyola Chi 250/1, NC St 250/1, Butler 300/1, Creighton 300/1, Florida St 300/1.

Purdue has struggled of late, going 6-4 straight up to close the season.  Since 1997, there has been 12 No. 2 seeds who have won six or fewer of their last 10 games coming into the tournament, with nine of those of teams losing in the second round.

Quakers basketball is no joke!  Penn (24-8 straight up, 13-14 against the spread) comes in as the lowest underdog of the #1 (14-points) against Kansas (27-7 straight up, 18-14-1 against the spread).  They are a miserable 286th in the country on the offensive glass, while Kansas stands 48th in the country and ninth in field goal percentage at 49.8%.  Still, Penn is holding teams to 68.7 points per game and good for 25th on the nation in defensive rebounding.  Led by guard Ryan Betley (14.5 PPG) and forward AJ Brodeur (13.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG), Penn rattled off seven wins in their last eight games.

Red Raiders of Texas Tech (24-9 straight up, 13-15-1 against the spread) may be the most homesick team in the tournament, having gone just 4-6 straight up on the road, while punching in a 17-1 record in Lubbock.  Having lost five of their last seven games, the Keenan Evans (17.5 PPG) show, despite its weak 75.2 points per game average, has been a tasty over bet lately, soaring over the total in each of its last four games.

Stockard, as in Courtney Stockard (12.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG) is hitting on all cylinders for the Bonnies, leading St. Bonaventure (25-7 straight up, 15-14 against the spread) to a 65-58 win over UCLA in the First Four with 26 points.  Adding Jaylen Adams (19.8 PPG) and Matt Mobley (18.5 PPG), this three-headed monster has led the Bonnies to 13 of 14 wins and can be an extremely valuable pick to make a run to the Sweet 16 or further.

Trae Young is easily the trendiest name in the tournament, as the clear-cut Naismith player of the year, who is averaging 27.4 PPG and 8.8 APG, leads No. 10 Oklahoma (18-13 straight up, 10-20 against the spread) vs. No. 7 Rhode Island (25-7 straight up, 16-13-1 against the spread).  The Sooners are one of the coldest teams entering the tournament, having lost eight of their last 10 games.  They are averaging a nation’s fourth-best 85.2 points per game but are one of the worst teams in the country in scoring defense, giving up 81.6 points per game.

Under wagers tend to cash more than the over in the last several years of the tournament.  Though it is a slight difference, Virginia (10-20 O/U), Ohio St (9-21 O/U), Cincinnati (11-20 O/U), Tennessee (13-18 O/U), Alabama (12-21 O/U), Missouri (12-19 O/U), Kansas St (11-18 O/U) and Wright St (12-20 O/U) are your best bets for games to trend to under.

Virginia (31-2 straight up) has the best overall record against the spread this year, with a 20-9 record.  They have hit the under in 20 of 30 games.  In 11 true road games, the Cavaliers—who are giving up an NCAA-lowest average of 52.8 points per game—and their suffocating “pack line” defense, hit the over just twice.  They are the largest favorite (in terms of the point spread) at -22.5 against UMBC.  The over/under is 121.5, which is the lowest total in any game.

Wildcats basketball might be the biggest risk/reward team in the tournament.  While anything is possible with a do-it-all stud like Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG, 4.7 APG), Villanova (30-4 straight up, 22-12 against the spread), who won the Big East championship over Providence has shown signs of inconsistency.  The ‘Cats do have the luxury of being the only No. 1 seed that does not have to face a top-ten team in their region.  They are the best over option in the tournament, doing it 22 times this season, averaging 90 points per game at home. 

Xavier is the best bet in the tourney field, having gone 26-8-2 against the spread in 36 tournament games since 1996.  The Musketeers have lost their opening round game just three times in that span.  Since Chris Mack took over head coaching duties for Sean Miller in 2009-10, Xavier has gone to the Elite Eight once and the Sweet 16 three times.  Holding a straight up record of 28-5 (21-12 against the spread0, they are currently at 14/1 odds to cut the nets.

You should know that the NCAA tournament opening round is the second largest betting event in Las Vegas standing behind only the Super Bowl.  Last year, it was estimated that Las Vegas took just over $337 million in wagers placed.  The monetary numbers have continue to rise every year since 2004, when just over $122 million was wagered.

Zebras can dictate both the spread and the over/under this time of year.  Roger Ayers and Mike Eades, both out of the ACC, tend to jump on the games that trend over, with 64% of the games they officiated going that way.  Mike Stephens (Big East) has been apart of his fair share of games that trended under this year at a near-70% of his games staying beneath the total.  There will be no worries if you’re not a fan of a Ted Valentine-officiated game, as the ACC ref was snubbed from the dance after his altercation with North Carolina’s Joel Berry earlier this year.

(Pittsburgh Sports Report presents this story for informational purposes only, not as an endorsement of any conduct which may constitute illegal gaming.)

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