There are lots of ways to write about March Madness. I could give you tournament picks for your bracket. I could breakdown the entirety of the first weekend. Or I could tell you a long sweeping narrative that updates you on all the best teams, best players and things to look out for while highlighting the current NCAAB futures odds for the top teams.
So I’m doing the third thing and making this as long winded as possible.
Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to devour a big chunk of college basketball. This is March Madness we’re talking about here, and reading a 2,000-word column on everything you (basically) need to know is time well spent. You know it and I know it.
(Writer’s Note – The odds reflect the current NCAAB Championship Odds provided by Oddshark.com that are available. They are subject to change)
SOUTH BRACKET TOURNAMENT PICKS – #1 Kansas Jayhawks
Alternative Pick – #4 California Golden Bears
The #1 Kansas Jayhawks (+500) are the tournament favorites and should headline almost everyone’s brackets in the Final Four for a few reasons. First off, their three-week path to a national title ranks out remarkably easy. An opening round matchup against Austin Peay is already getting a -26.0 line and should be nothing more than a demolition derby for the Jayhawks, who have now gone 10-0 SU and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games while maintaining a +13.3 point differential over that span.
The expected hurdles for Kansas are likely the #9 UConn Huskies, followed by a meeting with #4 California Bears (+3300) in the Round of 16. I suspect that Cal will have to deal with Maryland, but the odds are that the Bears overcome the Terps. Many have Cal dethroning Kansas in the second weekend in what will obviously be one of the most highly anticipated matchups of March Madness.
I can see why the hype is there for the Golden Bears. Their two best players – Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown – have only gotten better as the season’s gone along. Cal also boasted the best defense in the Pac-12 and the 15th best in adjusted defensive efficiency across the country. In other words, believe the hype.
Whether that collection of talent is good enough to beat the best team in the country remains to be seen. As fearsome as California is on paper, they still have to put everything together on the court. There were times when they graded out as the best team in the country according to variance indexes. However, they lost recently to both Arizona and Utah. Inconsistency is a death bringer in the tournament, and Kansas will eat your lunch if you don’t show up with your best.
You can bet on California toppling Kansas. It’s unlikely, but if the Bears get rolling in the opening weekend. If you’re the type that like to make savvy, tournament picks that go against the grain, the Bears are the team for you. If you prefer the safer, smarter bet, then you should probably go with Kansas.
The bottom half of the bracket is an absolute mess to deal with. I actually like the #11 Wichita State Shockers to continue their tournament tossing by besting #6 Arizona in the opening round after a play-in game. From there, I expect that they’ll play against the #3 Miami Hurricanes (+2800), one of the toughest teams to read in the entire tournament. Consistency is the name of the game for Miami, but they also need to prove that they can flash when needed. March Madness is not a race that the turtle wins often and Miami can often seem stuck in the mud when they need to be pushing the pace.
Awaiting Miami in the Sweet Sixteen could very well be one my favorite picks to upset the South Bracket. By the time they’re done with Temple, the #7 Iowa Hawkeyes (+2500) would be in prime position to rip out the delicious hearts of the #2 Villanova Wildcats (+1400). This has less to do with the free-falling Hawkeyes, and everything to do with Villanova. No team disappoints their March Madness fanfare as much as the Wildcats. I love seeing idiots making tournament picks on them. Since their last Final Four appearance, the Wildcats have packed their bags on the first weekend for four straight years. I see no reason to suddenly invest in them long term or short term outside of their first game.
No matter who emerges from the bottom half of the south bracket, they’re in for a rude awakening against the winner of California-Kansas. If it’s the tournament favorite, then it’s steady as she goes. However, if Cal stuns Kansas, then a team with killer talent suddenly has killer momentum.
The South Bracket should be decided by the end of the Round of 16. Take Kansas as the smart pick, and California if you loving chasing a good pickle.
WEST BRACKET TOURNAMENT PICKS – #2 Oklahoma Sooners
Alternative Pick – #1 Oregon Ducks
I know. Really reaching here by taking the top two teams, right? Well, the rest of the south bracket is a veritable wasteland. The #1 Oregon Ducks (+3300) won the Pac-12 Championship and earned a top seed, which gives them an incredibly straightforward bee-line to the Elite Eight.
The main roadblock would probably be the #5 Baylor Bears (+10000) who remain the epitome of a wild stallion. There’s tons of talent and athleticism on this roster, but rarely is their team discipline or the semblance of a proper game plan. It’s likely that Baylor beats down on Yale before edging…wait…let’s talk about this seriously.
Could #13 NC Wilmington actually beat the #4 Duke Blue Devils (+2000)? You’re damn right they can! Duke has been floating around as a threat of sorts because sophomore Grayson Allen is an absolute treat to watch. He pairs well with superstar Brandon Ingram, but after that this team starts to show a ton of weaknesses. Losing Amile Jefferson to a broken foot basically ended all hopes of Duke repeating their national title. I wrote a while ago that I actually like Duke as an outside shot with 20/1 odds, but I’m not as sold on that play as I used to be.
While there’s no question that Allen and Ingram can put up points when it matters, this team struggles mightily against opponents with capable big men. They’re ranked 110th in adjusted defensive efficiency. There was a chance that Coach Krzyzewski was going to whip up something miraculous, but he just doesn’t have the pieces to do that. Even if they beat NC Wilmington, Baylor will run right past them in the next round.
That leaves a bottom half that is basically comprised of #2 Oklahoma Sooners (+1200) and nobody else. The Sooners are built around senior superstar Buddy Hield and a starting unit that has essentially been together for three seasons. They’re an insane perimeter team that uses Hield as a slashing sword while the rest of the team bombs threes at an astonishing rate. The Sooners are also a top notch defensive unit (11th in adjusted ratings). Everyone in the bottom half of this bracket should be terrified of playing them.
Their most likely opponent is the #11 VCU Rams, who will have to beat up on the overrated #7 Oklahoma State Cowboys. I expect Oklahoma to eventually play the #6 Texas Longhorns, led by Shaka Smart, who will have to worm his way past the #3 Texas &M Aggies, an in-state rival. Neither is truly capable of giving Oklahoma too many problems.
This is a long winded way of reminding you that Oregon and Oklahoma are by far the most logical takes to get to the final stage of the bracket. The Sooners lost a bit of an edge by stumbling in their last game during a loss to West Virginia, but a week’s worth of rest will refill the gas tanks.
I would love their +1200 odds if I didn’t dislike the way they match up with Kansas in the Final Four, but that’s a scab to pick another time down the road.
MIDWEST BRACKET TOURNAMENT PICKS – #2 Michigan State Spartans
Alternate Pick – #6 Seton Hall
This bracket is a lot more open-shut than anywhere else. The matchup between #7 Dayton and #10 Syracuse seems so inconsequential because neither stands a chance of edging the bulldozing #2 Michigan State Spartans (+500). Denzel Valentine is one of the most versatile and productive players on the planet, and he leads on offense that is regarded as the best overall unit in the country. Yes, even better than UNC and Kansas.
The only team that really threatens the Spartans in the south bracket is the #6 Seton Hall Pirates (+50000), who are coming off wins against Xavier and Villanova to win the Big East. Make no mistake – it was a stunning revolt by the Pirates but it’s almost ludicrous to imagine them beating a fine tune machine that’s crafted by Tom Izzo.
The top half of the Midwest Bracket is a sad sack of teams I couldn’t give a shit about even if I bet on them heavily. The #1 Virginia Cavaliers (+1400) will likely bog down the floor with their agonizingly slow style of play. Sure, Virginia ranks in the top 10 in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, but their snail-like style is the reason. If they have to chase down a deficit or keep up with a running team, they lose any and all momentum.
Let’s also keep in mind that Virginia hasn’t made the Elite Eight since 1995, and since then they’ve been in and out of the tournament while never getting farther than a single Sweet Sixteen appearance. They’ll drag Butler to hell before beating Purdue (who I have slipping by Iona) but after that it’s a head-first collision with the Spartans or the raging Pirates.
In either situation, I’m betting whole heartedly against Virginia. Listen, a lot of teams can suddenly outperform their historical markers but the Cavaliers aren’t one of them.
The MSU Spartans have and always will be a strong tournament player as long as Tom Izzo is in town.
EAST BRACKET TOURNAMENT PICKS – #1 UNC Tar Heels
Alternative Pick: #2 Xavier Musketeers
From a value standpoint, it’s impossible to shrug off the #2 Xavier Musketeers (+1200). I mean, look at those odds to win the championship! Even the bookies are scared of them.
As they should be. Xavier has everything you’d want in a contender outside of a significant history of success. But they’ve built on their surprising Sweet 16 berth from last year’s March Madness perfectly. Head coach Chris Mack is pushing all the right buttons. His team crashes the boards thanks to James Farr and Jalen Reynolds. Beyond, that Xavier has all the depth and the “nobody believes in us” attitude that makes for a heartwarming story. I love this team, despite their loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. They can score tons of points at will as well, ranking 18th overall in adjust offensive efficiency rankings.
Awaiting Xavier will be the winner of the #6 Notre Dame versus #3 West Virginia game. To cut things simply about these two, both teams are fine, but neither has me enthralled. If anything, I prefer WVU, but it’s a true toss-up. Both will serve as canon fodder eventually.
If all goes according to my sinister play, the toughest call in this bracket is picking between the #2 UNC Tar Heels (+900) and the #4 Kentucky Wildcats (+1000) in the Sweet Sixteen. To get there, UNC rolls past Providence, and Kentucky doesn’t let the plucky #5 Indiana Hoosiers steal a game from them.
By the numbers, UNC is one of the most terrifying teams to play against. That’s because of Marcus Paige, the senior three-point specialist who has carried the team for the past two years. That’s no longer the case. Brice Johnson has emerged as the team’s go-to playmakers and the rest of the role players have all fallen in to their various niches. When Paige’s shot is on, UNC is pretty much unstoppable offensively.
Fortunately, when Paige is off, the Tar Heels have so many other options. There’s a versatility here that’s only matched by what Kansas does. It’s like having multiple safety nets. That kind of composition attracts bettors in waves.
Kentucky has completely overhauled the way they play basketball because John Calipari’s recruiting class wasn’t as mind-numbingly amazing as they were last season. Jamal Murray has emerged as a cutthroat shooter from anywhere on the court, and there’s more fight in this squad than you’d probably assume.
The problem is that Kentucky isn’t as diverse as they need to be to defeat UNC. There are just so many threats on the Tar Heels, and if their defense can keep up with Murray, then that game is pretty much over. Even if Murray is on fire, it won’t matter if Paige is contesting him tit for tat.
That inevitably sets up another 1-v2 matchup in March Madness tournament picks between Xavier and UNC. To be honest, I just have too much love for Xavier right now to lean away from them.
There’s plenty of time before we got to that point, and this first weekend will be an onslaught to the senses as we kick off the opening rounds. You know who I’ve got going for me. Now it’s your turn to make your own picks.
Enjoy the fury and brace for impact. This is going to be awesome.
March Madness Tournament Picks – Kansas (South), Oklahoma (West), Michigan State (Midwest) and Xavier (East)