Sweet Sixteen Betting: Purdue vs Kansas Analysis

The Purdue Boilermakers have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, knocking off Vermont and Iowa State in the process. This is important for Purdue because they blew big leads against both Cincinnati (2015) and Arkansas-Little Rock (2016) in the last two tournaments.

It seemed like the Boilermakers were destined to lose another late lead against the Cyclones. But they were able to rally and beat Iowa State 80-76 to move on.

Kansas is in a more familiar spot, having reached the Sweet Sixteen this season and the Elite Eight last year. They’ve made it here with a 100-62 win over UC Davis and a 90-70 victory over Michigan State. Many believe that Kansas has the talent to go all the way – as reiterated by our Sweet 16 overview. But they’ll have to get by a solid Purdue squad to do it.

That said, let’s discuss how this matchup will play out and offer some betting advice.

Purdue (27-7) vs. Kansas (30-4); Thursday (Mar 23 @ 9:35pm)
GTBets.eu Betting Line: Kansas -5; Purdue +5

Why the Boilermakers will Cover the Spread

caleb-swanigan-purdueWinners of the Big Ten regular season crown, Purdue has been strong all season. They’ve leaned on Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan (18.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG), who’s averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2 blocks in two tournament contests.

But this isn’t just a one-man team since forward Vincent Edwards (12.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG) has stepped up. He’s shooting over 60% in the tourney, while averaging 21 points, 7.5 boards, and 3.5 assists. Edwards can disappear for stretches, but that hasn’t happened in the Boilermakers’ tournament run so far. If he can come up big against Kansas, then they have a real shot to win.

Freshman point guard Carsen Edwards (10.4 PPG) is another X-factor since he’s explosive and can get hot behind the arc. He’s played average in the tournament, but could be due for a big game.

vincent-edwards-purdueAnother key for the Boilermakers will be their 3-point shooting. They ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in this category and can beat any team when they’re on. Junior guard Dakota Mathias was the conference’s best three-point shooter, hitting 45.8% of his attempts. Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, P.J. Thompson, and Swanigan can also hit from deep when given the opportunity.

With so many shooters to cover and solid inside play from Swanigan, Purdue is a team that’s difficult to cover – even for a talented Jayhawks team. Assuming Kansas doesn’t bring their A-game, then this will be a closer-than-anticipated contest.

Above all, the biggest reason to bet on the Boilermakers is that they’re 7-3-2 against the spread (ATS) over their last 12 contests.

Why the Jayhawks will Cover the Spread

frank-mason-kansasAlong with North Carolina, Kansas is a favorite to win the tournament. Truth be told, they’re probably expecting to meet UNC in the Final Four since they’re the lone remaining No. 1 seeds, and are on the same side of the bracket.

But their immediate focus is on a Purdue team that’ll look to pull off the upset. This will be hard, given that Kansas is led by Frank Mason III (20.8 PPG, 5.2 APG), the leading contender for the Naismith Award. Not only is Mason capable of taking over games, but he’s also efficient, hitting 47.2% of his three-point attempts.

Perhaps even more important is the senior point guard’s clutch factor since the Jayhawks are 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. If you’re betting on Kansas to cover the spread, you don’t want to see it get to this point. But just know that Mason won’t crack under the pressure when things get tough.

The team’s most-talented player is forward Josh Jackson, who averages 16.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks. The 6’8″ freshman is a top-5 projected lottery pick, and his talent is crucial to what Kansas does.

josh-jackson-kansasThe Jayhawks’ backcourt is completed by Devonte’ Graham, a 6’2″ shooting guard who scores 13.3 PPG. Graham also helps stretch the defense with is 39.2% three-point shooting.

Wing player Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (9.7 PPG) is another shooter on this roster, hitting 39.5% of his attempts from beyond the arc. 6’10” forward Landen Lucas steadies the Jayhawks down low, averaging 8.6 rebounds per game.

The one big thing that Kansas can do is overwhelm opponents with their scoring. They’re averaging 95 points in the tournament so far, and we don’t see them going under 80 against Purdue. This gives Kansas an excellent chance to cover the spread if the Boilermakers aren’t near perfect on offense.

The Jayhawks are slightly worse than Purdue with their ATS record, going 6-4-1 in their last 11 games.

Final Thoughts on Kansas vs. Purdue Betting

The Boilermakers are 8-5-1 ATS against opponents who made the tournament, while Kansas is 7-6-1. Based on the first two rounds of play, many will bet on the Jayhawks here. But based on ATS trends, and the fact that Purdue is the toughest team Kansas has faced so far, we’d lay our money on the Boilermakers covering +5.

Final Score Prediction: Kansas wins 81-77

Does Xavier Have a Chance Against Arizona in Sweet 16?

xavier-vs-arizonaWith only 16 teams left in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the true Cinderellas have been sent packing. Gone are the Nevada’s and Princeton’s that we discussed before the tourney.

The closest thing we have to a Cinderella now is the Xavier Musketeers, an 11-seed that made it here with a 76-65 victory over Maryland, then a 91-66 blowout against 3-seed Florida State.

Their next opponent is 2-seed Arizona, a team that many think has the potential to win it all. We also believe they have the talent since we ranked the Wildcats #7 among the remaining Sweet 16 teams. Meanwhile, we only have Xavier sitting at #14.

Can the Musketeers surprise the basketball world and move on the Elite Eight? Find out as we cover the Arizona vs. Xavier matchup.

March 23 @ 10:09pm EST
Betting Odds at GTBets: Arizona -7.5, Xavier +7.5

Only three times in NCAA Tournament history has a No. 11 seed advanced to the Final Four – LSU in 1986; George Mason in 2006; and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. Based on the trend over the last decade-plus, we’re do for another double-digit team in the Final Four.

But the odds suggest that it won’t be Xavier, given that FiveThirtyEight gives them just an 8% chance of making it to Phoenix. We at GTBets have them with the worst odds of winning the championship at +5000 right now. Nevertheless, this is a solid team that’s coming off a 25-point win over a No. 3 seed, so they have to be taken seriously.

The big reason why the Musketeers blitzed Florida State is because they hit 11-of-17 shots (64.7%) from three-point range. They also made 71% of their shots around the basket and outscored FSU 36-26 in the paint.

xavier-florida-stateAt first glance, it feels like Xavier just got hot and the Seminoles couldn’t keep up. But the latter ranked in the nation’s top 30% for field goal percentage allowed at the rim (52.3%), and 21st overall for block rate. That said, we expect the good inside play to continue against Arizona, which allowed 64.1% shooting around the rim to 15-seed North Dakota State and 7-seed St. Mary’s.

Another thing that Xavier does well is rebound, given that they got offensive rebounds at a 34.9% rate, ranking 29th in the nation. This could cause trouble for the more-talented Wildcats if they surrender extra possessions to a lower seed.

If the Musketeers can execute their game plan and get by Arizona, they have a realistic path to the national championship game as well.

The only No. 1 seeds left – Kansas and North Carolina – are on the other side of the bracket. The winner of Xavier/Arizona plays the winner of Gonzaga/West Virginia to see who advances out of the West Region. While neither of these are easy matchups, they also aren’t the Tar Heels or Jayhawks.

If the Musketeers become just the fourth team in history to make the Final Four, they’d take on the East winner, which will be between the Florida/Wisconsin and Baylor/South Carolina winners. No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 1 seed Duke have both been eliminated from the East Region.

Assuming Xavier can complete an unlikely run to the finals, they could face UNC, Kansas, No. 2 Kentucky, or No. 3 UCLA.

North Carolina would be a nightmare matchup for the Musketeers due to their size, offensive rebounding percentage (42.2%), and 121.6 points per 100 possessions. According to Jeff Sagarin’s Predictor system, UNC would be an 8.6 favorite over Xavier – probably even more on the betting lines – while Kansas and Kentucky would be 7.1 and 7.5-point favorites respectively.

But obviously we’re getting ahead of ourselves here because Xavier has a very tough test in front of them right now. However, if they can muster yet another upset, then the Musketeers have a shot at going deeper in the tournament than anybody would’ve fathomed before March Madness began.

Sweet Sixteen Betting: See All 16 Teams Ranked

unc-arkansasIt’s another March Madness, and another year of busted brackets. Teams like Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Michigan weren’t supposed to make it this far, but they’re here, two games within a trip to Phoenix.

What are their odds of winning it all? Find out as we rank the entire Sweet Sixteen field and discuss how this relates to their GTBets.eu betting odds.

#16: No. 7 seed South Carolina
Plays: No. 3 seed Baylor
Betting Odds: +4500

south-carolina-beats-dukeThey say that the tournament is about great guard play, and the Gamecocks have this in Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 PPG) and P.J. Dozier (13.8 PPG). They got here by blowing out 10-seed Marquette 93-73, then shocking 2-seed Duke with an 88-81 victory. South Carolina got hot in the second half to defeat a Blue Devils team that’s faced scrutiny all season. They’ll have to get hot again to beat Baylor since they don’t have a lot of talent beyond Thornwell and Dozier.

#15: No. 7 seed Michigan
Plays: No. 3 seed Oregon
Betting Odds: +1600

michigan-vs-louisvilleMichigan is the hot pick right now because they’re on an unbelievable streak. Winners of 7 straight, and 12 of the last 14 games, the Wolverines’ good run continues with tournament victories over 10-seed Oklahoma (92-91) and 2-seed Louisville (73-69). The latter busted a lot of brackets and has many thinking that Michigan can go further. But our main concern with this team is their rebounding and defense, which doesn’t give us much confidence heading into the Oregon matchup.

#14: No. 11 Xavier
Plays: No. 2 Arizona
Betting Odds: +5000

xavier-florida-stateIf you’re looking for a long-shot to score big with, the Musketeers are it. They have solid guard play with Trevon Bluiett (18.5 PPG) and J.P. Macura (14.3 PPG), and they easily handled their first two opponents in 6-seed Maryland (76-65) and 3-seed Florida State (91-66). However, a No. 11 seed has never made it to the championship, and only three have made it to the Final Four. Odds are that they don’t even beat Arizona, but it’s not impossible.

#13: No. 4 Purdue
Plays: No. 1 Kansas
Betting Odds: +2000

caleb-swanigan-purdueLed by Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan (18.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG), Purdue doesn’t have to look far for consistency and production. They can also rely on Vince Edwards (12.7 PPG) and Dakota Mathias (9.9 PPG), who was also a Big Ten all-defensive selection. They’ve beaten 13-seed Vermont (80-70) and 5-seed Iowa State (80-76) so far. But Kansas will be a far bigger test than either of these schools.

#12: No. 3 Oregon
Plays: No. 7 Michigan
Betting Odds: +1800

dillon-brooks-oregonMuch has been made about the Ducks losing forward Chris Boucher (ACL) in the Pac 12 tournament. And this is one reason why Michigan-over-Oregon is a popular upset pick in the Sweet 16. But the Ducks still have plenty in the cupboard, including Pac 12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks (16.4 PPG), Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bell (2.1 blocks), and guard Tyler Dorsey (14.0 PPG). They were tested by an underrated Rhode Island team (75-72) last round, which means the Ducks won’t take Michigan lightly. But as for their overall championship hopes, it’ll be tough without Boucher on the floor.

#11: No. 8 Wisconsin
Plays: No. 4 Florida
Betting Odds: +1600

wisconsin-villanovaThe Badgers came into this tournament as an underseeded team, and they proved it with a 65-62 victory over the defending champion Villanova. Some call this a shocker, but it’s hard to say that considering how Wisconsin has been to the Final Four in two out of the last three years. Can they make it three out of four years? Their betting odds don’t offer much value, but this is still a dangerous 8-seed.

#10: No. 4 Butler
Plays: No. 1 UNC
Betting Odds: +4000

butler-east-tennessee-stateThe former gold standard for mid-majors, Butler has been just as successful as a member of the Big East. Led by forwards Kelan Martin (16 PPG) and Andrew Chrabascz (11.1 PPG), the Bulldogs play a strong team game where they don’t beat themselves. Butler hasn’t slayed any giants, knocking off 13-seed Winthrop (76-64) and 12-seed Middle Tennessee State (74-65) en route to the Sweet Sixteen. As we discussed before, UNC is our odds-on favorite to win, so the Bulldogs must play their absolute best to advance.

#9: No. 4 West Virginia
Plays: No. 1 Gonzaga
Betting Odds: +1500

West Virginia has a chance to beat everybody thanks to their high-pressure style, which forces teams to deal with a full-court press the entire game. This team has several stoppers, including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter (2.5 steals), Big 12 all-defensive selection Nathan Adrian (9.7 PPG), and guard Tarik Phillip (1.8 steals). Bob Huggins’ squad got by 13-seed Bucknell (96-80) and 5-seed Notre Dame (83-71) with tough D. But they’ll also need to be sharp-shooters against Gonzaga because the latter boasts a strong half-court defense.

#8: No. 3 UCLA
Plays: No. 2 Kentucky
Betting Odds: +1000

lonzo-ball-uclaIf we’re to listen to the craziness of Lonzo Ball’s dad, LaVar, then this Bruins team is the greatest of all time. Make no mistake, though, this team is for real with the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year Lonzo (14.7 PPG, 7.6 APG), forward TJ Leaf (16.2 PPG, 8.2RPG), and coach’s son Bryce Alford (15.6 PPG). The road is difficult ahead, with Kentucky this week, and a potential date with UNC in the Elite Eight. But UCLA does already own a win over Kentucky this season.

#7: No. 2 Arizona
Plays: No. 11 Xavier
Betting Odds: +650

arizona-2017-march-madnessThe Wildcats are a chic pick to win it all, hence betting odds that don’t offer you much value. Led by forward Lauri Markkanen (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Pac 12 tournament MVP Allonzo Trier (17.1 ppg), it’s not impossible to see them winning. But they have yet to face a real test, beating 15-seed North Dakota State (100-82) and 7-seed St. Mary’s (69-60) thus far. We like them to make the Final Four since they have the easiest path.

#6: No. 1 Gonzaga
Plays: No. 4 West Virginia
Betting Odds: +600

gonzaga-march-madnessIt seems that the Bulldogs get the overrated billing every year for two reasons: 1) they dominate weak West Coast Conference competition, and 2) they’ve never made it past the Elite Eight. Earlier this year, we covered why this is the Gonzaga team to fear the most because they play great defense. They’re also balanced, with West Coast Player of the Year Nigel Williams (16.7 PPG), forward Zach Collins (10.3 PPG, 1.7 BPG), and center Przemek Karnowski (12.4 PPG). With victories over 16-seed South Dakota State (66-46) and 8-seed Northwestern (79-73), they haven’t done much to prove the naysayers wrong. Gonzaga needs two more wins to make the Final Four and quiet the haters.

#5: No. 3 Baylor Bears
Plays: No. 7 South Carolina
Betting Odds: +1500

baylor-march-madnessThe Bears are our favorite value pick right now at +1500 odds. They feature forward Jonathan Motley (17.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG), guard Manu Lecomte (12.3 PPG), and all-defensive selection Ishmail Wainright (1.7 SPG). Ranked No. 1 to begin the year, Baylor fell off as the season got deeper. But they still have the potential and talent to make their first Final Four since 1950. With an overachieving South Carolina in front, we think Baylor can definitely get to the Elite Eight.

#4: No. 4 Florida
Plays: No. 8 Wisconsin
Betting Odds: +1000

florida-virginia-march-madnessThe thing to love about the Gators is that they play viscous defense, shutting down both 13-seed East Tennessee State (80-65) and 5-seed Virginia (65-39) up to this point. Florida also has a balanced scoring effort, with guards KeVaughn Allen (13.4 PPG), Canyon Barry (11.8 PPG), and Kasey Hill (9.7 PPG) leading the way. The Gators have more talent than Wisconsin, and they stand a good chance against the Baylor/South Carolina winner too.

#3: No. 2 Kentucky
Plays: No. 3 UCLA
Betting Odds: +950

kentucky-2017-march-madnessThe Wildcats have plenty of scoring power in SEC AP Player of the Year Malik Monk (20.0 PPG), SEC tournament MVP De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG), and foward Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (13.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg). But they’ve been held in check during victories over 15-seed Northern Kentucky (79-70) and 10-seed Wichita State (65-62). They have a chance for revenge against UCLA in the next round, then a possible date with UNC looms in the Elite Eight. Whatever happens, we love their +950 betting odds at this stage.

#2: No. 1 Kansas
Plays: No. 4 Purdue
Betting Odds: +500

kansas-2017-march-madnessKansas has no shortage of star power, with Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason III (20.8 PPG, 5.8 APG), Big 12 Freshman of the Year Josh Jackson (16.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG), and guard Devonte Graham (13.3 PPG). This talent came in handy with dominating victories over 16-seed UC Davis (100-62) and 9-seed Michigan State (90-70). A Kansas-UNC matchup is entirely possible in the Final Four. And this would be right up the Jayhawks’ alley because they’ve fared well against Roy Williams in the past.

#1: No. 1 UNC
Plays: No. 4 Butler
Betting Odds: +450

josh-jackson-kansasAfter losing in last year’s finals, the Tar Heels have had laser-like focus for most of the season. This showed in the first two rounds, as they knocked off 16-seed Texas Southern (103-64) and 8-seed Arkansas (72-65). They have carryovers from last year’s successful team, including ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG), guard Joel Berry II (14.4 PPG), and forward Isaiah Hicks (12.4 PPG). The competition will be tough, with potential dates against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, and Kansas in the Final Four. But UNC has the talent and pedigree to get it done and bring another national championship to the school.

Which 2017 March Madness Cinderellas Should You Bet On?

dj-fenner-nevada-bettingThe most-exciting thing about March Madness is watching a Cinderella top the Goliaths on its way to a deep tournament run.

Butler, VCU, and Wichita State have all shocked the basketball world in recent years. And anybody who bet on these teams multiple times during their runs made a lot of money.

Who are the Cinderellas that you can count on in the 2017 NCAA Tournament? Let’s look at 5 double-digit seeds that have an opportunity to make some serious noise – and will win you some bets!

1. Nevada, 28-6; No 12 seed in Midwest
Round 1 Opponent: No. 5 Iowa State
Round 1 Betting Line: Iowa State -6; Nevada +6

The Wolf Pack aren’t going to lock down opponents with their defense. But what they do better than most teams is score, pouring in 1.14 points per possession (PPP). Another unique aspect of Nevada is that they play their starters as much as possible. Coach Eric Musselman prepared them for this by running 5-minute drills during preseason practices, which has helped the starters endure the grueling minutes.

Getting into the stats, this team hits 39% from beyond the arc, led by 6’6″ guard DJ Fenner’s 43.5% shooting. This makes them a dangerous matchup for any higher seed if they get hot.

Nevada will make things difficult for Iowa State (23-10) because the latter excels at limiting second-chance points and playing tough interior defense. Furthermore, the Wolf Pack don’t commit many turnovers, which is bad for the Cyclones because they don’t force many either.

Looking ahead, if Nevada and No. 4 Purdue (faces Vermont) win, the Boilermakers are similar to Iowa State, meaning the first two rounds play into the hands of the Wolf Pack.

2. Wichita State, 30-4, No. 10 seed in South Regional
Round 1 Opponent: No. 7 Dayton
Round 1 Betting Line: Dayton -6; Wichita State +6

wichita-state-betting-march-madnessWe don’t see a bigger mismatch among the No. 7/No. 10 games in the tournament. Even if the Shockers don’t win, you’ll get great value from them at +6 in our GTBets’ lines. In all honesty, Wichita State could’ve been as high as a No. 5 seed, but they lost a couple of key non-conference games against Michigan State (19-14) and Illinois State (27-6).

Based on strength of schedule, Wichita ranked 19th in defensive efficiency. So even when they’re not hitting from the field, the Shockers have a good chance to win.

Another area where WSU is good is the offensive glass because they grab 34.1% of their misses. Combine this with the fact that they can still get back in transition defense – teams are converting just 46.3% of shots within the first 10 seconds – and this team is solid in several important areas.

This by no means guarantees victory over Dayton (24-7), which is also playing solid basketball right now. And the bad thing about Wichita State’s Cinderella potential is that they’d face a talented Kentucky (29-5) squad in the second round. Even still, the Shockers have the experience and talent to go deep.

3. Princeton, 23-6; No. 12 seed in East Regional
Round 1 Opponent: No. 5 Notre Dame
Round 1 Betting Line: Notre Dame -6.5; Princeton +6.5

mitch-henderson-princetonThe Tigers are a long-ball shooting team, taking 46% of their shots from beyond the arc, and hitting 38% of them. Like Nevada, Princeton can knock off bigger foes when their shot is on.

Compounding problems for Notre Dame is that Princeton allows just 0.96 points per possession, which is the best in Mitch Henderson’s coaching career. They not only limit opponents’ second-chance points, but also force turnovers on 20% of opposing posessions.

Another thing that the Tigers do well is take advantage of mismatches in the halfcourt. There may not be many of these against Notre Dame, but if there are any, Princeton will find them.

If Princeton advances, they’ll face either No. 4 West Virginia or No. 13 Bucknell – with the latter actually having a chance in the first round. If it’s Bucknell, watch out because the Bison don’t turn the ball over much and are methodical on offense.

4. Rhode Island, 24-9; No. 11 seed in Midwest Regional
Round 1 Opponent: No. 6 Creighton
Round 1 Betting Line: Creighton 0: Rhode Island 0

hassan-martin-rhode-islandDanny Hurley’s team is great at defense, holding opposing schools to just 0.95 points per possession. The Rams are all over on the defensive end, forcing opponents away from the three-point line, and getting a hand in anybody’s face who does shoot from deep. Assuming teams take it into the paint, Kuran Iverson (1.3 blocks) and Hassan Martin (2.6 blocks) are there to force tough shots.

The one thing that Rhode Island needs to shore up is second-chance points, given that they allowed VCU to grab 23 offensive boards in the A-10 championship game. But thanks to the defense of Iverson and Martin, the Commodores also converted just 20 percent of these chances.

As if the Rams’ defense isn’t already reason enough to bet on them, they’ll get help from injuries to early round opponents. Creighton (25-9) has been without guard Mo Watson (12.9 PPG) for weeks. If the Rams advance, they could face an Oregon (29-5) team who lost forward Chris Boucher (11.8 PPG) to a torn ACL.

5. East Tennessee State, 27-7; No. 13 Seed in East Regional
Round 1 Opponent: No. 4 Florida
Round 1 Betting Line: Florida -10; East Tennessee +10

This is the biggest discrepancy on this list in terms of GTBets’ betting lines. Given the Cinderella potential, we think the Buccaneers are a great bet to cover the spread against Florida, if nothing else. Steve Forbes’ team does an excellent job of forcing turnovers at a high rate (22%), and they’re good at limiting second-chance opportunities. Finally, ESU holds opponents to just 52% shooting at the rim.

The biggest downside to the Bucs is that they’re not strong at three-point defense, allowing opponents to hit nearly 40% from beyond the arc. This could be a problem because Florida, and potential second-round opponents Virginia and UNC Wilmington, all shoot around 38% from three-point range.

But on the plus side, East Tennessee State does hold opposing teams to 45% shooting within the arc. Provided they can chase opponents off the three-point line, then they have a strong chance at a Sweet 16 run.

2017 March Madness Betting: Early Cinderellas and Dark Horses

miami-march-madnessWe’ve officially entered March, which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner. Much of the focus is at the top, where Kansas and Villanova have likely solidified No. 1 seeds, while Baylor, North Carolina, Oregon, UCLA, and West Virginia are battling for the other two top seeds.

Of course, what makes March Madness betting so special is all of the upsets and Cinderellas that arise as the tournament unfolds. That said, let’s look at potential sleepers, bracket busters, and mid-major teams that could excel this year. Also, don’t forget to check out our 2017 March Madness futures.

5 Sleepers – Watch Out for Miami and Minnesota

1. Miami (Fla.) (20-9, 10-7 ACC); GTBets March Madness Odds +20,000 – Just two weeks ago, the Hurricanes were a bubble team fighting to make their case. But they’ve since won six out of the past eight ACC contests to solidify their tournament bid. Recent victories over Duke and Virginia, as well as a 15-point win against UNC on Jan 28, show that this Miami team can beat anybody.

2. Minnesota (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten); GTBets Odds +20,000 – The Gophers’ tournament hopes looked dead when they lost fvie games in a row in January. But Rick Pitino’s team has since gone 7-0 in February, putting them back in the March Madness conversation. If they continue winning, coupled with Purdue and Wisconsin faltering, they could earn a share of the conference title.

3. Southern Methodist (25-4, 15-1 AAC); GTBets Odds N/A – With coach Larry Brown stepping down this season over a contract-extension dispute, Tim Jankovich has stepped in and put this team on an 11-game winning streak. The likely American Athletic Conference winners play five guards in what should make for a dangerous style for tournament opponents.

4. Oklahoma State (20-10, 9-8 Big 12); GTBets Odds +20,000 – The Cowboys’ season didn’t start off great, with the team going 0-6 to begin Big 12 play. But they’ve since won 10 of 11 and are rolling as March Madness approaches.

5. Michigan (19-10, 9-7 Big Ten); GTBets Odds +12,500 – The Wolverines round out our top 5 because they’re not yet guaranteed a tournament slot. But they’ve looked great recently, knocking off Purdue and winning five of their last six contests.

Bracket Busters – Wichita State Poised for Another Run?

2017-march-madness-wichita-state1. Wichita State (27-4, 17-1 MVC); GTBets March Madness Odds +10,000 – The Shockers have had a good enough season that they’ll still get an at-large bid even if they don’t win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. This is surprising, given that the team’s roster looked largely inexperienced going into the year. But they’ve played excellent as of late, beating co-MVC champ Illinois State by 41, Southern Illinois by 42, and Northern Iowa by 29. It’s been four years since Wichita State went to the Final Four in 2013. Can they surprise everybody again and do it again this season?

2. Virginia Tech (21-8, 10-7 ACC); GTBets Odds +35,000 – The Hokies were on the outside looking in, but then they beat Miami on Monday. Virginia Tech has now won five of their past six games and, as of now, look like an at-large team. This is one of Buzz Williams’ best coaching jobs after losing starter Chris Clarke for the season.

3. Northwestern (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten); GTBets Odds N/A: First the Cubs win the World Series, now Evanston-based Northwestern has a chance at their first-ever tournament bid? Chris Collins has created a strong defensive team that can hang with higher seeds in the tournament.

4. Middle Tennessee State (25-4, 15-1 C-USA); GTBets Odds N/A: The Blue Raiders won’t bust as many brackets as they did last year after beating Michigan State as a No. 15 seed. In fact, they could potentially get in as an at-large team if they don’t win Conference USA. If this holds true, watch for this Middle Tennessee State to go deeper than last year.

5. Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC); GTBets Odds N/A – A glance at Vanderbilt’s overall record won’t impress you. But the Commodores have the nation’s toughest non-conference strength of schedule, and they’ve won eight of their last 12 games. Throw in a 29-point beat-down of Mississippi State and a road win over Florida, and Bryce Drew’s squad has a rapidly improving resume.

Mid-Majors that could Make Noise

justin-robinson-monmouth1. Monmouth (26-5, 18-2 MAAC) – The Hawks were a major snub last season, but they should get in as a No. 12 or 13 seed this year. 5’8″ point guard and senior Justin Robinson leads this team with 19.7 points per game.

2. Vermont (26-5, 16-0 America East) – The Catamounts are the first team to go undefeated in American East Conference play. They don’t have a go-to player, but they do utilize a good team-based approach that makes them a tough first-round draw.

3. UNC-Wilmington (26-5, 15-3 CAA) – The Seahawks have a top-40 RPI, which could help them land an at-large bid if they fail to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Of course, the best path forward for UNC-Wilmington is to win the CAA tourney, which could net them a No. 11 or 12 seed. They almost beat Duke last year in the first round and will be more dangerous this time around.

4. Princeton (19-6, 12-0 Ivy) – Princeton didn’t fare so well in non-conference action but has won 15 in a row and is unbeaten in the Ivy League. The Tigers already clinched the conference title, although they’ll need to win the Ivy tournament this year to make the Big Dance

5. Bucknell (23-8, 15-3 Patriot) – The last time that Bucknell won the Patriot League tournament was 2013, and there’s no automatic bid coming here. But if the Bison can win the tourney, they have a deep team that can wear opponents out, given that coach Nathan Davis plays 12 guys.

Is This the Gonzaga Team that Wins March Madness?

gonzaga-2017-final-four-bettingThe Gonzaga Bulldogs have now made the NCAA Tournament 18 straight years. Barring any historic snub, they’ll make it 19 straight years in 2017. This will tie Michigan State for the fifth-best streak regarding consecutive tournament appearances.

All of the teams in the top 5 – Kansas (27 straight years), North Carolina (27), Arizona (25), Duke (21), and Michigan State (19) – have earned multiple titles. That said, how long until Gonzaga finally wins one after so many appearances?

They’ve made it to the Elite Eight twice in their history, including 1999 and 2015. However, most of their appearances have been marked by quick tourney exits. But there may be reason to believe that this is finally the year Mark Few and company run through March Madness.

The obvious is that they’re currently ranked number 1 in the nation with a perfect 28-0 record. They’ve once again dominated the West Coast Conference (16-0), and the Bulldogs need 10 more wins to match the 2014-15 Kentucky squad (38-0) for the best start of all time.

Going deeper than record, this Gonzaga unit is one of the best we’ve seen in terms of defense, ranking eighth in the nation. They also have a deep and talented roster, with seven players averaging between 8.0 and 16.3 points per game. We saw a similarly balanced team win it all last year, with Villanova’s victory over North Carolina.

“Our balance and our defensive are leaps and bounds improved from last year,” said guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who leads the team with 16.3 PPG. “And having guys that can switch multiple positions is huge.”

karnowski-gonzagaAs for the defense, this is the first time that the squad has ever ranked first during Few’s stint. A big reason why the Bulldogs are so good defensively is their ability to control the paint, with twin 7-footers Zach Collins (1.6 blocks) and Przemek Karnowski (0.9 blocks) doing a sold job inside. Add the perimeter defense of Williams-Goss and Jordan Matthews, and it’s easy to see why this squad is holding opponents to 61.6 points per game.

“Our defensive numbers are as good as they’ve been,” said Few, “and we’ve had some sneaky good defensive teams.”

As the coach of the Zags for the past 18 years, Few also notes that this is the deepest bench he’s had in a while – if not ever.

“This team has balance,” he explained. “We don’t have a [Kyle] Wiltjer that’s looking to get 30 a night. Or even a [Domantas] Sabonis that we’re running everything through every time down the floor.

mark-few-gonzaga“We can share it. I feel comfortable we have eight guys who can get to double figures if needed.”

As Few alluded to, players like Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Kelly Olynyk, and Adam Morrison have led unbalanced Gonzaga offenses. But the 2017 version doesn’t have one dominant player who scores over 20. Williams-Goss is the closest thing, but he’s more than willing to defer to teammates depending upon the game flow.

“This year we just have a more balanced team,” said Williams-Goss, “and we aren’t just focused in on two guys.”

Besides Williams-Goss’ 16.3 points, other consistent Gonzaga scorers include Karnowski (12.8 PPG), Collins (10.6 PPG), Matthews (10.1 PPG), and Jonathan Williams (9.9 PPG)

Some of the past Zags teams would run into trouble in the tournament when their main option was shut down by opposing defenses. But that won’t be a problem this season, given that the Bulldogs can score from so many different positions.

Beyond this, they have good leadership from Power 5 conferences, including Williams-Goss (Washington), Matthews (California), and Williams (Missouri). Throw in Karnowski, a fifth-year senior who’s already been part of four tournament teams, and you can see where the veteran leadership comes from.

“We’re dialed in every single practice, in the gym,” said Karnowski. “We work together. We work hard. And I think that’s very important. We’re 25-0 now and I see the guys focused in practice like they were in the preseason.”

An undefeated pre-tournament record is well within grasp, but Gonzaga doesn’t seem overly concerned with making history. Instead, they’re mostly concerned with the overall body of work, namely how they do in March Madness.

“The novelty of the undefeated season has kind of worn of and they’re pretty focused on the task at hand. They’ve been pretty good at that all year,” Few stated. “They’re really focused.”

Focus is only one part of NCAA Tournament success, especially given how just one bad shooting night can end your season. But if ever there were a Gonzaga squad that’s prepared for the rigors of the tournament, it’s this rendition, which goes 8-9 deep and can play lock-down defense.

Will this be the Gonzaga team that wins the title? An affirmative yes is never within reach when it comes to March Madness, even for the nation’s No. 1 team. But this could very well be the first Bulldogs team that makes it to the Final Four. And once there, they certainly have the depth and talent to compete for the championship.