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: 2 Sure Picks, 3 Value Picks

wichita-state-bettingIf you’re betting March Madness futures, you know that Villanova, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Kansas are the most-heavily favored teams to win it all. But which of these schools is THE best bet to win the NCAA Tournament?

Beyond this, it’s also nice to have some value bets that can win you lots of money with for a small wager. That said, let’s look at two sure bets in 2017 March Madness, along with three teams that are undervalued in our GTBets futures.

2 Sure Bets

North Carolina; 27-7 record
No. 1 seed in South Regional; +600 odds

There’s absolutely no value to be had in betting on the Tar Heels to win. At +600 odds, they’re the biggest favorite at GTBets and are one of the top four seeds. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for the closest thing to a sure bet, then we suggest North Carolina. This team made it to the championship last year, where they were beaten by Villanova. Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) and Joel Berry II (14.8 PPG) remember this as well as anybody, and they’re out for redemption. The Tar Heels have great size down low in Kennedy Meeks (12.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and Isaiah Hicks (12.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG). They also shoot a high overall percentage, meaning they’re less ripe for an upset than other top-tier teams.

Gonzaga Bulldogs; 32-1 record
No. 1 seed in West Regional; +850

gonzaga-2017-final-four-bettingMark Few’s teams have consistently made it to the tournament each year. However, the problem is that they’ve yet to advance beyond the Elite Eight, and they play in a weak conference. Based on these factors, we feel that Gonzaga is not only slightly undervalued, but also being overlooked as a legitimate championship team. We wrote about this team in depth a few weeks ago, with the jest being that this is Few’s best defensive squad, and they don’t rely on a Kelly Olynyk or Domantas Sabonis to carry them. Nigel Williams-Goss leads a balanced scoring effort with 16.9 PPG, while Przemek Karnowski (12.6 PPG), Jordan Matthews (10.4 PPG), Zach Collins (10.2 PPG), and Jonathan Williams (10.2 PPG) all make significant contributions.

3 Undervalued Teams

Louisville Cardinals; 24-8 record
No. 2 seed in Midwest Regional; +1400

donovan-mitchell-louisvilleIs it possible to be undervalued when you’re a No. 2 seed? Considering that Louisville is paying off at 14 to 1 odds, we think they might be given how wide open the Midwest Regional is. Kansas (+850) has gotten all the headlines and are picked far more than the Cardinals to make it out of this regional, but we don’t think they’re really this far apart. Louisville has good young players in Donovan Mitchell (15.7 PPG) and Deng Adel (11.9 PPG), while Quentin Snyder (12.7 PPG), Jaylen Johnson (8.1 PPG), and Mangok Mathiang (7.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) provide scoring and strong leadership.

West Virginia Mountaineers; 26-8 record
No. 4 seed in West Regional; +3500

west-virginia-basketballThe Mountaineers aren’t getting much love at our sportsbook with +3500 odds of winning. And a big part of this is that they’ve lost eight games and didn’t win the Big-12. But they were competitive in all their losses, and have notable victories over Kansas and Baylor. We’re not saying that this makes West Virginia the favorite to cut down the nets in Phoenix this April. But if you’re looking for a team with moderate odds and a realistic chance of winning, then we like the Mountaineers. They’re set for a date with Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, provided both teams win their first two games.

Wichita State Shockers; 30-4 record
No. 10 seed in South Regional; +7500

The Shockers have advanced past the first round of the tournament in each of the past five seasons, including a Final Four trip in 2013, and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015. Greg Marshall’s squad know how to win in March Madness, which is why we’re surprised that they’re only a No. 10 seed. Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference never helps their cause, but they competed against several teams from major conferences, including Louisville, who beat them 62-52. If Wichita State beats No. 7 Dayton in the first round – which we think they will – they’ll face No. 2 Kentucky in the second round. If they can win this game, then watch out for the Shockers!

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.