Five 2014 NCAA Tournament Cinderellas that could earn you Big Money

mike-moser-oregonThe 2014 NCAA Tournament field is set, meaning it’s officially time for one of the most exciting sports betting opportunities to begin. What’s especially fun about wagering on the NCAA Tournament is all of the Cinderella teams. Some of these underdogs are capable of huge upsets, which means big money to those who guess right on the moneyline and point spreads. This being said, let’s check out five Cinderella teams (7 seeds or lower) that could make deep runs and earn you some major cash with March Madness betting.

1. Oregon Ducks (23-9 record, 7 seed in West) – Few teams have been more up and down than Oregon this season. They started the year 13-0, achieving a top-10 ranking in the process. However, they hit a major downswing after losing eight out of their next 11 games in Pac-10 play. Then, they became one of the hottest teams in the nation after winning seven out of their last eight contests to not only make the tournament, but also grab a fairly good seed. Over the last few weeks, Oregon has done a great job at harassing teams defensively, cutting down on turnovers and converting good looks. Led by UNLV transfer Mike Moser (15.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG), this balanced team should definitely do some damage this month.

taylor-braun-north-dakota-state2. North Dakota State Bison (26-5 record, 12 seed in West) – We like North Dakota State to be this year’s Florida Gulf Coast. Sure, they won’t be emulating Dunk City (please ignore the picture) nor will they be as exciting as FGCU in last year’s Big Dance. However, the Bison do all of the fundamental things right such as take care of the ball and find the open man. Add in the fact that they have one of the more experienced teams in this year’s tournament and NDSU is poised to surprise some bracketologists. They also feature a solid one-two punch in 6’7″ guard Taylor Braun and post-man Marshall Bjorklund. The Bison’s potential Cinderella run begins with a physical Oklahoma team in the first round.

3. NC State Wolfpack (21-13 record, 12 seed in Midwest) – Few people expected the Woflpack to be dancing, especially with top 25-ranked SMU still alive for an at-large bid. Nevertheless, it’s NC State sneaking into the tournament and SMU relegated to the NIT. So why are we high on a 12 seed who luckboxed their way through the selection committee? A good place to start is with whom NC State plays. They face off against reeling Xavier in the play-in round, a team that’s lost three of their last four. Provided they win, the Wolfpack will go up against a fairly soft 5 seed in St. Louis. Besides who they play, NC State boasts the scoring talents of TJ Warren (24.8 PPG), who’s capable of winning games by himself. Provided Warren has an off-night, he can count on Anthony Barber and Ralston Turner to back him up.

jordan-mcrae-tennessee4. Tennessee Volunteers (21-12 record, 11 seed in Midwest) – Like NC State, Tennessee was sort of an iffy decision because they beat just three teams in the RPI top 50. But while they may not have slayed too many Goliath’s, the Vols earn respect because they’re really good on both sides of the ball. Tennessee managed to rank in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, plus they’re one of the top rebounding teams in the country. And as many fans/bettors know, controlling the glass and playing good defense creates a great recipe for winning. In addition to their team attributes, Tennessee also has a future NBA’er in Jordan McRae. A 6’6″ senior guard who can do it all, McRae averages 18.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG and 37.1% three-point shooting.

5. Providence Friars (23-11 record, 11 seed in East) – It’s almost hard to believe that Providence hasn’t been to the tournament in 20 years. But after a fantastic run through the Big East tourney, including a finals game where they held Doug McDermott and 14th-ranked Creighton to just 17 first-half points, the Friars are dancing. Most expect their dance to end early against a high-profile North Carolina team. But we think that they’re a team that’s capable of upsetting anybody in the tourney because they’re not afraid to take chances. When they played Creighton, for example, coach Ed Cooley used a zone defense against one of the best-shooting teams in the nation. One more reason to like Providence’s chances of winning a game or more is Bryce Cotton, their incredible senior guard, who averages 21.4 PPG, 5.8 APG and 1.0 SPG.

Odds on winning Warren Buffett’s $1 Billion in the NCAA Bracket Challenge

warren-buffett-ncaa-tournamentBillionaire investor Warren Buffett just made March Madness a little madder by putting up $1 billion of his own money against anybody picking the perfect bracket. This deal arose when Quicken Loans paid Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to insure a $1 billion prize for anybody who can correctly guess all 63 games in the 2014 NCAA tournament. In return, Quicken will be getting email addresses and personal information from the 10 million people who fill out a bracket.

As anybody who’s filled out a bracket knows, it’s insanely difficult to pick enough games to win your 8 or 10-man office pool – let alone pick every Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown-type upset. Even still, it’s definitely worth entering this bracket contest, given that the winner will be in line for their choice of 40 annual installments of $25 million, or a $500 million lump sum.

Jay Farner, Quicken’s president and chief marketing officer, discussed the goal behind the contest by telling the LA Times the following:

We’ve seen a lot of contests offering $1 million for putting together a good bracket, which got us thinking, ‘What is the perfect bracket worth?’ We decided $1 billion seems right for such an impressive feat. It is our mission to create amazing experiences for our clients. This contest, with the possibility of creating a billionaire, definitely fits that bill.

The amount of money that Buffet and his company are being paid to insure this contest hasn’t been disclosed. But if he’s willing to back up a $1 billion prize to the winner, the odds of winning must be pretty low, right? In fact, let’s take a look and see what exactly one’s chances are of taking down this massive payout.

A Billion versus Quintillions

warren-buffett-ncaa-tournament-1Warren Buffet didn’t get to become the world’s fourth-richest person ($53.5b) by being an idiot. And his company certainly did the math before backing up the $1 billion prize that Quicken Loans is offering. DePaul University math professor Jeff Bergen also did some calculations and put his results on YouTube (see below).

To arrive at your odds of picking the perfect 2014 NCAA tournament bracket, you’d have to multiply 2 by itself 63 times. After doing this, Bergen showed that one’s odds of winning aren’t even in the billions or trillions, they’re in the quintillions! When Bergen took 2 squared by 63, he arrived at the following odds of filling out the perfect March Madness bracket:

1 in 9,223,302,036,854,775,808

Looking at this number, which goes over nine quintillion, it’s plain to see that anybody who knows little about basketball has virtually no chance to win the $1 billion prize. But what about somebody who’s well-versed in college basketball such as a huge fan or sports bettor? According to Bergen’s calculations, a knowledgeable NCAA tournament fan would improve their odds of filling out a flawless bracket to 1 in 128,000,000,000.

But even given these odds, Bergen shows that if all 314 million people in the United States filled out a bracket, there’d be less than a 0.25% chance of somebody winning. Considering the odds, it’s no wonder why the math professor said, “I would say Mr. Buffett’s money is safe.”

Why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

tubby-smith-minnesota-firedLast night was all about admiring and celebrating Florida Gulf Coast’s historic run to the Sweet 16. The Eagles topped San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to make the round of 16. Of course for every FGC, which is riding a eurphoric wave into Arlington, Texas, there are dozens of teams that fall short of expectations.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are one of these teams since they fired head coach Tubby Smith after six seasons on the job. The 61-year-old exits Minneapolis with a 124-81 overall record and a 46-62 Big-10 record.

What’s surprising about the firing is that Smith led Minnesota to its best NCAA tournament finish since 1996-97 – when the Golden Gophers made the Final Four, only to have this season wiped out by academic fraud. Sure they were ousted in the second round by Florida this year; but still, this is the best they’ve done in over a decade and a half. So the question is, why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

This question seems especially hard to answer since the university signed him to a three-year contract extension in July, after Tubby guided the Golden Gophers to 23 wins and an NIT runner-up finish. However, it may not be so hard to figure out when you look at how Smith’s teams have performed once February starts.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-1This season was a perfect example because Minnesota bolted out to a 15-1 record and was quickly climbing the AP Top 25. However, they suffered through Big-10 play and went 6-12 over the remainder of the season. Their 20-12 record turned out to be just good enough to grab a controversial 11th-seed NCAA tournament bid.

From here, it looked like Tubby might have saved his job with a first round victory over 6th-seeded UCLA, which coincidentally also fired their coach. However, the Golden Gophers looked largely noncompetitive throughout most of their 78-64 second round loss to the Florida Gators.

Rather than go through another collapsing season with Smith, Minnesota chose to buy out his remaining contract for what could be worth up to $2.5 million. So can somebody else succeed where former national champion Tubby Smith has failed? Let’s discuss the prospects as well as who else Minnesota basketball will be eyeing as a head coach.

Pros and Cons

The University of Minnesota isn’t exactly USC or Miami when it comes to weather and scenery. This state sees heavy snowfall in the winter and temperatures that commonly hit below-20 or worse. So right off the bat, the basketball program has this working against them for out-of-state recruits.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-2Another problem with Minnesota is that they’re up against conference giants like Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. So this team is very rarely going to be at the top of the Big-10 – let alone a national powerhouse. And this also works against them when trying to land elite recruits from around the county.

But there are definitely some positive aspects to Minnesota basketball too. And they begin with top facilities, a strong desire to win, and, most importantly, money to spend.

Another big benefit to coaching at Minnesota would be that it’s the only Division I school in the state. Considering that the Land of 10,000 Lakes produces a lot of solid players every year, this is definitely a major plus. But is it enough to intrigue a sought-after, up-and-coming coach?

Who will replace Tubby Smith at Minnesota?

The rumored frontrunner for the Golden Gophers job is VCU coach Shaka Smart. He’s remained one of the country’s hottest candidates after guiding VCU to the Final Four in 2011, and taking the Rams to back-to-back Sweet 16’s. The reason why Minnesota has a chance with Smart is because their current AD, Norwood Teague, hired him at VCU. So the debate here will be if a previous relationship is enough to lure Smart away.

VCU v MichiganOdds are that it isn’t, especially considering that the 35-year-old has turned down several better jobs – including a $2.5 million offer from Illinois. And even if Smart decides to stay in Richmond, Virginia, he’ll receive a $1.36 million salary that includes plenty of bonuses.

Assuming he’s out of the picture, there are still plenty of other quality options such as Marquette’s Buzz Williams, former UCLA coach Ben Howland, and FGC coach Andy Enfield. Williams is being tabbed because of a good relationship with Teague, and a bad relationship with Marquette AD Larry Williams. Enfield is obviously a hot pick because of what we discussed before with FGC’s Sweet 16 run. And Howland had plenty of success at UCLA before succumbing to high expectations and a large number of transfers.

Whoever Minnesota ends up with, it’ll definitely be an accomplished coach who’s capable of leading them to success.

Florida Gulf Coast Basketball – From the Swamp to Prominence

florida-gulf-coast-university-georgetownA No. 15 seed beating a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament is nothing new. In fact, before Friday night, it had happened six times in college basketball history.

However, the seventh time proved to be a charm as it was the greatest upset in college basketball history. Florida Gulf Coast University, which has only existed since 1997, proved to be the ultimate giant slayer as they took down the mighty Georgetown Hoyas by a score of 78-68.

And this ‘greatest upset’ billing isn’t to knock FGC by saying that they’re a total luckbox team. After all, the Eagles finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference and beat the Miami Hurricanes earlier this year. But what truly stands out about FGC’s victory is where they were just over a decade ago. Let’s discuss the Eagles’ humble beginnings and how they quickly assembled enough talent to knock off a legitimate championship contender.

A Dream that began in the Swamp

To understand the magnitude of Florida Gulf Coast’s win, one must go back 12 years, to a time when FGC’s athletic department was a collection of trailers in a swamp. There was no basketball team here, no arena, and certainly no players capable of leading this team past a storied college basketball program. All there was were a group of people who believed that they could one day build a successful team.

chase-fieler-georgetown-dunkAssociate athletic director Michael Estes, who was with the school even back then, recalled the primitive conditions by saying, “We had golf and tennis – and a dream.” It’s hard telling if anybody truly envisioned a victory over No. 2 seed Georgetown in this dream, but that’s where the vision has ended up in just FGC’s second year of NCAA tournament eligibility.

A Look at Those who made It Possible

Looking at Georgetown’s roster, one can see a number of players who were three, four and five-star recruits in high school. In fact, future NBA Lottery pick Otto Porter Jr. himself should have been enough to take down an obscure team like Florida Golf Coast. The Eagles, on the other hand, consist of a bunch of one and two-star recruits.

Nevertheless, this group of unheralded players looked like top-tier talent against the Hoyas. First off, there was 6’8″ junior Chase Fieler throwing down several highlight-reel dunks that would rival LeBron James. Then there was senior guard Sherwood Brown, who put all the losing seasons of the past behind him with a 24-point, 9-rebound performance last night.

Brown definitely got some help from fellow guard Bernard Thompson, who scored 23 points thanks to 10 free throws and three 3-pointers. Outstanding guard play proved to be a theme for FGC since Brett Comor also chipped in 12 points and 10 assists.

andy-enfield-georgetownFinally, we can’t forget head coach Andy Enfield, who’d served as an assistant coach in the NBA and at Florida State before signing with FGC on March 31st, 2011. Going into the Georgetown game, all anybody wanted to talk about was Enfield’s supermodel wife, Amanda Marcum. But following the huge upset, more people will learn about the story of Enfield.

This story is a good one too since it involves a man taking his first head coaching job at a no-name school with few prospects of success. This made recruiting a near nightmare and things only got worse when FGC’s leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man all transferred after Enfield signed on.

Nevertheless, the 43-year-old did what he learned as an assistant to great coaches such as Rick Pitino and Mike Dunleavy. And just two years later, he’s in the spotlight for an unbelievable win over the Hoyas.

Why Florida Gulf Coast could get Better

As mentioned before, it’s been pretty hard for Andy Enfield to draw elite players to his school. First off, FGC has only been a Division I program for seven years – and not a very good one at that. Secondly, Enfield said that most recruits thought the university was just an inland JuCo program near the state line.

florida-gulf-coast-university-beach-viewBut the truth is that FGC is no longer the swampy, trailer-sporting campus that it was 12 years ago. Instead, this Fort Myers-based school has quickly built up to a legitimate unversity and features some pretty incredible views of a lake beach. Chase Fieler actually made a few headlines when he tweeted pictures of his excellent dorm room view (see right).

And Florida Gulf Coast offers more than just nice views because students can play various water sports at the lake such as canoeing, paddle boarding and wakeboarding. As if this isn’t enough, students can also visit the Gulf of Mexico, which is just minutes away from the college.

That said, you can bet Coach Enfield will be using the free water sports, beach, and convenient ocean location to his advantage with recruits. Sure a beach may not transform FGC into mid-major powers like Gonzaga or Creighton overnight, but it’ll sure give this school a leg-up on other Atlantic Sun teams.

Of course, Enfield has another big recruiting tool thanks to his team’s win over Georgetown. And don’t forget that this Cinderella story isn’t over just yet because they face off against San Diego State in a winnable game.