Be honest. I won’t tell anybody.
You started paying attention to NCAA basketball odds, like, two weeks ago. Right?
It’s fine. This is a safe place. I’m not judging.
I grew up in a college basketball house, so I lock in pretty much as soon as the first aircraft carrier tipoff is available on television. I’m in for the whole ride – farewell tours and Big 12/SEC Challenges, all the way down to weird Friday night MAAC upsets that don’t make any sense.
So yes, it’s okay that you didn’t watch any hoops in December and focused solely on NFL betting and your league’s fantasy football playoffs. But now that it is March, I’m going to give you the crash course in NCAA Tournament odds that you suddenly, desperately need.
Here are seven potential killers to keep an eye out for this Sunday, when the bracket is announced.
The OVC champs are probably the closest thing this year’s tournament will have to a pure Cinderella. The Racers are a remarkable 30-2, with their last loss coming all the way back on Dec. 23 to… Auburn.
So yeah, they’re pretty good.
Junior forward KJ Williams is a hyper-efficient scoring leader, averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per game on 54% shooting. Tevin Brown and Justice Hill are the primary scoring options for a backcourt that shoots the ball well and has multiple threats.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 100%. Murray State has already locked up the OVC Tournament and will definitely be in the field.
ESPN Projected Seed: 9. If Joe Lunardi’s projection holds, the Racers will have the chance to create utter chaos by taking on a No. 1 seed on the first weekend.
You might recall the Mean Green from last year’s NCAA odds, when they disposed of No. 4 Purdue as part of the 2021 first-week carnage.
North Texas is likely to return to the field again this year and will once again be an extremely tough out, but be wary of buying too much stock in a repeat performance. Schools that return to the tournament one year after a big upset are sometimes the best teams to fade, as the marketplace greatly overvalues their ability to beat a generally superior team once again.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 40%. North Texas finished the regular season with the best record in Conference USA, but it still needs the auto-bid by winning its conference tournament to get in. That could be a tricky proposition with the top-end depth in C-USA. Middle Tennessee State and UAB lead a cadre of usurpers that could all knock UNT out on the right day.
ESPN Projected Seed: 12. If North Texas makes the field, this sets up as a classic trendy upset that never materializes. Bracketeers know the stats on 12s and 5s, and they love to pick known commodities from previous seasons when they bet on the NCAA Tournament. I’m rooting for UNT to win its conference tournament specifically so that I can bet against it next week.
I’m not sure if Mountain West basketball truly qualifies as a mid-major – it’s projected to have more tournament teams than the Pac-12 this year – but I’m writing this for people that were checked out for most of the season. I’m guessing those people wouldn’t guess that Colorado State is 24-4 and ranked in the AP Top 25 and KenPom top 40.
Junior guard David Roddy leads the team with 19.5 points per game. He also shoots 46% from behind the arc. Hmm, I wonder if that will matter next week.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 95%. As I said, the Mountain West is a very good conference this year, and CSU is far from a lock to win its tournament. Even if it loses, though, it should be safely in the tournament thanks in part to non-conference wins over Saint Mary’s, Mississippi State, Oral Roberts, Creighton, and more.
ESPN Projected Seed: 7. These guys are more than capable of beating a No. 2 and getting to the Sweet 16.
The madness has already begun for Chattanooga, which punched an NCAA ticket on Monday night on this wild overtime sequence:
So that was a fun way to end your Monday night.
As you can see, the Mocs have some guards (primarily tournament hero David Jean-Baptiste and leading scorer Malachi Smith) that can really shoot the ball well from anywhere on the court. There’s not a ton of size on the roster, but if you believe the old adage about March basketball being about guard-oriented play, then you have to pay attention to Chattanooga.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 100%. And I have to say, it’s fitting that the SoCon Tournament ends in such a dramatic way since it’s slowly occupied the slot the CAA had 10-15 years ago as the most entertaining and watchable mid-major conference.
ESPN Projected Seed: 13. The S-Curve would ultimately prove this position right, but I think it’s probably more helpful to think of the Mocs as something spiritually closer to a No. 10 or 11. They have the necessary DNA to win games in March, as evidenced by the histrionics they’ve already shown.
102-year-old Sister Jean and her army of Gryffindor basketball fans are poised to make their third NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. The Ramblers played tight games with Auburn and Michigan State in November before finishing second in the infamous Missouri Valley.
Eight players average at least five points per game; there’s not necessarily a go-to scorer, but the distribution of offense is very wide. Everybody on the court has to be closely guarded.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 100%. Loyola seized control of Arch Madness this past week as the No. 2 seed and now await their seed.
ESPN Projected Seed: 11. Online sports betting veterans will surely remember that Loyola (and VCU, and George Mason, and many other classic Cinderellas) made its Final Four run from the No. 11 slot. If the projection holds, this will be a major talking point.
South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits have been really good for a few years now, winning 22 or more games in four of the last five seasons. (The only year they didn’t was last season, due to COVID cancellations.)
Unfortunately, they’ve also had a nasty habit of losing in the Summit League tournament – the Jackrabbits haven’t made the NCAA field since 2017-18. All they need to do now is beat rival North Dakota State in Tuesday night’s Summit League championship, and they can finally don their rightful Cinderella garb.
No pressure, right?
Chance to Make the Tournament: 71.4%. Those are the implied odds of South Dakota State winning tonight’s Summit League championship, given that the Jackrabbits are currently -250 favorites at BetMGM online sportsbook.
ESPN Projected Seed: 12. The Jackrabbits would make a very dangerous 12, indeed.
Anyone subscribed to our podcast, The Lion’s Edge, knows my love affair with Toledo goes all the way back to last year’s college football season. But Toledo has fielded a strong men’s basketball team this year as well, winning the regular-season MAC title and putting itself in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament.
If it does, it’ll be very valuable as a completely unheralded (and thus undervalued) giant killer.
A fun stat: the MAC champion has won its opening-round tournament game in three straight NCAA Tournaments. Last year, it was No. 14 Ohio, which took out No. 3 Virginia.
Chance to Make the Tournament: 45%. If you’re asking me to pick between Toledo or the field to win the MAC Tournament… I’d lean toward the field. Buffalo, Ohio, Kent State, and Akron are all potential contenders to watch.
Projected Seed: 13. I’m not sure I’d bet on Toledo to win outright, but there’s a very good chance they’ll catch too many points if they make the NCAA Tournament.