March 20, 2013
By Antony Dinero
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Editor’s Note: Antony Dinero closed the college basketball regular season with profits of $4,055. Don’t miss out on his winners this March. Click to win!
It's almost cliché, digging through your couch cushions for enough to make it worthwhile to wire your cousin in Las Vegas that longshot-backer. Shame, shame.
Since you're going to do it anyway, may as well do it right. This is a season where parity has reigned and where someone can indeed defy huge odds by winning their last six games. Here are the teams most likely to yield a nice vacation, limited only to those paying off better than 50/1 (Bet $100 to win $5,000).
The Midwest Region is among the toughest I've ever seen, compounded by seeding mistakes that punished Missouri (75/1) and Oregon (100/1) for key injuries they've now overcome. As a result, you've got two teams capable of making a run that would square off in the Sweet 16 if they survive the opening weekend.
Ninth-seeded Missouri plays a unique pressing style that is going to pose problems for Louisville on short rest. A win over the tournament favorite (9/2) would be a tremendous confidence boost for a team that really didn't take off the way many hoped given all the talent on board. Talented guard Jabari Brown has been inconsistent for the past two months, but he's capable of being a huge X-factor. Due to all the transfers on board, Mizzou is an older team, even able to rely on 22-year-old Alex Oriakhi's championship experience with UConn from 2011.
Oregon, which knows Brown well since he was their top recruit last season, overcame his departure through an infusion of talent in Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi and freshmen Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. When those guys are all in the mix, the Ducks are 21-4 and they’re fresh off a Pac-12 championship.
On the opposite side of the Midwest bracket, Creighton (100/1) looks most appealing. Although they would potentially have to get through physical Duke and Michigan State, the Blue Jays have Greg McDermott to lean on. No one has had an answer for the All-American, who gets plenty of help from burly center Gregory Echenique and a batch of solid guards.
The other three divisions aren't as loaded, so while the teams aren't necessarily as formidable, the draw will be considerably lighter.
In the South, VCU (50/1) is loaded with veteran talent and a pressing style accurately termed "Havoc" that will test everyone in its path. The Rams have already walked this road before. Head coach Shaka Smart has long surpassed novelty status and is in position to make his seemingly far-fetched belief that Richmond's Virginia Commonwealth University can become a national program come to fruition. Another long run looks likely, since there isn't anyone in the region they can't defeat.
The same can be said about San Diego State (300/1) if they find a way to get consistent offense. Head coach Steve Fisher is a tournament winner who has a driving force in slashing guard Jamaal Franklin and a few shooters capable of sniping a number of upsets. Scoring has been an issue throughout the past few months, so there's a reason they're such a longshot, but they've got a puncher's chance.
In the East, the top candidates capable of shocking the world also consist of a newly minted Atlantic 10 school and a Mountain West power that has had bouts of inconsistency. Butler (100/1) and UNLV (100/1) are at opposite ends and may loom as the biggest threats to top teams Indiana and Miami, Fl.
Brad Stevens and his Bulldogs have already graduated from being talked about as a candidate for a sleeper to being legitimately considered a threat to break through in a third championship game in four seasons. Although Butler has lost a few key cogs, it has game-changing 3-point shooters as part of its equation in Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham, who have combined for 164 makes.
UNLV is led by a future lottery pick in freshman Anthony Bennett and has momentum after winning its league tournament and watching senior Mike Moser look closer to his former self. The Rebels have as much quality size as anyone in the region and has shooters Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katlin Reinhardt to bust zones, necessary given Syracuse's presence. If point guard Anthony Marshall is a factor at both ends, the Rebels have all the pieces to contend with the heavily favored Orange and Indiana.
Lastly, the West often winds up being the wildest, so if you're not sold on Gonzaga or Ohio State, know there are some wild options that would allow you to impress your friends while cashing in.
Seventh-seeded Notre Dame (100/1) is a pretty solid play given its veteran guard play, skilled shooters like Pat Connaughton who come in hot and a traditional center in Jack Cooley to space the floor. Still, there are zanier options that could very well become the talk of the country.
Wichita State's Shockers (300/1) advertise their potential on nickname alone. Forwards Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early are athletes needed to hang with the physical teams in their portion of the bracket. Guard Malcolm Armstead makes it a chore to run offense. Although Pittsburgh and Gonzaga will both be rightfully favored during this opening week, Wichita won't be overmatched.
One final shot in the dark would be to ride 11th-seeded Belmont's pace, efficient offense and ability to bury teams behind a flurry of 3-pointers. At 1,000/1, the capable Bruins are worth a buck or to for a shot at the greatest Cinderella story ever told. Unlikely, sure, but they are in the most offensively challenged region of the four. Dare to dream if they get by Arizona.