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Bracket Analysis
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This is our favorite column of the year that we drop every Selection Sunday.

It’s called Bracket Analysis. Let’s do it!

The four No. 1 seeds are Gonzaga (West Region), Kansas (Midwest), Villanova (East) and North Carolina (South). The picks of the Bulldogs, Jayhawks and Wildcats were no-brainers, but some felt that Arizona and Duke had cases to be ahead of the Tar Heels, who lost to Duke twice, including Saturday’s setback in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Meanwhile, Sean Miller’s team beat Oregon on Saturday night to win the Pac-12 Tournament.

Speaking of the Ducks, they lost starting center Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in Las Vegas this past weekend. That fact prompted the Selection Committee to drop Oregon to a No. 3 seed when it was probably slated for a No. 2 seed before the injury. Boucher was averaging 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

Villanova is a top seed for the third time in school history. The Wildcats are looking to repeat as national champions after winning both the Big East regular-season title and the league tournament at MSG in NYC. They’ll get the Wisconsin-Va. Tech winner in the Round of 32, assuming they don’t become the first No. 1 seed to ever fall against a 16 seed.

Jay Wright’s team has these potential foes in the Sweet 16: fourth-seeded Florida, fifth-seeded Virginia, 12-seed UNC-Wilmington or 13th East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers won at Mississippi State and lost by four at Tennessee. They lost by nine at UNC-Wilmington and by 14 at Dayton.

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The Gators will certainly have fresh legs after getting beaten by Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. They’ll only have to travel 90 minutes to Orlando, the same city where their Final Four run started in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. I think UF will get past the UVA-UNC-W winner, which could certainly be the Seahawks.

That would provide us with a Villanova-Florida showdown in the East Region semifinals at MSG. These teams met in the 2005 and 2006 NCAA Tournaments. The Wildcats won a 76-65 decision in the Round of 32 in ’05, but the Gators exacted revenge in the ’06 Elite Eight by capturing a 75-62 victory on their way to the school’s first national title.

The other portion of the East Region features No. 2 seed Duke, which is fresh off of Saturday’s win over Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament finals. The Blue Devils face the Troy Trojans, who beat Texas State. 59-53 in the Sun Belt Tournament finals. Mike Krzyzewski’s team would face the Marquette-South Carolina survivor if it knocks off Troy.

I think sixth-seeded SMU will make the Sweet 16 by beating Baylor to set up at date with Duke in NYC. I see form holding in the East with Villanova facing Duke in what will be an epic showdown at the best venue possible.

Let’s turn to the Midwest, where Kansas will face the Miami-Michigan State winner. Like Florida, Bill Self’s team will have fresh legs after its Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals loss to TCU. The Jayhawks were playing without one of their best players, freshman sensation Josh Jackson, who was serving a one-game suspension in the loss to Horned Frogs.

If KU gets to the Sweet 16, possible foes include Purdue (4), Vermont (13), Iowa State (5) and Nevada (12). The Cyclones, who won the Big 12 Tournament by dusting West Virginia in Saturday’s finals in Kansas City, are absolutely on fire. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games while going 8-2 ATS. I think ISU gets to the Sweet 16 where it will meet the Jayhawks, who won 76-72 in Ames but lost to the Cyclones at Allen Fieldhouse by a 92-89 count.

Watch out for a potential upset of Purdue by the Catamounts, who own the nation’s longest winning streak. Vermont, the America East champion, haven’t tasted defeat since Dec. 21 in an 81-69 loss at Butler.

The lower part of the Midwest features a dandy of a 7/10 matchup with Michigan taking on Oklahoma State. The Wolverines were the best story of the weekend. The team plane skidded off the runway at the Detroit airport as it was taking off for the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. The terrifying incident left Michigan to catch a flight the next morning at 6:00 a.m. on the day it was playing Illinois.

John Beilein’s team won four games in four days to win the Big Ten Tourney, including scalps of Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Wolverines smoked the Badgers 71-56 in Sunday’s finals. They’ll face the Cowboys on Friday in Indianapolis.

Brad Underwood’s team finished strong down the stretch and has a star in Jawun Evans. Also, Oklahoma State has the nation’s best free-throw shooter (Phil Forte) and outstanding players in Jeffrey Carroll and Leyton Hammonds.

The OSU-Michigan winner will likely face second-seeded Louisville, which takes on Jacksonville State. The Cardinals are certainly in danger of getting sent home in the Round of 32.

Now to the South Region, where North Carolina will take on Arkansas or Seton Hall in Greenville. I see the Tar Heels easily advancing to the Sweet 16, where I believe they’ll meet Butler in Memphis.

Memphis could have an influx of bluebloods in two weeks. There’s a strong chance Kentucky, the No. 2 seed, and UCLA, the third seed, will join UNC at FedEx Forum. If the UK-UCLA South Region semifinal matchup materializes (I say it will), it would be a rematch of an early December game when the Bruins went into Rupp Arena as double-digit underdogs and beat UK by a 97-92 count.

I was in Memphis for the South Region semifinals and finals three years ago when Florida beat Dayton in the Elite Eight. The Flyers, the South’s No. 7 seed, could get back to Memphis again with wins over Wichita State and UK (presumably). UCLA was also in Memphis that year, losing to UF in the Sweet 16. The Bruins hope to return with wins over Kent State and, in my opinion, Cincinnati.

If Gregg Marshall’s Shockers can get past Dayton (more on this great coaching matchup below), it will get a rematch with the ‘Cats, who ended their unbeaten season with a thrilling win in the Round of 32 three years ago. To demonstrate how wrong the committee was in placing Wichita State and its 30-4 record as a 10-seed, the Shockers opened as 7.5-point favorites vs. Dayton. The line was down to 6.5 as of Sunday night.

Finally, let’s check out the West that features Gonzaga, Arizona, FSU and West Va. as its top four seeds. There’s also Northwestern as the endless wait for an NCAA bid finally concluded Sunday when the Wildcats were marked as the 8-seed. They’ll take on Vanderbilt, which has won seven of its last nine games while going 8-1 ATS. The NW-Vandy winner will meet Gonzaga. If Gonzaga gets to the West semifinals, I think Notre Dame will be waiting for it.

FSU and Florida Gulf Coast will play a 3/14 game in Orlando. The Seminoles went unbeaten at home this year, but they’ve had all sorts of problems playing on the road and at neutral venues. Leonard Hamilton’s team better be on upset alert. This program hasn’t been to an Elite Eight since 1993 and hasn’t gone to the Final Four since 1972. FSU is in the field for the first time in five years.

I think sixth-seeded Maryland will get to the Sweet 16 with victories over Xavier and the FSU-FGC survivor. The Terrapins will get Arizona in the West semifinals after the Wildcats slip past VCU in a nail-biter.

I think the West is the weakest region and Arizona will beat Notre Dame in the finals to get to the Final Four. If that happens, Sean Miller will finally be able to shake the label of ‘the best coach never to make the Final Four.’

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has tabbed Duke as the 5/1 ‘chalk’ to win the Tournament. UNC has the second-shortest odds (6/1), followed by Kentucky, Villanova and Kansas, who each have 8/1 odds. The next-shortest odds belong to Gonzaga (10/1), Louisville (12/1), Arizona (12/1), UCLA (12/1) and Oregon (25/1).

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Florida is making its 19th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gators have been to five Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and three national-title games, winning it all twice. They have a stellar 42-17 overall record in the Tournament.

-- Best Round of 64 matchups:
1-Oklahoma State vs. Michigan
2-Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee
3-Princeton vs. Notre Dame
4-Dayton vs. Wichita State
5-Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt

-- Best Coaching Matchups:
1-Jim Larranaga (Miami) vs. Tom Izzo (Michigan State)
2-Archie Miller (Dayton) vs. Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
3-John Beilein (Michigan) vs. Brad Underwood (Oklahoma State)
4-Buzz Williams (Va. Tech) vs. Greg Gard (Wisconsin)
5-Tony Bennett (Virginia) vs. Kevin Keatts (UNC-Wilmington)

-- I think Gonzaga will be the first No. 1 seed eliminated. The Vanderbilt-Northwestern could pull the trick. If Mark Few’s team makes the Sweet 16, it will go down against either West Virginia or Notre Dame. Granted, the Fighting Irish face a stern test against Princeton, but I think it will find a way to survive and I really like the Irish’s chances to get to a third consecutive Elite Eight. With all that said, Wisconsin is a very dangerous No. 8 seed that has tons of NCAA Tournament experience (and success) from its core group of players. By the way, how the hell are the Badgers an eight seed? I think Villanova will slip past UW, but the Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed shouldn’t have to face a team as good as the Badgers during the first weekend.

-- Most Dangerous Double-Digit Seeds: Oklahoma State, VCU and Middle Tennessee.

-- Teams with a No. 5 seed or lower that can get (or stay) hot and win the national title: Iowa State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.

-- I suggest buying the following future tickets for small amounts (remember, these teams don’t have to win it all for you to profit, as there will be all sorts of hedge scenarios to ensure making money if these schools advance to the Sweet 16): Iowa State (60/1), Michigan (65/1), Notre Dame (80/1) and Oklahoma State (100/1). (those odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag as of Sunday night)


  
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