Posted 03/07/2013 at 02:02 PM
With a constant rotation on top of the polls, the NCAA Tournament field looks as wide open as ever with at least a dozen teams presenting credible final four cases and room for a Cinderella to make a grand appearance. With the top seeds in the tournament still likely to shuffle in the final week of the season before Selection Sunday there may be some long shot opportunities when looking at the odds to win the NCAA Tournament. These are not teams that should be counted on to make a trip to Atlanta but they are teams that are priced high enough to provide value at this point and these are teams that will be contenders to survive to the second week of the tournament. At that point holding on to one of these long shot tickets could ensure a successful Final Four with the appropriate hedging strategy.
Missouri (60/1): The Tigers will enter the Big Dance with significant motivation after the embarrassing exit last season. At 30-4 and the Big XII Tournament champions the Tigers were considered a real threat to make it to the Final Four last year. They were sent out to Phoenix as the least protected of the #2 seeds however, victim to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, falling to MEAC Tournament winner Norfolk State as a 21-point favorite. There have been some challenges for Missouri in the move to the SEC and while the league has not been as strong as the Big XII it has meant longer travel and unfamiliar environments and thus a poor road record for the Tigers. This is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation and a great rebounding squad so the Tigers are a team that is capable of making some noise. Missouri also is a very efficient offensive team and a great free throw shooting team which can pay dividends in the tournament. Most bracket projections will currently draw the Tigers into a pivotal 8-9 match-up and with all of the potential #1 seeds looking vulnerable, Missouri is a team that is capable of delivering a big upset and making a redemptive run this March.
Wisconsin (60/1): The Badgers are one of the most polarizing teams in the nation but the track record of success in the Bo Ryan era is difficult to argue with. Early this season Wisconsin looked like a team that might have its long NCAA Tournament streak snapped but in Big Ten play the Badgers worked their way into contention yet again. Wisconsin is a team that is reliant on 3-point shooting with a ball control offense and a very tough defensive scheme which can give more talented teams big problems. Wisconsin is also a team vulnerable to a cold shooting day and an upset risk with its lethargic offense however. Last season Wisconsin lost in a tight game with Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and with wins over Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio State this season the Badgers are capable of beating top caliber teams. Depending on how things shake out in the conference tournament Wisconsin will likely be seeded in #4 to #6 range and they will be a team that can win a few games in a row. While Wisconsin certainly does not look like a team that can win it all they are a team that could beat a top seed in a Sweet 16 game if they get that chance and there would be great opportunities moving forward in the tournament with this long shot ticket at that point.
Oklahoma State (75/1): Freshmen have made their mark on the NCAA Tournament in recent years and Oklahoma State has one of the most talented freshmen in the nation in Marcus Smart. The 6’4” guard has averaged 15 points per game this season but he has had a number of huge games in the spotlight, putting up 25 in a win at Kansas, and scoring 28 in the overtime win over Oklahoma, among other notable games. He is one of a handful of players capable of taking over the tournament. Oklahoma State is young but this is a balanced team that has delivered a very solid season. Recall early in the season the Cowboys beat Akron, Tennessee, and NC State in the span of four days to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and the youth of this team could be well suited for the daunting tournament schedule and travel. This is a team that has seen its seeding improve dramatically in recent weeks and they could be a dangerous squad seeded between #4 and #6 that is more than capable of surviving the first two games and giving a great run at a favored team in the Sweet 16. With none of the top 10 teams looking unbeatable, a team like Oklahoma State is capable of a big run even if this squad is short on Big Dance experience.
California (100/1): The Bears might not even be considered a NCAA Tournament lock at this point but they will most likely make the field and should end up drawing a tough first round game in a 7-10 or an 8-9 match-up. Winning that game would leave the Bears with a shot at one of the top teams in the bracket. The Bears have a lot of the qualities you want to see from a NCAA Tournament sleeper, they have a veteran coach and great defensive efficiency. After losing a lot of close games early in the year they won many of those games to get on a great late season run and move into this position. California has a 1st round NBA draft pick caliber player in Allen Crabbe who can take over games as well as a veteran point guard that can score in Justin Cobbs. The Bears don’t have great outside shooting and can look soft in the post at times but this is a team that won on the road against the top two teams in the Pac-12 with wins at Arizona and at Oregon. This is also a team that has shown a great emotional side at times which could propel a strong tournament run. Another advantage Cal could end up with is a western venue with first weekend sites in San Jose or Salt Lake City and a Sweet 16 host in Los Angeles. Other than Gonzaga and New Mexico there are not many high end teams in the geographic west this season so Cal could draw a top seed with a location advantage potentially in the critical round of 32 match-up which could help the upset cause.
Creighton (200/1): The Blue Jays opened the season looking like a top 10 caliber team, opening the year 17-1 before running into a rough stretch in conference play. With wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Akron, and California the Blue Jays did a lot of good things in non-conference play but against familiar foes in the Missouri Valley, Creighton occasionally hit the wall. The Blue Jays did take care of business at home this season with only two home losses and this is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation and currently the team with the highest field goal percentage in the nation at over 51 percent. This is also a great free throw shooting team and if the Blue Jays get hot they will be a very tough out in the tournament. Creighton has a deep veteran team and a one of the nation’s leading scorers in Doug McDermott. Creighton has NCAA Tournament experience from last season that can help the cause and value is on this team that opened the year as a legitimate Final Four sleeper. Creighton will also likely draw a 7-10 or an 8-9 match-up in the bracket and this is not a team that #1 or #2 seeds will want to see in their pod. This is the mid-major team that could make a real run this season after a somewhat disappointing regular season in which they had to deal with getting the best shot from every Missouri Valley team each night.