Bracket Analysis

This is my favorite column of the year, Bracket Analysis. This one if written annually on the night of the Selection Show. Let’s knock another one out!

The No. 1 seeds are Virginia, Villanova, Xavier and Kansas. Jay Kornegay and his staff at The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened Villanova as the +350 ‘chalk’ to win the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Duke (5/1), Virginia (6/1) and Michigan State (6/1) have the next-shortest odds.

Other future numbers include Michigan (10/1), Purdue (12/1), Arizona (15/1), Kansas (18/1), North Carolina (18/1), Xavier (20/1), Cincinnati (20/1), Kentucky (25/1), Gonzaga (25/1), West Virginia (40/1), Texas Tech (40/1) and Wichita State (40/1).

Those numbers above came from a tweet from Jeff Sherman, the manager at The Westgate. This next set of odds are from [...], which has Tennessee at 40/1. Florida, Missouri and Auburn share 50/1 odds, while Ohio State and Houston are at 55 and 60/1, respectively. Oklahoma, Providence and TCU are at 75/1, and Alabama shares 85/1 odds with Clemson.

North Carolina State, Rhode Island, San Diego State, Va. Tech and Texas A&M each have 100/1 odds at [...]. Other future numbers include Butler (125/1), Miami (125/1), Arizona State (150/1), Arkansas (150/1), Creighton (150/1), FSU (150/1), Kansas State (150/1), Nevada (150/1), Seton Hall (150/1), Texas (150/1), UCLA (150/1), Syracuse (200/1), Davidson (250/1), St. Bonaventure (250/1) and Loyola-Chicago (300/1).

The Tournament starts Tuesday night in Dayton with a pair of First Four games. Long Island and Radford will collide at 6:40 p.m. Eastern for the right to advance and face Villanova on Thursday in Pittsburgh. [...] had the Highlanders installed as 3.5-point favorites at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night.

The second game of Tuesday’s even session in Dayton will pit St. Bonaventure against UCLA. The Bruins were favored by 3.5 points at [...]. The winner advances to meet sixth-seeded Florida on Thursday night in the late game of the evening session in Dallas. The Gators have beaten UCLA in all four head-to-head meetings in the NCAA Tournament, smashing the Bruins in the 2006 national-title game before thumping them again in Atlanta in the 2007 national semifinals.

The last four at-large berths went to UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Arizona State and Syracuse. The ‘Cuse will take on ASU in Dayton on Wednesday night for the right to advance and face sixth-seeded TCU late Friday night in Detroit. The Wynn in Las Vegas opened the Sun Devils as one-point ‘chalk’ vs. the Orange.

Let’s examine the paths the No. 1 seeds will have to navigate to get to San Antonio. Assuming UVA doesn’t become the first top seed to lose to a 16 seed since the Tournament extended the field to 64 (and then 68 in the last decade) teams in the 1980, Tony Bennett’s squad will face the winner of Creighton vs. Kansas State. If the Cavaliers advance to the South Region semifinals, they’ll meet the Kentucky-Arizona winner (if form holds, obviously) in Atlanta.

Cincinnati and Tennessee are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, in the South Region. The Bearcats, who won the AAC Tournament with a 56-55 win over Houston in the finals Sunday, face Georgia State in the opening round. Meanwhile, Rick Barnes’s club will take on Wright State and then gets the Miami-Loyola-Chicago winner.

Xavier, the West Region’s top seed, is looking at meeting the Missouri-FSU winner in the Round of 32. If the Musketeers advance to the Sweet 16 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, a battle with fourth-seeded Gonzaga will happen if form holds. Ohio State, the 5-seed, could certainly have something to say about that, but I’m not sure the Buckeyes will make the Round of 32 (see Bonus Nuggets below).

Chris Mack’s squad might be an underdog if it makes the Elite Eight and has to play second-seeded North Carolina or third-seeded Michigan.

Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region with a likely Round of 32 matchup vs. the Seton Hall-N.C. State winner. There’s no telling who the Jayhawks, should they advance past the first weekend, would play in the Sweet 16 because the No. 4 and 5 seeds, Auburn and Clemson, could be in danger of taking one-and-done treatment.

If it makes the Elite Eight, Kansas would likely have to take on Michigan State or Duke. The second-seeded Blue Devils meet Iona and would play the Rhode Island-Oklahoma survivor if they get past the Gaels.

The final No. 1 seed is Villanova, which will be in nearby Pittsburgh the first weekend. Jay Wright’s squad will play the Alabama-Va. Tech winner. A potential Sweet 16 showdown with West Virginia looms. ‘Nova could be looking at Texas Tech, Purdue or Florida if it advances to the East Region finals.

With the way Arizona and Kentucky have played in recent weeks, UVA seems to have the toughest draw of the top seeds, which is wrong since UVA is the No. 1 overall seed. Nevertheless, I still see the Cavs making the Final Four.

Due to the presence of UK and Arizona, who both won their conference tournaments and were preseason top-five teams, UVA is probably most likely to go out first among the No. 1 seeds. But if I had to pick the No. 1 seed that I’m most confident won’t be playing when the Tournament gets to San Antonio, I’ve got to say it’s Xavier. I do so because North Carolina and Michigan are the best teams in the West Region.

Davidson is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. This year’s Wildcats have one of the nation’s most underrated players (Peyton Aldridge), in addition to one of the country’s most underrated head coaches (Bob McKillop) and freshmen (Kellan Grady). They won the Atlantic-10 Tournament by edging Rhode Island, 58-57, in Sunday’s finals to steal a bid.

McKillop’s team will face Kentucky in a 5/12 game Thursday in Boise. John Calipari’s squad has been installed as a six-point favorite. UK knocked off Tennessee on Sunday as a 1.5-point underdog at the SEC Tournament finals in St. Louis. They’ve won four consecutive SEC Tournaments.

What do I see happening? I like Michigan to win the West Region. I’ll take Duke in the Midwest, Villanova in the East and UVA in the South. Look for Villanova to get to the finals by beating Duke, while Michigan will knock off UVA. I’ll go with John Beilein’s Wolverines to cut the nets down.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Best Potential Sweet 16 matchups:
1-Michigan vs. North Carolina
2-Michigan State vs. Duke
3-Florida vs. Purdue
4-Villanova vs. West Virginia

-- Coaches I trust the most in March:
1-John Beilein (Michigan)
2-Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)
3-Roy Williams (North Carolina)
4-Tom Izzo (Michigan State)
5-Jim Boeheim (Syracuse)

-- Player you need to know: Mike Daum is a 6’9”, 250-pound power forward for South Dakota State, a 12 seed that meets Ohio State in Boise at Taco Bell Arena on Thursday afternoon. Daum has led the Jackrabbits to three straight NCAA Tournaments, losing by five to Maryland in the 2016 tourney. After averaging 25.1 points per game as a sophomore in 2016-17, Daum averaged 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game this year. The junior is a straight-up bucket maker, shooting at a 46.2 percent clip from the field, 42.1 percent from downtown and 85.6 percent from the free throw line. South Dakota State has an RPI of 46 and owns neutral-court victories over Buffalo and Iowa. The Jackrabbits also won at Ole Miss in overtime with Daum scoring 26 points.

-- Another player you need to know is Nevada’s Caleb Martin, who is more than capable of leading the Wolf Pack to the Elite Eight.

-- I think Nevada and Florida are the most unpredictable teams in the field. Both can beat anybody when they’re playing well, but both lack size and could get sent home early.

-- Who are some other players that are capable of single-handedly leading their teams on deep runs like Martin for Nevada? Alabama’s Collin Sexton certainly comes to mind. Others include St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Murray State’s Jonathan Stark.

-- Who’s hot? San Diego State has won nine games in a row while going 8-1 ATS, including a pair of wins over Nevada and one vs. Boise State. Davidson is 16-4 since the calendar hit January and has won four straight and eight of its past nine. The Wildcats’ only loss in the past month was a triple-overtime setback at St. Bonaventure.

-- Who’s not (hot)? Auburn hasn’t been the same since losing leading shot blocker Anferenee McLemore to a season-ending injury in February. Bruce Pearl’s club has dropped four of its last six games while posting a 1-5 spread record. Since Jan. 16, Oklahomais 4-11 SU and 3-12 ATS. The Sooners have lost eight of their past 10 games, with the last five losses coming by double-digit margins. Arizona State is 1-5 both SU and ATS in its past six contests, while Clemson has limped to a 3-5 record both SU and ATS in its last eight games since Feb. 18.

Injuries of Note: Alabama starting center Donta Hall is ‘questionable’ vs. Butler after sustaining a concussion on a scary fall during Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinals wins over Auburn. Hall averages 10.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game. Hall has made 72.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG) missed three games in a row after spraining his ankle at Providence on Feb. 21. Rodriguez returned for the Big East Tournament, playing just 16 minutes and scoring eight points in a 75-74 loss to Butler. TCU won’t have Jaylen Fisher in the Tournament and Miami won’t have Bruce Brown. Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt missed the SEC Tournament with an ankle injury and is ‘questionable’ vs. Davidson. Vanderbilt is averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 RPG.

-- Missouri won’t have second-leading scorer Jordan Barnett for its NCAA Tournament opener against FSU following his arrest for DWI early Saturday morning. The Tigers, who are down to just seven scholarship players, will allow Barnett to travel with the team and he might be available in the Round of 32 if they get past the Seminoles. Barnett averages 13.7 points and 5.9 RPG while making 41.4 percent of his treys and 89.0 percent of his FTs.

-- Georgia announced Sunday that, if offered, it won’t accept a bid to the NIT. The Bulldogs fired Mark Fox on Saturday after they finished a disappointing 18-15 in his ninth season at the helm. Fox won a bunch of games – 163 total and at least 18 in each of the past five seasons -- at UGA, but his squads lost dozens of nail-biters and went to the NCAA Tournament just twice on his watch. Georgia loses only two notable players, SEC Player of the Year Yante Maten and second-leading scorer Juwan Parker. The Bulldogs will have excellent size next year with the return of senior center Derek Ogbeide, rising sophomores Nicolas Claxton, the son of Charles Claxton, who played for the Bulldogs in the 1990s, and Rayshaun Hammonds. There are also two talented guards in Tyree Crump, an excellent 3-point shooter, and Teshaun Hightower, who came on strong late in his freshmen year over the past several weeks. Candidates are believed to include Thad Matta and Tom Crean, both of whom would be excellent hires.

-- While we’re on the subject, Fox will land on his feet and be a quality hire for another school, and it’ll probably happen in the next two weeks. He is only 49 and has been a head coach for 14 seasons, including five at Nevada, where Fox took the Wolf Pack to three NCAA Tournaments.

-- According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and FanRag, Pepperdine is poised to bring former Washington head coach and current Arizona assistant Lorenzo Romar to Malibu to be its next head coach. I’m not a huge fan of Romar as a game coach, but this is undoubtedly an excellent hire for Pepperdine based simply on Romar’s ability to bring in high-profile recruits on the West coast.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.