MIDWEST REGION PREVIEW:
About a month ago, I was offered Kentucky versus the field by a few friends and relatives. They thought it was a really good deal, and I told them they’d think the wager looked a lot less smart by the time the brackets odds come out after Selection Sunday. It looks like a pretty fair wager right now, as Kentucky’s odds have fallen all the way to 1/1, which is essentially the same as “Kentucky vs. the Field.” When phrased the second way, it has the inherent feel of a sucker wager, but when you take a step back and say “Kentucky at even money” it doesn’t sound crazy at all…
So, is it a sucker bet? And if so – for whom? And who exactly is going to beat this Big Blue juggernaut? Anyone in the Midwest have a chance???
Let’s dig inside the Midwest Region and look at not just Kentucky, but any other reasonable values for those looking for a more adventurous wager…
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Kentucky Wildcats (4/11) – This one is in bold because there realy isn’t too much reason to explain. Kentucky enters the tourney as the most prohibitive favorite since UNLV in 1991. Perhaps that historical nugget is a reason to fear Kentucky could similarly flop. But I wouldn’t put much money on it. I will simply say, that if you want to go against the grain, and in a one-and-done tourney, there is plenty of precedent to play the longer odds, my advice would be rather than going “field” at near even money, you spread the money out among the five or six teams with any remote possibility of winning it all and get something closer to an average of 12/1 (which averaged out would yield a 2/1 return instead of the even money “field” if you spread your wager between Duke, Arizona, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Villanova and Virginia).
Kentucky is winning the Midwest. But that’s not much of a column now is it, so let’s take a look at a few value plays and a few ridiculous longshots.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9/1) – If I had to talk myself into any team that could possibly trip up Kentucky in this bracket, it’d be the Irish. Not gloating, but this was my top value team preseason back when they were unranked, and I like them even more now for the same reasons. They take good shots. They don’t turn the ball over. They have great veteran leadership in Pat Connaughton. They have an NBA scorer/creator in Jerian Grant and somewhat underrated is the battering ram point guard Demetrius Jackson who has shown a little flash of Russell Westbrook at times.
Could they beat Kentucky twice in twenty games? Probably not. But when those threes start falling in waves, they only need to beat them once. They turned a ten point deficit into a ten point lead in Carolina last week in a matter of minutes. They are explosive offensively (except when they aren’t – see second half vs. Miami – bletch)
It’s a longshot, but hey, if you want to take a flyer, take it on the Irish.
A play I hate? Kansas. They are the two seed and we’ve already seen how they matchup against Kentucky… and that was with Cliff Alexander and a healthy Perry Ellis…
Long Shots –
Wichita State Shockers (9/1) – A LOT of people have them upsetting Kansas in the second round. I like that upset as well, but let’s not overlook the opening round game against an Indiana team that can also shoot and is a little more athletic. If they can get through the first weekend, they might just cruise to all the way to a date with Kentucky.
Maryland (33/1) – These odds are long because of how early they get Kentucky, and perhaps because of some fear of Valpo, but if you are going to get through this bracket, you have to beat Kentucky SOME time, right? Why not in the Sweet 16? Melo Trimble and Dez Wells are a fantastic duo and the Terps have some size and have played a very tough schedule. They beat Wisconsin, which might be about as good of prep as you can get for Big Blue.
I love Buffalo over West Virginia in the opening round. The Bulls are making their first ever NCAA Tourney appearance and coach Bobby Hurley is no stranger to March glory. The Bulls actually led Kentucky at halftime this season in Rupp and won a quality MAC league. West Virginia is a little loose with the ball and could find themselves a victim of the dreaded 5/12 game. Also Texas is FAVORED over Butler, so not sure that would constitute an upset as an #11 seed, but don’t be surprised if Texas’s size and athleticism is too much for the Bulldogs.