The South is LOADED - North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA are all legit National Championship contenders whose odds would be far slimmer if not for the early date with one another. UNC is the co-favorite to win it all, but might UCLA prove too talented?
SOUTH REGION PREVIEW – 2017 NCAA TOURNAMENT
Plain and simple, the South is loaded. Three of the top six teams on my personal national champ board all reside in this stacked region, making it the only region with three teams in the four to one range to advance to the Final Four. In addition to co-favorite North Carolina, you also have Kentucky and UCLA and their freshman-led NBA-loaded teams in the bottom half of the bracket, all but assuring UNC will have to beat an elite team to make it to Phoenix.
Even beyond the “Big Three” there is giant-killer Butler and the best #10 seed in NCAA history, Wichita State. It’s going to be a fun bracket with tons of must-see television games. Let’s dive in with a look at some value plays.
And a reminder – the best part of the day before the NCAA Tournament is that you can make a cogent argument for a LOT of teams, so feel free to hit me up on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs to discuss, argue, conversate, etc.
North Carolina +140 – I’ve written it several times this season, but it remains true: North Carolina has a greater margin for error than any team in the country, which makes them the safest future wager of any team in the field. It doesn’t mean they “can’t” lose, it simply means they are less likely to get caught by a bad shooting day. Carolina rebounds better than any team in the country and creates more second shot opportunities than any team in the Field of 68. They boast plenty of talent as well beyond just their prowess on the boards. From a national title perspective, UNC is the safest wager (and I get the irony in writing THAT and still NOT picking them as MY national champ. More on that later…)
Kentucky +225 – The Wildcats have young, dynamic talent and they have been playing well the last few weeks. But to me, they are WAY to dependent on freshman Malik Monk to score a TON of points in order for them to win. Aside from the Malik Monk-led thriller in Vegas over UNC, the Cats have faltered against top opponents. UCLA, Louisville, and Florida all clocked them. I just don’t like the value on this team, especially with their draw. They’d be the underdog against both UCLA and UNC, and they’d have to beat them BOTH in the span of three days to make it to Phoenix.
UCLA Bruins +400 – My affinity for UCLA is long-stated. If every team in the country played their BEST game, I’d pick UCLA. I’d take them against anyone; Nova, UNC, Arizona, Gonzaga. Now WILL they play at their peak six times? Quite possibly not. But if they DO, the Bruins can win the whole darn thing.
Butler +900 – They’ve lost a lot of games, but not too many teams in the field can boast the litany of wins that Butler can; Arizona, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Utah, Cincinnati, Xavier twice, and Villanova. They obviously have a high enough ceiling to win this stacked region, no matter how unlikely it seems using the eye test. They could be a nice hedge play if they can somehow sneak past North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.
I’ll pass on Kentucky. Too slim odds for my liking. I’ll also pass on Minnesota and Cincinnati. Little to no chance to survive this gauntlet of a bracket.
UCLA +450 – It’s such a good value for a team that is clearly as talented as any in the country. UNC rebounds better and is still the SAFEST National Champ play at +800 and Kentucky might have more explosive guards, but UCLA is the play here for me. At their BEST, I still think they are the BEST team in the country. Now it is just a matter of seeing if they can get to that level two or three games in a row.