The field of 68 for the 2017 NCAA Tournament has been set. The No. 1 seeds were no surprise in defending national champion Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga. The Jayhawks and Tar Heels landed on the top line despite losing in their respective conference tournaments. Villanova and Gonzaga won their conference tournaments and regular-season titles. Here’s a closer look at the March Madness betting picks for the tournament.
2017 March Madness Favorites, Dark Horses and Smart Picks
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 13, 2017
Duke is a No. 2 seed in Villanova’s East Region but the Blue Devils are +600 co-favorites to cut down the nets the first Monday of April outside of Phoenix after winning the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina is also +600. Those two Tobacco Road rivals have met three times this season. They could only meet a fourth time in the NCAA title game.
Duke was the consensus favorite before adding one more five-star recruit — Marques Bolden, who has barely played — to its fold during the offseason. That group got off to a pretty rough start because of injuries to Bolden, Jayson Tatum (now the team’s best player) and top recruit Harry Giles. As they showed this last week in the ACC Tournament, they can beat anyone in the country on any day. They finished fifth in the ACC but became the first team in conference history to win four games in four days to take home the ACC Tournament Championship. Luke Kennard has been a monster, playing 35 minutes a night, averaging 20 points a game on 50% shooting and five rebounds a night.
The Heels lost last year’s national title game to Villanova on a buzzer-beater. With five players averaging at least 4.5 boards per game, the Tar Heels are full of rebounding machines. They lead the nation in with 43.5 rebounds per game. Justin Jackson recently became the 14th Tar Heel to be named ACC player of the year. Jackson closed the regular season at a team-best 18.3 points per game, an increase of 6.1 points from last season and the highest mark since Tyler Hansbrough averaged 20.7 points per game in 2009. UNC is in the South Region, which is the region of death as it also includes No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 UCLA.
If you are looking for a dark horse, all I can say is don’t pick a seed lower than No. 8 to win it all because that has never happened. That said, Wichita State as a No. 10 seed could make some noise in the South Region. The Shockers were totally seeded wrong as they enter on a 15-game winning streak. Their three victories in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament came by 26, 15 and 20 points. They are making their sixth consecutive trip to the Big Dance and have posted their fifth season with 30-plus wins in the last six years. The problem with that No. 10 seed is that WSU has a very tough opener against No. 7 Dayton and then surely would have to play No. 2 Kentucky.
Dayton leads the all-time series with the Shockers, 2-0, though both meetings took place over half-a-century ago. Dayton won a 79-71 decision in New York during the 1962 NIT and claimed a 42-19 victory in Dayton on Dec. 17, 1941. WSU and Kentucky have played just once — a memorable Round of 32 matchup in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats, seed No. 8, upset the top-seeded Shockers, 78- 76, on their way to a national runner-up finish.
Consider Midwest No. 13 seed Vermont as a team that could reach the Sweet 16. The Catamounts, who open against No. 4 Purdue, didn’t lose a conference game all season and have the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 in a row. Vermont was the first team to sweep the America East Major Awards -John Becker (Coach of the Year), Trae Bell-Haynes (Player of the Year), Anthony Lamb (Rookie of the Year), Darren Payen (Sixth Man of the Year), and Dre Wills (Defensive Player of the Year).
Early Final Four Picks
Duke in the East, Arizona in the West, Kansas in the Midwest and North Carolina in the South.