NCAA Tournament No. 2 Seeds have Talent, Efficiency and Grit
As selection Sunday arrives and the NCAA Tournament brackets are unveiled, we'll have just a few days to put our brackets and pool picks together and study the match-ups. Sharp handicappers and bettors that have done preliminary homework on teams will fire in early bets as the sports books release the lines Sunday night and Monday. Those that are prepared with insight and info on the teams and understand some of the keys to NCAA Tournament success will have an edge. Hopefully the overview and insight I provide for the top-seeded NCAA Tournament teams and the stat profiles will assist you further in your pursuit of profit and pool success.
The NCAA Tournament 'officially' begins Thursday, March 15 following the 'First Four' play-in games. And while those First Four teams and other higher-seeded tournament teams are big long shots to win the national title, it's a rewarding accomplishment if any team seeded 8 or higher can advance to the second weekend of tournament play and the Sweet Sixteen. Last year No. 8 Wisconsin upset No. 1 Villanova as a 6-point 'Dog, and the Wildcats were the highest scoring and most efficient offensive team during the regular season. The Badgers then lost in overtime to Florida, just missing an Elite Eight appearance. But No. 7 seed South Carolina surged past No. 2 seed Duke in nearby Greenville, SC to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, and then beat both Baylor and Florida as 3-point 'Dogs to advance to the Final Four before losing to Gonzaga. So the payoffs can be rewarding as well when wagering on teams to win a NCAA Tournament region or just riding a hot underdog through the brackets.
We'll evaluate some long shots that could pull some upsets once the seeds and pairings are announced, but our countdown to the NCAA Tournament will cover the top-16 teams. We started with the projected No. 4 seeds, and then covered the No. 3 seeds, and in this analysis we'll evaluate the projected No. 2 seeds.
While a majority of the conferences are completing their conference tournaments this week, we're evaluating the top teams that will get much of the attention and support in the NCAA Tournament pools, brackets and betting interests.Our countdown and projected seeds are taken from ESPN and Joe Lunardi's Bracketology for the week of March 5.
The No. 2 seeds are: Cincinnati, Duke, North Carolina, Purdue
Duke and North Carolina have combined to win 11 national titles, and the Tar Heels just beat Duke 74-69 in the ACC Tournament semifinals to win the rubber game of their season series. Duke is the 9-2 choice to win the National Title (less than 5-1), the lowest odds of this foursome, but the Blue Devils offer no value despite being a serious national title contender. Note that 23 of the last 27 NCAA Tournament champions have been either a #1 or #2 seed. Since 1997, the eventual national champion has been seeded no lower than #3 in every year except 2014 when UCONN pulled the shocker as a #7 seed.
Key wins: Wichita State, Houston, UCLA, Mississippi State
Season ATS: 16-12
National Title Odds: 20-1
|Head Coach -Mick Cronin|
|Adj Off Eff||50|
|Adj Def Eff||2|
Overview: What a season for Cincinnati, who followed up a 30-win season a year ago with an American Conference regular season title this year by beating new American entrant and power Wichita State on the final day of the regular season. The Bearcats then beat Houston in the AAC championship game to win their 30th game of the year this season. Cincinnati does it with a dominant defense for coach Mick Cronin, and despite lower totals the Bearcats still went 11-20 over/under this season. Cincinnati allowed just 57 points per game to rank No. 2 in the country and has the No. 2 efficiency defense. Cronin's crew led the country in scoring margin (+17.8) and held opponents to just 37% FG, also No. 2 in the country. Their perimeter defense is very strong as well, but offensively, the Bearcats are not a good shooting team (44% in AAC) or strong at the free throw line, but they do take care of the basketball and block shots, leading the AAC in both and are strong rebounding and steals. Out of the mold of Virginia's No. 1 defense, the Bearcats are relentless defending the ball and force long possessions and less than desired shots for opponents. Cincinnati did not have a top-10 scorer in AAC play, but swingman Jacob Evans and senior forward Gary Clark both averaged 13 PPG. Clark was No. 2 in AAC rebounding while Evans led the team in assists and is the Bearcats most reliable free throw shooter and 3-point marksman (39%). This is a team that still doesn't get the recognition it likely deserves, and won't be picked by many to win the national title in the NCAA pools. A Final Four run is within reach depending on match-ups, but opponents are in tough trying to solve the Bearcats claw on defense.
Season ATS: 20-11
National Title Odds: 9-2
Head Coach - Mike Krzyzewski
Adj Off Eff
Adj Def Eff
Overview: Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III is a man inside (21 PPG, 11 RPG), and with his 19th double-double against North Carolina in the ACC tournament, he tied Ralph Sampson for the most by a freshman in ACC history. Bagley led the ACC in scoring and rebounding, and fellow freshman Gary Trent Jr. (14 PPG) and big body Wendell Carter Jr. (13 PPG) join senior guard Grayson Allen (15 PPG) to lead a Duke attack that ranks No. 4 in the country in scoring at more than 87 points per game. The Blue Devils had been playing their best basketball of the season until losing to North Carolina, and Duke's defense had improved to allow just 60 PPG during that 8-game closing run. Duke allowed nearly 70 PPG this season, but with their high-scoring efficient offense, the Blue Devils outscored opponents by 15 PPG to rank No. 6 in the country. Duke shot 49% FG in ACC play and held opponents to a strong 40% FG, and they were top-3 in 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. This is one of the elite rebounding teams in the country, but turnovers are the issue and flashy freshman PG Trevon Duval will need minimize and dish to his talented teammates and let Allen and Trent take the outside shots as Duval is dreadful from the arc. He's the x-factor though, and Duke is the most talented team in the NCAA tournament field and a dangerous threat to win it all.
Key wins: Duke, Clemson, Miami, Tennessee, Michigan
Season ATS: 19-13
National Title Odds: 18-1
|Head Coach - Roy Williams|
|Adj Off Eff||5|
|Adj Def Eff||25|
Overview: The NCAA selection committee adjusted team sheets and set up a quadrant system this season, emphasizing road/neutral games more than ever. In addition to 'good' wins and RPI, Quadrant 1 had a breakdown of Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75 with the number representing the RPI rank of the opponent. North Carolina led the country with 14 quadrant 1 wins this season. Kudos to a strong strength of schedule and KenPom rankings. But while the defending NCAA Tournament champs will get plenty of support in the NCAA tourney, they will not get mine. Overrated still comes to mind, and North Carolina lost 10 times this season. The Tar Heels were again one of the top offensive teams ranking top-5 in adjusted offensive efficiency while scoring 82 points per game. They also ranked dead last in the ACC in 3-point defense and were middle of the pack in overall FG defense. Of course Carolina gets athletes, but this team will rely on its starting five as far as it can take them with a big drop off in production and experience that cost Carolina in many road games this season. Luke Maye was a double/double (17 PPG, 10 RPG), and senior point guard Joel Berry (17 PPG) is now the Tar Heels career leader with the most ACC wins (60). But this team also played at the slowest adjusted tempo in coach Roy Williams' era and forces few turnovers. Wins over Miami and Duke in the ACC tournament may provide others confidence in Carolina, but we trust the Tar Heels will not be making a deep run in this year's tournament.
Key wins: Michigan, Arizona
Season ATS: 15-17
National Title Odds: 12-1
|Head Coach - Matt Painter|
|Adj Off Eff||2|
|Adj Def Eff||30|
Overview: Now here is a team that is well-coached and fundamentally solid. Purdue (28-6) was the Big Ten runner-up, but an absolute money-burner since the end of January going 1-11 against the spread (ATS). Point spreads often catch up with top teams after they win 19 straight games like Purdue did starting with a victory over Arizona in late November. Many will question their lack of top-quality wins, but this team is balanced on offense and defense and plays well inside and out with the nation's No. 2-ranked team in adjusted offensive efficiency. That's due to some elite perimeter shooters, and Purdue shot 49% FG in league play and hit one of the nation's very best marks from the arc (42%) while taking the second-most 3-pointers in Big Ten play. Explosive sophomore guard Carson Edwards (18 PPG) does it all in the back court and joins sharp shooting senior Dakota Mathias in top-3 made three-pointers. With 7-footer Isaac Hayes (15 PPG) hitting 60% in the post and fellow senior Vincent Edwards also providing power in the paint with another 7-footer and shot blocker Matt Haarms a productive rim protector off the bench, Purdue will be tough match-up for any team with their experience, balance and efficiency combined with strength on defense. The Big Ten may be down this year, and Purdue may lack a NBA-caliber player that many think is needed to make a Final Four or win a NCAA championship. But the Boilermakers don't dominate teams with talent, it wins and can dominate with determination, versatility and a defense that forces long possessions and can wear down opponents. Purdue and coach Painter achieved its highest NCAA Tournament seed in 20 years, and has its best chance for a run to the Final Four.
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FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay