NCAA Tournament odds: March Madness betting lines have logjam at the top

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Some team will cut down the nets on April 3 to celebrate winning the NCAA Tournament, but at this juncture oddsmakers are just as on the fence as the experts about who’s capable of doing so.

Two weeks out from March Madness, the Duke Blue Devils, Gonzaga Bulldogs and Kansas Jayhawks are listed at +1100, +800, and +700, respectively, on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The top of the board also see two legacy programs, the North Carolina Tar Heels and UCLA Bruins, each listed at +600, while the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats are listed at +1000.

None of the above even seem like a mortal lock for the Final Four, which will be held in Glendale, Arizona on the first weekend of April. Gonzaga hails from the mid-major West Coast Conference, while Duke, which takes on the Tar Heels Heels on Saturday as road underdogs, has a discomfiting tendency to lose its focus late in games. Kansas’ issues with limiting opponents’ looks at three-pointers makes it vulnerable to a hot-shooting team.

North Carolina has an inside track on a No. 1 seed, though, and their stumbles on the road might not matter so much in a string of neutral-site games. Given their soft schedule and reliance on a freshman floor leader, Lonzo Ball, UCLA might be overhyped. Arguably the grittiest, more tournament-ready team coming out of the Pac-12 is probably the Oregon Ducks (+1200) with their leaders Dylan Ennis and Dillon Brooks.

The ACC could have as many as 10 teams in the field of 68. While UNC and Duke have the pedigree and the titles, both teams’ popularity will hurt their odds. The Virginia Cavaliers (+2000) defend as well as almost anyone in the country and should be a tough out in the postseason. For similar reasons, the Baylor Bears (+2800) are being highly touted for a breakthrough in March.

The Louisville Cardinals (+1600) of coach Rick Pitino have hit a wall of late,losing three recent ACC games. Whether they can regain their edge over the next few weeks remains to be seen.

As much as parity is the buzzword in college basketball, anyone trying to pick a champion this early should remember that pedigree might still count for something at the end. There hasn’t been a first-time champion since 2006, when the Florida Gators won the first of back-to-back titles. In the last 20 seasons, there have been only four other first-time winners – the 1997 Arizona Wildcats, 1999 Connecticut Huskies, 2002 Maryland Terrapins and ’03 Syracuse Orange. That ’99 UConn team was the only one to do so in the team’s first trip to the Final Four.

Of the highest 20 teams on the board, Gonzaga is the only one who has never made it to the final weekend.

North Carolina narrow favorite against Gonzaga for NCAA Tournament championship

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Joel Berry II and the North Carolina Tar Heels, who only seem to play close games at the Final Four, are a slim betting favorite against the first-time finalist Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The Tar Heels are listed as a 1.5-point favorite against the Bulldogs with 153.5-point total in the college basketball championship game matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The teams tip off at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday.

The Tar Heels are 7-2 both straight-up and against the spread on the college basketball point spreads in their last nine games as a favorite of 1.5 or fewer points. Gonzaga, though, is 15-1 SU in its last 16 games with one day off between games.

Coaches Roy Williams and Mark Few are going head-to-head for the first time since 2009, when UNC ousted the Zags in the Sweet 16 on its way to the national title. North Carolina is 0-4 ATS in its last four games after winning the previous game in a matchup, while Gonzaga is 6-0 SU and ATS in its last six games after losing the previous game in a matchup.

Gonzaga’s impressive record when it has a day of rest attests to having perhaps the deepest rotation in the country, with PG Nigel Williams-Goss as the floor leader.

Seven-foot-one Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins will be tasked with avoiding foul trouble and preventing North Carolina’s big men such as Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks from nabbing the offensive rebounds that give the Tar Heels extra scoring opportunities. How Collins, a NBA-bound freshman, responds to North Carolina’s challenge might make or break Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs are 1-5 SU in their last six games as an underdog, according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database, but those contests are spread out from the 2013-14 to 2015-16 seasons.

With North Carolina, the main question is the health of Berry, who is soldiering on with two sprained ankles. Berry clearly seemed affected during the Tar Heels’ semifinal win against Oregon and will have greater challenges against Gonzaga at each end of the court.

The Bulldogs have, in Williams-Goss, a more electric point guard and also play man-to-man defense while Oregon uses a zone. Justin Jackson, who is North Carolina’s first look on offense, is a resourceful attacker whom Gonzaga will be hard-pressed to shut down completely.

With Berry compromised, backcourt depth will be important. Gonzaga has been more impressive than North Carolina in this area during the run of the NCAA Tournament.

The total has gone under in seven of Gonzaga’s last 10 games. The total has gone under in Gonzaga’s last five games against the Atlantic Coast Conference The total has gone under in 10 of North Carolina’s last 14 games after a win. The total has also gone under in five of North Carolina’s last six games with a closing total of 153.5 points or less.

Final Four betting preview: Gonzaga, North Carolina lead odds for matchups

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While the North Carolina Tar Heels are a slight favorite to win the national championship entering the Final Four, they are taking some troubling trends with them to Glendale.

Led by forwards Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks, the Tar Heels are the +140 favorite on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. North Carolina was the favorite at the outset of the tournament and has had enough talent to override a habit of letting opponents back into games in the second half. That’s contributed to a 19-16-2 against-the-spread record this year.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are deemed the most worthy challenger at +180, while the Oregon Ducks (+550) and South Carolina Gamecocks (+750) are seen as the longer shots.

In game lines, Gonzaga is listed as a 6.5-point favorite against South Carolina for the first matchup on Saturday. Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss will need to be sharp against South Carolina’s swarming defense, which thrives at forcing turnovers that lead to baskets in transition.

Gonzaga’s defense has provided it with the cushion to win, but it’s notable that the Bulldogs are only 4-5-1 ATS over their last 10 games. Coach Mark Few’s emphasis on defense is also reflected in the fact that seven of Gonzaga’s last nine games have gone over.

South Carolina is a gritty group with their trio of leaders, SG Sindarius Thornwell, PG Duane Notice and SF P.J. Dozier. The Gamecocks have been underdogs in all four tournament wins, so that +6.5 line is enticing. The total has gone under in 21 of South Carolina’s last 30 games as an underdog.

North Carolina is favored by five points against Oregon in the matchup for the second semifinal. The health of PG Joel Berry, who has two wonky ankles, will be a concern going in with the Tar Heels, who are just 3-3-2 ATS over their last eight games.

North Carolina, which is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS in its last eight games against the Pac-12, has the most efficient offense in the field and has a rebounding machine under the basket in Kennedy Meeks.

Oregon, with a balanced lineup led by SF Tyler Dorsey and PF Dillon Brooks, is a team one underestimates at their peril. The Ducks are 17-7-1 ATS over their last 25 games as well as 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on a Saturday, and they do a good job at limiting opponents’ looks, especially from three-point land.

Eight of their last 11 games have gone over; there’s a good chance the Ducks will try to run with North Carolina for portions of the contest.