2017 March Madness odds preview: Northwestern intriguing in top First-Round betting matchups

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Since they have no track record at all in the NCAA Tournament, the Northwestern Wildcats will be a curiosity for college basketball diehards and bettors alike during the first full day of March Madness on Thursday.

Northwestern and the Vanderbilt Commodores are in a pick’em matchup with a 131-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Northwestern, a three-point shooting team paced by PF Victor Law and PG Bryant McIntosh, does well when it’s rested. They are  5-0 straight-up and against the spread in their last five games with four days off between games. Vanderbilt is s 8-2 SU and 9-1 ATS in its last 10 games against teams with winning records.

Elsewhere, the Purdue Boilermakers are nine-point favorites against the Vermont Catamounts with a 134.5-point total in what been labeled as an upset special. Thirteen seeds have gone 5-3 ATS in the past two tournaments. Vermont is on a 21-game win streak and have a superlative scorer in F Anthony Lamb. Purdue is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games in March, but lost in the Round of 64 last season.

The Wisconsin Badgers are 5.5-point favorites against the Virginia Tech Hokies with a 138.5-point total. Wisconsin is 0-6 ATS in its last six games with three days off between games, but  6-2 SU in its last eight games as a favorite of 5.5 points or less. Virginia Tech is 11-1 SU and ATS in its last 12 games as an underdog of 5.5 points or less.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are seven-point favorites against the Princeton Tigers with a 134.5-point total. Notre Dame is more disciplined than the typical major conference team that falls prey to the Tigers, who are 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games as an underdog of seven points or more. The total has gone under in six of Notre Dame’s last seven games.

Twelve seeds are 10-5-1 ATS over the last four years.

The Florida Gators are 10-point favorites against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers with a 144.5-point total. East Tennessee State, 9-1 SU over its last 10 games, has towering transfers Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Tevin Glass to win the battle inside, where the Gators have been vulnerable since losing C John Egbunu (torn ACL) for the season.

Friday’s slate includes a study-in-contrasts tilt, with the defensively taut South Carolina Gamecocks listed as 1.5-point favorites against the offensive-minded Marquette Golden Eagles with a 148-point total. South Carolina is 1-9 ATS in its last 10 games. Tenth-seeded Marquette, which lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament, is 12-4 SU in its last 16 games after a loss.

The Miami Hurricanes are two-point favorites against the Michigan State Spartans with a 125.5-point total, with the winner of that matchup likely to get a shot at the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament bracket. Miami is 12-4 in its last 16 games as a favorite, while Michigan State is 0-8 SU and ATS in its last eight games as an underdog of two points or less.

And the Creighton Bluejays are 1.5-point favorites against the Rhode Island Rams with a 142.5-point total. Rhode Island is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games and has a stingy defense, while Creighton has lost continuity on offense since PG Maurice Watson Jr. was injured and subsequently suspended.

Kansas, Gonzaga, Oregon, Xavier eye Final Four with Elite Eight underway

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) It’s finally time to award the first spots in the Final Four.

And for the four teams chasing those tickets Saturday, it’s another shot to break through an often frustrating roadblock in the regional finals.

Kansas lost in the Elite Eight last year. So did Oregon, which won the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 but hasn’t pushed past the final eight since.

While those two teams meet in the Midwest Region final in Kansas City, Missouri, the West final in San Jose, California, features two teams – Gonzaga and Xavier – who have never won in this round.

Kansas coach Bill Self called it “the hardest game in the tournament.”

“There’s so much emphasis on the road to the Final Four,” Self said Friday. “It’s almost like the Final Four could be the equivalent of the national championship 30 years ago, with the type of intensity and the type of publicity it gets. … If you get beat in this game, you come just that close to getting to the goal.”

Kansas (31-4) has had the most success of that quartet, though there’s been plenty of frustration, too. The Jayhawks, the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, won the national title under Self in 2008 and went to the title game in 2012. But along the way, there have been four Elite Eight losses under Self – three coming despite carrying a 1-seed.

Kansas is chasing its first Final Four since that 2012 run.

Oregon (32-5), the Midwest’s 3-seed, is in the Elite Eight for the fourth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Ducks have lost their last three, including to Kansas in 2002.

In the West, both 1-seed Gonzaga (35-1) and 11th-seeded Xavier (24-13) are each in the regional finals for a third time.

“All the games we feel the pressure to move on, to advance,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “This one, a little bit more because that Final Four is the goal of everybody.”

Here are things to know about the NCAA Tournament’s second week:

HEADLINING NAMES: The Midwest final features a national player of the year candidate in Kansas’ Frank Mason III and a preseason Associated Press All-American in Oregon’s Dillon Brooks. Mason, a 5-foot-11 senior, is averaging 20.9 points on 49 percent shooting, while Brooks – a 6-7 junior – is averaging 16.3 points.

LEGACY: Gonzaga’s Few has built a consistent winner in the Pacific Northwest, though that Final Four is the glaring omission from the resume. Still, Few has routinely refused to be consumed by the pursuit.

“It would be awesome for the school and for the Spokane community to be able to feel good about and hang their hat on,” Few said. “But my legacy is going to be about other things, at least as far as I’m concerned.”

SUMNER’S ABSENCE: No one expected Xavier to be here, especially after losing point guard Edmund Sumner to a season-ending knee injury in January. The Musketeers also lost six straight before regrouping to reach the Big East Tournament championship game and now an Elite Eight after upsetting 2-seed Arizona on Thursday night.

“We’re all tough guys,” junior guard J.P. Macura said. “We stuck together. And we’ve been playing tough together. And we’re not really backing down from anybody. And if you have that mentality, you can beat a lot of teams.”

BLUEBOOD BRACKET: Kentucky beat UCLA in the South Region semifinals on Friday night in Memphis, Tennessee, to claim a matchup of teams with a combined 19 NCAA titles. Now the second-seeded Wildcats are preparing for another marquee name in 1-seed North Carolina, which cruised past Butler, on Sunday.

A NEW SEC TOURNAMENT: The Southeastern Conference enters the regional finals standing alone among leagues. The SEC has three of the eight teams still standing with Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina – and is assured at least one Final Four team considering the Gators and Gamecocks play Sunday in the East final.

FINALLY, AN OVERTIME: The Gators’ 84-83 win against Wisconsin on Friday night on Chris Chiozza’s running 3-pointer marked the first overtime game of the tournament. And that came only after Badgers guard Zak Showalter hit an off-balance 3 with 2.5 seconds left in regulation to force the extra period.

FAREWELL: It didn’t take long after UCLA’s loss to Kentucky for star freshman point guard Lonzo Ball to say he was moving on from the college game. He had been considered a likely one-and-done NBA prospect all year and called Friday’s loss “my final game for UCLA.”

Elite Eight betting preview: Gonzaga, Kansas among the weekend favorites

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One trend to take into the Elite Eight is that the Gonzaga Bulldogs and star guard Nigel Williams-Goss rarely lose when they have fresh legs.

The Bulldogs are listed as eight-point favorites against the Xavier Musketeers with a 145.5-point total for their West Region final betting matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Gonzaga is 14-1 straight-up in its last 15 games with one day of rest, as well as 5-0-1 against the spread in its last six games as a favorite of eight or fewer points. Xavier, which will have to break down Gonzaga’s stifling defense in order to get forward Trevon Bluiett his touches, is 5-0 ATS in its last five games as an underdog of eight points or fewer.

The total has gone UNDER in six of Xavier’s last seven games. The total has gone UNDER in six of Gonzaga’s last eight games. Neither team has ever made the Final Four, which is set for next weekend in Glendale, Arizona.

The Kansas Jayhawks are listed as 7-point favorites against the Oregon Ducks with a 156-point total in the Midwest Region final betting matchup. The Jayhawks and Frank Mason III are playing close to home in Kansas City, while Kansas is also 22-2 SU in its last 24 games against the Pacific-12.

Oregon, an athletic team with leaders such as Dillon Brooks, should challenge Kansas’ interior defense. Oregon is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games against the Big 12. The total has gone OVER in eight of Oregon’s last 10 games.  The total has gone OVER in Kansas’ last five games.

The other two tickets to the Final Four will be awarded on Sunday.

In a betting matchup involving college basketball bluebloods, the North Carolina Tar Heels face the Kentucky Wildcats in the South Region final as 3-point betting favorites.

North Carolina is 7-3 ATS against Kentucky since 2006-07, although the Wildcats have had the better of the matchup more recently. Historically speaking, North Carolina is 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS in the Elite Eight since 1997. Over that same span, Kentucky is 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS.

And the Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks meet in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup to decide the East Region final. Florida is 8-2 SU and 6-4 ATS in their last 10 games against the Gamecocks, but all of the Gators’ outright defeats were within the teams’ three most recent meetings. Florida is a 3.5-point betting favorite for the matchup.