Duke, North Carolina enter March Madness as co-favorites on tournament odds

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Tested talent wins, meaning it is not surprising to see college basketball’s bitterest rivals sharing top spot on the odds to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are each listed at +600 on that board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Blue Devils are in the East Region, considered the thinnest in the field for March Madness although they could potentially face the top overall seed and defending champion Villanova Wildcats (+750) in the Elite Eight if both win three games in a row.

North Carolina, which has brawn under the rim to buttress the offensive leadership of PG Joel Berry and SF Justin Jackson, could have some favorable matchups in the South Region.

While pretty much anyone who has ever printed out a bracket obsesses over picking early-round upsets, the chalk usually prevails when it comes to the tournament champion.

The rest of the board has great hoops lineage, with aforementioned Villanova, the Kansas Jayhawks (+800) and Kentucky Wildcats (+850). Of those three, Kansas with PG Frank Mason III’s steady handle is likely the best pick, since March Madness is a guard’s tournament. Villanova still has the guard combo of Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, but could run into Duke.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (+1000) have the longest odds of any No. 1 seed, since bowing out before the Final Four is their trademark. The Arizona Wildcats (+1200) are lurking as the No. 2 in that West Region.

In South Region futures, North Carolina (+135) is the biggest favorite of any team to win its region and go to the Final Four. Potential Sweet 16 opponents, Kentucky (+275) and UCLA Bruins (+450), are both freshmen-reliant – Malik Monk on the ‘Cats, Lonzo Ball on UCLA – and that rarely proves to be a winning formula in March.

The No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs (+1000), with floor leader Kelan Martin and two wins against Villanova on its resume, are the best pick if one wants to go against the chalk in the South.

Kansas (+220) tops the Midwest Region odds in spite of an early exit from the Big 12 tournament. The Louisville Cardinals (+350) have faded, but the No. 3 seed Oregon Ducks (+400) and PF Dillon Brooks might do some damage. The No. 5 seed Iowa State Cyclones (+1000) and PG Monte Morris are the Midwest’s definitive darkhorse.

On the left side of the bracket, Gonzaga (+160) and Arizona (+200) are tightly bunched on the West Region board. History doesn’t play the games and it’s possible the Zags and PG Nigel Williams-Goss are underrated, especially for their defensive tenacity. But coach Sean Miller’s Wildcats are tough-minded.

The West Virginia Mountaineers (+550) are also a premier defensive squad, but it’s hard to keep that up as the opponents get better.

Villanova (+160) tops the East Region board, with Duke (+250) second on the list. While the past two national champions might seem to be on a collision course, the No. 6 seed SMU Mustangs (+800) are an underdog to ponder. The Mustangs won the AAC Tournament decisively and run a five-guard attack – PG Shake Milton is 6-6 – that is almost unseen in Division I.

The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (+10000), who score 85 points per game, are also a trendy darkhorse.

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.