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October 20, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Sunday’s games

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Florida’s Mike Rosario (3) is pursued by Florida Gulf Coast’s Sherwood Brown (25) and Chase Fieler (20) during the first half of a regional semifinal game in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 29, 2013, in Arlington, Texas.

So, the endless talk of parity defining the 2012-2013 college basketball season wasn’t overblown.

The first two teams to reach the Final Four prove that this NCAA Tournament was as wide open as a Wichita State fan’s screaming mouth when the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Staples Center Saturday. The No. 9 seed Shockers were 50-to-1 to get to Atlanta at the LVH Superbook when the tournament began.

Nor was No. 4 seed Syracuse a major favorite at 5-to-1. If someone spent $100 parlaying those two prices — which most sports books don’t allow — they would have earned a payout of $30,500.

None of the teams that could join the Shockers and the Orange Sunday were considered as improbable. But the damage is done.

Good luck finding a bracket with this Final Four combination. Check below for the final two Elite 8 picks. Splitting the picks on Saturday, I’m now 29-32-2 picking every game in the tournament against the spread.

No. 3 Florida minus-2.5 over No. 4 Michigan Dramatic comeback victories have the tendency to mask serious issues. As awe-inspiring as Trey Burke’s 23 points in 25 minutes were in bringing the Wolverines back to stun the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16, there’s a reason they were down by 10 with less than three minutes to go. Many of them, actually. All are on the defensive side, where Michigan is the worst team left in the tournament.

When Kansas’ guards drove to the rim, they found space as lengthy as the mythical new screen at The Mirage sports book. The Jayhawks scored 60 points in the paint. That must mean Michigan bears down with its perimeter defense, right? Not necessarily. It’s outside of the top 100 in the three-point defense for the year, according to Ken Pomeroy. Florida has a trio of offensive stars — Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton — tailor-made to attack those weaknesses.

It seems like an added bonus that the Gators are coming off of a careless performance where they shot 38 percent from the field and 26 percent from three-point range. Billy Donovan will have this team focused. The Gators are better, and the asking price is minimal.

No. 2 Duke plus-4 over No. 1 Louisville These are the two best teams in the tournament. Not just right now. As I strongly suggested in the Midwest Region preview two weeks ago, the Cardinals and the Blue Devils were the two best teams before March Madness even began. In a matchup between two teams at this high of a level, it’s always advisable to take the points.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Other reasons exist as to why the Blue Devils are the smarter bet. They already defeated the Cardinals once this season, 76-71 in the finals of Battle 4 Atlantis last November. Some have billed it as a “revenge game” for Louisville, but taking the team that’s proven it can beat the other is a better method. Louisville played without Gorgui Dieng in the loss and has undoubtedly improved with a mantle of impressive victories since then.

But were any as memorable as Duke’s dismantling of Michigan State in the Sweet 16? No one had beaten the Spartans by double digits in 2013, and Tom Izzo is a notoriously tough out in the tournament. Duke is every bit as good as Louisville. Expect the tournament’s most competitive game where either side could prevail.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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