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September 1, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: How Vegas sports books see the South Region

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin (5) celebrates after the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in the Championship round of the Southeastern Conference men’s tournament, Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Atlanta. Florida won 61-60.

Updated Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | 11:19 a.m.

2014 NCAA Tournament West Region

Which of these bets would you make on who wins the West Region?
Arizona Even money — 32.5%
Wisconsin 7-to-2 — 28.6%
Creighton 9-to-2 — 18.2%
Oklahoma State 12-to-1 — 11.2%
San Diego State 10-to-1 — 7.3%
Oklahoma 20-to-1 — 2.2%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

LVH Superbook odds to win South Region

  • Florida: Even
  • Kansas: 3-to-1
  • Syracuse: 6-to-1
  • UCLA 8-to-1
  • Ohio State: 8-to-1
  • Virginia Commonwealth: 12-to-1
  • New Mexico: 20-to-1
  • Pittsburgh: 20-to-1
  • Stanford: 50-to-1
  • Colorado: 75-to-1
  • Dayton: 75-to-1
  • Stephen F. Austin: 150-to-1
  • Tulsa: 300-to-1
  • Western Michigan: 1000-to-1
  • Eastern Kentucky: 1000-to-1
  • Albany: 1000-to-1
  • Mount Saint Mary's: 3000-to-1

2014 NCAA Tournament South Region

Which of these teams would you bet to reach the Final Four?
Florida Even money — 49.9%
Kansas 3-to-1 — 18.5%
Syracuse 6-to-1 — 15.2%
UCLA 8-to-1 — 7.5%
Ohio State 8-to-1 — 5.7%
VCU 12-to-1 — 3.2%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Note: This is the first part of a series of betting previews on the four NCAA Tournament regions. Check out part two, the Midwest, here and come back tomorrow for the final two installments.

If they hadn’t passed away 150 years ago, the Brothers Grimm could have developed an affinity for the South Region of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

The bracket, which culminates in Memphis next weekend, looks like a modern, basketball interpretation of the German authors’ famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs fairy tale.

Eight teams from the South have at least a 3 percent chance of advancing to Dallas for the Final Four, according to region odds from the LVH Superbook.

No. 1 seed Florida represents the pristine royalty of the group. The Gators are the overall favorite of the 68-team tournament, at odds anywhere from 3-to-1 to 9-to-2 around town, and deserving of the crown.

Only those who are envious could cast down Florida’s achievements over the last four months. The Gators stroll into the tournament on a 26-game win streak after becoming just the second team in the last 56 years to go undefeated throughout the SEC regular season and tournament.

The record book reveals the Gators as the tournament team most experienced of them all. They start four seniors — Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yegette — who have gone 9-3 straight-up and 8-4 against the spread in reaching the Elite Eight in each of their three years in college.

While most of Florida’s top competition in the region relies on McDonald’s All-American-caliber underclassmen for the bulk of their production, the Gators bring two superstar freshmen off the bench in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker.

They have hid, however, in the SEC’s relatively innocuous confines. Vegas odds share as unflattering of an opinion on Florida’s league as the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which gave the SEC just two at-large bids into March Madness. That ties the fewest for the conference in the last 34 years.

The spread favored Florida in all but two of its 21 conference games by an average of 9 points. A natural comparison can be made with South Region No. 2 seed Kansas, which won its regular-season conference championship in the Big 12.

The Jayhawks were favored in 18 of 20 conference contests, but had an average spread of just 7.5 points. Two points may not sound like a major difference, but it adds up significantly over the course of the season.

Oddsmakers also power-rated Kansas, which went 11-8-1 against the spread versus the Big 12, higher than Florida, which finished 12-9 against the spread versus the SEC, for the majority of the season until the last few weeks. The Jayhawks were plus-3 in a December road game at Florida — indicating Kansas would have been a favorite on a neutral court — that the Gators won 67-61.

Kansas leads the South Region’s pack of dwarfs — seven teams with commendable traits but evident deficiencies. Injury is Kansas’ most glaring flaw at the moment, as potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Joel Embiid, a 7-foot freshman center, is out with a stress fracture in his back.

Kansas has gone 2-2 straight-up and against the spread without Embiid, who hopes to return if his team advances to Memphis for the Sweet 16, but that’s only with its other possible top pick playing out of his mind. Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins has averaged 25.5 points on 49 percent shooting in Embiid’s absence for effectiveness that might be tough to continue in the NCAA Tournament but Kansas will desperately require.

Wiggins hoopla produced enough betting slips on Kansas to win the national championship that it had the second lowest odds at 6-to-1 as recently at the beginning of the month at the Superbook.

Some might be surprised to learn the next team in the region, No. 3 seed Syracuse, never got that low despite spending several weeks as the top-ranked team in the nation. Sports books never bought into the Orange, led by freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, as much as the pollsters.

Syracuse’s bandied 25-0 start to the season coincided with a fortunate 10-0 record in games decided by single digits that stuck out to sharp bettors like a Georgetown fan at the Carrier Dome. The mark predictably regressed to 1-4 over the final month of the season, but the Orange are still clinging to a top-100 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s useful metric for luck.

None of the three remaining serious South teams at less than 15-to-1 in the bracket — No. 4 seed UCLA, No. 5 seed VCU and No. 6 seed Ohio State are all less than 15-to-1 — are nearly that high in the category.

The Bruins reasonably project as a popular sleeper pick because of how they closed the season. UCLA stormed through the MGM Grand Garden Arena to the tune of three wins where it beat the spread by an average of 12.5 points in the Pac-12 Tournament.

But immediately before its current run, UCLA went into a deep sleep for an afternoon that shouldn’t be forgotten. Its 73-55 loss to lowly Washington State might be the worst defeat from any top-four seeded NCAA Tournament team this year.

The setback is certainly the worst performance among our established contenders in the South, as the Bruins failed to cover the minus-10 spread by an astounding 28 points.

It’s no wonder UCLA has the highest variance rank, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, out of the region’s superior eight-team group. Sophomore guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams give UCLA an offense as lethal as anyone’s in the South, but its defense is the least efficient of the top nine-seeded teams.

That’s not too much of a condemnation because in the South Region, defense is anything but dopey. Three of Pomeroy Rating’s top five defenses reside in the 16-team pod.

No. 5 seed VCU is the best, entering the tournament with a No. 2 rating in defensive efficiency. The Rams will have the opposite problem of the Bruins, as their offense is the unit facing questions on whether it can hold up against elite competition.

Although Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic are capable of scoring spurts, VCU has one of the 18 worst offenses in the tournament. But bettors might be tempted to look beyond the issue with coach Shaka Smart sporting an 8-2 against the spread record in the NCAA Tournament.

Likewise, No. 6 seed Ohio State sometimes has as much trouble scoring as a mythical elf shooting on a disappearing goal hung on a tree in a magical forest. Offensive woes boosted the Buckeyes, which went 15-18 against the spread for the season, all the way from 12-to-1 to 50-to-1 to win the tournament in the last two months.

No. 7 seed New Mexico’s wart is its strength of schedule, as a down-year in the Mountain West Conference may have the Lobos ill prepared for a treacherous tournament. The Lobos have one of college basketball’s hidden treasures in center Cameron Bairstow, who’s ninth in the country in Player Efficiency Rating.

Paired with fellow 7-footer Alex Kirk, New Mexico can haunt any opponent in the half court. The Lobos’ only two big losses of the season — the other three were by a combined seven points — came against fellow tournament teams that sped them up.

Massachusetts, No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region, stomped New Mexico 81-65 as 5-point underdogs. Potential second-round opponent Kansas did the same in an 80-63 waxing as 7.5-point favorites.

The final South team at 20-to-1 or less is No. 9 seed Pittsburgh, the bashful of the bunch. Although the Panthers sport some strong numbers on the season — they rank No. 18 in the Pomeroy ratings — no one is talking about them.

Hard to blame the betting sect, as Pittsburgh is 12-17-2 against the spread on the year. It’s also just 2-7 against the spread over the last five years in the NCAA Tournament without a single cover outside of the first round.

Sports books favor Pittsburgh by more than any first-round No. 9 seed in the last six years at minus-5.5 against No. 8 seed Colorado. The Buffaloes clawed their way into the 68-team field despite losing their best player, junior Spencer Dinwiddie, in the middle of the year.

Oddsmakers may not like their chances at 75-to-1 to win the region, but the Buffaloes are one of a handful of upset-minded huntsmen after the established guard.

No. 10 seed Stanford, 50-to-1, was a quietly profitable 17-12-2 against the spread on the season. New Mexico may not match up with Stanford’s guards, including Chasson Randle, in a first-round game where it’s favored by 4.5 points.

No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin, which gets six points against VCU Friday in San Diego, has won 28 consecutive games entering March Madness. That would be the nation’s best streak if it weren’t for Wichita State’s preposterous 34-0 regular season.

Wichita State is also holding off No. 13 seed Tulsa, plus-9 against UCLA Friday in San Diego, for an achievement. The Golden Hurricane are 22-8 against the spread, which would be the best record in the nation if it wasn’t for the Shockers’ 24-6-1.

Of the four regions, the South’s first-round games have the lowest average spread of 8.5 points. The collection of capable teams is cavernous, as it’s the only region with six different squads at less than 100-to-1 to win the tournament.

Florida has its share of poisonous apples to avoid.

Pick: Kansas at 3-to-1 Full disclosure, I’m a Kansas graduate. But I’ve never chosen the Jayhawks in three years of writing this column. Until now. My overarching concerns on these Jayhawks — which will have the most losses of any team Bill Self has coached at Kansas unless they win the national championship — are alleviated by the fact that they got gifted a route to the Elite 8 where they’ll be relatively big favorites against any potential opponent. And they’d only be a slight underdog in a potential Florida showdown, so the Jayhawks are where the value rests.

South Region Picks Against The Spread (in order of confidence)

Note: It’s unprofitable to bet every game, but I’ll pick all of them throughout the tournament here and track the record. Can’t do much worse than last year’s 32-34-1 record. I did wind up 4.5 units ahead on last week’s conference tournament preview. Check back after Tuesday’s First Four game for the final South pick.

No. 10 seed Stanford plus-4.5 over No. 7 seed New Mexico

No. 13 seed Tulsa plus-9 over No. 4 seed UCLA

No. 6 seed Ohio State minus-6 over No. 11 seed Dayton

No. 8 seed Colorado plus-5.5 over No. 9 seed Pittsburgh

No. 16 seed Mount Saint Mary’s plus-2.5 over No. 16 seed Albany

No. 2 seed Kansas minus-15 over No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky

No. 14 seed Western Michigan plus-12.5 over No. 3 seed Syracuse

No. 5 seed VCU minus-6 over No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin

No. 1 seed Florida minus-21 over No. 16 Albany

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

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