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August 1, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Saturday’s Elite 8

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Bill Wippert / AP

Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre (21) celebrates with teammates during the second half of a third-round game against Syracuse in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y.

March Madness in Las Vegas

Patrons celebrate Dayton's upset of Ohio State during the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014 during a party at the South Point. Launch slideshow »

Oddsmakers gave Dayton less than a 1 percent chance of reaching the Final Four two weeks ago on Selection Sunday.

With three straight upset wins, the No. 11 seed Flyers are now 15 times more likely to make it to Dallas for the national semifinals. They’ve gone from 75-to-1 to 5-to-1.

All Dayton must pull off now is beating the best team in the country in the first of two Elite 8 games Saturday afternoon. It might not sound easy, but the 10.5 points Dayton gets on the point spread is only slightly more than it received in its first two tournament games.

The Flyers overcame a plus-8.5 line to defeat No. 3 seed Syracuse in the round of 32 after beating No. 6 seed Ohio State as a 6.5-point underdog. What’s one more?

Well, quite a lot. With the demise of Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin, Florida now holds the longest winning streak in the nation with 29 straight victories.

The Gators are 15-12-1 against the spread — one game wasn’t lined — in the span. The Flyers are better at thwarting oddsmakers’ expectations with a 20-12 against the spread record on the season.

It wouldn’t take the biggest upset in Elite 8 history for Dayton to play on, as No. 11 seed VCU was plus-11.5 against No. 1 seed Kansas three years ago.

Find out which way Talking Points is going below, as I continue to pick every NCAA Tournament game against the spread with brief analysis. I'm 26-32-4 picking every tournament game against the spread — never a profitable betting strategy — but 5-2 in top-confidence plays.

No. 1 seed Arizona minus-3 over No. 2 seed Wisconsin As well as Wisconsin has played in the NCAA Tournament — and the Badgers have played as well as anyone — it comes with the slightest asterisk. Wisconsin hasn’t encountered a single top-50 team in defensive efficiency through three games — a near-impossible dodging given the strength of March Madness competition.

The Badgers simply aren’t going to keep their 50 percent from the field statistic intact against the best defensive team in the nation. Arizona, conversely, has faced two top-16 defensive teams in its last two games. The Wildcats’ offense is more explosive than it has looked. The Badgers’ is terrific, but not quite at the world-beating level of their last three games.

Arizona has been one of the two best teams in the nation all season. The Final Four wouldn’t feel right without the Wildcats.

No. 11 seed Dayton plus-10.5 over No. 1 seed Florida The true long shots to make it this far in the tournament never go away quietly. For the sake of this exercise and simplicity, I’ll semi-arbitrarily define a “true long shot” as a team seeded No. 9 or higher.

Six such teams have advanced to the Elite 8 since 2000. They’ve gone 5-1 against the spread and 3-3 straight-up in the national quarterfinal. It’s fair to choose to write that off as a small sample-size, but I suspect there could be a little more to it.

Dayton is utilizing the same stingy-defense, tenacious-rebounding approach as some of its predecessors — last year’s Wichita State and 2006’s George Mason, to name a few — that unexpectedly reached the Elite 8. That puts all the pressure on a team like Florida, which by the way, hasn’t dealt with it well in this round.

The Gators have lost in three straight Elite 8 games as favorites in the last three years. They should pull this one out, but it’s going to take an inspired effort after the Flyers unleash everything they have.

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

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