Published Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Updated Thursday, March 15, 2018 | 3:42 p.m.
For this year’s tournament only, picking the Final Four representative out of the West Region should be worth double points in bracket pools.
That’s how difficult betting odds imply it is to pinpoint the team bound to survive the West. No team has better than a 21 percent chance, according to the future odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, and the top eight seeds all have at least a 4 percent shot.
Every other bracket has a favorite where the futures calculate at least a 33 percent Final Four probability, with no more than six teams above 4 percent.
Part of the reason for the parity is the West Region’s teams proclivities for producing above their expectation levels. Six of the aforementioned eight teams turned out far ahead of how they were pegged by preseason projections, with oddsmakers consequently slicing their future odds significantly.
The two exceptions are the two teams that played in last year’s national championship game, No. 2 seed North Carolina and No. 4 seed Gonzaga. The odds label Tar Heels vs. Bulldogs II as the West’s most likely Elite 8 matchup with neither team having much of a chance to be an underdog before then.
They’ll be laying some short spreads, however, as they’re surrounded by teams that have proven capable of winning big games all year. Xavier is the poster boy for a region no bracketologist would have ever believed at the beginning of the year.
The Musketeers won the regular season in one of the nation’s best conferences, the Big East, by developing a knack for prevailing in close games. The Musketeers went 9-0 in contests decided by six points or less.
There’s a recurring argument over whether a run like that is skill or luck. Bookmakers would lean to the latter, which indicates why Xavier is a near-unprecedented fourth choice to win the region as the No. 1 seed.
In addition to North Carolina and Gonzaga, Xavier is also behind Michigan, which enters arguably hotter than any other team in the field after winning the Big Ten conference tournament. A couple of the other contenders defied conventional wisdom with red-hot runs earlier in the year.
No. 5 seed Ohio State and No.7 seed Texas A&M both had stretches of the season where they looked among the nation’s elite before regressing at the end of the year.
Every team in the West appears to be inscrutable in their own way. It makes for what looks like one of the toughest brackets to predict in tournament history.
Check below for picks and analysis on each first-round game in the West Region, and come back for an update after Wednesday’s First Four contest. Selections are listed in order of confidence, and lines are the best on the chosen side currently available in Las Vegas. Talking Points will pick every game on the point spread throughout the tournament.
No. 13 seed UNC-Greensboro plus-13 vs. No. 4 seed Gonzaga Greensboro stayed within 13 points of Virginia earlier in the season, so it stands to reason that it could cover this high of a number against any team. Gonzaga’s size and length won’t get to Greensboro as much as it would to most high-seeded mid-major teams. The Spartans’ two leading scorers, Francis Alonso and Marcin Smith, are perimeter players who are just as big as anyone on the Bulldogs’ roster.
No. 9 seed Florida State minus-1 vs. No. 8 seed Missouri Missouri has the bigger-name players; Florida State has the better team. The Tigers are drawing a higher distribution of the bets placed partly because of the return of last year’s top recruit in the nation, Michael Porter Jr. But Porter was understandably rusty in the SEC Tournament, going 5-for-17 from the field in an upset loss to Georgia, and may feel a pressure to similarly attempt to take over against Florida State with teammate Jordan Barnett suspended.
No. 2 seed North Carolina minus-19 vs. No. 15 seed Lipscomb There might not be a bigger mismatch on the board — including the No. 1 vs. No. 16 seeded games. Lipscomb plays an uptempo style, much like North Carolina except without the premier athletes. This line is likely to close a little bit higher as the public begins to pound the Tar Heels.
No. 16 seed Texas Southern plus-20 vs. No. 1 seed Xavier The Tigers' 18-point demolition of North Carolina Central in Wednesday's First Four game was scary for one reason: They didn't even play very well. Texas Southern shot only 36 percent and finished the game at a rebounding deficit. It didn't matter because the Tigers simply outclassed the Eagles. Now the healthiest they've been all season, the Tigers might be tougher than the typical No. 16 season.
No. 16 seed North Carolina Central plus-5 vs. No. 16 seed Texas Southern There’s a lot of talk that the Eagles are the worst team in the tournament considering they overcame a No. 6 seed to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, but let’s not forget the Tigers started the year 3-15. Texas Southern’s sudden ascent in the form of a seven-game winning streak has been spurred by unconsciously strong shooting, an often-capricious force of change.
No. 14 seed Montana plus-12 vs. No. 3 Michigan Michigan enters the tournament slightly overvalued by virtue of winning nine straight games, including the last three to win the Big Ten conference tournament. The Wolverines simply weren’t that dependable throughout most of the rest of the season. The Grizzlies don’t have any exceptional statistical attributes, but they don’t make many mistakes and project as a team that will be able to hang around and not allow a blowout.
No. 5 seed Ohio State minus-8 vs. No. 12 seed South Dakota State The Jackrabbits’ profile fits with many mid-major teams that have pulled upsets in the past — They’re an experienced team and prolific from three-point range. But Ohio State has its own characteristics consistent with teams that fend off upsets. Namely, the Buckeyes have a great coach in Chris Holtmann and a dominant inside presence in Keita Bates-Diop.
No. 11 seed San Diego State plus-4 vs. No. 6 seed Houston There’s so much hype around Houston as a sleeper tournament team that the considerable credentials of its first-round opponent has been glossed over. San Diego State has won nine straight, covering in all but one, as its offense has come along to match an always-formidable defense. Houston will find a new challenge in dealing with big men Malik Pope and Jalen McDaniels, who set San Diego State’s physical tone inside.
No. 7 seed Texas A&M minus-3 vs. No. 10 seed Providence The Aggies opened as high as a 4.5-point favorite, before action on the underdog trimmed the point spread. That means there might be value on the favorite, which have at least shown flashes of being a great team this season. Providence has bounced out in the round of 64 in three of the last four years, going 1-4 against the spread in the tournament.