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July 22, 2019

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of the West Region

Michigan in Final Four

Eric Gay / Assocaited Press

Michigan guard Charles Matthews dunks the ball ahead of Loyola-Chicago forward Aundre Jackson, left, during the first half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in San Antonio.

Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 10:42 a.m.

What the field in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region lacks in tradition, it makes up for in current success.

Those who annually wait to start following college basketball until March Madness begins might write off the West as a mediocre bracket. They would be mistaken.

From an odds perspective, the West Region is the toughest in the tournament. The fact that the teams have combined to win only five national championships all-time, and none in more than a decade, doesn’t compute.

What matters is what they did this season, and this season, they were a cut above their peers. Each of the top four teams — Gonzaga, Michigan, Texas Tech and Florida State — power-rates as the first- or second-best of their respective seeds in the tournament.

It doesn’t get much easier farther down the board, as three of the best mid-major standouts from this season — No. 6 seed Buffalo, No. 7 seed UNR and No. 12 seed Murray State — also threaten to wreak havoc.

The West is the only group with four teams at 6-to-1 or less odds to win the region, and nine teams at 50-to-1 or less. These might not be the sport’s bluebloods, but they can draw a lot of blood — and they’ve done it relatively consistently and recently in the tournament.

Six teams in the region advanced to the Sweet 16 last year. Michigan and Gonzaga are the last two national runner-ups.

Whichever team survives next weekend in Anaheim to reach the Final Four in Minneapolis will have run a gauntlet.

Read below for picks on every game in the West Region, listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. This is the first part of our four-part betting series previewing the NCAA Tournament. Come back to lasvegassun.com for the next three installments over the next two days as the blog picks every NCAA Tournament game. Updates will be posted after the First Four games

No. 9 seed Baylor plus-2 vs. No. 8 seed Syracuse Baylor is being bogged down by the betting market because of a rough beginning and end to its season. In the middle of the year, however, the Bears were electric and showed a higher ceiling than the Orange with dominant rebounding and efficient shooting. This line applies a tax due to Syracuse’s past success in March, and that’s hardly ever worth paying.

No. 7 seed UNR minus-2 vs. No. 10 seed Florida At almost any other point of the season, the Wolf Pack would have been a bigger favorite than this over the Gators. Their recent, turbulent 5-3 straight-up, 1-7 against the spread run shouldn’t be held against them considering star Jordan Caroline has missed time. This was a team always built towards playing in the tournament after last year’s sweet 16 run. They’re more athletic and experienced than the Gators.

No. 5 seed Marquette minus-4 vs. No. 12 seed Murray State If one team is everyone’s Cinderella, are they really anyone’s Cinderella? Murray State could still beat Marquette, but this wasn’t the best matchup for the beloved Racers to draw. The Golden Eagles play better defense and are a better 3-point shooting team — two characteristics typically vital for the underdog to hold in a tournament upset. They even have an answer for the lauded Ja Morant in equally, if not more impactful point guard Markus Howard.

No. 15 seed Montana plus-16 vs. No. 2 seed Michigan This is practically the exact same Montana team Michigan axed out of last year’s tournament 61-47, but the Wolverines were only 10-point favorites in that spot. The Grizzlies have been less consistent this year, but there’s no reason for a 6-point adjustment. All it will take is a decent shooting night — something Montana didn’t have in going 3-for-15 from 3 against Michigan last year — to keep this game close.

No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson plus-27 vs. No. 1 seed Gonzaga The Knights played one of their sloppier games in the First Four matchup against Prairie View A&M — and still escaped with an 82-76 victory. They should have the kinks worked out after a week off and have the shooting ability to push Gonzaga a little harder than a typical No. 1 seed vs. No. 16 seed matchup.

No. 3 seed Texas Tech minus-14 vs. No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky Texas Tech is the most efficient defensive team in the nation, per kenpom, which makes it an immediate bet-on. The Red Raiders had also covered eight of their last nine games before a first-round exit in the Big 12 Tournament in an upset loss to West Virginia, a streak that shouldn’t be ignored for a random one-game result.

No. 13 seed Vermont plus-10.5 vs. No. 4 seed Florida State This is a lot of points for a game that the Catamounts will slow down and limit possessions. The Seminoles may blow them away with their athleticism, and might be a bet-on long-term in the tournament because of their defense, but right now appeared a touch overpriced.

No. 11 seed Arizona State plus-5 vs. No. 6 seed Buffalo The Bulls have only played two games against teams better than the Sun Devils this year — splitting with Syracuse and Marquette but getting outscored by a combined 6 points. That was at the beginning of the season, and Buffalo has quietly taken a small step back as the year has progressed. 

No. 16 seed Prairie View A&M plus-2 vs. No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson The first game of the tournament might also be the most evenly-matched game of the tournament. The Knights rate No. 208 nationally by kenpom and the Panthers sit at No. 209. That makes taking the points the only option.

No. 11 seed St. Johns plus-1 vs. No. 11 seed Arizona State Looks like another tightly-contested First Four game, so will once again take the point(s), and by extension, fade the common perception. Arizona State has taken the lion’s share of the early action with discussions on how they match up with No. 6 seed Buffalo already forming, even though there’s not much separating it from St. Johns.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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