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April 25, 2019

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

Virginia

Bob Leverone / AP

Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins (21) is consoled after fouling out during the second half of the team’s first-round game against UMBC in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018.

Flashbacks are the odds-on favorite to be the most prominent feature in broadcasts of South Region games during this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Last season’s March Madness brought an inordinate number of moments and runs that will be remembered and cited for years to come. The teams in the South Region seemed to be a part of all of them — and not usually in a good way.

Twelve teams are offered at odds of 100-to-1 or less to get out of the group that will conclude next weekend in Washington, D.C. Eight of those teams are making a return trip to the field after playing in the tournament last year. Seven of them were sent home early after running into the wrath of an underdog.

That includes arguably the greatest upset in the history of the tournament with the top-seeded team. No one will soon forget Virginia’s 74-54 flop to UMBC as 20.5-point favorites — the first-ever No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.

Bettors certainly haven’t, as the majority have kept Virginia at arm’s length, even during a bounce-back 29-3 straight-up season. If precipitous falls are deterrents to backing a team, however, then bettors are going to be left with few options in the South.

Loyola-Chicago surpassed UMBC as the underdog to remember in the 2018 Tournament by advancing the Final Four. Two of the Ramblers’ casualties come into this region as primary contenders to Virginia.

Loyola-Chicago knocked off both current No. 2 seed Tennessee, 63-62 as 6-point underdogs, and current No. 4 seed Kansas State, 78-62 as 2-point underdogs, on their way to glory.

No. 3 seed Purdue had the most excusable loss, but it was still a 2-point favorite in the Sweet 16 before bowing out 78-65 to Texas Tech.

This year’s South Region programs literally defined the 2018 NCAA Tournament from beginning to end. The round of 64 opened with a memorable overtime game where a crazy Oklahoma comeback ultimately fell short and closed with Villanova capping one of the most dominant tournament runs by blowing out Michigan in the championship game.

Oklahoma looks to amend for last year’s loss to Rhode Island as the South’s No. 9 seed against Ole Miss this year. Villanova, the only team in the South to break from the pattern of disappointment a year ago, vies to repeat out of the region’s No. 6 slot.

Unless the Wildcats are again successful, someone in the South will find redemption by reaching the Final Four. Viewers will know about it as the television presentation won’t be shy about reminding where the eventual champions came from.

Read below for picks on every South Region game, listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. This is the final edition of Talking Points’ series previewing and picking every NCAA Tournament region. Here’s part 1, part 2 and part 3.

No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s plus-5 vs. No. 6 seed Villanova Villanova’s entire offense is predicated around getting open 3-point looks; Michigan is the only team in the tournament better at chasing opponents off the three-point line than Saint Mary’s. Line has unfortunately come down from opening at minus-6, but is still a couple points too high largely based on Villanova’s past tournament success and not on this year’s team.

No. 5 seed Wisconsin minus-1.5 vs. No. 12 seed Oregon No point spread in the entire round of 64 has shifted further from what it would have been a week ago than this one. The Badgers likely would have given the Ducks 6 points before the latter’s coup of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, an achievement that’s being overvalued considering the weakness of the league this year.

No. 10 seed Iowa plus-3.5 vs. No. 7 seed Cincinnati This year’s Bearcats aren’t as stingy on defense as their reputation or past squads. They also may not have played a single team this year as explosive offensively as Iowa, which has players up and down the roster that can light it up from 3-point range. Buy low on the Hawkeyes, which are at their power-rating nadir after losing six of their final eight games.

No. 9 seed Oklahoma plus-2 vs. No. 8 seed Ole Miss Little was expected out of Ole Miss coming into the season, and lately, it’s been easy to see why. The Rebels have lost five of their last seven games, and though it’s commendable the way they overachieved, they’ll be at an overall talent deficit to most teams in the tournament. That includes Oklahoma, which got stronger as the season went on.

No. 1 seed Virginia minus-22 vs. No. 16 seed Gardner Webb Betting market has a tough time pricing true outliers, and Virginia has been a true outlier all season as the most efficient team in the nation. Happy to back the Cavaliers all throughout the tournament while their postseason stock remains undeservedly low for one highly improbable result a year ago.

No. 14 seed Old Dominion plus-13 vs. No. 3 seed Purdue The Monarchs can hit 3s and defend — two of the most important characteristics in backing a high-seeded underdog. Both teams also play at a slower-than-average pace, which is another checkmark for an underdog.

No. 13 seed UC-Irvine plus-5 vs. No. 4 seed Kansas State With the line having been bet down to as low as 4.5 after opening as high as 6.5, much of the value on the Anteaters is already extracted. Points are still valuable in what should be a plodding affair where the Wildcats are playing without star Dean Wade, but it’s not advisable to take a bad number.

No. 2 seed Tennessee minus-17.5 vs. No. 15 seed Colgate The Raiders are one of the worst defensive teams in the field, which is a major strike against a team that scores as dynamically as the Volunteers. Tennessee might be a bet-against long term because of defensive and coaching concerns but sometimes patience is required.

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

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