After two rounds, things have played out pretty much the way they were expected to in the South. All the top seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 and North Carolina is still the overwhelming favorite to come out of the region — despite an ugly collapse in the second half of their Round of 32 game vs Arkansas.
Sportsbook has pegged the Tar Heels as +110 faves to represent the South in the Final Four, moving them just slightly from their +135 Sportsbook line. Butler, UNC’s opponent on Friday, brings up the rear with +800 odds to move on to Phoenix while Kentucky and UCLA are dead even at +300.
At the start of the tournament, I touted UNC as a great pick to come out of the South despite a line offering little value. Two games later, I feel pretty much the same way. Roy Williams will use that close brush with elimination as a learning opportunity and if Sportsbooks are correct, the Bulldogs should be no match for the Heels with North Carolina Sportsbook as a 7-point favorite.
As for the Wildcats and Bruins, I tend to lean toward Kentucky. John Calipari has himself one of the best backcourts the nation has seen in years that should be able to propel UK past the defenseless Bruins in the Sweet 16. Their Friday night matchup opened with neither team favored on the spread and if my Sportsbook line in this paragraph wasn’t indication enough — I like Cal and the Cats to advance to the Elite Eight, earning a meeting with the Tar Heels.
Once we get to the last eight teams in the tournament, regional odds will become moot as you’ll be able to simply bet a game line instead of making a futures wager. Assuming UNC moves on to face either Kentucky or UCLA in the next round, the Tar Heels will likely be favored by at least two or three points, meaning they’ll be assigned a negative value on the moneyline.
If you plan on betting on the Heels to make the Final Four, now’s the time to do it.
At first glance, the South Region of the March Madness bracket looks like a murderers row. The top three seeds North Carolina (5), Kentucky (8) and UCLA (11) have a combined 24 NCAAB tournament championships and teams like Middle Tennessee and Wichita State were wildly miss-seeded by the interpretation of many bracket analysts and could offer better challenges than their seeding implies.
With those things in mind, let’s take a closer look at some possible bets to win the South Region and see if there’s one, or a few that stick out as wagers where we can make some serious dough re mi.
Favorites: North Carolina Tar Heels (+135)
Not only are the Tar Heels the favorites to come out of the South on Sportsbook, they’re the biggest favorite of any team in the tournament to come out of their bracket and the +600 favorites to win the whole thing for the sixth time in UNC history.
Yes, it’s true that UNC is coming off a horrendous showing in the second half of the ACC championship semifinal with Duke, in which the Tar Heels were outscored 51-34, but this is the deepest team in the nation. Head coach Roy Williams rolls nine players 13 or more minutes per game so the foul trouble they got in during that game with the Blue Devils was somewhat of an anomaly.
The Tar Heels have made it to the Sweet 16 six straight years and in 10 of the last 12 seasons so you can basically pencil them into the third round. From there, Williams has made the Final 4 four times and this could be the best team he’s had at his disposal since the one that cut down the nets in Detroit in 2009.
As for game-to-game betting, the Heels have been a bit of a mixed bag lately and have been very streaky against the spread. They’re 1-2-1 in their last four games but they had cashed four straight spread bets before that.
UNC opened as an enormous 25-point favorite over Texas Southern in the Sportsbook round of the tournament and with that being the second-biggest spread the Tar Heels have seen all season, it could be a few too many points.
Overrated: UCLA (+450)
This isn’t much more than a bad feeling, to be completely honest. There’s a bad vibe around the Ball family and I don’t want any part of it. I know they have the best offense in the nation, centered around Lonzo Ball’s 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists, and they’re offering a bit of value but I just don’t see that translating into success in this kind of tournament.
Their defensive unit leaves a lot to be desired, giving up 74 points per game, and I can see them easily losing in a shootout with Kentucky in the Sweet 16 – if the Shockers don’t upset the Wildcats in the second round.
John Calipari has himself one of the most electric backcourts in recent memory with De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and I’ll take a flyer on their recent pedigree over this Bruins team that’s seemingly come out of nowhere on the back of a crazy family.
Dark Horse: Butler (+1000)
I had to decide between a few options for this one but settled on the Bulldogs of Butler at +1000 over the likes of Wichita State (+1000) and Minnesota (+2800). Butler is in the midst of its best season since the departure of Brad Stevens and finished as runner-up to Villanova for the Big East regular-season title.
Like the Tar Heels, the Bulldogs were dealt an early exit in their conference championship and will be coming into the NCAAB tournament with extended rest. Butler is a dangerous team in the South and should offer North Carolina its first real challenge, if they both make it to the Sweet 16.
Butler’s biggest accomplishment this season was handing Villanova two of its three season losses so this team led by Kelan Martin’s 16.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game could once again be the bracket-busting team we’ve grown to know and love.
I’m not saying that this team is the reincarnation of the 2011 squad that made it all the way to the NCAA tournament final for the second year in a row, but with UNC on its heels a little bit heading in, Butler could be primed for another Cinderella run.