With the 2016 NCAA Tournament nearly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about which teams could go the distance on your March Madness bracket. Make some great picks and you could have a little extra money in your wallet. Make some bad picks, and well, your bracket might be busted in the first week and it could be a long tournament.
The NCAA Men’s Div. I Basketball Tournament technically starts today, with the First Four play-in games. The true first round gets underway Thursday, March 17. All games are being streamed online through a number of platforms (Sling TV is your best bet if you don’t have cable; get a free 7-day trial)), so you can keep up with the action even if you don’t have cable.
Now, let’s bust out our crystal ball and provide you with some March Madness predictions for upsets you may want to include on your bracket.
Picking a Winner: May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor
Depending on who you ask, the odds of picking a perfect bracket are about 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (63 games have 2 possible outcomes each). That’s 9.2 quintillion! But by applying just a little bit of basketball knowledge (e.g. picking all the #1 seeds to beat the #16 seeds), DePaul University mathematics professor Jeff Bergen says you can get improve your odds of picking the perfect March Madness bracket to 1 in 128 billion. That’s a hell of a lot better than 1 in 9.2 quintillion, right? But it’s still pretty dismal odds.
For comparison sake, here’s just how bad those odds are:
In other words, you probably aren’t going to get the perfect NCAA bracket. That’s why Warren Buffett used to offer $1 billion to anyone who could get a perfect March Madness bracket, he knew it wouldn’t happen.
So, where do you start? Some experts say if you can perfect the first two rounds, you’ll be in a good position to win some money. Unfortunately, the first two rounds have too much parity. Remember when the No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks defeated the then No. 2 Duke Blue Devils in 2013? Do you even know where Lehigh is located?
The early rounds are too unpredictable, so it’s important to pick teams that are going to make the Final Four and ultimately, the National Championship. Most bracket pools award more points for the final rounds anyways, which can turn a bad start into a buzzer-beating victory.
Of course, a safe bet for your Final Four starts by taking a look at the AP rankings. Heading into Selection Sunday, here are the top five teams:
2. Michigan State
Winning your bracket pool, though, requires a little luck and an underdog to carry you the distance.
In 2008, all No. 1 seeds made the Final Four for the first time in March Madness history. There’s a reason that doesn’t happen every year. More often than not, a Cinderella team ends up breaking people’s brackets.
Remember the 2006 tournament when George Mason shocked the basketball world, reaching the Final Four as an 11th seed? Only four people picked the Patriots to reach the Final Four out of the millions who entered ESPN’s bracket challenge. I’m guessing those people won their office pool.
So if it’s not one of the five teams above to win it all, who do you pick? I needed some help from the Vegas gambling sites, plus some stats compiled by ESPN to make the following picks. I also needed to go with my gut.
Below each prediction are the current Vegas odds for that team to win the whole tournament. Remember, you can stream the games live on Sling TV. (Note: Vegas odds are going to change throughout the tournament. These odds are current as of March 14.)
(Also, if none of these teams make the Final Four, please don’t blame me.)
10. Utah: Currently ranked 24th in the AP polls heading into selection Sunday, the Utes could surprise some teams come tournament time. Historically, Utah hasn’t done much in the tournament, but they also haven’t had an all-American center who has turned into one of the nation’s top big men. Jakob Poeltl is averaging 17.6 points per game and 9 rebounds. If he can average a double-double throughout the tournament, expect Utah to go far.
Vegas odds: 65/1
9. Oregon: The Ducks are another team to keep an eye on. After clinching the Pac-12 regular season championship — its first outright title since 2002 — Oregon is hoping to make a splash in the month of March. Similar to their football team, which is built more on speed then size, the Ducks’ basketball team is led by two speedy 6-6 forwards (Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook) that, when on their A-game, can pose some major threats against their opponents.
Vegas odds: 30/1
8. Purdue: Despite losing to tournament favorite Michigan State University in the Big 10 Championship game, the Boilermakers have perhaps one of the easiest routes to the Elite 8, needing to beat Arkansas Little Rock in the opening round, followed by the winner of Iowa State vs. Iona. If Virginia is upset in the first or second round, expect this feisty Purdue team, led by forward Vince Edwards, to make a run. The key will be hitting the long ball. Edwards went 0-6 in the Big 10 Championship game, which ultimately cost Purdue the game.
Vegas odds: 40/1
7. Miami: George Mason was mentioned at the top of this article as an example of an improbable run. While Miami is a more recognizable household name, it has been awhile since the Canes made a deep run in March. Well, look who’s now coaching Miami: Jim Larranaga, the same guy who took George Mason to the glory land. That team had three seniors; this Miami team has three seniors. Experience and cohesiveness play a huge roll in the March Madness tournament.
Vegas odds: 30/1
6. Texas A&M: The Aggies have had a great season, which resulted in them securing a No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament. Coach Billy Kennedy was named conference coach of the year and Tyler Davis made the conference’s all-freshman team. Texas A&M’s success hinges on center Tyler Davis getting the ball in the paint and making buckets. He’s averaging 11 points per game on a 65 percent field goal percentage. That type of consistency can wear down an opposing team and carry you deep into the tournament.
Vegas odds: 60/1
5. Wichita State: Choosing the Shockers used to be considered an upset, but not anymore. This scrappy team from Kansas hasn’t consistently proven they step up to the plate with confidence once March rolls around. Yes, the team did lose to Northern Iowa (we’ll talk about them later), but you can’t write them off. They’re just too good in the tournament.
Vegas odds: 35/1
4. Indiana: Yes, Indiana is a top 10 team in the country, so why are they on this underdog list? Well, they’ve suffered some tough losses (Wake Forest and UNLV) and really struggled against conference rival Michigan State University. The Hoosiers are playing with a chip on their shoulder and can do some damage this month. Senior guard Yogi Ferrell has played great games, but I think he’s saving his best for this tournament. Averaging 17 points a game now, expect big numbers and an energetic Indiana team to make a deep run.
Vegas odds: 45/1
3. Stephen F. Austin: Yes, one player can change the course of history for teams. Who remembers that player from Davidson named Stephen Curry? Now, meet Thomas Walkup, a hybrid guard-forward who has scored more than 30 points in five games this season. Who’s to say this guy can’t get hot from the field and carry his team to a Final Four?
Vegas odds: 2000/1
2. Dayton: Playing in a conference that could literally be won by any of seven teams, Dayton stands out. The Flyers have something special about them this year. They’ve blown teams out and they’ve come from behind. The big question mark is junior forward Kendall Pollard. He bruised his femur, which has held him back in recent weeks. A healthy Pollard could mean one of those great Cinderella runs.
Vegas odds: 125/1
1. Northern Iowa: See, I told you we’d be talking about Northern Iowa. Remember the name Wes Washpun. This past week, the confident guard dribbled at the top of the key and shot over two Evansville defenders at the buzzer to knotch his 18th point in the game and punch a ticket to the big dance. That’s not all, though. Washpun scored 21 points and 8 assists against North Carolina when they were ranked No. 1. You have to like this Northern Iowa team, even if Vegas doesn’t.
Vegas odds: 400/1
— There you have it, folks. Let me know in the comments if I missed a team or am just outright crazy. And don’t forget to check out our full guide to watching NCAA basketball online without cable. Enjoy the games!
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