If the last four conference tournament championships played on Sunday are any indication, this year's Big Dance will go to the 'dogs.
March Madness is finally upon us, and everyone has had time to voice their opinions about who was wrongly left out and who shouldn't have been included in the initial field of 68. That field started to come together Sunday afternoon when the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Atlantic 10 concluded the conference tournament schedule with outright wins by four underdogs.
The SEC title game pitted top-ranked Kentucky as an 8-point favorite against Vanderbilt who posted a 71-64 victory behind Jeffery Taylor's double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds). Despite the loss, Kentucky was selected as the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and placed in the South Region awaiting the winner of Tuesday's clash between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky (see below).
Another team to lose Sunday but still draw a No. 1 seed for the dance was North Carolina. The Tar Heels were laying six points to Florida State in the ACC Championship, and the Seminoles outscored UNC 33-15 from beyond the arc to win by an 85-82 count. North Carolina sits atop the Midwest Region and will meet the winner of Lamar-Vermont.
Ohio State was 2-point chalk against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship, and the Spartans' 68-64 triumph helped them earn the No. 1 seed in the West Region. The Buckeyes were slotted in the 2-hole of the East Region where Syracuse drew the top seed.
The A-10 crown went to St. Bonaventure, a 67-56 winner over Xavier who was a 3½-point favorite. That victory for the Bonnies meant four teams from the conference – St. Bonaventure along with Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier – received tickets to the dance while serving as the death knell for six other bubble squads (Miami-FL, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, Drexel, Oral Roberts and Nevada).
All six of those teams made it to the NIT that tips on Tuesday; Oral Roberts will host Nevada in one of the Wednesday games in that bracket. Tuesday also marks the beginning of the NCAA Tournament with half of the First Four contests, and here's a quick glance at those matchups. Be sure to check back on the Don Best odds screen to catch updated spreads and totals.
(16) Mississippi Valley State vs. (16) Western Kentucky [-4½]
Dayton, OH – 6:40 p.m. (ET)
Sun Belt champion Western Kentucky capped an unexpected run through the conference tourney with a 74-70 win over North Texas last Tuesday. The Hilltoppers were 7-9 in league play during the season and enter the First Four with a 15-18 overall record, the first losing mark to make the NCAA's since Coppin State in 2008. Western Kentucky brings a winning record against the spread into the game, however, at 18-14 along with an 18-14 tendency to the 'over.'
Mississippi Valley State (21-12 SU, 1-7 ATS) breezed through the SWAC schedule at 17-1 before sweeping all three tournament games. The Delta Devils' only loss since the end of December was at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on March 1, and they are making their fifth appearance in March Madness (first since 2008).
(14) Brigham Young vs. (14) Iona [+2]
Dayton, OH – 9:10 p.m. (ET)
This opening-round matchup will feed into the West Region where (3) Marquette awaits the winner in Louisville on Thursday.
Iona made a surprise exit from the MAAC Tournament with an 85-75 loss to Fairfield in the semifinals. The Gaels (25-7 SU, 14-15-1 ATS) took the regular season title at 15-3, two games ahead of Loyola (MD) who bested Fairfield in the championship, 48-44, to claim the automatic bid.
Tim Cluess' squad is all about the offense; Iona paces the nation with 83.2 points per game and is second with a 50.4 percent shooting clip. Point guard Scott Machado leads the country averaging 9.9 assists per game and is third on the team in scoring (13.6 PPG).
Brigham Young finished third in the West Coast Conference during the regular season with a 12-4 mark. The Cougars (25-8 SU, 14-15 ATS) fell to Gonzaga in the WCC semis, and their first season in the league found them 1-2 vs. the Zags, 0-2 vs. conference champ Saint Mary's.
Offense is also the strength of Dave Rose's club. The Cougars are 13th nationally in scoring (78.2 PPG), and feature four players scoring in double digits led by senior forward Noah Hartsock's 16.7.